Here we are in the region of Chhattisgarh, a region of India carved out of Madhya Pradesh, with its many natural resources in the area, few tourists, and beautiful people, whom we love.
Sirpur in Chhattisgarh is a rich archaeological area, with a historical and spiritual importance that make it a grand place with sites to visit. Sirpur is about 85 km's north-east of Raipur with an hour and a half drive, with a stop at Kanker and 35 km's from Mahasamund. The roads look more like paths through the forest.
Truly extraordinary, the story of Sirpur is glorious, with inscriptions dating from the 5th to the 8th century that mentions a town called Sirpur or Shripura, the capital of the Somvanshi Kings. The radiance of the city as the seat of culture began when it became the capital of the Dakshin Koshal, the present Chhattisgarh, during the reigns of Sarabhapuriya and Panduvanshi kings.
Sirpur then became a city of temples, Buddhist monasteries, lakes and ponds and the pillar of Buddhism in central India. Between the 6th and 10th centuries it would have been even larger than the territory of the Harappan civilization of the Indus Valley. The famous pilgrim and translator of the Buddhist Sutras, the Chinese Hiuen Tsang, passed through this region during his pilgrimage to the West, around 635.
He describes it in his report of the journey at the time of the Great Tangs as a great Kingdom full of practitioners of Mahayana Buddhism, ruled by a ruler of great religious tolerance, Balarjuna. Sirpur attracted not only merchants and travelers but also scholars and students from all over the world.
There were temples of Shiva, Vishnu, and Jains, with more than 200 Buddhist monasteries and convents. The city included a busy harbor and was a trade center. Arriving at Sirpur, I was very surprised to discover a small tribal village, sleeping on the banks of the Mahanadi River. A wandering traveler would never suspect the rich past of the city.
We go for the discovery of this open-air museum. The Temple of Laxman is a red brick temple of the 7th century that stands in the middle of a green and well-maintained garden. Dedicated to Vishnu, it was given the name of Laxman temple when it was discovered by Lord Cunningham, a British, in 1862. It is considered one of the finest temples of baked brick in India, so much its engravings are worked. We observe especially those of the door lintel and the shikhara, the central tower of the photo.
The adjoining museum contains the sculptures of the site, notably the headless statue of Vishnu, in black granite. Unfortunately, the works are not very well developed, either in terms of lighting or information panels. The temple and its gardens serve as the setting for the Sirpur National Dance and Music Festival, which takes place in January.
The Teevardev Complex boasts of a Buddhist monastery of the 6th century, more often called Buddha Vihara. It has two monasteries and a convent. Its most noteworthy elements are the larger-than-life Buddha statue, and all the engravings on the lintel and the many columns, such as the peacock elephant. The bricks are made without mortar but interlaced in the others at the origin.
Another striking detail is the sculptures of the lintel where scenes worthy of the Kamasutra are found, as in Bhoramdeo, the Khajuraho in the North of Chhattisgarh. The monks wanted to represent the reality of life, both human and animal. There is therefore also a battle of buffalo and a horde of elephants, whose final couple copulates under the eyes of the penultimate.
The puritanism that still prevails in India would almost make us forget that the country is at the origin of the kama sutra and that sexuality and eroticism were intimately linked to the divine power where Shiva is represented by the lingam nested in the yoni and was the act of love was considered a mystical experience.
The Baleshwar Mahadev temple complex date from the 7th century and were built in the Panchayatana style. There was a raised main sanctuary, surrounded by four smaller ones at the four corners, two temples in honor of the royal ladies Ambadevi and Ambika Devi and the priest's residence. The site was dedicated to Shiva, of which there are vestiges of representation in the form of lingam. Notice the side bun of the female statue. This is the hairstyle still adopted at present by many tribes.
Surang Tila was excavated where a pyramidal temple dedicated to Shiva, dating from the 7th century was found. The structure measures 8 meters in height, and one reaches its upper platform by 30 steps deformed by an earthquake in the XIIth century. It is this same catastrophe that would have devastated and buried Sirpur. Just like the previous temple, Surang Tila was built in panchayatan style, with the main sanctuary and four others at the four corners. Its shape is more like a Mayan temple.
Four lingams are housed in the temples in white, red, yellow and black. There were 32 pillars, all beautifully carved. One of the temples is dedicated to Ganesh.
The temple of Gandeshwar is believed that this 12th-century temple was built on the ruins of an earlier one, which is frequented at the time of Shivratri and Mahashivratri. Shivratri especially is a key moment for the followers of Shiva, who undertake a pilgrimage on foot to the Ganges. They collect the sacred water which they bring back to the temple of the village. Here we find the characteristic of Sirpur, the peaceful coexistence of religions, with statues of Shiva, Vishnu, Buddha, and Jain. It is a truly peaceful and pleasant place at sunset. Nearby, a small sanctuary welcomes Sufi music players, whom we spent a moment listening to.
