It was around mid February when I had arrived in Raipur, the capital of Chattisgardh state in India. Having quit my job early in the year to be a travel blogger, this visit was pre-planned, and among others, the historical town of Sirpur and Kanha National park was at the top of my destinations.
On the 29th of February, I set off for Sirpur, a town which had flourished for centuries on the banks of the mighty river Mahanadi. The weather was just right and with a plan to come back by evening, I started early. It was a nice 80 kms drive from Raipur and with a single tea break halt, I reached Sirpur in 2 hours.
Between fifth and twelveth centuries CE, Sirpur had been the capital of empires which ruled the present day states of Chattisgarh and Odisha. It had been a place of pilgrimage for the followers of Jainism, Buddhism and Hinduism. Though there is mention of Sirpur in the records of Chinese travelers, the place acquired international acclaim after the noteworthy Laxman Temple was discovered during the colonial period in India.
As I reached Sirpur, of the many temples and monasteries, I chose to visit the top three prominent ones :
This was my first place of visit. Contrary to common belief, the Laxman Temple is dedicated to Lord Vishnu. It was built around 600 CE from bricks and that gives it its unique appearance. Some part of the temple is ruined, but tremendous efforts are being put by the government to revive its charm. It is a singular structure and though the temple doesn't boast of very detailed architecture, the entrance has some beautiful stone carvings, which stand apart and interestingly resemble the ones in temples of Khajuraho.
Within the temple complex, I also visited a museum of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). It had a large number of excavated stone carving exhibit from medieval times temples and monasteries. Though some of the exhibits were damaged, it was evident a lot of effort had gone into preserving what was left of it.
My next destination was the excavation site of a monastery. This 8th century Buddhist monastery has had many visitors throughout the year, both Hindus and Buddhists alike. It was probably built during the 7th or 8th century, but was unearthed in 2003. The temple had idols of Buddha and of special mention are the intricate stone carvings at the entrance of the temple. These carvings show gestures and phases of Buddha’s life, including love, matrimony, friendship and others.
My third place of visit was the mysterious Surang Tila. A large temple complex made of white stone with a pillared terrace 30 feet above the ground with steps to reach the elevated terrace area was a view with a difference. Towards the sides of the stairs, one could clearly see a curvature, intentionally shaped in the manner to prevent damage to the complex from earthquakes.
Though the purpose of the terrace is unclear, it may have been used for religious functions, for it had ruins of carved pillars uniformly spaced from each other. On the three sides of the terrace were sanctums of Lord Shiva and Lord Vishnu. There is quite a mystery surrounding the structure of the Surang Tila, for though there are sanctums of Hindu Gods, its structure or construct does not resemble a temple. There are also present day theories of stone carving findings of extra terrestrial on the site.
Before leaving Sirpur, I also visited some other noteworthy places and those included the Gandheshwar Shiva Temple situated on the banks of the river Mahanadi, Ram Temple, Lord Jagannath Temple and many more. I wish I could have stayed more and got a chance to get to know more about the past of Sirpur.
By evening I head back to Raipur with a strong conviction of returning back for more. It is quite evident that Sirpur has many more treasures yet to be discovered and while archeologists work on unexcavated mounds, I hope to visit again sometime in the future and learn more about its glorious and mysterious past.
Unfortunately, due to the restrictions followed by a lockdown due to Corona virus pandemic, my plan to visit the Kanha National Park could not take shape. This was my second attempt to visit the national park, but with the monsoons coming up, it looks like I need to wait another year to be able to witness the tigers in the wild.
Until then, I choose to stay safe, at home.