Buddhist Shrines & Temples
India is a country with rich culture & heritage. Andhra Pradesh has a special place when it comes to Buddhist shrines & Temples. There are as many as 140 Buddhist sites in Andhra Pradesh alone. This statue of Lord Gautam Buddha installed on the rock of Gibraltar in the middle of lake Hussain Sagar, Hyderabad is world's largest monolithic Buddha statue. The Buddha statue weighs 350 tons, 17 meters in height and standing on a lotus pedestal.
Visakhapatnam and Buddhism
Visakhapatnam has a special place on the World Buddhist spots. Infact, the Government of Andhra Pradesh has recognised Visakhapatnam as one of the most important Buddhist centers in the state and started developing them as Tourism spots. The sculptures and other items of great heritage value dates back to 2nd Centrury BC to 7th Century AD.
The Thotlakonda and Bavikonda areas near the Beach are the prominent locations for Buddhism and Buddhist studies in Visakhapatnam. The Thotlakonda Buddhist Complex is situated 15 - 16 kms from the Visakhapatnam City on the Vizag-Bheemili Beach Road. A hillock overlooking the sea at an elevation of 128 mts gives a pleasing look to the visitors.
The Hinayana Buddhist Complex dates back to the ages of 300 - 200 BC. Most of these shrines saw the light during the excavations by the Andhra Pradesh State Archeological Department done in 1982 - 92. This particular complex saw the light when Indian Navy has conducted an areal survey in the region in order to setup its Naval Base.
From the paleographic studies, it is believed that the hills might have been known as "Syenagiri". "Syena" in Sanskrit means "Eagle" and thus the name - "The Hill of Eagles". The Thotlakonda Complex has a number of Stupas, Chaityas, Viharas, a congregation hall and a refectrory belonging to the Himalayanas School.
Today, the region looks more developed - thanks to the road facilities by the Government. The tar road all through the way gives a pleasent drive from the city. Greenary is every where in the region giving a good peace of mind for tourists. These 'Vanams' are expected to be extended to a region of 400 acres of land. A Buddhist Archeological Museum is also planned in the region. VUDA is also considering setting up a ropeway between Bavikonda and Thotlakonda - the two popular Buddhist shrines in the region.
Next comes Bojjannakonda - located in Sankaram - 8 kms from Anakapalli. Also on the list is "Salivahanam" near Srikakulam. Among those that were recovered from the excavations includes some coins dating back to Satavaha era, 3 silver coins dating back to Roman era, and other scriptures written in Bramha Lipi.
The Shankaram near Anakapalli has an array of Buddhist constructions made of stone. These constructions are believed to be made during Mahayana period. It is believed that the viharas found at this site were for about 1000 years spanning the Theracada, Mahayana and Vajrayana phases of Buddhism. Other places in Visakhapatnam which marks Buddhist shrines were Pavuralakonda near Bheemunipatnam, Gopalapatnam and Lingarajupalem.
The Government of Andhra Pradesh has started taking special interest in development of these Buddhist shrines in Visakhapatnam. And a step towards this is the development of Basic infrastructure in these areas. The first step towards this is the building of the extension of Anakapalli Bypass Road to Eleru canal. The State Government has decided to organise Lumbini Utsav every year to recap the rich heritage.
Lumbini Utsav 2001
The Lumbini Utsav for the year 2001 was held on May 6th and 7th. Visakhapatnam District Collector Sri JSV Prasad and VUDA VC Sri S G K Kishore has been actively working to make this International Buddhist festival a great success. Among the ministers who are going to take part in the festival are the Minister for Tourism Sri. E.Peddi Reddy, Minister for Revenue, Sri. Ashoka Gajapathi Raju and others are expected to attend.
Among Cultural programmes being organised at the Totlakonda main venue are Dance Ballet by Vedantaqm Ramalinga Sastry & Party from Hyderabad, Dance Ballet by Bala Kondala Rao & Party, Hazals by Gazals Srinuvas of Hyderabad, Mimicry by V Karikrishna
Kuchipudi Dance ballet "Chandanalikita" by Sobha Naidy & Party, "Buddha Charitam" bhurakatha by Babji & Party, Mimicry by V Karikrishna
Andhra Pradesh State Tourism Department has special packages for the festival. Information on these packages can be had from Telephone nos : 713135 and 746446.