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Archive for the ‘Places & Monuments’ Category

In the period between the Mauryas and Guptas lot of wealth and energy were spent on Buddhist architecture and one of their major symbol was the stupa. The main sites of Buddhist stupas are Bharhut and Sanchi in Madhya Pradesh and Amaravati in Andhra Pradesh.

The stupa in Amaravati, which is larger than the more famous one in Sanchi, was originally built during the time of Emperor Asoka. It was completed in 200 A.D and is decorated with carved panels which tell the story of Buddha’s life. This region between Krishna and Godavari was an important place for Buddhism from the 2nd century B.C and some ancient sculpture in low relief has been found here. During the Satavahana period (2nd – 3rd century A.D), Dharanikota near Amaravati was chosen as the capital. The stupa was then adorned with limestone reliefs and free standing Buddha figures. [13]

During the period of the decline of Buddhism, this stupa was also neglected and it was burried under rubble. There is a 14th century inscription in Sri Lanka which mentions repairs made to the stupa and after that it was forgotten.

If the early history of Amaravati and its stupa is dramatic and intriguing, its chance re-discovery by the archaeologists is more so. Around the year 1796, an enterprising zamindar shifted his residence from crowded Chintapalli to deserted Amaravati. He soon invited other people to settle in Amaravati. This led to the construction of roads and houses in the area. In the course of construction, the workers often found large bricks and carved limestone slabs below the ground. The news soon reached the ears of Colonel Colin Mackenzie, who visited the site twice (in 1787 and 1818) and prepared drawings and sketches of the relics in the area. Eventually, several European scholars like Sir Walter Smith, Robert Sewell, James Burgess and Alexander Rea excavated the site and unearthed many sculptures that once adorned the stupa. In recent decades, the Archaeological Survey of India has conducted further excavations in the area.

Art historians regard the Amaravati art as one of the three major styles or schools of ancient Indian art, the other two being the Gandhara style and the Mathura style. Some of the Buddhist sculptures of Amaravati betray a Greco-Roman influence that was the direct result of the close trade and diplomatic contacts between South India and the ancient Romans. Indeed, Amaravati has itself yielded a few Roman coins[History in stone]

The Amravati school of art had great influence on art in Sri Lanka and South-East Asia as products from here were carried to those countries. It also had influence over South Indian sculpture. The Government Museum at Egmore (Madras Museum), one of the oldest and largest museums in Asia hosts the “Amaravati Gallery”.

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Gondeshwar Temple, Sinnar, Nasik (Photo by Amol N. Banker)

The Gondeshwar temple is a very beautiful temple built in the Hemadpanthi style of Architechture. During the Adilshahi rule in Maharastra, Ahmednagar was the capital. One of the pradhans (minister) of Ahmednagar was Hemadpanth who popularised a typical style of construction using locally available black stone and lime. This style became very popular and came to be known as the Hemadpanthi style. The Gondeshwar temple is one of the few structures of this style still in good shape. [Nasik City Guide]

More Gondeshwar photos

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Apparently the design for the Indian Parliament was “inspired”. The inspiration comes from an eighth century Shiva temple in Madhya Pradesh.

Located in the non-descript Mitawali village of Morena district, the magnificent circular structure lies in a radius of 170 feet. The temple, dedicated to Hindu God, Lord Shiva, has figurines of 64 demigoddesses engraved on the circular inner wall. It also has 64 rooms, each with a ‘Shivlingam’- Shiva’s phallic symbol.

Archaeologists claim that the temple was a seat of Vedic and astrological studies in the olden days.

The Parliament building, designed by renowned architects Sir Edwin Lutyens and Sir Herbert Baker, was constructed in 1927, 20 years before India’s independence in 1947. The building has been highly appreciated for its design across the world .It is touted to be among one of the world’s best architectural wonders.

But the temple, which the archaeologists and locals in Mitawali believe might have inspired the magnificent building, is in a state of dilapidation.

