Triveni Journal

1927 | 11,233,916 words

Triveni is a journal dedicated to ancient Indian culture, history, philosophy, art, spirituality, music and all sorts of literature. Triveni was founded at Madras in 1927 and since that time various authors have donated their creativity in the form of articles, covering many aspects of public life....

Buddhist Vestiges of Andhradesa

Dr. I. K. Sarma


Buddhism appears to have had its roots in Andhradesa right from the times of the Master. In no other part of India, one can find such a close con­centration of Buddhist remains, dat­able from Mauryan period to second­-third centuries A.D. and continued except in a few cases, till the late medieval times. A more recent study has revealed that a total of 91-impor­tant Buddhist settlements existed in Andhradesa. ‘A brief review of the liter­ary and traditional accounts connected with the rise and spread of Buddhism in ancient Andhra, is provided here before the recent archaeological evi­dences are dilated upon.

Literary and Traditional Accounts

The literary accounts, detailing (1) the mention of Buddha’s visit to Andhra by Hieun Tsang, (2) the Jataka story relating to Buddha’s previous birth as Sumedha in the city of ‘Sri Dhanyakataka’, (3) the great ascetic Bavari despatching the disciples (Dhamma-Padatta Katha) from Mulaka to Rajagrha to meet Buddha echo the great importance and sacredness at­tached to Andhradesa as an early seat of Buddhism. The spread of Theravada doctrine into the Andhra region might not be a mere surmise. Mahasang­hikas made a dent into Andhra under the Mauryan patronage. Missionaries have been sent to several places and there appears to be some sequential order in their despatch. The places are Kashmira-Gandhara; Mahisamandala­-Vanavasi; Aparanta-Maharatha, Yona; Himavanta; Suvannabhumi and Tambapanni. According to Mahavamsa, Moggaliputta sent five theras to Tam­bapamni; (1) Mahadeva to Mahisha­mandala; (2) Rakhita to Vanavasi; another Rakhita to Aparanta and a Maha-Rakchita to an unknown country. This took place after the Pataliputra Council (Third Buddhist meet). Tam­bapamni is regarded by some as the area where river Tamraparni flows and Mahisamandala is not Mysore but in Godavari-Krishna region. Here the inclusion of ‘Mahisamandala’ is of great significance. Ptolemy’s Maisolia might be its capital. This was a renowned exit port on the east coast. The name ‘Maisolia’ might have, in course of time, become Masulipat­tanam. This is perhaps the ‘Mucil­indanagara’ referred to in Mahavamsa (ch. 36, p. 144) as P.S. Sastry 3 would have us believe. It may not be without significance that the episode of ‘Nagamucalinda’ protecting Buddha from a great storm, soon after the enlighten­ment, became a prolific theme in the Godavari - Krishna valley Buddhist art and this depiction spread far and wide. The route was coastal as well as inland and we find Mahanavikas mentioned in the inscriptions at Ghan­tasala (Kantakossala), and Mahanagaparvata (Gnntupalle). The Buddhist monks and missionaries moved through this Maisolia port to South-East Asia and Srilanka. Helmut Hoffman, 4 a German Scholar, who studied Kalacakratantra says: “It seems to me, there cannot be the slightest doubt, that Buddha was supposed to have preached the Man­trayana in general, and specially the Kalacakra Mula Tantra at the well known and famous Stupa of Dhanyakataka. Buddha’s pronounce­ment of the third vehicle is expressly paralleled with the “Second turning of the wheel that of the Mahayana” or “perfection of wisdom on the mountain Grdhrakuta in Magadha.”

This happened on Vaisakha pur­nima day and the Tibetan tradition has, therefore, shifted the anniversary of Buddha to the month of Jyeshtha instead of Vaisakha. Accordingly, the birth of Buddha was taken to be Jye­shtha Suddha Saptami day, Enlight­enment and Parinirvana on Jyeshta Su. Purnima and Dharmacakraparavar­tana on Sravana Sukla Chaturdhi”. This is at variance with the Sthavira tradition, according to which, the Birth, Enlightenment and Parinirvana were all on Vaisakha Pournami and the Dharmachakra Pravartana beingon Ashadha Pournami at Sarnath. Kathavatthu and Abhidhamma Pitaka speak of andhaka hegemony extending upto Magadha, (andhakavinda, near Magadha, andhakavana near Sra­vasti), the various schools of Andhaka monks and the specific inclusion of Dhamnakada among these places leave no doubt of the pre-Asokan base of Buddhism in ancient Andhra. Dhamnakada or Kata literally means a sacred sthana of Buddhadhamma. Besides Amaravati, Bhimarama in Chebrolu in dt. Guntur; Kshirarama in Palakollu dt. West Godavari; Bhimarama, in Samalkot Bhimavaram and Draksharama (Bhimesvaram) in dt. East Godavari are among the five aramakshetras of Andhra. Though they are predominantly Saiva from the early historical period, Buddhist base at these sthanas is of greater antiquity and remains to be archaeologically probed into.