The exact date of construction of the immense market is not known, but it may be dated from the 6th century BCE. This international trading center was ideally located on the banks of the Mahanadi River, and traders came from all over the world to get supplies here. It is one of the oldest and largest in the world. There were shops overlooking the main aisles, with dwellings, granaries and other places of storage at the rear.
There were also facilities for well-being, such as thermal baths, and an Ayurvedic surgical hospital. So they came to Sirpur for both trade and medical tourism. Patients were immersed in the baths with the liquid medical treatment. This fact is known thanks to the very sophisticated irrigation system that was found on the whole site.
Buddha would have come here and would have meditated under the tree of the Bodhi. It is on this very site that the oldest temple of Buddha of Sirpur was located. There were 85 images of bronze Buddha.
The Avshesh Palace is one of Sirpur's most recent discoveries. In conclusion, Sirpur is truly a must for the Chhattisgarh, both for its rich past and its vestiges. Its visit is complimented very well by that of the Barnawapara reserve, where it is nice to spend a few days in search of wild animals and in the footsteps of Rama. There is the ashram of Valmiki, a half-Hindu, and half-tribal temple. It is also here that was the birthplace of Luv and Kush, the children of Rama.
This area including the Bastar was the place of Rama's exile and were more places related to Ramayana. What is interesting also in relation to this is that some tribes of Central India think that in the Ramayana, they are represented as the bad guys of the Rakshasas, who were Adivasis according to them.
A personal vehicle seems more appropriate, in order to continue to the Barnawapara nature reserve. If you wish, you can spend the night at the resort belonging to the tourist office of Chhattisgarh. I would recommend staying in one of the resorts of Barnawapara, 15 km's away if you have your own transportation. The best period is between November and March. It is also the opening period of the Barnawapara reserve.
There are tribal festivals. All the villages around Sirpur and Barnawapara are inhabited by the tribes. As Chhattisgarh is a highly tribal state, tribal dances are widely represented. The Baiga tribes are found especially in Maikal hills in the plains to the north of Chhattisgarh, in Kawardha district. Are considered the lords of the animals, who speak Hindi and despite still live far away from modern influences. People are considered to possess magical powers and can communicate up close with nature and by the beasts.
Sirpur is a nice stop. If your time is less, prefer Bastar, the southernmost district of the state of Chhattisgarh. The best base to get around is Jagdalpur. Bastar is a sort of detour which I think was a great discovery.
After the discovery of the Bastar, before going to Jagdalpur, I go to Baloda Bazar and the villages of Ramnamis, a tribe tattooing the whole body with the name of Rama.
The Chitrakoot Falls are formed at the point where the Indravati River, who was born in Orissa, takes a leap of 30 meters before entering Andhra Pradesh. We are 50 km's from Jagdalpur. The horseshoe shape of the natural scenery in which the waterfalls are covers a width of 300 meters, one-third of that of the Niagara Falls and the rock excavated from the water in free fall is dominated by frequent rainbows given away by the meeting of the drops of water with sunlight.
We do not miss a small temple dedicated to Shiva and Parvati in the natural baptized caves, with the name of his eternal consort. The area of these spectacular waterfalls is rich in forests and is the National Park of the Kanger Valley. Their flow is obviously greater but more surprising in the period from July to October when the river is abundant water although muddier because of the erosion of the red earth. From November to February, the waterfall is reduced but the water is clearer.
In the dry season, you can be ferried by some boatman from below the falls while fishermen carry on their activities and pilgrims make ablutions in the more sheltered valley of the waterfalls. For those who do not want to miss a fantastic sunset, you can even stay in a hotel with a view. Kanger Valley National Park is famous for its wild nature, unusual limestone structures, stalagmites, and stalactites etc. Visit some local tribes, into their homes. Picnic overlooking the Tirathgarh Fall.
In the neighborhood, it is not uncommon to see the tribal population that sells handicrafts. We also meet women on the road of tribes who are dressed often differently. They have armadillos on their faces and arms, necklaces and jewels and wear the short sari. It probably works better as they have to walk long distances to go to the market.
We sleep in a small lodge, very simple and charming or in the morning we are awakened by the bells of the cows that come to the field next to it is really charming and we love it. Well, we sleep in the cold in the night but we still have the chance to have 3 covers for us all. We took advantage of the place to discover the village market which was super charming!
