The small village of Sirpur, located in the Mahasamund district of Chhattisgarh, has a fascinating past. It is tucked away along the right bank of the Mahanadi River. The Sarabhapuriyas and Panduvamsis of South Kosala called Sirpur their capital from the fifth to the eighth centuries AD. Sirpur was once a prosperous town of considerable prominence. Once known as "Sripura," this town was a picture of prosperity and cultural advancement because it was home to opulent residences, a magnificent palace, and a number of temples.
King Teevardeva of the Somavamsi dynasty ruled Sirpur around the middle of the 6th century AD, initiating the Golden Age of the city. Teevardeva is portrayed as the king of the entire Kosala region in inscriptions discovered in Sirpur and its vicinity. Sirpur reached its height of splendour at this time, with literature, art, architecture, and iconography all thriving in abundance.
Huen T'sang, a well-known Chinese traveller, was drawn to Sirpur by its popularity and described its inhabitants as being tall, black, and affluent while he was there in 639 AD. The noble Kshatriya monarch of Sirpur was well-liked by his subjects.
When Sirpur was at its peak, it developed into a significant Buddhist hub. According to Huen T'sang's records, Sirpur was home to about 100 Buddhist monasteries that could hold 10,000 Mahayana monks. The town was also studded with approximately 150 temples, demonstrating its importance as a major Buddhist centre. The discovery of artefacts, such as a huge head and an inscribed image of Buddha, further supported Sirpur's Buddhist affiliation by confirming the existence of these monasteries and temples.
Sirpur was a Buddhist stronghold, but there were other religions there as well. Scholars Beglar and Cunningham's investigations revealed the presence of a number of religious sites, including sites that were Brahmanical, Saivite, Vaisnavite, Buddhist, and Jain. Sirpur's multifaceted religious landscape contributed to its cultural diversity and fostered a climate in which several religions coexisted peacefully.
The town planning and architectural endeavours made during the reign of Majasudevaraja of the Sarabhapura dynasty are described in inscriptions and historical documents. However, Sirpur was chosen as the capital of the Somavamsi dynasty by King Tivradeva, who also made large contributions from the city. During his reign, a great number of temples and monasteries representing many religious traditions, such as Saivas, Vaisnavas, Buddhists, and Jains, were built. The impressive array of religious monuments appeared on Sirpur's landscape as a result of the period's flourishing artistic and architectural endeavours.
The Sirpur Gandhesvara temple inscriptions of Mahasivagupta Balarjuna are among the priceless records tracing Sirpur's illustrious past. These inscriptions commemorate Jorjjaraka, a holy and devout person who lived in the Sivagupta empire, who established the offering of flowers and the worship of the god Gondharvesvara. The inscriptions expressly refer to the delivery of flowers by the Navahatta garland makers, a location connected to Sirpur. Navahatta might have been a nearby village or a brand-new market inside Sirpur, illustrating the growth and development of the town.
Historical records from Sirpur reveal the distinctive coexistence of many religious faiths. The development of temples and monasteries for Saivas, Vaisnavas, Buddhists, and Jains is a prime example of the town's tolerance and inclusivity of all religions. This variety of places of worship not only exemplifies the period's architectural mastery but also represents the peaceful coexistence of various worldviews in the town. Sirpur served as a monument to the rich cultural heritage of Chhattisgarh, where people from all walks of life found peace in their respective religions.
Sirpur holds within its boundaries a treasure trove of magnificent monuments that offer a glimpse into the region's rich historical and cultural heritage.
The Lakshmana Temple
Lakshmana Temple, built in the 7th century by Queen Vasata, mother of King Mahashiva Gupta Balajurna, is a monument to the artistic prowess of the Panduvamsi dynasty. The temple's red brick sikhara (tower) and door still exhibit excellent sculptures showing the different Lord Vishnu incarnations, as well as murals showing scenes from everyday life and romantic interactions, despite the fact that the temple has sustained substantial damage over time.
The Rama Temple
As we continue on our journey, we come upon the ruins of the ancient Rama Temple, which is known for its distinctive star-shaped platform (jagati). This work of art is regarded as one of India's first examples of such a design. The magnificent temples of the Hoysala empire in Karnataka were later inspired by the jagati of the Rama Temple.
Sirpur Buddha Vihara
Lose yourself in the tranquilly of the Sirpur Buddha Vihara, a Buddhist temple and monastery from the eighth century. Bhikshu Anand Prabhu constructed this venerated location, also known as the Sirpur Buddha Vihara, with the help of King Sivagupta Balarjuna. Numerous Buddhist pilgrims visit the fourteen-room temple and monastery, which has received two blessings from the Dalai Lama. The massive Avalokitesvara Buddha statue, which exudes compassion and tranquilly, is one of the key draws.
Baleshwar Temple Complex
The Baleshwar Temple complex is around 50 metres northwest of the Teevardev Buddh Vihara monument and is open for exploration. This architectural marvel was built by King Mahashiv Gupt Balarjuna in the middle of the eighth century and features elegantly carved pillars, lintels, and a door jamb decorated with images of elegant women. A marble Shiva lingam, which is emitting heavenly energy, is located inside the shrine.
Surang Tila Temple Complex
Discover the splendour of Surang Tila, the greatest temple complex in Sirpur. This Panchayatana-style temple was built by Mahasivagupta Balariun in the 7th century AD and was discovered in 2006–2007. The main white stone temple is perched on a 9-meter-high terrace with columns. The terrace still displays the remains of 32 finely carved pillars, despite some portions that have subsided, probably as a result of an earthquake in the 12th century. The temple complex is decorated with five sanctuaries, including one for Ganesha and four for Shiva, each containing a distinct coloured lingam. A priest's home and a modest tantric temple with a Shiva lingam are also in ruins on the lower levels.
The architectural glories and religious diversity of Sirpur serve as a testament to the rich cultural history of Chhattisgarh. The heritage of the Sarabhapura and Somavamsi dynasties, as revealed through inscriptions and copper plates, exemplifies the transition of the town into a centre of architectural brilliance that also embodies the spiritual devotion and cultural diversity that flourished in the region.
Meril Mathew, Intern @DH
BA EPH, Christ University, Bangalore
1. Pradhan, A. K., & Yadav, S. (2013). SIRPUR — A UNIQUE TOWNSHIP OF EARLY MEDIEVAL INDIA (FRESH EVIDENCE FROM EXCAVATIONS). Proceedings of the Indian History Congress, 74, 854–864. http://www.jstor.org/stable/44158887
2. Saxena, Saurabh. Saurabh Saxena. 24 June 2011, puratattva.in/sirpur-an-icon-of-dakshina-kosala.