I saw Mr. Arun Kumar Sharma for first in the conference hall of the Hiuen Tsang Resort in Sirpur. Looking at him I would have guessed that he must be in his sixties. When the MD Chhattisgarh Tourism, Mr. Santosh Misra, introduced him as the excavator of Sirpur, he added that Mr. Sharma was in his 80s.
You can see him climbing down the Suranj Tila’s crooked stairs unaided! How I admired him! He is a man with stories and there are stories about him! We were extremely lucky to be shown around Sirpur by Mr. Sharma himself.
Sirpur is said to be mentioned in the documents as old as 5th century AD. However, it is surmised that the town was buried in a powerful earthquake in 12 century AD. The town is situated on the banks of Mahanadi and the excavations reveal that it was a well planned city in the ancient times. One of the most important monument is the Lakshman Temple discovered in 1872 by Lord Cunningham.
Tantrik Mandir is a part of the Surang Tila Complex. This is considered to be the second most important place after the Lakshman Temple. This temple is devoted to Lord Shiva.
Sirpur is also prominent for its discoveries of the remains the Buddha and Jain monuments. These complexes have statues of Buddha, residential complexes for monks and nuns and rich carving on the walls. I sincerely wished that the modern looking sheet was absent from this Buddha Vihar but then I also understand that protecting the heritage comes first. You can gauge the importance of the discoveries by the fact that the Dalai Lama visited Sirpur in 2014.
Close to the bank of Mahanadi are the remains of the grand market place which was probably a grain, iron and metals market. The proximity to the river hints at the existence of a port as well. While walking along the huge place I was seriously trying to imagine how the place would at the peak of its glory, what would the traders talk about, what were their preoccupations? But then my imagination hardly supplies any answers to these questions!
When I look at such ancient heritage as Sirpur it reminds me that there was life on this earth much before I was here and there would be life much after I am gone. It makes me feel quite insignificant, along all the hopes and worry that dominate my world. But it a strange way it is a comforting thought too.
Sirpur is about 80 Kilometers from Raipur the capital of Chhattisgarh. A taxi is probably the most comfortable way to travel to Sirpur. There is only one accommodation at Sirpur- the Hieun Tsang resort of Chhattisgarh Tourism.