The Archaeological Survey of India, the autonomous body in-charge of India’s historical sites has only deputed a caretaker at the temple premises. Absence of any concerted renovation work is affecting the entire structure, especially the sculptures on the temple wall. [Central Indian temple that inspired Parliament lies in neglect]

Picture: Mitawli Shiva Temple

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From the end of the Gupta period in India, religion in India was more into magic and sexual mysticism. This affected even Buddhism and a new branch called Vajrayana appeared in Eastern India in the 8th century and grew in Bihar and Bengal. A version of this branch, modified by local cults and practices was established in Tibet as a result of missions sent from India. The monastery responsible for this was the Vikramasila, in Bihar[13].

The ruins of this monastery is located a few miles away from Bargaon village, where Nalanda University was located.

The Tibetan Taranatha’s description in his work, History of Indian Buddhism, in the early 18th century and other minor historiographical works and from references in the colophons of a number manuscripts recovered from Tibet elaborate Vikramasila was the greatest and most famous educational establishment of the time. This university was located on the right bank of the Ganges where the holy river flows northwards.

It was in the Augustan period of Buddhist Pala kings of Bengal Vikramasila emerged the pre-eminent position in the contemporary educational structure of the then India.

This stately educational establishment had six noble gates, each of which was guarded by a scholar Buddhist monk officer of the university designated ‘Gate-keeper Scholar’ (Dvarapalaka Pandit) who examined applicants to the university. It is said that these entry examinations were so tough that of ten applicants only three gained admission. The university granted the degree of Pandit, equivalent now to Master of Arts.

The fame and prestige of Vikramasila are recorded in Tibetan records. This institution had a large measure of association with the great scholar Dipankara Srijnana (980-1053 AD), who having completed his education at Odantapuri University, became the head of the Vikramasila (1034-38 AD). [The historic Vikramasila Buddhist university]

The Palas, the last major dynasty to champion Buddhism were responsible for the revival of Nalanda University and the massive building programme at Somapura, which is now in Paharpur in Bangladesh.

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Pakistan has many places of worship important to Hindus and Sikhs and we covered on such place, Sharada Thirtha, a while back. Now Pakistan is nominating the Katasraj temple, dedicated to Lord Shiva, for World Heritage Site status.

Dedicated to Lord Shiva, the sprawling Katasraj shrine located in Chakwal district is constructed on a site believed to have been visited by the Pandava brothers of Mahabharata epic fame. Apart from the temples, there is a sacred pool having mythical association with Lord Shiva.

One of the key driving forces behind the efforts to restore the shrine is Chaudhury Shujaat Hussain, President of the country’s ruling Pakistan Muslim League (Q). His brother Chaudhury Pervez Illahi is the Chief Minister of the Punjab province where the shrine is located.[Pak. may nominate Katasraj for World Heritage Site status]

During their exile the Pandavas reached a lake and when they were about to quench their thirst, a Yaksha, the protector of the lake appeared and said that only people who answer his questions right would be allowed to drink water. The four Pandavas failed and were made lifeless by the Yaksha. Finally Yudhishtira answered all his questions and the brothers were revived. According to one legend, this dialogue happened at the Katasraj Mandir pond.

A look at this temple and you can see how much renovation and restoration needs to be done here.

The very entrance to Katasraj Mandir is a pathetic one. There’s nothing that can be termed as Mandir except the ruins. In fact, the presence of an old board only indicated that the site is that of the famous Katasraj Mandir where a guard is also placed. There is a plaque by the Archaeological Survey of Pakistan that quotes the history of this temple. “Katas: Kohistan Mountains, Central Chakwal — according to the legend of the Mahabharata, when Lord Shiva lost his wife Parvati, he felt so upset that the ponds at the eastern and western ends of the temple got filled by his tears. In Sanskrit it is also known as ‘Katak Sheel’ which means flow of tears. Later on the name got twisted to ‘Katas’. The place is of great significance for the Brahmins.”

