Drive an hour and a half, north of Mumbai and you will reach a grubby suburb of the fast spreading Mumbai Metropolitan area - Nala Sopara. It is hard to believe that this area was an ancient urban centre, that grew around the port of Shurparaka or Sopara, 2300 years ago. Legend has it that Buddha himself visited Sopara, though it is not historically true.
An ancient Buddhist text called Divyavadana - an anthology of Buddhist tales compiled at the beginning of the Common Era narrates a story of this fabled visit of Buddha here. This text also offers a vivid description of the life and times during which the work was compiled. References to houses, marketplaces, palaces and a monastery give us a glimpse of Sopara which is described as a city with a fortification, a moat and 17 gates. ‘Aparanta' was the ancient name of North Konkan and the text referred to this region as ‘the region which is not habituated by civilised people’, a telling sign of its pre-Buddhist past.
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