Visiting Nagarjunkonda is like journeying into the past. At one end stands, in the words of Pt Jawaharlal Nehru, "one of the greatest temples of modern India"-the Nagarjunsagar Dam-and at the other end is the glistening green island, Nagarjunkonda, containing treasures of the priceless heritage of an ancient civilization.
Archaeologically, Nagarjunkonda is considered to be very important as nowhere else in the country can one find such a vast expanse of Buddhist ruins-a complete metropolis of a well developed civilization that had continuous human habitation. The ruins are visible today in the island-museum in their reconstructed form based on what was salvaged from the riverbed. But for the remarkable rescue efforts of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), the history of two thousand years would have been lost forever in a watery grave. The ASI moved the monuments to safer sites before the submergence.
Nagarjunsagar is about 160 km from Hyderabad in the south Indian state of Andhra Pradesh. Nagarjunkonda is perhaps India's first island-museum presenting a panorama of cultural and ethnic evolution in the lower Krishna river valley from the prehistoric age to medieval times.
The ancient site of the metropolis-Sriparvata Vijayapuri, the bustling capital of the Ikshvaku dynasty flourished at the foot of Nagarjunkonda during the third and fourth centuries. They were great builders and patrons of art. During their time Buddhism flourished along with Brahmanism. The women of the royal household, as history has it, made large contributions to various Buddhist institutions. The Buddhist University founded by them had attained global recognition in those days and attracted students from as far as Burma and China. Large monasteries were built to accommodate visiting monks.
Nagarjunkonda gets it name from the noted Buddhist scholar and philosopher-Acharya Nagarjuna who is said to have founded the Madhyamika school of Mahayana Buddhism which greatly influenced the masses in Andhra Pradesh of those days. Subsequently the megalithic culture prevailing at that time in the region assumed new dimensions and one these traditions were building stupas, maha chaityas and so on.
The Ikshvakus ruled for almost 200 years. After them the valley was apparently abandoned. For many years their civilization remained a mystery, buried in the valley under mounds of earth and ash. It was only in the year 1926 that Nagarjunkonda's lost civilization was brought to light.
Best Time to Visit
Nagarjunakonda is a popular Buddhist religious site in Andhra Pradesh and can be visited any time of the year. However, the best time to visit Nagarjunakonda is between the months of October and March. The temperatures in this month stay between 30 degree C and 15 degree C and the weather is pleasant. This time is ideal for sightseeing and exploring the Buddhist Stupas. The summer time, from April to June, is a bit hot and dry. The temperatures rise to 42 degree C and the heat might become unbearable at this time.
How to Reach
BY AIR -The nearest airport is at Hyderabad at a distance of 150 km from Nagarjunkonda.
BY RAIL -The nearest railway station is Nalgonda on the Hyderabad-Guntur line.
BY ROAD -Nagarjunasagar is well connected by road to Hyderabad.
Although the ASI had taken up some preliminary excavations in the valley soon after their discovery, their actual concern for the preservation of the monuments began in the year 1954 with the laying of the foundation for the construction of the dam across the river.
Among the several monasteries built by the Ikshvaku monarchs, the Simhala Vihara (monastery for Ceylonese monks) containing a colossal image of Buddha is the most impressive. The statue was found in fragments during excavations and was reassembled piece by piece and the 10 feet high standing figure now graces the main gallery in the museum.
There is a Mahastupa said to be the oldest structure on the island presumably containing some corporeal relics of the Buddha brought from Ceylon. It is a brick structure decorated with relief sculptures depicting the life of Buddha and other Jataka stories. The sculptures have been removed from the railing of the stupa and are exhibited in the museum.
Opposite the stupa there is the Ashwamedh site and a little away is a stepped tank. The Ashwamedh site is a step well built of brick with two attached square pits, which probably functioned as soak pits. These may have been used to perform Vedic sacrifice.
The stepped tank nearby is built of stone and resembles a Roman bath. The steps are tiered. The tank is provided with a remarkable system of underground drainage.
After viewing the monuments standing out in the open, visitors entering the main gallery of the museum situated near the river bank are at first greeted by a couple of happy looking, potbellied statues of dwarfs standing on pedestals near the doorstep. They are figures of yakshas and the money in their hands is attributed to their being the assistants of the heavenly treasurer, Kuber. The potbelly and the glint in the eyes of these funny, laughing figures indicate their being rich.
The museum houses various figures of the Buddha and panels displaying a few photographs of archaeological importance. Taken during the excavation process, these pictures vividly document some of the important findings in the valley.
Next, the most impressive among the museum's collection, are the special pale green sandstone sculptures, which include finely carved Jataka stories on disc slabs, dome slabs, vertical columns and horizontal friezes. Several episodes from the life of the Buddha are also deftly portrayed and each episode is alternated with some figures of mithuna couples in varying moods.
In the main gallery, one comes across an interesting piece of relief sculpture depicting only the lower part of a female figure. An inscription below reads that the deity was worshipped by the queen of Ehuvala Chamtamula and that she was blessed with children and a happy martial life.
The central hall presents a collection of antiquities ranging from the bust of a Gandharv, figures of dwarfs, yakshis, coins, pottery etc. There is also a model of the submerged valley along with small replicas of some of the monuments.
The last gallery has some of these inscriptions in the Prakrit and Sanskrit languages and a couple of large red clay pots belonging to the megalithic age.
There are also exhibits of some Stone Age implements such as wedges, axes, arrowheads, spearheads and some broken pottery. Such findings from the valley show the continuity of human progress through various stages of development.