Andhra Pradesh is home to several ancient monuments that have historical and cultural significance. One of them used to be the Great Shrine of Amaravati, said to be one of the oldest and important Buddhist monuments in ancient India.
The British Museum recently shared a virtual reality tour of the ancient monument, which gives viewers a chance to reimagine and observe the intricacies of the shrine. The tour includes a view of the shrine from the top, and shows detailed pillar carvings depicting phases from Prince Siddhartha's life.
According to the museum, the Great Shrine of Amaravati was founded sometime around 200 BC in present-day Andhra Pradesh.
Researchers say that the construction of the shrine could have been funded by devotees.
"The shrine, with its solid, domed structure, was a stupa and probably contained a relic – perhaps of a famous teacher. Devotees honoured the enshrined relic by walking around the stupa in a clockwise direction. While doing so, they could also benefit by viewing scenes from the Life of the Buddha sculpted on the railing that surrounded the walkway. Some devotees gave money for the decoration of the stupa and these gifts are recorded in inscriptions," the museum states in its website.
In a blog explaining the fascinating history of the site, the curator of the South Asia collections at the British Museum, Imma Ramos states that the shrine was located near the ancient city of Dharanikota, a city with important trade links.
The stupa, she writes, could have contained a relic of the Buddha himself, who died between 490 and 400 BC.
Over time, however, the site was abandoned and then lost.
"The site was gradually abandoned during the 14th century, and by the late 18th century materials from the Shrine were being recycled for new buildings and temples. In the 19th century a series of archaeological campaigns recovered the surviving sculptures. Today, the pieces are shared across a number of museum collections in India and around the world," the curator writes.
The British Museum houses the Amaravati sculptures, a stupendous collection of early Buddhist art considered one of the greatest treasures. Last year, the gallery exhibiting these sculptures was opened after a two-year renovation to make it "less daunting and more accessible" to visitors.
Talking about the Amaravati sculptures, Jane Portal, keeper of the Department of Asia, told The Guardian, "They are just as important as the [Parthenon] marbles but people don’t know about them so much."