In this context, the aramas which flourished during Buddha’s life­ time like the Goshitarama, Kukkutarama, and Pavariarama, all at Kausambi, Veluvanarama and Jivikarama at Rajagriha; Ambapalikarama of Sra­vasti, are interestingly enough associ­ated with the traders Sreshthis and ni­gamas who patronised the Buddhist Samghas. The Dhamna Kada goshthi appears, in all probability, contempo­rary to these aramas of Magadha and Uttarapatha. An inscribed stele from the Mahachaitya site of Amaravati, picturised these Viharas and places intimately connected to Buddha’s life. In this unique depiction Dhamnakada Viharas are portrayed very realistically with the river Krishna turning northwards. Buddha’s presence is symboli­cally shown in the form of Padas and Padma along the river course. The close association of Andhaka monks and merchants with Magadha is well attested to by the early inscriptions found front the Mahachcaitya site at Amaravati. It might be noted that in the contiguous Orissa. (Jaugada and Dhauli). Buddhism existed before the times of Asoka. In recent years, like Dhanyakataka, Sannati in Gulbarga district of North Karnataka revealed the existence of Buddhist stupas, with N.B.P. ware and Asokan edicts on a unique Steler (Rock Edicts, XII and XIV and special Edicts -I and II) provebeyond doubt that Central Andhra-­karnataka remained highly significant during the Mauryan phase. 5

It is a formidable task, however, to describe all the Buddhist sites of Andhra. Here I shall provide a list of selected ones with emphasis on more recently discovered examples which are excavated.

(A) Mauryan (Hinayana Phase)

  1. Amaravati (Guntur) Structural Stupas and monasteries of brick. An Asokan pillar edict part, pol­ished Inscribed granite uprights of the earliest period along with the highly polished pottery called Northern Black Polished ware. Stone railing at the Ma­hachaitya of the Mauryan date.

  1. Bhattiprolu (Guntur) Earliest phase of the Stupa of the Mauryan period with Buddha dhatu placed in the reliquaries, of Mauryan date.

  1. Vaddamanu (Guntur) earliest of the Stupa on the Hill top and an inscribed rock brow on a water­trough of the Mauryan period.

  1. Garikapadu (Krishna Dist.) Brick Stupa and Vihara.

  1. Guntupalle (West Godavari) Rock-cut Vrtta Caityas.

  1. Rampa Errampalem (East Godavari Rock-cut Stupas and cells.

(B) Post-Mauryan but Pre-Christian (Hinayana Phase).

Apart from the above sites which continue till later periods, other no­table examples with early Buddhist remains and basally non-Mahayana sites, dated to second century. B.C. are:

  1. Jaggayyapeta (dt. Krishna) Stru­ctural Stupas and Chaityas.
  1. Sankaram (Visakhapatnam), besides monolithic Stupas and rock cut Vihara cels, later brick Chaityas, etc.

  1. Kapavaram (East Godavari) Rock-cut as well as open air structural establishments which, remain to be excavated.

  1. Ramathirtham, Salihundam and Calingapatnam (Srikakulam) besides Viharas and Stupas of the early period, medieval Vajrayana phase is extant at the for­mer site as well as at Ramathirtham, district Vizian­agaram.

  1. Dhulikatta and Kotalingala (Dist. Karimnagar). Stupas provide here an exclusive Hinayana Phase during second century B.C. and continue to exist upto 2nd-3rd centuries A.D.

  1. Kondapur (Medak), Earliest structural Stupas of brick.

  1. Chandavaram (dt. prakasam), Structural Stupas of brick.

  1. Kesanapalli (Guntur), structural Stupas of brick.

(C) Later Satavahana and Ik­shvaku periods (Mahayana).

