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150 km south east of the capital, Hyderabad, it is situated on the east bank of the Krishna River, hemmed in from three sides by the Nallamalai Range. The site is popular among tourists and is visited by hundreds every week.
The site was first occupies by the Satavahanas between the 2 C BC and 2C AD. Later, the region came under the rule of the Andhra Ikshvaku rulers, the most powerful rulers in Andhra in the 3C-4C, who made Vijayapuri (Nagarjunakonda) their capital. They were great supporters of Buddhims. Many monasteries and shrines were built all across Andhra Pradesh. Inscriptions name some of these religious communities as well as individual donors.
Excavations in the 1920s unearthed the ruins of stupas and chaityas. In 1950, the area was chosen as the site for a huge reservoir, the Nagarjuna Sagar, for irrigation and the generation of electricity but the site got flooded in the 1950-60s. After this, a major six year excavation was undertaken to unearth the area. More than 30 Buddhist establishments found at Nagarjunakonda. These consisted of combinations of hemispherical stups, chaitya halls, temples, monasteries, burial sites, a university, a museum containing sculptures and inscriptions and an amphitheatre. Also more than 100 further relics dating from the stone age to the 16th century can be found here.
When approach the island, one can see the ruins of fortications dating from the 16th Century. The fort wall is 6 m high, with bastions at regular intervals, and six simple gateways. The first to be seen is a Megalith dating 2 BC. The stone megaliths mark burial pits. The 21 megaliths found in Nagarjunakonda has 19 skeletons and some bones.
The main attraction on the island is the museum and the museum visit is a must-do for those visiting in Nagarjunakonda. Closed on Fridays. Constructed in the shape of a Buddhist Vihara, it houses a collection of relics of Buddha, friezes, jewellery, coins, statues and tools, from Paleolithic and Neolithic times.
The main stupa called the Mahachaitya contains the sacred relics of Buddha. The centre of attraction is a partly ruined monolithic statue of Buddha in a striking image of peace and poise. The cultural remains of ancient man ranging from the pre-historic to the neolithic period, a university, vihara, monastaries and ‘Ashwamedh’ sacrificial altar dating back to the early historic period have been unearthed here. It also has limestone sculptures depicting life scenes of Buddha. A short distance from the museum is the bathing ghat, originally located on the bank of the Krishna River, at the edge of the Nagarjunakonda site. It has finely finished limestone slab steps.
The Maha Chaitya with a diameter of 27.5 m is the earliest monument with a dated inscription. This is the main stupa of Nagarjunakonda and it came up before the advent of the Ikshvaku dynasty. The chaitya houses the sacred relics of the Buddha. The relic which placed amid gold flowers in a small silver stupa, was enclosed in pottery and adorned with pearls, garnets and crystals.
A replica of a Buddha image stands at Nagarjunakonda; the original is in the museum. The Swastika Chaitya named after the pattern made by rubble walls inside the stupa is towards the end of the path. It's bricks are arranged in the shape of a Swastika. Other reassembled features can be seen on the mainland 15 km south of Nagarjunakonda by road. The quadrangular shaped stadium of size 17x14 m may be used for musical and dramatic performances or sports events. It has tiered galleries with seating on four sides of a rectangular court.
A short distance further along the road is university complex (monastries). It comprises of two large monastic establishments as well as a refectory, store and bath. One of them provide separate accommodation for female disciples and had a double chaitya halls with a central 36 columned structure, one for stupa and the other for Buddha's idol while the other has four wings of cells around a court and an oblong Buddha shrine located in it. This complex has also yielded buddhapadas, gold casket containing relics and other materials.
Nagarjunakonda is connected by a ferry to the mainland and to reach the island, take a ticket from the motorboat service from the launch station on the right bank of the lake (operates thrice a day). It takes 45 minutes to reach there.
Boat timings 9.30 am, 10.30 am and 1.30 pm. Fees - Adult Rs 45, child Rs 25, Cruiser Fees - Adult Rs 60, child Rs 40.