Sep 15, 2018

Nagarjunasagar and Nagarjunakonda - part4

..continued from Nagarjuna Sagar and Nagarjunakonda - part 3

Having seen Mahachaitya the largest Stupa on this island we move on and reach the next monument- Aswamedha tank, the sacrificial altar. This too is a restored monument which was originally in river Krishna valley. This monuments has two main structures, both are elaborately designed pits. Then are smaller square shaped pits as well. This pit here looked like a big bathing tank at the first glance. However this is pit used for sacrificing horses. I'm trying to imagine a horse standing in it.

A stone tablet describes the monument as follows-
Aswamedha Tank: The founder of the Ikshvaku dynasty performed the well known sacrifice of the horse kundam 'Aswamedha' This ritual was one among the very elaborate sacrifices prescribed to be performed only by a king of unquestionable authority and who had the recognition of his neighborly kings as their overlord. The tank was intended for the final purification bath and the structure in the shape of a tortoise was known as Kurma Chiti where part of the horse was sacrificed.

The pit has two entrances, this one here is with three steps. A narrow shoulder runs along the perimeter, it looks like a seat but may not be. The pit seems to have a drain hole, not sure its part of the original design or if was created by restorers to let rainwater seep into the ground below.

Lengthwise view of Kurma tank. In this view, the tortoise shape is evident. The projecting part at the right-end is the head and its flanked by two feet. No idea why the pit had to be shaped like this.. why not a simple circular pit. There are articles about Kurma pillars but not much about Kurma pit.

Here's a map of the island showing locations of monuments on it. So you'll get an idea where we are currently- Ashwamesha site.

Besides the Kurma pit is this larger pit, a stepped tank with a platform around it. This tank was meant for purification bath.. for those participating in the rituals.

It seems the projections around the tank were individual seats. Probably after the bath, individuals would sit and meditate before initiating the ritual.

Almost symmetrical in plan in either axis except for the circular hole in one corner. I'm guessing water flowed into the tank from that corner.

Closer look at the water hole. Probably there was a canal which fed water to this pit, water would pour into this rectangular pit and flow into the stepped tank. Water had to flow slowly to so that bricks do not wear out quickly. It would be interesting to see the sight back in time. As I took pictures, Pushpa and Bhuvana had taken refuge of the only shaded spot. Pushpa wanted to head back but I wanted to check out the reminder of the path. I suggested they go back and wait for me at Dalai Lama tree near Maha Chaitya.

View of Kurma tank and smaller pits from the stepped tank platform. Wondering if the smaller pits and Kurma tank were inter-connected through underground pipes. Things connected to Vedic culture are usually complicated, of course there would be a purpose to it.

The stepped tank platform gave a glimpse of Nagarjuna Sagar. Beyond the water is another island, much larger, its wild, no signs of human activity. There's lot of wildlife on these island such as boars, rabbits, porcupines, may be wild cats too. This is the general terrain grass, thorny bushes, thorny shrubs and cactus too. Weather is generally warm and arid hence the presence of thorny flora.

Close to the end of the tourist path is this monument- Swastika Stupa. Its about 16' in diameter with a Swastika at its core enclosed in concentric stone rings. Swastika is one symbol common to many faiths across the globe. Quting a para from Wikipedia: In Hinduism, the clockwise symbol is called Swastika, symbolizing Surya, prosperity and good luck, while the counterclockwise symbol is called Sauvastika, symbolizing night or tantric aspects of Kali. In Jainism, a swastika is the symbol for Suparshvanatha — the 7th of 24 Tirthankaras (spiritual teachers and saviours), while in Buddhism it symbolizes the auspicious footprints of the Buddha.

A stone tablet describes the monument as- Swastika Stupa: This transplanted Stupa was originally part of a complex located the Mahavihara Vasin monastery in the valley. The remains of of this structure has interesting arrangement of bricks in the center of the hub in the shape of Swastika from with its arms turning clockwise. The Swastika Stupa is an exceptional example of the Buddhist architecture of Nagarjunakonda valley.

Glad to have seen the Swastika, it gives positive  vibes. A security guard has told to turn back after seeing Swastika Stupa, it may not be safe to venture beyond it because of wild animals. Having come so far it, I didn't want to miss seeing what lay beyond the walls.. who knows there might be a unmarked monument. No, such luck but there was an antique trolley parked in the middle of the road. Behind me, to the left are several vacant houses, I think they are staff quarters built for this restoration project. I rested few minutes in the shade and silence.. so peaceful. Wish I could get a job on this island :)

I trek back to Dalai Lama tree where my companions were resting. I too rest, have water and cucumber.. ah refreshing it was! We were hungry but we wanted to have lunch close to the museum itself. I did not want to walk around too much after the meal, hence the plan. Back near the fort wall, Pushpa mentioned that we could see the ancient well before reaching the museum and there was a shortcut. We left the cement path and took this dirt path passing through the fort wall.

