The small, sleepy village of Sirpur in the central Indian state of Chhattisgarh is the site of a magnificent temple and monastery complex. The authorities want to get Sirpur declared a Unesco world heritage site. (Text and photos: Geeta Pandey)
Situated on the banks of the Mahanadi river, Sirpur was an important centre of Buddhist learning from the 6th to 10th Centuries. Excavations show the place was dotted with Hindu temples and Buddhist monasteries.
Archaeologists say it's believed that a devastating earthquake in the 12th Century covered Sirpur under mud and debris. The 7th Century Surang Teela temple was excavated in 2006-07.
AK Sharma of the Archaeological Survey of India, who is supervising the digging, says they have unearthed a trove of riches, including beautiful statues, pillars, pottery, coins, broken bangles and even whole temples and a marketplace.
Officials say Chinese traveller and Buddhist monk Hiuen Tsang visited Sirpur in the year 639 and according to his account, thousands of students used to come here to study Buddhism.
The 6th Century Teevar Dev Vihar was excavated in 2003. Sirpur attracts thousands of visitors - from India and abroad - and the biggest draw is the kissing couple.
The most magnificent and well-preserved temple in Sirpur is the 7th Century Lakshmana temple, dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu.
Every year, in July and August, thousands of pilgrims visit the Gandheshwar Nath temple to worship the Hindu god, Shiva. Lakhan Lal Nishad says he visits the temple "to see god so that I can continue to feed my family".
The ASI-led excavation and restoration work has brought prosperity to the residents of Sirpur. Villagers say the young men and women no longer have to travel to faraway places like Mumbai for work.
Anjali Nishad is helping dig what Mr Sharma describes as a 3rd Century BC marketplace. The work helps her sustain her three children, she says.
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