Phanigiri Buddhist site excavation to begin this month

By: Rahul V Pisharody

In what is considered a Buddhist site as great as the Nagarjunakonda and Amaravathi, the State Department of Archaeology and Museums, this month, will go all out for once and all to excavate the untapped areas of Phanigiri Hills of Tirumalagiri mandal in Nalgonda district. The vast hillock that housed a Buddhist monastery about 2000 years ago, derived its name from the shape that resembles a snake-hood.

The site, about 100 km away from the city, is already an acclaimed unique Buddhist site and final round of excavation, starting mid-January, is expected to throw more light on the spread of Buddhism in the region.

Photo: A sculpture excavated from Phanigiri, Nalgonda

The department of Archaeology, recently got sanctioned its proposal for final round of excavations at the Phanigiri Hills from the Director General, Archaeological Survey of India, New Delhi.

A sum of Rs 15 lakh, the biggest ever granted, was sanctioned for the project that is expected to wind up with startling results by end of April this year. A similar sanction in 2012-13 did not materialise due to what the officials call administrative hurdles. Subsequently, a fresh proposal was sent in September and was accepted at the Centre.

However, five other proposals including that of excavation at Qutb Shahi Tombs have been turned down by the DG, ASI. Excavation proposals for Punur megalithic site in Medak, Kummarilova and Ayyaparaju Kothapalli Buddhist sites in East Godavari and early historic sites of Kondapur in the city were among other proposals that were turned down.

The first three seasons of excavations, held in 2002-03, 2009-10 and 2010-11, have unearthed extensive Buddhist relics of the 2nd century AD and 4th century AD. Structural remains of a strong past were identified with excavations of four aspidal chaityagrihas, eight votive stupas (both circular and square), a maha stupa, a stone pillared congregation hall with 64 pillars, three viharas with thick brick walls, sculptured panels, Brahmi inscriptions belonging to Satavahana and Ikshvaku dynasties, coins of Mahatalavarasa, Satavahana, Ikshvaku kings and even Roman coins and Persian pottery were found apart from some cultural materials.

“All these interesting remnants of Buddhist cultures make this site very unique and special. There are still many areas that are unexplored. We want to finish it for once and all. The department is also planning a site-museum in the future,” said GV Ramakrishna Rao, deputy director, Department of Archaeology and Museums. He further said, ‘’for the first time, we had recovered Roman gold coins from a Buddhist site here in the State.”

At present, all the structural remains and antiquities excavated from the site are safeguarded at a rented house in the village while minor items are shifted to Nalgonda office of the department. A site-museum is being considered due to the long going protest from the villagers to prevent shifting of cultural remains of the monastery. The state proudly boasts about 150 odd listed Buddhist sites, the most famous being Nagarjunakonda, Amaravathi and Bavikonda, explaining the history of Buddhism from 3rd century BC to 14th century AD.

Courtesy: The New Indian Express

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