All the above mentioned sites have witnessed a rich flourishing art phase during the post-Christian period right upto early medieval times. The main Ikshvaku city based at Sripar­vata Vijayapuri was of international importance not only as a Buddhist centre with several Mahayana sects (Purva-Aparasaila) and aligned Viharas and Chaityas. As a result of large scale archaeological excavations several scores of Buddhist establishments were brought to light, and presently the historic hill of Nagmjuna Konda has a unique Island Museum of Bud­dhist art, with architectural models, transplanted Maha Stupa, Viharas and Bodhigrihas. The Museum on the hill is first of its kind in Asia. In recent years an important Buddhist site was excavated at Adpur, 6 in Cuddapah dis­trict. The finds from this site as well as Pushpagiri7 and Peddacapalli are noteworthy. The inscriptional evi­dences at Siddulagavulu rock-shelters near Ketavaram (Dist. Kurnool) where a large habitation site of an early his­toric period are important in this con­text. The existence of early Buddhism in the Rayalaseema area is certain but its nature and historical associations have not been properly studied in clear archaeological perspective as in the coastal Andhra.

Several early historical sites with inscribed pottery and brick structures were located in Addanki Taluk 8 (Dist. Prakasam). Among them the most conspicuous is an extensive Buddhist site at Kukutlapalli.

The earliest Buddhist wave in the Rayalasima area was undoubtedly of the Asokan times. Near Bellary and falling in line with Erragudi (Suvarnagiri) and the damaged Rajulamanda­giri Edicts (all in dt. Kumool) are the Minor Rock-Edicts found recently at Udegolam and Nittur. They indicate the crucial importance of the area during the Asokan period. The spread of this early Buddhism to Karnataka, like the second wave during the later Satavahana period, was through in­land route Prakasam-Kurnool, along the upper reaches of Krishna-Tun­gabhadra cross country. Andhra was within (Anta) the Mauryan empire. The Mauryan trade ed by this early spread of Buddhism touched the long East Coast of Andhra-Tamilnadu on way to Srilanka. The unique evidences of NBP and punch-marked silver coins obtained from the foundations of the stupas of Godige and Anuradhapura, Vijithapura citadel in Srilanka, fortify the literary evidences from Mahavamsa about the despatch of Bodihi Vriksha sapling to Simhala by the Mauryan emperor in a traditional manner. In the light of more recent Srilankan evidences, we are on firmer grounds to say that Hinayana Bud­dhism of Magadha reached Andhra and thenceforth Srilanka and other South East Asian territories in successive waves during the 3rd-1st centu­ries B.C.

As a result of the proselytization of the Mahasanghika sects as well as Chaitya Vadins from Sriparvata ­Vijayapuri (Nagarjunakonda) to various centres in Tamilnadu and Sri­lanka, other sea-locked lands of South East Asia came commercially as well religiously closer. From valuable evi­dence it appears to be that cult objects like Buddha padas, symbolic represen­tations of Buddha, (specially Naga Muchilinda, Dharma and Sangha made of Palnad lime stone have been physi­cally carried over by monks and mis­sionaries and installed within the Chaityagrihas and pillared halls in Srilanka and certain sealocked lands of South East Asia. We find sculptures and cult objects of Buddhist affiliation in many countries like Malaysia, Bali, Thailand and Srilanka, more impor­tant ones being Jetavana Thupa. Anuradhapura, Tantiramalai and Pu­ranavihara (Kurungala district), Abhayagiri Vihara (Anuradhapura) which yielded several lime stone sculp­tures, reliquaries and Buddhist images very closely modelled after the Amara­vati School of Art. Even the bronze images of Buddha of the Andhra School reached Thailand, Srilanka, Celebes and Indonesia (Sulawasi, Bronze Buddha).

(D) Stupa at Vengipura: New evi­dence

After the fall of the Iksvakus, the Salankayanas made Vengipura as the capital of Andhradesa and contin­ued to patronise Buddhism too. A recently discovered pillar epigraph from Guntupalle points out that Nan­divarman - II (400 - 430 A.D.), had caused somedonations to Buddhist Viharas in spite of the fact he was a Paramabhagavata and devoted to Citrarathasvami, i.e. Suryanarayana. Recent excavations carried out under my direction at the site called Dhan­amdibba, (literally ‘mound of wealth’), north of the village of Peddavegi resulted in the discovery of a Buddhist Stupa at the spot earlier located by Robert Sewell during the year 1888. In its central layout the Peddavegi Stupa resembles the mahastupa of Ghan­tasala, District Krishna, dug by Alex­ander Rea. A four-line inscription, 9 in Brahmi characters of 4th century A.D. on an octagonal mandapa pillar infact refers to a person from Ghantasala, who caused the mandapa affiliated to the Aparasaila sect.

