Once upon a time, there lived King Vessantara, who ruled Sivirattha (land of Sivis). A virtuous man, he wanted to attain perfection and so donated all the precious things he had. On learning this, a ‘wicked brahmin’ from the neighbouring kingdom of Kalinga asks the king for the magical rain-bringing elephant, Peccaya. Vessantara gives it away, but earns the wrath of the people. Compelled by anger, his father Sanjaya banishes his son from glory, to the forests.
Vessantara over time also donates his chariot, horses and children to the wicked brahmin. Marvelled at his conduct, it was time for the Gods to test his generosity. This time, Lord Sakka in the guise of an ugly man appears before Vessanatara and asks for his wife, Maddi. The rest of the story is the prince’s attainment of perfection.
Of the 547 Jataka tales in Buddhism, and 10 perfections, Dana-sila (conduct of charity) by Vessantara is believed to be the last one.
The Jataka tales, life instances of the Bodhisattvas (the enlightenment being or the Buddha-to-be) are narrated by monks to devotees on full moon days. They are integral to the Buddhist culture.
Now, imagine an 11 acre-park with plants that appeared in the Buddhist literature. And, about 40 Bodhisattva tales from India, Burma, China and Borobudur – pictorially engraved and illustrated on stone panels. Welcome to the Jataka Park at Sriparvata Arama!
Situated towards the left bank of the Krishna at Nagarjunasagar, on an extent of 274 acres land, is the Buddhist heritage theme park – Sri Parvatha Arama.
More popularly known among spiritual fraternity, and the touristy as ‘Buddhavanam’, Sriparvata Arama is a mega destination in Telangana to celebrate the heritage of Buddhism.
According to C. Anjaneya Reddy, a former executive of AP Tourism Development Corporation and one of the foremost members to realise the project approval in the early 2000s, ‘Sri Parvathamu’ was an active culture centre with monks visiting from various parts of India, and from South-East Asian countries.
This was also the site of the ancient capital of the Ikkaku dynasty that ruled during the 2nd and 3rd century AD.
The expanse of the project is identified under eight segments with exclusive space for each park. The entrance plaza with embellishments, sculptural motifs and the Dharma chakra in the centre leading to a number of gardens, each designed with a theme.
Buddhacharita Vanam, showcasing Buddha’s major life events symbolised in bronze idols in a wheel and spoke fashion, a meditation park with a 27-ft high statue replica of the Avukana Buddha donated by Sri Lanka, and a park with 13 stupa replicas, from India and other South-East Asian countries are major attractions.
Standing at the centre of the park, surrounded by gardens is the Maha Stupa, a replica of the Stupa of Amaravati. Measuring about 21-metres high with a diameter of 42 metres, the dome, drum and railings are structured with narrative sculptures.
“Unlike the Great Stupa of Amaravati, this is a hollow stupa with RCC dome. The idea is to accommodate more features. The lower floor has an archaeology museum, a meeting hall and other facilities,” says Designs Incharge D.R. Shyamsundar. “All the designs depict an inspiration from the Buddha’s Ashtangamarga (Noble eightfold path),” he adds.
The project which started in 2003 has so far received financial assistance of about ₹40 crore from the Central Government. Recently, the State government too has agreed to sanction ₹ 25 crore for the completion of the project.
The construction, which took close to decade-and-a-half will be ready in six months, project officials say.
“As of now, only five of the eight segments are developed and nearing the finishing stage. An ancient Buddhist learning centre, Buddhism in Telangana and Lower Krishna Valley Park will be developed in the next phase,” says Project’s Special Officer Mallepalli Lakshmaiah.