September 30, 2014

Sirpur

Site Name: Sirpur
Site Type: Heritage site; Buddhist site
Location:  Chhattisgarh state, India
Highlights: 7th century brick temple of Lakshman
Nearest Railway Station: Raipur, 78 kms from Sirpur
Nearest Airport: Raipur
How to reach: Well connected by road from Raipur
Hotel: A lot of options in Raipur
Restaurants: Very limited options; better to go to Raipur

Sirpur is a historical town located at a distance of about 78 kms from Raipur city in Chhattisgarh state of India. It is located on the banks of the river Mahanadi. The city was once the capital of Somvanshi kings of Dakshin Kosala. The town which was also visited by Hieun Tsang was an important Buddisht centre once. It is believed that the town was buried under debris due to a earthquake in the 12th century CE. The town has so many noteable heritage sites including the 7th century brick temple of Lakshman. Let us explore the important sites of Sirpur in this article.

Gandheshwar Temple:

The temple dedicated to Lord Shiva called as Gandheswar is an important temple in Sirpur. The 8th century temple is located on the banks of the river Mahanadi. This artistically beautiful temple has a lot of attractive sculptures. The big idol of Buddha under the tree is a highlight of this temple.

Lakshman Temple:

The 8th century brick temple of Lakshman is the highlight of Sirpur. It is said to be one of the finest brick temples erected in India. The temple is dedicated to Lakshman, the younger brother of Lord Ram, which is unique. The walls and pillars of the temple have exquisite sculptures. 

Buddha Vihar:

The 6th century Buddha Vihar has a big Buddha statue and other small idols excavated. 

Sirpur is full of heritage sites. Apart from Buddha Vihar, there is a 6th century Buddhist monastery called Anand Prabhu Kundi Vihar, 6th century Swastik Vihar, 6th century Baleswar (Shiva) temple, one Jain vihara, a lot more Shiva temples, Buddha vihars and Vishnu temples excavated recently.

A temple for Goddess Chandi located in the nearby Birkani village is also an important site.

Happy travelling.

September 28, 2014

Sarnath

Site Name: Sarnath
Site Type: Buddhist religious town; sacred site for Buddhists
Location:  Uttar Pradesh state, India
Highlights: Buddha taught dharma for the first time in this site; the national emblem of India is kept
Nearest Railway Station: Varanasi, 13  kms from Sarnath
Nearest Airport: Lucknow
How to reach: Well connected by road from Varanasi
Hotel: A lot of options including low cost hotels/ashrams and free accommodations in Varanasi; very few options in Sarnath
Restaurants: Varieties of options in Varanasi but very limited options in Sarnath

Sarnath is a small village located near Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh state of India. It is the site where Buddha started preaching dharma for the first time. It is the site where the national emblem of India is kept. It is considered as one of the four most important Buddhist pilgrimages. The village is dotted with Buddhist shrines of various countries. Let us explore all the important places of this historical village in this article.



Museum:

The Sarnath Museum is the mostly visited site in Sarnath. The museum has antique sculptures and artifacts ranging from the 3rd century BCE and 12th century CE kept in five galleries and two verandahs. All of them represent Buddhist art and culture. The highlight of the museum is the Lion Capital of Ashoka. This is the most famous sandstone sculpture erected around 250 BCE atop an Ashoka Pillar in Sarnath. It has been adopted as the National Emblem of India. Also, the museum houses a lot of sculptures from the Mauryan, the Kushana, the Sungas and the Gupta periods. 

Dhamekh Stupa:

Near the museum, Dhamekh Stupa is located. It was built between the 5th to 6th century CE. It is the only ancient structure left intact by Qutb-ud-din Aibak. The stupa has a 33.5 tower with a stone plinth measuring 28 m in diameter that dominates the site. Lord Buddha preached his famous first sermon in this site. (There is another site called Dharmarajika Stupa which also has a similar claim). I appears that the stupa might have been rebuilt as the current structure belongs to 5th/6th century CE. The excavations revealed the brickwork form the Mauryan period. The floral patterns of the stupa belong to the Gupta period. The Brahmi scripts date from the 6th to 9th century CE.



Chaukhandi Stupa:

Chaukhandi Stupa is the 5th century CE structure. It is the first monument that can be visited while entering into Sarnath. Here, Buddha reunited with the five ascetic companions (the Panchavargiya Bishus) who had deserted him. The octagonal tower found in the site is a later addition and is believed to be built by Akbar.
Dharmarajika Stupa:

It was built in the 3rd century BCE with a lot of later additions. It was reduced to rubble to Jagat Singh, Dewan of the Maharaja of Benaras in 1794 CE. It is the site where Buddha delivered his sermon for the first time.


Mulagandhakuti Vihara:

Mulagandhakuti Vihara, which is presently maintained by the Sri Lankan Government, is in ruins. It is believed that Buddha spent his first rainy season here. A large gold plated idol of Buddha is kept here. There is a Bodhi tree which is believed to be related to the original tree from Bodh Gaya.

Tibetan Temple:

Tibetan temple has a very big idol of Buddha. There are hundreds of miniature idols of Buddha found all over the temple complex.

Burma Temple:

The temple of Buddha which is maintained by the Burma government is one of the main attractions. This temple is architecturally beautiful. 

Japan Temple:

Buddha is in the reclining posture in Japan Temple.

China Temple:

Three big idols of Buddha are kept in China temple.

