Buddhavanam – The first Buddhist heritage theme park, a big hit with tourists in Nagarjunasagar

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November 18, 2022 07:35 am | Updated 07:35 IST – NAGARJUNASAGAR (Nalgonda Dt.)

Buddhist monasteries from different countries and an exclusive Buddhist university near Nagarjunasagar, home to the world’s largest masonry dam, are some of the ambitious plans that Buddhavanam, the first-of-its-kind Buddhist heritage theme park project, explore.

Overlooking the calm waters of the Krishna River on the towering Nagarjunasagar Dam, the unique 274-acre project featuring glimpses of the Buddhist past and sculptures illustrating the life of Gautama Buddha was inaugurated in May this year.

A must visit

In a short time, Buddhavanam has acquired the label of “must visit” among tourist places in Nagarjunasagar. The project originally developed by Andhra Pradesh Development Corporation in 2003 was transferred to Telangana State Tourism Development Corporation (TSTDC) after bifurcation.

The meticulously planned heritage theme park, spread over 274 acres, is divided into eight segments, with the entrance plaza itself being a big attraction. A walk through the well-developed park gives an impressive insight into major events in Siddhartha Gautama’s life and previous birth stories, according to Mallepalli Laxmaiah, Buddhavanam Project Special Officer.

Buddhacharitavanam, Jatakavanam (Bodhisattva Park), Dhyanavanam (Meditation Park), Stupavanam and the replica of Mahastupa (Amaravathi Style), win the hearts of 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 statue of Acharya Nagarjuna add to the glory of Buddhist history. The government of Sri Lanka donated a replica of the Avukana Buddha statue (27 feet tall) and the Dhamma Bell are other star attractions,” Mr Laxmaiah said.

Mr Laxmaiah added that the entrance plaza depicts Buddhist motifs and symbols with a Dharma Chakra in the centre, the Charitavanam Buddha near the Mahastupa depicts the five major events in Gautama Buddha’s life – the birth, the four encounters, the Great Departure, the Enlightenment, the First Discourse and the Mahaparinirvana (the Great Extinction).

Buddhapāda with the “astamangala” (auspicious eight) symbols carved in Palnadu limestone at the entrance to the park and the Dhamma Bell are the main attractions of this segment.

Jatakavanam (Bodhisatva Park) sheds light on how a bodhisattva goes through several lifetimes practicing the “dasa pāramitās” or the ten perfections before becoming the Buddha. The previous births of the Bodhisattva are illustrated in 547 stories called the “jātakas”.

Jātakas are very popular in India, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Nepal, Cambodia and other Buddhist countries. Of the 547 Jatakas, 40 are illustrated in Amaravati art schools taking references from Amaravati, Phanigiri, Sriparvata (Nāgarjunakonda), Goli and other Buddhist sites.

Dhyanavanam (Meditation Park) consists of a replica of the Avukana Buddha (27 feet tall), donated by the government of Sri Lanka.

A conscious attempt has been made in the development of Stupavanam (Miniature Stupa Park) which has Buddhist stupa architecture at a location of 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 center of attraction with a width of 42 meters and a height of 21 meters. It is adorned with sculptural panels of Buddhist themes on its drum and dome parts all around. It is built according to the dimensions and architecture of the original Dhanyakataka Amaravati Stūpa, with a Vedika (drum), Anda (dome) and a Hārmika on its top, said Dr. E. Sivanagi Reddy, an 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 life ministry of the Buddha and important Dhamma kings and patrons of the time.

“The dome part is surrounded by sculptural panels representing the Buddhist symbols such as the ‘Stūpa’, the ‘Vajrasana’, the Bodhi tree, the pillar of fire and the stories of Jātaka. Events from the life of the Buddha are also A museum with an exhibition of Buddhist sculptures and century-old eye copies of Ajanta frescoes and a lecture hall are located on the ground floor of the stupa,” he added.

Giving a deeper insight into the interior sky view of the Mahastupa, Mr. Laxmaiah pointed out that the ceiling is decorated with lotus petals against the background of the sky at the 25-foot central stupa with Panchadhyani Buddhas installed on all eight sides. of this one.

The circular dome reflects the natural effect of the sky on the interior concave curvature of the dome. The interior of the ceiling reflects the sky with 528 perforated trapezoidal panels, different from each other and measuring up to 2.5 meters, which have been designed exclusively to fit the overall design, taking into account the thermodynamics of the light and sound effect that adds a special glow.

Lotus Petals and Sky Panels are designed and manufactured with German technology, the first of its kind used in the world with architectural splendor, metal ceilings and wall panels to achieve the desired design intent. The one-of-a-kind design focuses on the emotional demands of Buddhist visitors and stimulates interaction between them and the Buddhist environment, Laxmaiah said.

The place after its inauguration in May this year has had a fairly good attendance. On weekends, a large influx of tourists throngs Nagarajunasagar Dam.

Heavy tourist rush

August this year when the gates of the Nagarjunasagar dam were opened saw a heavy influx of tourists. “Tourists not only thronged the dam site, but also went to the Buddhavanam project and marveled at the heritage theme park,” said an official associated with the project. Attendance during these times was around 10,000 a day and especially the weekends also saw a rush of visitors, it was pointed out.

Interestingly, Buddhism, which is practiced in large numbers in Maharashtra, has also seen believers visit the Buddhavanam. Narender, a lawyer from Nagpur, after a visit to the theme park, said it could be a must-visit destination for Buddhists if authorities were able to publicize the project in other popular places of Buddhist interest across India. A software professional from Nanded in Maharashtra, Chandan, was so impressed with the project that he returned and sent his family and friends to visit the project.

Recently, a group of 10 Buddhist monks from Myanmar, who came to Hyderabad, visited the Buddhavanam project and were fascinated by the imposing Mahastupa and its artistic embellishments.

Although the project has been able to attract a good number of tourists in recent times, visitors complain about the lack of facilities like a full-fledged restaurant and proper restrooms inside the project site. Although the Telangana Tourism Corporations Vijaya Vihar complex runs six cottages near the Buddhavanam project, the lack of a restaurant has caused a lot of inconvenience. Additionally, the little train that took visitors to the 274+ acre complex is being repaired. Tourists want authorities to introduce battery-powered vehicles to take them around the project.

Mr. Laxmaiah says that several Buddhist countries have shown interest in establishing their centers at Buddhavanam. A Malaysian university has also sent a proposal to establish a Buddhist university while a leading hotel group has come forward to develop a world-class hotel and convention center here. The development of a river-facing restaurant near the viewpoint of the Krishna River backwaters is also high on the agenda of the Buddhavanam project, the special officer noted.

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