| One of the Buddha vihars found during the excavations
Raipur, June 20: An ancient temple complex four times bigger than Nalanda with stone carvings not seen even in Khajuraho has been discovered at Sirpur, a town on the Mahanadi near here.
About 200 mounds, 100 Buddha vihars, four Jain vihars and more than 100 Shiva temples spread across 25 sq km were found during excavations that began in February but have had to be suspended for the monsoon.
While this makes it the biggest temple complex of the sixth and seventh centuries to be uncovered so far, the finding is significant not for size alone.
For the first time, stone carvings depicting sexual activity among animals have been found. “This is the rarest of carvings seen in Indian archaeology,” said K.K. Muhhamed, superintending archaeologist with the Archaeological Survey of India. These are not seen even at Khajuraho and Ellora, he stressed.
A.K. Sharma, who supervised the digging on assignment from the state government, called for Sirpur’s inclusion in Unesco’s World Heritage List. “There are many unique features that give Sirpur a distinct identity on the Indian archaeological map,” he said.
The town about 80 km east of the Chhattisgarh capital is one of a few medieval heritage sites in India with specimens of Shaiva, Vaishnava, Buddha and Jain architecture, Sharma added. A 1.8-metre Shivalinga, believed to be the tallest in the state, has been found during the recent excavations.
The digging was to have been started in 2000, but got delayed when Sharma was directed to lead a team that conducted the excavation in Ayodhya following a court order to search for remains of a Ram temple at the disputed site.
Agreeing with Sharma, Muhhamed said Sirpur gave temple architecture in India a turning point. The Laxman Temple here is one of the country’s finest brick temples and the only one of its time, after Bhitargaon in Kanpur, that has a shikhara.
The shikhara or kailash was not seen in temples built before the 7th century and its construction was a turning point in temple architecture, Muhhamed iterated.
Sirpur was an important centre of Buddhism from the 6th to the 10th century, and Chinese scholar and traveller Hiuen Tsang visited it in the 7th century.
A Buddha vihar with underground rooms and a six-foot Buddha statue was discovered here during earlier excavations. Mahashivgupt Balarjun, the most famous ruler of South Kosal of which Sirpur was the capital, was a Shaivaite but patronised the Buddha vihar.
The Chhattisgarh government is now planning to develop Sirpur as a tourist destination and has proposed a fund of Rs 4 crore. The Centre is offering another Rs 5 crore. Japan and other countries where Buddhism spread will also be tapped.