Amaravati Art in the Context of Andhra Archaeology

by Sreyashi Ray chowdhuri | 2018 | 90,477 words

This page relates ‘Epilogue’ of the study on Amaravati Art in the Context of Andhra Archaeology, including museum exhibitions of the major archeological antiquities. These pages show how the Buddhist establishment of Amaravati (Andhra Pradesh) survived from 4th century BCE to 14th century CE. It includes references and translations of episodes of Buddha’s life drawn from the Avadanas and Jatakas which are illustrated in Amaravati art.

Chapter 6 - Epilogue

The Buddhist monument of Amarāvatī is one of the finest masterpieces of the Buddhist world displaying great creativity and skills of the artists. Among several Buddhist art centres of Andhra archaeology, Amarāvatī became the most significant centre. The ornate Amarāvatī art though touched by the Śunga art traditions of North India gradually evolved its own art style which it diffused to the adjacent sites. As a result the whole group of art centres of early Andhradeśa was singularly designated by the term ‘Amarāvatī School of Art’ Besides Amarāvatī’s role in the evolution of early Andhra’s distinctive artistic identity, Amarāvatī Mahācaitya enjoyed the greatest longevity in comparison to other sites of early Andhra archaeology. In fact the Mahācaitya at Amarāvatī retained its pre-eminent position from 4th century B.C.E to 14th century C.E. The art of Amarāvatī also made an enduring impression not only on art traditions of India, but also on the art of Sri Lanka and South East Asia. This persistent presence of artistic impulsions of Amarāvatī art irrespective of passing ages and shifting geographical scenery undoubtedly indicates the longevity and survival of Amarāvatī art and its contribution to the development of aesthetics in India, Sri Lanka and South East Asia. This is an interesting facet and the present thesis basically attempts to investigate the question of survival and longevity of Amarāvatī art. It may be mentioned that though the historiography devoted to Amarāvatī art is vast, no comprehensive study of Amarāvatī’s longevity and survival of the art in the context of Andhra archaeology is attempted. The foregoing pages embody the results of our investigation on the above mentioned dimension.

In order to unravel the objective of our thesis the entire research is divided into six chapters including the epilogue. Our research commenced with the study of scope, sources and methodology. In this chapter we have largely dealt with the historiography devoted to the Amarāvatī art and the methodology we have followed to pursue our objective. Indeed the historiography associated with Amarāvatī art is vast and we have tried to study most of the previous works. In this regard both specialized and general works on Amarāvatī art have been taken into consideration. Besides monographs, journals, museum collections and archaeological reports have been exhaustively used for a better understanding of the subject matter. In fact the analysis of both literary and archaeological sources extensively to check the validity of corroboration between them is very important for enriching our database. However, it may be pointed out that despite the existence of a series of researches and reports on various aspects of Amarāvatī art at our disposal, the interesting facet of longevity and the survival strategy of Amarāvatī Art in the context of Andhra archaeology have not been comprehensively documented.

To investigate the above dimension a homogenous sampling method and culture historical approach have been undertaken in the methodology of our study. In this regard it is mention worthy that often in the methodology it becomes essential to undertake visual survey of art centres, museums and exhibitions for a better understanding of the stylistic uniqueness, correlation between the sites and the chronological attribution of the antiquities drawn from the ‘Amarāvatī School’ and those of a wider geographical area. Such occasional visual exploration undertaken by us is imperative as they serve as the primary sources which along with secondary sources help us in enriching our database and developing an insight on the subject matter.

