May 5, 2018

Buddhist University Complex, Anupu Archaeological site

December 26, 2017
Anupu was the only destination for the day. We reached this reconstructed site around 10 AM. Had I known the site was open from 6AM, we would have planned an early morning visit ..the cool air in open land would have been refreshing. We parked our car close to the University complex entrance, in the shade of a small tree with bright yellow flowers. The site care-takers have maintained the place well. A signage describes this monument..

University Complex - This transplanted structure which was identified as university complex by excavators appears like a vihara complex of Buddhist monks with central meditation hall, a stupa and cells. The epigraphical evidence surfaced at this place suggests that this place was inhabited by learned Buddhist monks.

A paved footpath from the entrance leads to this circular Stupa on a square platform. These bricks are similar to Nagarjuna Konda monuments.

For easy understanding, here's a plan of the complex as seen in Wikimapia. I've marked the key spots with letters and indexed-
A - big Stupa
B - twin Chaitya Griha
C - toilet
D - three circular cells
E - platform with pillars
F - small Stupa

Nagarjuna Konda and Anupu are protected sites and listed as ticketed monuments in Archaeological Survey of India website. Here's a short description from ASI.. University complex (Monastries), Anupu: This reconstructed complex comprises of two large monastic establishments with provision for adequate sanitary arrangements and has been rightly identified as the famous University of Nagarjunakonda valley. One of them provide separate accommodation for female disciples and had a double chaitya griha, one for stupa and the other for Buddha’s idol while the other has four winged vihara around a central mandapa and an oblong Buddha shrine located in it. This complex has also yielded buddhapadas, gold casket containing relics and other materials.

Lets start our tour from the big Stupa. I'm guessing this must have had a roof, probably wooden. Had it been a stone roof, it would have been mentioned. Prayer wheels might have been present around the perimeter. One has to imagine a lot at this site.

Right besides the big stupa is a large enclosure consisting of twin Chaitya Griha, meditation hall, cells and a toilet. Around here, Pushpa asked why the walls are of same height. Well.. perhaps the engineers in-charge of the restoration wanted a neat looking monument. There could be other reasons such as wooden pillars and wooden roof. From here one of the Chaitya Griha is visible.

The apsidal Chaitya Griha which held Buddha's statue once upon a time. The semi-circular slab at the entrance is a nice touch, kind of welcomes visitors. The slab has floral engraving along the perimeter.. should have taken a close up shot. Note sure if this slab is referred to as moon-stone. Right behind me is the the other Chaitya Griha like a mirror image.

Stupa Chaitya Griha.. the round slab is missing here. It seems the design and plan of these structures have astronomical significance. Perhaps, a visit to a fully functional Chaitya Griha should help understand their significance.

A closer look at the Stupa. Originally this Stupa had a hemispherical top which is missing. The damaged has been covered up nicely during restoration work. If you look at the vertical part, its not flat but its curved. My friend Karun, an architect, had once remarked that Buddhist works are very detailed. On the island site, there are two Stupas in good condition.

The pillared meditation hall. The entrance has the semi-circular slab and three steps. Everything has a significance here.. symbolic or practical, there's a significance attached. few broken pillars are left leaning on the platform.. the pillar design is typical to Vijayapuri  monuments. The Neem tree in the background is a reference pint for this site, Pushpa is exploring close by there.

Three sides of this enclosure are lined with cells, probably these are residential cells which can also be used for meditation. These monks lead a simple life, hardly any personal belongings.. just few robes, bowl, bag, books, pitcher for drinking water, staff and wooden shoes. Their lives were dedicated to learning, gaining spiritual knowledge, preaching & serving mankind. Surely they would have cared for animals and plants too.

At the end of a row of cells we saw this little device with a exit hole. Marked as C in the plan. This is the only such thing in the entire site. I called Pushpa and told this was a toilet but she didn't quite agree. I can't think of it as anything else.. its placed at a corner, with a hole leading out of the enclosure ..what else can this be other than a toilet. The cell has enough space to keep large pitchers (for water) too.

A closer look at the device. Its made of dressed slabs cemented together. The engraving is interesting. In fact no where else I've seen such a thing. This can't be for washing clothes, its too small. From the looks it seems like a commode. If I'm wrong, please excuse me, no offence intended. And do dhare your thoughts.

Looking back towards the cells, the big Stupa's top can be seen from here. Buddhist monasteries were well organized. I feel they are organized even to this day, I could see that at Buddhist monasteries at Mundgod in Karnataka. The monasteries there have temples with halls, hostels for senior monks and dormitories for younger monks. I got a chance to see a hostel, a monk's room, class room with a class in progress, kitchen, administrative office and a full fledged debate. It was an enriching experience. you know they even have football matches. However, present day monks have more possessions

We are looking diagonally across the enclosure and the cell here seems bigger than the cells seen earlier. These cell walls have pillars too. Were these classrooms or cells for women monks.. possibly classrooms for students specializing at some level.

Another view of the central hall.

Just outside the enclosure are three circular cells with narrow openings  (marked as D in the plan). Were they cells meant for sick people ..quite possible because even monks can become sick  and they wouldn't want to spread the sickness. I'm just guessing. Do share your view.

This is the entrance to the second enclosure similar to the one we just saw. The entrance has a narrow passage, one person can pass through at a time.

This enclosure is decorated with different types of artistic entrance staircases (see inset too). Gives an impression this enclosure is for senior monks.

A closer look,, this seems like a tongue stretching out of a dragon's mouth. Hoysala and Vijaynagara (probably Chalukyan too) temples have similar staircases but they are heavily decorated and much bigger. Here a pair of seats flank the entrance.

The central pillared hall.

We come to the small Stupa (marked as F in the plan) which is opposite to the second central hall. This is a standard design here ..probably a spire stood at the center to pull in cosmic energy. All places of worship have spires like an antenna to receive signals from the outer space.

Also there was another long brick structure running parallel to fence and road. A simple long platform, no idea what that was for. So much effort has been put into reconstructing these monuments. Perhaps some more signage would help people like us to get a slightly deeper insight of the past.

Lastly, before we left the place I would to show a beautiful tree, very stylish creature it is.

Om Mani Padme Hum

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