November 18, 2022 07:35 am | Updated 07:35 am IST – NAGARJUNASAGAR (Nalgonda Dt.)
Buddhist Monasteries of different countries and an exclusive Buddhist University near Nagarjunasagar, which houses the World’s largest masonry dam, are some of the ambitious plans that Buddhavanam, the first-of-its-kind Buddhist Heritage Theme Park project is exploring.
Overseeing the serene backwaters of River Krishna on the imposing Nagarjunasagar Dam, the 274-acre unique project showcasing glimpses of the Buddhist past and sculptures depicting the life of Gautama Buddha was inaugurated in May this year
In a short span, Buddhavanam has acquired the tag of ‘must-visit’ among the tourist places in Nagarjunasagar. The project initially developed by the Andhra Pradesh Development Corporation in 2003 was transferred to the Telangana State Tourism Development Corporation (TSTDC) after bifurcation.
The meticulously planned Heritage Theme Park spread across 274 acres is divided into eight segments with the Entrance Plaza itself standing as a big attraction. A walk through the well-developed park gives an impressive insight into the major events of the life of Siddhartha Gautama and his previous birth stories, according to Buddhavanam Project Special Officer Mallepalli Laxmaiah.
Buddhacharitavanam, Jatakavanam (Bodhisattva Park), Dhyanavanam (Meditation Park), Stupavanam, and the replica of Mahastupa (Amaravathi Style), win the hearts of the tourists as the sculptural embellishments are the main attraction of the Park.
“Miniature Stupas, a Buddhist Heritage Museum on the ground floor of the Mahastupa and the Acharya Nagarjuna statue add to the glory of Buddhist history. The Government of Sri Lanka donated a replica of the Avukana Buddha statue (27’ tall) and the Dhamma Bell are other star attractions,” Mr. Laxmaiah says.
Mr. Laxmaiah added that the Entrance Plaza depicts the Buddhist motifs and symbols with a Dharma Chakra at the Centre, the Buddha Charitavanam near the Mahastupa depicts the five major events in the life of Gautama Buddha — the birth, the four encounters, the Great Departure, the Enlightenment, the first discourse and the Mahaparinirvana (the Great Extinction).
Buddhapāda with the ‘astamangala’ (eight auspicious) symbols carved in Palnadu lime stone, at the entrance of the park, and the Dhamma bell are the principal attractions in this segment.
Jatakavanam (Bodhisatva Park) throws light on how a Bodhisattva goes through several lives practising the ‘dasa pāramitās’ or the ten perfections before he becomes the Buddha. The previous births of the Bodhisattva are illustrated in 547 stories called the ‘jātakas’.
The Jātakas are very popular in India, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Nepal, Cambodia and other Buddhist countries. Out of the 547 Jatakas, 40 are illustrated in Amaravati schools of Art by taking references from Amaravati, Phanigiri, Sriparvata (Nāgarjunakonda), Goli and other Buddhist sites.
Dhyanavanam (Meditation Park) consists of a replica of Avukana Buddha (27 ft tall), donated by the Government of Sri Lanka.
A conscious attempt has been made in developing the Stupavanam (Miniature Stupa Park) which has Buddhist stupa architecture at one place from Karla Stupa and Ajanta (Maharashtra), Sanchi (Madhya Pradesh), Sarnath (Uttar Pradesh), Mankiala, (Punjab, Pakistan) and Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka, Kahu-jo-daro (Mirpur Khas, Pakistan), Boudhanath (Nepal), Topdarra (Afghanistan), Wat Mahathat Chedi (Thailand), Pardo Kaling Chorten (Tibet), Shwesandaw (Myanmar), and Gyeongju (South Korea).
The most sought-after place in the Buddhavanam project is the Mahastupa, the centre of attraction with a width of 42 meters and 21 meters in height. It is embellished with sculptural panels of Buddhist themes on its drum and dome portions all around. It is built according to the dimensions and architecture of the original Stūpa of Dhanyakataka Amaravati, with a Vedika (drum), Anda (dome) and a Hārmika on its top, said Dr. E. Sivanagi Reddy, Archaeologist and Buddhist Expert Consultant, Buddhavanam.
Dr. Reddy elaborating on the salient feature of the Mahastupa said the ornate wall of the Mahāstūpa vedika is intricately carved with the scenes from the Buddha’s life ministry and important kings and patrons of Dhamma of the period.
“The Dome portion is encased with sculptural panels depicting the Buddhist symbols like the ‘Stūpa’, the ‘Vajrasana’, Bodhi tree, pillar of fire and Jātaka stories. Events from the life of the Buddha are also sculpted. A museum with a display of Buddhist sculptures and 100-year-old eye-copies of Ajanta frescoes and a Conference Hall are located in the ground floor of the stūpa,” he added.
Giving further insight into the inside sky view of the Mahastupa, Mr. Laxmaiah pointed out that the ceiling is decorated with Lotus petals against the sky background at the 25 ft central stupa with Panchadhyani Buddhas installed on all the eight sides of it.
The circular dome reflects the natural sky effect on the inner concave curvature of the Dome. The interior of the ceiling reflects the sky with 528 perforated trapezoidal panels, each different from the other and up to 2.5 meters in size, which were designed exclusively to suit the overall design, considering the thermodynamics of the light and its effect that adds a special radiance.
The Lotus Petals and Sky Panels are engineered and manufactured with German Technology, the first of its kind used in the World with the architectural splendour, metal ceilings and wall panels in achieving the desired design intent. The first-of-its-kind design focuses on the emotional requirements of the Buddhist visitors and stimulates the interaction between them and the Buddhist environment, Mr. Laxmaiah said.
The place after its inauguration in May this year has seen fairly good footfalls. Weekends see a heavy rush of tourists thronging the Nagarajunasagar dam.
Heavy tourist rush
August this year, when the floodgates of Nagarjunasagar dam were open, saw a heavy rush of tourists. “The tourists not only thronged the dam site but also made a beeline to the Buddhavanam project and were awestruck by the heritage theme park,” an official associated with the project said. The footfall during these periods was around 10,000 a day and particularly weekends also witnessed quite a rush of visitors, it was pointed out.
Interestingly, Buddhism which is practised in good numbers in Maharashtra also saw people of the faith visiting the Buddhavanam. Narender, an advocate from Nagpur, after a visit to the theme park, said this could be a must-visit destination for people of Buddhism if the authorities were able to publicise the project in other popular places of Buddhist interest across India. A software professional from Nanded in Maharashtra, Chandan, was so impressed by the project that he went back and sent his relatives and friends to take a tour of the project.
Recently, a 10-member group of Buddhist monks from Myanmar, who had come to Hyderabad, visited Buddhavanam project and were spellbound by the imposing Mahastupa and its artistic embellishments.
While the project has been able to attract a good number of tourists in recent times, the visitors are complaining about the lack of facilities like a full-fledged restaurant and proper toilets inside the project site. Though the Telangana Tourism Corporations’ Vijaya Vihar complex manages six cottages near the Buddhavanam project, the lack of a restaurant there has been causing a lot of inconveniences. Also, the Toy Train that used to take visitors around the over-274-acre complex is under repair. The tourists want the authorities to introduce battery-operated vehicles to take them around the project.
Mr. Laxmaiah says several Buddhist countries have evinced interest to establish their centres in Buddhavanam. A Malaysian University too sent in a proposal to set up a Buddhist Varsity while a leading hospitality group came forward to develop a world-class hotel and convention centre here. Developing a river-facing restaurant near the view-point of river Krishna backwaters is also on top of the agenda of the Buddhavanam project, the Special Officer noted.