Another lime stone pillar trimmed and reused as pranala in a later phase of the brick temple of Vishnu Kundin period, contained two inscriptions 10 in Brahmi characters of 2nd century A.D. on its lateral sec­tions. Both are incomplete and dam­aged too but push the Buddhist base of Vengipura to 2nd century AD. The record refers to a king named Kakichika (Rajno kakichikayamaha (rajasa)“), and cites certain monks and nuns connected to Mahanagaparvata i.e., the hill range at Guntupalle. In the second record this very king was stated to have spent ten years as an antevasaka, in the Bud­dhist Samgha to Vengi. Do we have here the origin of the later dynastic, name Kakati? Was the name ending Kaka or kaki denote the daughter as in Janaki from Janaka? Has this name of the king connection in any way to Kakinada i.e. Kakinadu? It is quite possible then that the toponym Kakinada was after the name of Kakichi, the ruler of the Peddavegi record. All these are interesting to wit. Another unique find from the recent excavations at Peddavegi is an Intaglio of transparent carnelian stone meas­uring 2 x 2.6 cm. ovalish and 4.4 mm thick. It depicted a youthful Goddess, two-handed with a nilotpala in her right hand and standing in abhanga. She has a turretted crown, silken di­aphanous garments, recalling to mind the city Goddess Amba or Durga like that from Kapisa or Pushkalavati on the gold coins and medals of Scythian or Greek origin. She is presiding deity of the city of Peddavegi (Vengipura devata).

The Stupa of this place has sev­eral features common to the examples of North - West India. Together with the latest discoveries of a Brahmi inscription11 of a Salankayana minis­ter named Bhutila from Kausambi (on a circular base of a pillar part, now in the Allahabad Museum) and a terra­cotta sealing of a Salankayana, from the excavations at Adam, near Nagpur, the ‘Salankayanas’ referred to by Panini and Patanjali hailed from North - West India rose to prominence around Kausambi and Vidarbha reached Dakshina Kosala and Godav­ari - Krishna region and established an independent kingdom in Andhradesa by the mid 4th century A.D. with Vengi as their Capital. They were renowned as Vaingeyakas to the northern powers.

Buddhism continued to flourish till medieval times at these centres though Brahmanical cults came to the fore. Many images of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, besides, Vajrayana icons and plaques with mantras are of common occurrence at Amaravati, Guntupalle, Salihundam, Sankaram and Ramathirtham etc. More substan­tial evidence is gathering even on the origin of these later Buddhist schools from the Krishna-Godavari valleys. An inscription dated to 2nd century A.D. now in the Reserve collections of the Site Museum at Amaravati (Dist. Guntur), contains a reference to the installation of an image of Bhagavati Pushpatara. Tara is a Sakti of Avalokitesvara, from the root tar (to cross) and according to Tibetan text (tara Dharani) Tara helps to cross the “ocean of existence’. The icon-plastic depiction of Tara was generally re­garded as a later introduction not before 6th century AD. This epigra­phical citation from “Amaravati be re­garded as the earliest known reference to the white-coloured Buddhist God­dess of the East.12 Another two-­handed limestone image of Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara from Ramatirtham vil­lage near Cimakurti hills (Dist. Prakasam) was assigned to 2nd century A.D. on stylistic grounds which recalls the limestone Vqjrayana im­ages from Amaravati and Ghantasala, etc. datable to 5th - 6th century AD. C. Sivarama Murthi13 has published a bronze Avalokitesvara (15.2 cm. high) from Amaravati now in Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Amaravati and Buddham have been the centers of Bronze icons of Buddha dated to early centuries of the Christian era. The typical Buddha and Bodhisattva images of Arnaravati school found their way14 to Srilanka, Celebes, Jakarta, Vietnam - Champa, all datable to 3rd - 5th centuries A.D.

