Ruins at Hills of the Sun; Suryapahar – the confluence of religions, remains of civilizations and an enriching tourism experience

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By: Kamal Baruah

Thousands of tourists flock the hill stations of the northeast during summer vacation. There are numerous bio-diversity hotspots in the northeast India. In the weekends people want to escape from the hustle of busy life. So did our family. We took an educational tour last month. There were long discussions on choosing the right kind of trip. Most importantly, the idea was to have fun while exploring new places, interact with locals, eat and enjoy the cultures. North East has plenty of lesser known unexplored destinations. Finally we chose the Sun Worship Centre “Shri Shri Suryapahar”, the lesser known tourist spot with great significance in terms of historical and religious value. We set off in the silence of early Saturday morning, heading out through some of the most magical moments on the incredible road from Guwahati. National Highways are running through the length and breadth of our country connecting major cities and towns opening up dimensions for tourist inflow to the country. The entire western Assam valley was dotted with thick vegetation and wildflowers (orchids). We were mesmerised by some isolated but continuous very low hills and hillocks all the way. We also saw the Garo Hills at far-flung. All these hills are extended part of Meghalaya plateau. I distinctly recall the greenery at the roadside beauty. These areas are rich in valuable forest products with abundant growth of timber plant especially Sal (Shorea robusta Gaertn) and Teak (Tectona grandis L). While on the way, we had easy packed breakfast that left us very pampered and refreshed for the day.

Our target was 15 km away from Goalpara town. After passing through Dudhnoi, it was a painstakingly slow. We found bumpy rides thereafter. It was worth it all as we crossed the valley through the lush tea gardens. Soon we were in jungle territory, and by 11 AM, we had reached the most isolated destination Suryapahar, the hill associated with worship of Sun God. Soon after tea, we went for a treasure hunt hiking in the hinterlands. It has relatively unknown unexplored archaeological sites, that are still waiting to be discovered. The site is a hilly terrain where several Stupas, Jain Rock shelters and Brahmanical figures are scattered in an area of 54 acres. It is literally an art gallery of sculptures. Suryapahar is dotted with ruins of several old temples. The site was excavated during 1992-2001 by Archaeological Survey of India, Guwahati. To exhibit the artifacts from brick and stone temple complexes, a site museum was set up there to display the remains recovered from the excavations and finds from the neighbouring areas. Basically it was a sculpture shed at first. There are twelve sun panel, stone temple complex, colossal Stupa, Ganesh Kund, rock shelters with images of Jain Tirthankars, rock-cut sculptures of Vishnu, Surya, Siva and other Hindu deities, rock-cut Sivalingas and brick temple complex.

There is no definite chronological timeline of historical data for this site. Also it is unclear about the amalgamation of three ancient religions. But what we are witnessing is the demolition of a prosperous civilization that simply put interest in the subject like history learning. According to Prof. SK Saraswati, rock cut images of Vishnu and Sivas are ascribable to Pal dynasty (Dharmapala and Devapala) of 9th century. However, stupas were engraved around 1st century onwards. A brick temple and Ganesh kund (60 meter long ancient water channel) appeared to be built during the later Gupta period. The Panchayantana stone temple complex is dated 9-12th century. The most remarkable antiquity discovered from the stone temple was the Dwadash Aditya panel. A modern Sun Temple was constructed to enshrine the Dwadash Aditya (they are the twelve son of Aditi). They are known as Dhatri, Mitra, Aryaman, Rudra, Varuna, Surya, Bhaga, Vivasvan, Pushan, Savitri, Tvastri and Vishnu. Another discovery of the image of Vishnu is preserved in the Assam state Museum. Goddess Mahishasurmardini of 11th century in black basalt found there. Also object Salabhanjika, stella fragment, decorated brick, Buddhist Dekaidal, thousand Buddha, Bodhisatva Avalokitesvara figure, Parrot, Surya, Chaitra motif, Model Doorframe, Kirtimukha, male figurine are to be dated to 8th century CE. Besides there are antiquites like amalakas, pillar bases, gajasimha, terracotta plaques of floral motifs etc.

Like other parts of India, sun worship also goes back to ancient times there. The findings of ASI Guwahati unearthed that a thriving civilization held sway around Sri Suryapahar some centuries ago. The government of India has done remarkable job by constructing site museums to study ancient site under natural surroundings. It is indeed a centre of learning of our ancient heritage. We were also mesmerised at the tiny museum which housed and displayed the entire collection of archaeological and geological objects. The Chinese traveler Huen Tsang claimed it was an ancient land of Pragjyotishpur kingdom during Kumar Bhaskara Varman (600-650). It might have been an important trade centre in the bank of Brahmaputra. The Jain figures of Tirthankara Adinath, also believed to be of 9th century AD. Stupas are significant for Buddhist influence in Kamrupa. Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism all seem to have left their mark on this very sacred destination. A lunch at the picnic ground was another memorable moment of the day. The tour was complete and it was an overwhelming experience on a sun-soaked summer. We had got this incredible chance to see the historical place at close quarters. And whilst chances of findings of civilization in one day are probably a mammoth task, the experience of going through this hillock territory was beyond belief and worth a visit. As darkness surrounded in the evening, we got back in the car and returned home with some great memories of that day at the Hills of the Sun.

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