Even Al-Bairuni wrote an interesting history of the temple in his ‘Kitab-ul-Hind’ where he depicts that he learnt Sanskrit and science at Katas. Not only this, quite interestingly, he even learnt many Vedic traditions. Renowned historian Panikkar states that ‘Kitab-ul-Hind’ brings a very honest and first-hand account of history at that time. It is also mentioned in Bairuni’s book that Katas happened to be the most revered Mandir after Punjab’s Jwalamukhi Mandir. This fact is also confirmed by Liaqat Ali Khan Niyazi, the Deputy Commissioner of Chakwal. Al-Bairuni also mentioned about other Pakistani temples like Panch Mukhi ka Hanuman Mandir, Nagnath Baba Mandir and Darya Lal Mandir. [Temples Dying in Pakistan]

Now Pakistan is going to spend $25 million for the restoration of this temple and hopefully after that it should have the grandeur it once had.

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Sharada Thirtha

Often, Indian Hindus and Sikhs make demands to Pakistani authorities to give them permission to visit their holy places located in Pakistan. These visits allow the visitors to worship in those places and also see for themselves how temples and gurudwaras are maintained in the Islamic state.

One such holy place, the Sharada temple, according to Subhash Kak, is the most famous and sacred of all Kashmiri pilgrimage centers. It is located in Neelam valley in Pakistan occupied Kashmir near the Line Of Control. According to Al-Biruni Sharada was as important as Somnath, Multan and Thaneshvar.

The native script for Kashmiri is also called Sharada and was derived from Brahmi. The earliest records in Sharada have been dated to 800 A.D and was found all over northwest India. Also, Gurmukhi, the Punjabi script was based on Sharada script. None of the history books, even ones by eminent historians[3] do not mention this script or temple.

A mention of the Sharada temple is present in the second volume of Rajatarangini, translated by M.A.Stein.

In the centre of the quadrangle is the temple raised on a basement of 24 feet square and 5 feet 3 inches high. The entrance to this inner temple is from the west side and is approached by stairs five and a half feet wide with flanking side walls. The interior of the inner temple is a square of 12 feet and 3 inches and it has no decoration of any kind. The only conspicous object inside is a large slab which measures about 6 by 7 feet with a thickness of about half a foot. This slab is believed to cover a kunda, or spring, in which goddess Sharada appeared to the sage Shandilya. This kund is the object of the special veneration of the pilgrims.[Sharadha Tirtha]

Recently someone traveled to Pakistan Occupied Kashmir and sent a detailed report on the journey as well as the state of the temple.

Anyway, we arrived in Sharda to be told that the Sharda temple was inside Pak army barracks and permission had to be obtained to see it. Apparently, the Pak army moved there a long time ago, taking over the temple complex and the surrounding area for their barracks.The upside of this was that the remains of the temple were being maintained and protected by Pak army. Anyway, we got permission to see the temple but were not allowed to take photographs due to some law. (I think it was more to do with the current political climate etc). Anyway, we talked to the commanding officer and he gave us permission for photography.[Pictures of Sharda Peeth (has 22 pictures) via IndiaArchaeology]

Looking at the pictures, you can see for yourself how well the Pakistani Army has maintained the temple. Well, atleast they did not blow it up like what the Taliban did to the Bamiyan Buddhas.

Footnotes:
[1] After looking around I could not find who built the temple or what era it was built. If you have any information/links, please let me know.

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Lahore, Pakistan, was founded by Loh (Lav), the son of Lord Rama and there is a temple in Lahore fort dedicated to him. After being closed for many years, the dungeons of Lahore fort and the temple are going to be opened for public.

The temple was named after Loh, a Hindu prince, the founder of Lahore and one of the two sons of Rama, the hero of Ramayana. Kush, Rama’s second son, founded the town of Kasu (present day Kasur). The temple is located near the Alamgiri gate where the old jails of the Fort used to be. In Ziaul Haq’s regime the temple was completely closed as the dungeons were being used by the police. From 1985 the temple was opened only for visits by the Fort officials or on request. [Lahore Fort dungeons to re-open after more than a century via India Archaeology]

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