It may, however, be noted that worship of Bodhisattva and Avalokite­svara began at Potalaka identified as Potarlanka in Divi Taluk of Dist. Krishna not far away from Amaravati-­Bhattiprolu region. We find tara stothras and exuberance of the im­ages of Goddess Tara, the mother of all Buddhas and a companion of Avalo­kitesvara known from the early medie­val times. The discovery of a rock inscription15 on the face of a huge boulder - hewn cave in the eastern outskirts of Hyderabad in recent years, within Chaitanyapuri area of Hydera­bad city has not only pushed the antiquity of Hyderabad but highlighted its historical and religious significance. This rock inscription assigned to the times of Maharaja Govindaraja Gov­indavannan, the founder of the Vish­nukundin dynasty (5th century A.D.) cites certain gifts to the Viharas and makes a pointed reference to the fol­lowers of Pinda Patika sect. The Pindapatikas and Theravadins. A monastic establishment, for the visit­ing monks was caused on the hillock by one Bhadanta Sanghadeva, of this Govindaraja Vihara, a disciple of Bammadeva Thivira of the lineage of Vasudeva Siridama who established the great Vihara on Pushpagiri (Dist. Cuddapah) and stated to be a Maha pimda - patika Vamadhara. This rec­ord over the brow of the Rock-cut cave clearly points out that orthodox Bud­dhist sects of the Hinayana order survived even in 5th century A.D. in some parts of Andhradesa despite the formidable sway of the Mahayanists all over.


  1. I.K. Sarma, Studies in Early Buddhist Monuments and Brahmi Inscriptions of Andhra desa. (Nagpur. 1988).
  2. I.K. Sarma. “Epigraphical Discov­eries at Guntupalle”. Journal of the Epigraphical Society of India, Vol. V (Mysore. 1978). pp. 50 - 51.
  3. Indian Historical Quarterly. XXXI. p. 68; and P. V. Bapat (ed.) 2500 years of Buddhism. (New Delhi. 1976), p. 266.
  4. Helmutt Hoffman. “Buddha’s preaching of the kalachakratan­tra at the stupa of Dhanya­kataka”. German Scholars on In­dia, I (Varanasi, 1973). pp. 136­-140.
  5. I.K. Sarma and J. Varaprasada Rao, Early Brahmi Inscriptions from Sannati. (New Delhi, 1993) and N.K. Sahu, Buddhism in Orissa, (Cuttack, 1958), pp. 15-­16.
  6. ARASI. 1912-13, pp. 63-64. For latest digs see N.S. Ramachan­dra Murthy in Annual Report, Department of Archaeology, Gov­ernment of Andhra Pradesh, 1974-77 (Hyderabad, 1978), p.5.
  7. ARSIR. 1926-27, p. 73. Bodhisiri refers to the construction of a Sallamandapa at this place (Pushpagiri) which later became a seat of Pasupata worship and a Saiva Pitha got established here. Some scholars locate Pushpagiri in Orissa. See Biswambhar Das The Glory that was Ratnagiri” in Buddhism and Jainism; (Cut­tack, 1976), pp. 108-109.
  8. Indian Archaeology - A review. 1977-78. pp. 2-3. Ibid., 1978-79. p. 4; For Chandavaram excavations See IAR. 1965-66, pp. 4; 79; 1973-74 p. 7; 1974-75. pp. 6-7; 1975-76; pp. 3-4 and 1976-­77, pp. 9-10.
  9. N. Lakshminarayana Rao, in Madras Epigraphical Reports, Southern Circle: no. 219 of 1927.
  10. I. K. Sarma. “Brahmi Inscriptions from Vengipura Excava­tions 1986-87 “Journal of the Epigraphical Society of India, Dharwad, 1987).
  11. I. K. Sarma Bharati; Sarasvatanubandhamu - Andhra Patrika dated 17-6-1987; Also Pura­tattva, no. 17 (New Delhi, 1987) pp. 15-21.
  12. B. Bhattacharya, Buddhist Iconography (Calcutta, 1959) p. 241, Also R.S. Gupta. Iconogra­phy of Hindus, Buddhists and Jains, (Bombay, 1972), pp. 116­-117.
  13. C. Sivarama Murthy, South Indian Bronzes, (New Delhi, 1963), pt 11 B, IC, 10.
  14. David. L. Snellgrove (ED.) The Image of Buddha, (Vikas, New Delhi, 1978), pp. 125-126, 141, 157, 165, plates 87, 88, 94, 110 and 119.
  15. P.V. Parabrahma Sastry, in Journal of the Epigraphical Soci­ety of India, Vol. XI (Mysore); pp. 96-99.
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