A well used passage during those days. Close to this wall, behind us is the ancient well which is really wide.

Here's the ancient well. Its mouth at ground level is 52 meters (170'). A flight of steps descends into its belly. This well seems to be dug before or during the time fort was built here. Probably the hacked out stone was used for building fort walls or the circular pyramid.

Opposite the museum, we found a cool spot under a tree, had idli we had picked up at Vijayapuri, then chatted as we rested 30 minutes. Around the spot we could see patches of disturbed ground which I recognized as wild boars' work. During rain season when soil is soft they dig with their snouts for earthworms. In fact I saw patches near the circular pyramid as well. A very busy island during nights.

Having rested, we made our way to the museum, a stone structure with circular windows with coiled serpent grill. Each of these windows is framed with a Stupa like section which also seems like a Lotus. Whoever designed the building wanted to give it a touch of Buddhism. The museum interior is spacious, with the high ceiling, it has a proper museum ambiance. The artifacts collection is mostly ancient sculptures, rare and valuable items. There was one section for prehistoric stone implements and pottery. A small collection of ancient swords and spears were also displayed. Besides ancient artifacts, there was one room with a 8' x 8' scale model of the Buddhist site in Krishna valley. If I remember correctly, about 60 structures were marked in it. Lot of effort by the team who created the model. Like most museums, photography is not allowed. After walking around 45 minutes, all of us badly wanted to sit, so we had to come out. Very close to the museum is the relocated bathing ghat.. missed taking pictures of it.

We were unsure of the boat timings and not willing to risk missing it, we headed back towards the docking point. The last boat arrived with a load of tourists and gave them an hour on the island. As soon as it was empty, we boarded and occupied seats. By departure the boat was filled beyond its capacity, there were people standing and sitting on the lower deck too.

Last look at the island, ruins of the fort walls on the eastern end.

Terns entertained us during the return journey. Their effortless sweeps, turns, twists, dives and take offs was amazing. We kept on shooting them through my telephoto lens in continuous shoot mode. Not very good pictures, I manipulated some to share them here. They seem to fish more during mornings and evenings and less during midday. In envied their freedom..

The return journey was slightly longer than the onward journey, probably because of the extra load in the boat. It was around 7 by the time we docked and reached the car park. It was a nice experience, the boat, wast sheet of water, the island, monuments, the silence.. We drove back to Vijay Vihar, freshened up, early dinner, short stroll and early to bed with plans of visiting Anupu archaeological site in the morning.

Sep 8, 2018

Nagarjunasagar and Nagarjunakonda - part 3

..continued from Nagarjuna Sagar and Nagarjunakonda - part 2

Having seen the Megalithic tomb and Simhala Vihara, we arrive at Bodhisri Chaitya. This structure is similar to Uddesika Stupa seen at Simhala monastery, a cylinder with a dome enclosed in an apsidal brick wall. The only difference is the missing half-moon stone at the Chaitya entrance. Another thing- this wall is thicker than the ones seem earlier.

A stone tablet describes the monument as follows-
Bodhisri Chaitya (3rd Cent CE)
Originally this Chaitya formed part of Chuladharmagiri Vihara. The inscription on the floor slabs registered the gifts by disciple Upasika Bodhisri.

Quoting a line from Wikipedia: A Stupa (Sanskrit: "heap") is a mound-like or hemispherical structure containing relics (śarīra - typically the remains of Buddhist monks or nuns) that is used as a place of meditation. So Stupas are somewhat like Gaddigae aka Khabar aka tomb. The structure is designed for meditation, especially the rounded end converges the vision unlike sharp corners which seem to distract. At the base of the hemisphere runs a circular channel, no idea what the purpose is. At the base of a cylinder is a white stone ring which depicts a lotus in full bloom. Here we actually go "around" unlike the conventional square paths around Garbhagudi.

A thought- modern day space observatory buildings resemble this structure. Over the dome view of the Stupa. The sculptors skill in creating this 3D assembly is commendable.