In chapter II we have dealt extensively with the various archaeological sites of Andhra Pradesh and tried to establish coastal Andhra to be the life centre of entire Andhradeśa of which Amarāvatī became the site par excellence. In this attempt we have tried to trace the evolution of various sites from the Palaeolithic phase to the Early Historic period and bring out its features. It may be recollected that prior to the formation of the separate state of Telangana, Andhra Pradesh consisted of three topographical zones-coastal Andhra, Telangana and Rayalaseema region. While studying the archaeological sites, the dispersal pattern according to the topographical zones was taken into consideration. Thus the sites were classified and discussed broadly into two categories——sites in coastal Andhra and sites beyond the coastal lines. The research on the various archaeological sites have revealed that nearly a quarter of the total sites of early Andhradeśa were located in the coastal plain localities which gradually became the hub of Andhra culture. Among the archaeological sites of lower Kṛṣṇā valley (Coastal Andhra), Amarāvatī became the prime centre. This probably prompted political powers to incorporate Amarāvatī and coastal Andhra within their domain.

Excavations unveiled a number of urban centres in coastal Andhra. These centres were usually preceded by megalithic and early Iron Age culture. Many of these sites revealed monumental remains and religious settlements. Dominated by Buddhist philosophy, many of these urban centres bear proof of beautiful Buddhist art and architecture. Among them the Buddhist art of Amarāvatī visible in the Mahācaitya of huge stature exhibited an unparalleled confidence in plastic ornamentation and maturity that surpassed other sites of Andhradeśa. The plastic pliability, matured linearism, ornamentation and love for details became more pronounced than its neighbouring sites. In fact the great stūpa of Amarāvatī became the glory of Indian Buddhism which attracted pilgrims from India and abroad.

It may be assumed that having the benefits of rich agrarian base, flourishing domestic and international trade network and religious supremacy it was chosen as a fitting capital and megacity of political authorities in early Andhradeśa. The plastic advancement of the Amarāvatī art may be attributed to this strategic significance of the region which possibly attracted the most efficient craftsmen to the area. Thus Amarāvatī attained a premiere position in coastal Andhra throbbing politically, economically and spiritually. In fact Amarāvatī, ancient Dhānyakaṭaka became such a significant centre in coastal Andhra that it paved the way for the cultural development of early Andhradeśa.

In chapter III we have made an attempt to show how Buddhism acted as a driving force behind the formation of Amarāvatī’s art and exerted a profound influence on the socio-cultural life of Andhradeśa. In tracing the beginning of Buddhism in Andhra it came to light that prior to the advent of Buddhism there existed several religious practices like totemism, yakṣa cult and Brahmanism. Brahmanism was overtaken by Buddhism in the pre-Aśokan phase. However, the Buddhist base of Dhānyakaṭaka, that is ancient Amarāvatī, played a significant role in attracting the attention of Aśoka who was primarily responsible for spreading the religion on a large scale as a part of his missionary activity (Dhamma Vijaya). Buddhism enjoyed the status of the state religion during the time of the later Sātavāhanas.

Early Andhra become a stronghold of the Mahāsāṅghikas during the early centuries of the Christian era. The Caityakas branched off from the Mahāsāṅghikas. The most important Buddhist sect at Amarāvatī is the Caityakas. They possibly renovated the Amarāvatī Mahācaitya is 2nd century C.E and added an āyaka platform to it. The image of Buddha was introduced in this period. Several sub schools emanated from the Chaityakas of which Dhānyakaṭaka became the seat of the Pūrvaśailas. In Hiuen Tsang’s account Amarāvatī was the Pūrvaśaila Sanghārāma to the Chinese pilgrim.

Several sites of Amarāvatī witnessed three phases of Buddhism- Hīnayāna, Mahāyāna and Vajrayāna phase. Antiquities from Dhānyakaṭaka reveal the existence of all three phases. However, despite such idealogical changes the earlier practice of worship of symbols co-existed with the image worship. Similarly with the introduction of female element and tāntric icons in Vajrayāna phase, the earlier practices of aniconic and iconic worship continued.

The later Sātavāhanas gave patronage to Buddhism and naturally the Mahāstūpa of Amarāvatī reached its pinnacle of glory during this period. The stūpa rose to huge size and was elaborately decorated. While decorating the Mahāstūpa and votive stūpa the artists of Amarāvatī sourced their work from the stupendous storehouse of Buddhist literature. Thus the Jātaka stories, Avadānas and the life stories of Buddha found representations in the narrative art of Amarāvatī. These narratives undoubtedly indicate a conscious effort to convey some basic moral and humanly practicable precepts of Buddhism. However, it may be pointed out that though outwardly the themes of Amarāvatī art is strictly religious, but in spirit the art is earthly and sensuous, portraying a society rich in life and vitality. This feature is also evident in the neighbouring Buddhist sites of the Amarāvatī repertoire.