People and children are lovely. The more we advance in the village and the more the group that follows us grows. Bastar is a mysterious region of southern Chhattisgarh, and according to many is the true center of India's tribal culture. In reality, very little is known of the history of these groups, typically called gonds, but it's quite likely that they are the true natives of the Indian subcontinent who inhabit these lands for several millennia.
Despite the efforts of administrators and anthropologists to categorize them, the Gond tribe of Bastar give low priority to the name assigned to them by others and refer to themselves as Koitor which means the people who live in the Gondwana, the land of the Gond.
As Bastar is yet to enter in the tourist circuits we can say that it is one of the last truly unspoiled tribal areas of the planet. Of course, every now and then some tourists even come here, but just for a couple of stops en route to Orissa, and the damage that has been done so far is irrelevant. After 25 years of traveling, I just watch the eyes of the people to tell if a place is really pristine, and Bastar is definitely, and there is no doubt.
The more isolated tribes belong to the hill maria. In Chhattisgarh, there are eight different tribal groups, each with distinct culture and traditions of each other. They love the music, dance and other art forms such as sculpture or painting. The tribal handicrafts of this state are among the most beautiful among those from all over India, and the techniques used are still the same as thousands of years ago. In particular, the metal processing is unique, and I had never seen anything like it.
And I loved the village of these artisans that I visited, I was shown the process calmly and proudly their products. I would gladly have bought something, but they were all pretty heavy objects and I did not really want to put a statue of a pound backpack. But eventually, the sculptor wanted to give me a gift. In another village, I met the most famous painter of Bastar, whose paintings are also on display at the Jagdalpur museum, a picturesque and interesting character.
Although he has never been to school, he deals with many things and prides himself on being one of the best hunters of Bastar. He proudly displays his bow and arrows that he built himself and with whom he also killed a tiger.
Among the various strange traditions of these tribal groups, the most interesting undoubtedly are one of ghotul of Gond, the Muria, and Maria. Muria's do not have any sexual taboos and practice free sex. The men wear a gathered skirt, a red bolero and a feather headdress, while topless women wear a red mini skirt, ankle bracelets and necklaces in the neck.
The Dongria are quite aggressive, dress summarily and shun contact with outsiders. Women use colorful dresses and feature many jewels. The Gond have egalitarian social relations regardless of sex or age, and a very active erotic life and freedom, not bound in monogamous marriages. We visit the various tribal weekly markets, where we admire the different crafts and observe the various ethnic groups with their traditional dresses.
Within the village, there is a building where adolescents live for a few years until marriage and where they can have sexual relations with each other, as in a sort of hippie commune. In these villages, it only applies the tribal law and almost everything is decided and resolved by the village leaders.
In some villages, tribals also eat meat from cow or buffalo. In many villages, there is a sorcerer healer who acts as a doctor, who believe with their wizard they would recover much sooner. No one seems to have doubts about the effectiveness of magic and all tell stories of miraculous cures.
The tribals of Chhattisgarh are animists but many also worship various female deities, among which the most famous is Danteshwari, to whom is dedicated the great Dussehra festival, which is similar to the Bengali Durga Puja with the participation of all tribal groups. According to some, it is one of the most beautiful and colorful festivals of India, and objectively that's true. These cults are ancient and almost certainly date back to the pre-Hindu unknown era. The dead are buried than being burned, and for the most important figures are erected the menhirs, which are painted with subjects that tell the life of the deceased.
I saw five markets and several villages, all very interesting and colorful. These include the children of tribals who still live a very simple and primitive life, and which depart from the village only for this haat. In these markets, I have seen many women with beautiful tattoos, perhaps the best of the ones seen on this journey through the tribal areas of India. For the rest, they are quite similar to those of Orissa, but here they drink more and in general the impression that they live in an even more primitive era.
The market that I liked more was in Lohandiguda. I went to see on my own after the visit to Chitrakoot waterfalls. This market is attended by various tribal groups. It's really very crowded and not easy to move or take pictures, so it's better to sit somewhere in the shade and enjoy the world go by. In the early afternoon in a pitch start cockfights. There is a mess and almost all are drunk. One of the bosses, the bookmaker, invites me to approach and ask me to take some pictures of the roosters.
In fact, the more strong cock immediately takes over and slices the opponent. I saw guys even bet thousands of rupees. It's funny how even in the most primitive cultures gambling is often a diversion essential for men and something innate in human nature.
We also visit kondagaon and explore Dokra Village, the museum and the palace of Bastar. Later we visit the Achanakmar Wildlife Sanctuary, near the area that inspired The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling. The indigenous people called Baiga and Gond inhabit these lands. Later we return to Raipur passing enroute more tribal villages.