Where to go
The small town of Sirpur or Sripura, as it was known in ancient days is located 85 km east from capital Raipur along the bank of Mahanadi river, amidst the forested enclaves of Barnawapara sanctuary in the Mahasamund district of Chhattisgarh.
Sirpur was the capital of the Dakshin Kosala between CE 5th and 6th centuries and flourished to its peak in the reign of Mahasivagupta Balarjuna (c. 595-650 AD). During this reign, the foundations of numerous Shiva temples and Buddhists Vihars were laid.
The Archaeological Survey of India have revealed the presence of a splendid intermix of cultures dating from 5th to 10th century AD relating to Buddhist, Shaiva, Vaishnava and Jain architecture. The syncretic tradition showcased in the architectural remains here, reminds one of the magnificent Ellora caves where Buddhist, Hindu and Jain caves temples and monasteries, dating from same time period, were excavated.
Long famed 7th century Laxman Temple (dedicated to lord Vishnu), first discovered in 1872 by Lord Cunningham, the then Director General of Archeological Survey. The temple is considered as one of the finest brick temples of India with a stone doorframe.
The most amazing find at Sirpur is an ancient Buddhist Sangharama or monastery, said to be bigger than the great Nalanda university itself. The Buddhist Vihar, found during excavations, is magnificent and it's the biggest temple complex of 6th and 7th centuries to be covered so far. For the first time, stone carvings depicting sexual activity among animals have been found-a rarest form of carvings in Indian Archaeology. The region was an important centre for Buddhism from 6th to 10 century and was visited by Hieun Tsang, the 7th Century Chinese Pilgrim and Scholar.
Present day excavation continue to prove that the Sirpur was prosperous as early as 3rd century BCE to nearly CE 17th century with beautifully panned and administered riverside enclave. According to Archaeologist Sirpur was much more developed than the ancient township of Harrapa and Mohenjo-daro.
Sirpur visit can be combined with Barnawapara wildlife sanctuary which one of the few forest tracts in central India where leopard and gaur (India Bison) density is very high. Sirpur can also be visited separately considering it close proximity from state capita Raipur.
Laxman temple dates back to 7th century AD, is considered unque in brick architecture in India. At the very first glance, one can not help but wonder how a brick structure of this size has survived for centuries! It is the only brick temple of its size still standing in this state of preservation.
A large stone inscription dating to c. 625-650 AD recovered from the fallen debris of the mandapa (shelter) in Laxman temple, records the construction of a Vishnu shrine during the reign of Somvanshi king, Mahasivagupta Balarjuna (c. 595-655) by his widowed mother Vasata, who was the daughter of king Suryavarman of Magadha. The inscription, refers to the present temple. Queen Vasata built the temple in memory of her husband, Harsha Gupta, who was an ardent devotee of Vishnu.
Though originally dedicated to Vishnu, as is indicated by the epigraphic records, the temple later came to be known as the Laxman temple.
Portion from the bottom to the top of the temple platform, is elaborately decorated with array of motifs and patterns that cannot fail to arrest the eye. Intricately carved motifs of flowers, leaves and various animals, particularly elephants, also adorn the temple. One can imagine the craftsmanship of the builders to be able to carve with such intricacy in that age and time.
The imposing Surang Tila stands in the middle of the modern village of Sirpur. The findings here are perhaps the most intriguing of all sites in Sirpur. The excavation revealed a mammoth stone structure with five shrines built atop a massive platform. This platform, rising to a height of 4.68 m, according to archeologists, the highest of any Hindu temple in India.
The Surang Tila stand out not only due to its height but the stones used for construction are of whitish tinge. A close look at the structure reveals intricate carvings towards the top edge of the plateform.
The top of the platform has remains of the pillars of the mandapa, 32 in all, arranged in a four rows with each pillar carved differently. Barring one shrine which has Ganesha statue, the other fours are dedicated to lord Shiva, each with Linga enshrined inside.
It is believed that the temple complex was built around the 6th century AD. The entire complex was fortified with 1 m wide stone and brick walls.
The Tivaradeva Mahavihar is unarguably the most beautiful of the vihars so far uneathed in Sirpur. Named after king Tivaradeva, it is the larges and the most ornate amongst all the vihars. It supposedly underwent two periods of construction, for unlike other vihars, this vihars has two mandapas and two staircases.
The entire vihar complex was set in the courtyard which was paved with the stone slabs like those seen in the Laxman temple. The main doorjamb is heavily ornamented with stories from Jatakas and Panchtantra etched on it.
The sanctum sanctorum of the vihar houses a sculpture of the Buddha. Archeologists have also discovered two other complex with residential cells around them. This indicate that the vihar, in its heyday housed a large number of Buddhist monks.
Anandprabha Kutir Vihar and various temple complexes.
Best time to visit
July – March