Telangana State Tourism Development Corp., based in the central Indian state of Telangana, has announced updated plans in its development of Buddhavanam, a Buddhist heritage theme park. The site of the park, located in Nagarjunasagar, some 150 kilometers southeast of Hyderbad, has revealed a treasure trove of Buddhist and other ancient relics, and is scheduled to open soon, although confirmed dates for completion have yet to be announced.
The site sits alongside the Krishna River and the banks of the Nagarjuna Sagar Reservoir. Buddhist cultural objects at the site, including a large pillar, date to the Ikshvaku dynasty (third century CE). In this period, the rulers of the area were Shaivites. Nevertheless, Buddhists flourished and were able to construct a number of monuments. The area is known to have had a Buddhist settlement and related activity from the sixth century BCE.
“Currently, the remains of [a] Buddhist pillar can be seen on a ‘Panavatta’ of the Kakatiya period and worshipped as Sivalinga by the locals,” said E. Sivanagi Reddy, an archaeologist with expertise in Buddhism and a consultant on the Buddhavanam project. “The pillar is located on a platform inside a natural cave, once a habitat of the pre-historic man, as is evident from the occurrence of Palaeolithic tools and Neolithic grooves noticed on the terrace of the cave at Devarachala.” (Telangana Today)
The area is rich in archeological history. Also discovered are several Mesolithic and Neolithic age (4000–1750 BCE) grooves obscured by the dense vegetation on the mountains. The grooves are said to measure 5–10 centimeters long and 3–19 centimeters wide, with an average depth of 2.5 centimeters. Archeologists suggest that they point to a factory site during the Neolithic age.
Additionally, Mesolithic stone tools including blades, burins, borers, and flakes made of local materials were also found, indicating Mesolithic habitation dating to approximately 8500 BCE.
For Buddhists, the site is perhaps best known for its connection to Nagarjuna (c. 150–250 CE). The Indian Mahayana philosopher is believed to have spent a significant portion of his life there, although evidence for this is scarce.
The developers aim for the Buddhavanam theme park to become a major pilgrimage and tourism destination for people interested in Buddhism. Included in the site will be features illustrating the life of the Buddha in various media, as well as the eventual building of monasteries by Buddhist groups from Southeast Asia and a Buddhist university. There will be a museum dedicated to the revival of Buddhism in India with an incorporated research library, a Buddhist hospital offering Tibetan herbal medicine, and a craft village complete with Buddhist handicrafts.
First conceived in 2001, the project only gained substantial support in 2016 under Telangana chief minister K. Chandrashekar Rao, who appointed senior journalist Mallepalli Laxmaiah to take up the project, with funding estimated at US$8.7 million. The area is composed of some 110 hectares of government land divided into eight segments: an elegant entrance, a Bodhisattva park depicting past lives of the Buddha, a meditation park, stupa park, a central maha (great) stupa, a Buddhist university, Buddhist monasteries, and a museum on the revival of Buddhism in India.
The site was visited by the Dalai Lama while under construction in 2006. During his visit, His Holiness planted a Bodhi tree cut from the one that stands at the place of the Buddha’s awakening in Bodh Gaya.
Buddhavanam project treasure trove of Buddhist relics (Telangana Today)
Telangana plans big on tourism (Telangana Today)
Stone age grooves, tools found at Buddhavanam (The New Indian Express)
Buddhavanam at Nagarjunasagar set to turn a major tourist destination (The Hans India)
H.H. the Dalai Lama Visits Nagarjuna Sagar (His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama)
This Buddhist heritage theme park coming up near Hyderabad is a must-visit (The News Minute)
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