The centuries-old Bojjannakonda is likely to draw tourists not only from across the country but also from nations like Bhutan, Singapore, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Cambodia and Myanmar, where Buddhism is practised even to this day, if the grandiose plans of the Central and State governments are any indication.
The Central government has sanctioned ₹7.30 crore recently for taking up landscaping and development of tourist amenities at Bojjannakonda, which is under the control of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). The State government, on its part, has allotted a two-and-a-half acre site adjacent to the Buddhist heritage site to develop a meditation centre and landscaping.
The foundation stone for the construction of a Buddhist interpretation (meditation) centre and landscaping of the adjacent site was laid by Minister for Industries and IT Gudivada Amarnath, YSRCP Regional Coordinator Y.V. Subba Reddy, and Anakapalle MP B.V. Satyavathi recently. The other plans include the construction of an arch on the road from the National Highway leading to the Buddhist heritage site, the improvement of Yeleru canal bund, which passes close by the site, and launching of a ‘light and sound show’ that would reflect the historical importance of the site.
“The tourist amenities to be developed at the adjacent site include the parking area, illumination, restaurant, an AV room to screen documentaries on Buddhism and development of a light and sound show,” Korada Ashok, District Tourism Officer, Anakapalli, told The Hindu.
“On average, between 5,000 and 8,000 tourists visit Bojjannakonda every month. During festivals like Sivarathri, people of nearby villages visit the site in large numbers. Foreign tourists including those from Sri Lanka, employed in Brandix at Atchutapuram, visit the site,” he says.
The ASI had provided metal railings and lighting, along the stone stairway leading up to the cave and the hilltop, for the benefit of senior citizens climbing up the hill in the past. “This year, the ASI has proposed public amenities like improvement of the toilet block and development of pathways between two hillocks at the monument site apart from conservation of stupas, at an estimated cost of ₹32 lakh,” according to sources.
Located about 3 km from Anakapalle town and 40 km from Visakhapatnam city, the site was excavated under the aegis of Alexander Rim in 1906. A gold coin belonging to the Samudra Gupta period, copper coins of the Chalukya king Kubja Vishnu Vardhan, coins of Andhra Satavahanas and pottery were discovered at the site.
An interesting feature of Bojjannakonda is that it shows features of all the three phases of Buddhism: Hinayana, Mahayana and Vajrayana. A figure of ‘Kalabhairava’ with the head of Lord Ganesha wearing conch shells and the statue of a Buddhist monk, ‘Harati’, have also been found at the site.
A stairway leads to a large double-storeyed cave on the hill. The rectangular cave has a doorway and is flanked by ‘dwarapalakas’ on either side. There is a rock-cut stupa, standing on a square platform, at the centre of the cave. A series of rock-cut caves and monolithic structures standing on rock platforms are present on the northern side of the hill.
The upper cave has a rectangular doorway flanked by figures of the Buddha on either side. The imposing figures of the Buddha, seated in meditation posture, and the stupa are the main attraction for tourists at Bojjannakonda. On the top of the hill, there is a group of structural buildings and a vihara (monastery), which has been reduced to ruins.
To the west of Bojjannakonda, another hillock, Lingalakonda or Lingalametta, is present. A number of monolithic and structural stupas can be seen on the top of this hillock. The upper portion of the stone carvings, which resemble an umbrella, is said to have been chopped off by Veera Saivas (followers of Lord Shiva) in a bid to project them as Siva Lingas, according to historians. No wonder, even today, visitors mistake these structures for Siva Lingas.
Buddhist monks used to practice on the hill about 2,000 years ago. It was originally known as ‘Buddhuni konda’ (hill of the Buddha), but it came to be known as ‘Bojjannakonda’ in the course of time. The Buddhist temple at Barabodur in Java has been constructed on the lines of the structures on Lingalametta, according to Buddhist monks. It is also known as ‘Sankaram’, perhaps, a corruption of the Buddhist ‘Sangraha’.
“It was known as `Buddhuni konda’ (hill of the Buddha), but it came to be known as `Bojjannakonda’ for unknown reasons. The Buddhist temple at Barabodur in Java has been constructed on the lines of the structures on Lingalametta”, G. Babulu and G. Naveen, representatives of the Maha Boddhi Society and the Boddhi Parishad respectively, had told The Hindu in the past.
“A Dwarapalaka with a ‘kapala mala’ around his neck and a tummy (‘bojja’ in Telugu) like Lord Ganesha, was wrongly identified as Ganesha, and hence the site acquired the name ‘Bojjannakonda’. Dwarapalas like this can be seen at Buddhist sites in Indonesia,” a former Assistant Director of Archaeology and Museums, K. Chitti Babu, says.
“The caves at Bojjannakonda and those in Takshasila are similar. The word ‘Sangrama’ was in use at Takshasila but was never used in Andhra Pradesh. These two features suggest that Buddhist practices influenced Bojjannakonda in northern India,” he says.
People of the neighbouring villages gather in large numbers on Kanumu day (the last day of Pongal) in January every year, and it is celebrated as ‘Theertham’. Buddha Purnima, ‘Karteeka Masam’ and other special occasions also draw people from the neighbouring villages to the site.