Salihundam Buddhist heritage site, museum need attention

Times of India
Sulogna Mehta | Oct 17, 2016, 19:06 IST

VISAKHAPATNAM: Salihundam has all the ingredients of becoming one of the most sprawling, beautiful Buddhist heritage sites in the state with at least a dozen excavated stupas and chaitya-grihas of various geometric patterns and shape, a museum with rock-cut statues ranging from about third to seventh century AD, a lovely landscape with well-kept lawns and greenery situated on an elevation, which offers a scenic view of the serene surroundings with the Vamshadhara River flowing down by its one side and lush paddy fields on other. Yet, just like most heritage spots of our country, this Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) site too is pushed into oblivion and shabbily maintained with no funds forthcoming for its upliftment.

Situated nearly 140 kilometres from Vizag city, in Gara mandal of Srikakulam district, a mandal already known for its famous Arasavalli (Sun God) and Srikurmam (tortoise incarnation of Lord Vishnu) temples, the Buddhist heritage site of Salihundam has some unique features. It has a beautiful star atop a stupa, rock cut massive stupas inside chaitya grihas, brick stupas with wheel pattern plan, votive stupas, inscriptions on the steps leading to the stupas and a museum housing around two dozen sculpted statues and figurines of Buddha, Jain Teerthankaras and other deities, which had been excavated from Sailihundam and a few brought from nearby areas including Ramateertham and Srimukhalingam.

But sadly, apart from the fact that it is a protected ASI site, there are no information centre, signages or boards to explain visitors about the significance of the museum structures or even their names, from where and when they were excavated. Neither is there information about the variously patterned stupas and chaityas scattered at the site. Instead, flock of sheep and herds of goats and cattle are grazing on the overgrown grass on the site. The monument attendant or multi-transport service (MTS) staff say that the site was excavated in the 1950s and that Salihundam was ruled by the Chakravarthy dynasty. However, with no authentic brochure or booklets available about this site, the veracity of the claims of the ASI staff are questionable. “We are four staff members here. The site is hardly frequented by people, except some picnickers who come for a site for picnic without interest in the archaeological aspects of the place. Rarely foreigners or tourists come here in buses,” said P Mritunjaya, an ASI staff.

One of the significant and biggest statues in the museum is that of the three-headed Shadbhuja Mareechi in granite – beautifully bedecked in sculpted ornaments, supported on seven horses. Other statues include those of Durga, Jain Teerthankaras, Buddha in various poses such as Akshobhya Jnana Buddha, Akshobhya Dhyani Buddha, Bhabishya Buddha, Dhayani Amitava Buddha and so on. But apart from their names, no other details about them are available with anyone. K Ram Kumar and his batchmates, who has passed the railways SI exam and currently under training, was sent to have a look of the district where they are to be posted. “It’s very disappointing that nobody can tell us about the heritage structures or about the statues in the museum. There are no trained guides and the ASI staff working here doesn’t know the basic information. Nobody even knows when this museum was inaugurated but make guesses that it was around 15 years ago,” pointed out Ram Kumar, one of the group members.

Interestingly, out of around 134 ASI monuments and 160 state archaeology monuments, only Salihundam Buddhist site and Lepakshi Temple in Anantapur have got the tag of Adarsh Monuments by the Government of India after they had fulfilled 19 parameters. An ASI official for the north-coastal Andhra districts, requesting anonymity, stated, “Though it was declared Adarsh monument a few months ago, when we (The Hyderabad-Amravathi ASI Circle) had proposed repairing the site, museum including description of the sculptures, providing basic amenities for visitors under Revised Conservation Programme (RCP), the plan pertaining to Salihundam was not approved by the Central government. No funds were allotted for this heritage site or museum. Even to prepare a detailed project report, we need some funds, which aren’t forthcoming. We also have shortage of labourers to clear the weeds from the hilltop where the stupas and chaitya-grihas are situated as the labourers are interested to work in villages and avail the wages from government schemes.”

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