Saranganath Temple:

Saranganath temple is small but beautiful and important site of Buddha.

Digamber Jain Temple:

Digamber Jain Temple was built in 1824 CE. It is the birthplace of the 11th Jain Tirtankara Shreyanshnath. 

There are even more temples of Buddha maintained by several governments such as Thai temple, Korean temple, etc.

Happy travelling.




September 23, 2014

Ayodhya

Site Name: Ayodhya
Site Type: Hindu religious town; sacred site
Location:  Uttar Pradesh state, India
Highlights: The birth place of Lord Ram
Nearest Railway Station: Faizabad, 6 kms from Ayodhya; there is also a very small train station in Ayodhya
Nearest Airport: Faizabad; the nearest popular airport is Lucknow
How to reach: Well connected by road from Faizabad 
Hotel: A lot of options including low cost hotels/ashrams and free accommodations
Restaurants: Varieties of options in Ayodhya but mostly vegetarian

Ayodhya is one of the seven most sacred sites for Hindus. It is located near Faizabad in Uttar Pradesh state of India. It is famous as Ram Janma Bhoomi. Many of the temples and sites in this small town are associated with the birth and other events in the life of Lord Ram of the great epic Ramayana. Let us briefly explore various sites in this town.

Swarg Dwar:

Ayodhya town, which was much bigger once and the capital city of Raghu dynasty kings, is situated on the banks of the river Sarayu. The Naya Ghat and the surrounding areas are called as Swarg Dwar. It is the place where Lord Ram and his three brothers left this world and reached Vaikuntha. Taking a dip in this place is considered as sacred for the Hindus.

Sarayu Temple:

All the holy rivers are worshipped as the deities by the Hindus. The legend associated with the holiest river Ganga is very popular. There are so many temples found for Ganga across the country. Similar to Ganga temple, there are temples dedicated to other rivers too which are not very common. There is a temple for the river Sarayu located in Ayodhya on the way to Nageshwarnath temple.

Nageshwaranath Temple:

There is a temple dedicated to Lord Shiva in the birthplace of Ram, who is the incarnation of Lord Vishnu. Lord Shiva is called as Nageshwaranath in this temple. As per the legend, Kush, the son of Lord Ram, started destroying the Nagas mistaking them for stealing his amulet. After the intervention of Lord Shiva, he stopped this and then he built this temple of Lord Shiva. As per another legend, he built this temple to get of his sin of killing the Nagas by mistake. There is also another version which states that the lost amulet was found by a Naga girl; she fell in love with Kush and made him to build this temple. One common factor in all these legends is that this temple was built by Kush. This is a small temple but is considered as very important. The temple tank is very big and is called as Ram Paundi. 

Kale Ram Temple:

Kale Ram Temple is also called as Treta Ke Thakur Temple. It is situate at the place where Lord Ram performed Ashwamedha yagna. Around 300 years ago, the King of Kulu built the current structure of the temple. The main deity Ram is found with Sita and his brothers in the pattabhishek posture. The idols are carved out of a single block of black sandstone. The belief is that these idols resemble the form of the idols in the original Ram temple that was destroyed many years ago. These are the oldest idols of Ram, Sita and his brothers that are found in Ayodhya today.

The holy books such as Ramayana, Mahabharata and the Vedas are kept in a separate shrine and are worshipped.

    Valmiki Bhavan Temple:

    Valmiki Bhavan Temple is very big with a lot of small sculptures throughout the temple. The main deities are Valmiki rishi along with Luv and Kush, the sons of Lord Ram.

    Hanuman Garhi:

    Hanuman Garhi is one of the most important temples in Ayodhya. Although everyone believes that the main deity of the temple is Hanuman, it is not the case. The main deity is Anjana Devi carrying the baby Hanuman on her lap. The temple is built on top of a small hill and the structure is surrounded by fort like walls. 

    Ram Janma Bhoomi:

    Ram Janma Bhoomi is the place which is believed to be the birthplace of Lord Ram. Today, the metal idols of Ram, Lakshman, Bharat and Shatrughna as infants are kept in this temple. This is a highly secured and controversial site.

    Lakshman Ghat:

    Lakshman Ghat is the ghat on the river Sarayu where Lakshman voluntarily gave up his life.

    Ratna Sinhasan Temple:

    The idols of Ram, Sita and Lakshman along with Hanuman are the main deities of Ratna Sinhasan temple. There is another pair of Ram and Sita idols plated with gold. It is the place where the pattabhishek of Ram took place.

    Dasharat Bhavan:

    The metal idols of Ram, Bharat, Lakshman and Shatrughna along with their consorts are the main deities of Ratna Sinhasan temple. Three pairs of Ram and Sita idols are also located in this temple. It is the place where Dashrat's palace was located in those days.

    Kanak Bhavan:

    Kanak Bhavan aka Sone Ke Ghar has two pairs of Ram and Sita idols. They have golden crowns on their heads.

    Birla Mandir:

    Birla Mandir is a modern day temple dedicated to Lord Ram. Ram is found with Sita and Lakshman in this temple.

    Mani Parbat:

    It is formerly a Buddhisht vihara which was converted into a Hindu temple. The temple has Ram and Sita as the main deities. The idol of Mani Bhagavan is also found. There is a small shrine for Hanuman. From this hilltop temple, one can get the aerial view of the entire Ayodhya town.

    Beware of monkeys. You can find hundreds of monkeys everywhere in Ayodhya.

    Happy travelling.