Here's the map of Nagarjunakonda island showing the positions of monuments on it. To cover all the monuments one need to be prepared to walk six kilometers. So its good to arrive here by the first boat in the morning. The boat operators announce that you have one hour, just ignore it, you can take another boat for the return journey, there's no rule that you have to take the same boat for onward and return journeys. However, you have to stick to the operator i.e. Telangana or Andhra Pradesh. Generally its warm here, good to wear light shades of cotton, wear shoes, carry an umbrella, water, citrus fruits and snacks.
Next item on our path is a Hindu temple which was originally built here. There are two or three other Hindu shrines on this hill on original locations. The temple has a Garbhagudi and a Mukhamantapa without roof, not sure if it was ever completed or if was damaged at some point of time. On the right side of the temple you can see a hemispherical object, that's a Stupa, we'll be going there next.

The temple's design is similar to temples built during Vijayanagara or Kakatiyas time. Had it been complete, there would be s stepped Shikhara. There's no deity inside, no rituals performed here.

Lets move on to the Stupa now which is known as Chamtasri Chaitya Griha. A tablet planted here describes the monuments as-
This Chaitya Griha with its votive Stupa was built by queen Chamtasri sister of Vasishthiputra Chantamula for the use of monks living in the adjoining Mahavinaya Seliya Vihara.

Like the stupas at Simhala Vihara and Bodhisri Chaitya this too is apsidal, built of red bricks and grey stone. It looks like every stupa had caretaker monks, it would be their responsibility to maintain and protect it. Also, its a belief that any building should be inhabited lest evil spirits haunt if its vacant.

The white ring symbolizes a lotus. The remains of Buddhist monk or nun enshrined in this Stupa is placed in the Divine flower. Fortunate are those who built this monument.

A close look at one of the slabs on the Stupa. The concentric circles indicate it was turned in a lathe like device. Also, notice the curvature of the slab. All slabs around the Stupas have turn marks on them. This stone is known as Shahabad stone in northern Karnataka.

A stone's throw from Chamtasri Chaitya Griha is the Maha Chaitya. For pious Buddhists, this is the most important monument on this island. In terms of physical size this is the largest Stupa too. In fact Dalai Lama had paid a visit to this monument in 2006.

Description of this monument on a stone tablet planted here-
Mahastupa (re-constructed) 3rd Cent CE
This is the principal stupa found in the Krishna valley and referred to in the inscription on the Ayaka pillars as "Maha Chaitya." It contained a sacred bone relic probably of the Lord Buddha himself. Chamtamula built this Mahastupa under the supervision of the reverend Anand, a disciple of Buddha, during the 6th regnal year of the King Sri Virupashadatta of the Ikshvaku line (3rd Century CE) of about 27.5 m marked by ayaka platforms surmounted by ayaka pillars in the four cardinal directions.

Now you know why Maha Stupa's significance, because of the possible physical connection with Gautama Buddha. The white column seen here is the Ayaka pillar at the Northern side.

I go around it clockwise. This wall runs around the Stupa, with entrances at the four cardinal directions.

Here's the bird's eye view of Mahastupa. Thanks to Google Satellite Maps and Wikimapia. The overall diameter is 43 meters (140') and diameter of the inner Stupa is 26 meters (85'). Overall height is around 10' excluding pillar height.

A close look at the Ayaka platform and pillars marking South. These are the original bricks which have withstood the test of time.

Another view of the southern platform with its share of pillars.

As I came to this platform i.e. marking west direction, a group of Tibetan Buddhist were offering prayers here. The group included a nun and a monk too. I watched them from a distance.. they had traveled so far to visit this sacred monument which means I was fortunate enough see this as well. The reason for the pillar's importance is the inscription it carries. There's no information about the inscription here so I'm guessing that it mentions the presence of Buddha's bone in this Stupa.

A close look at the Ayaka pillar and its inscription. I'm guessing the text is Brahmi.

The northern platform, this Ayaka pillar is the tallest remaining pillar on this island.

This Peepul tree planted by Dalai Lama on Jan-2-2006. For a 10 year old tree, its quite a slow growing tree but it looks healthy. Thanks to the caretakers.

Most tourists who made it to Maha Chaitya turn and go back towards the museum. I'd to force my companions Pushpa and Bhuvana to join me.. the heat was sapping out our energy. Moreover we'd forgotten a hat and umbrella.

This is the desolate path going towards the two remaining monuments- Aswamedha Tank and Swastika Stupa.

The tour continues in Nagarjuna Sagar and Nagarjunakonda - part 4.