The Mahāstūpa of Amarāvatī became the centre of attraction of the religious complex. In fact the Great Stūpa was the focus of the religious movement in Andhra. It contained the corporeal relics of the master and was considered as one of the five Buddhist kṣetras. Amarāvatī’s religious complex attained such supremacy in the Buddhist world that it attracted pilgrims from India, Sri Lanka and parts of South East Asia. The donative inscription and sculptural representations bear testimony to this. This huge popularity of the monastic establishment prompted various social groups of Andhra to take part in the religious practice and refurbishment of the monument, which in turn led to the cultural efflorescence of the entire Andhradeśa. In fact the prestigious Mahācaitya of Amarāvatī survived almost intact till about the 14th century C.E when all the Buddhist centres of Andhra lost its significance.

In chapter IV we have made an attempt to show the existence of the Mahāstūpa of Amarāvatī from 4th century B.C.E to 14th century C.E and also investigated the survival strategy of the monument. In this regard it is noteworthy to mention that none of the Buddhist archeological sites displayed such a long survival like the Buddhist establishment at Amarāvatī. This is very interesting and can be linked with the rise of Dhānyakaṭaka as a megacity and its persistent significance in the Andhra history over a long stretch of time. In fact the issue of survival of Amarāvatī Mahāstūpa should be studied in the backdrop of growth and predominance of the urban centre of Dhānyakaṭaka in Andhra where the Mahācaitya became the focal point of attraction. The importance of the region is evident from the continued mention of Dhānyakaṭaka and its various transcriptions in literary and archaeological records.

Definite proof of recorded history of the stūpa site of Amarāvatī, ancient Dhānyakaṭaka is found from the time of Asoka. A fragment of an Aśokan pillar near the Mahāstūpa bear testimony to this However, the stratigraphical evidence from the Mahāstūpa yielded pre-Aśokan phase. The earliest phase of the stūpa site is datable to 4th-3rd century B.C.E and this phase is further subdivided into IA and IB. IA phase is pre-Aśokan. It is interesting to note that sherds of Red Slipped Ware and Black and Red Wares discovered in the pre-Aśokan phase contain the names of some Buddhist monks near the stūpa site. This points to the existence of religious community prior to the Aśokan phase. However, the stūpa grew in wider dimension in the Aśokan phase and became an important Buddhist site. After Aśokan period some local rulers controlled the region and fostered Buddhism. Then the Sādas made Dhānyakaṭaka their seat of power and made donations to the stūpa.

The history of the region and the Mahāstūpa reached its glorious epoch in the reign of the later Sātavāhanas. The Satavahana king Vāśiśthīputra Pulumāvi consolidated the empire to the eastern coast and made Dhānyakaṭaka their capital. This was the period of great artistic efflorescence that gave the Mahāstūpa its most impressive form unsurpassed in the history of stūpa architecture in South India. By the second half of 3rd century C.E the Ikshvākus came to power and shifted their capital to Nāgārjunakoṇḍa. But Dhānyakaṭaka, ancient Amarāvatī was included in their domain and some additions to the Mahācaitya were made. Inscriptions and art reproductions reveal these additions. After the Ikshvakus there was decline of Buddhism. Following the Iksvākus were the early Pallavas who favoured Brahmanism. But still a Pallava king Mahārājadhirāja Śivaskaṇḍavarman had its headquarter at Dhānyakaṭaka. The Pallavas were supplanted by the Sālankāyanas who subsequently yielded place to the Viṣṇukuṇḍins. The Viṣṇukuṇḍins claim Amarāvatī (Indrapāla nagara) as their capital.

Hiuen Tsang’s reference to Dhānyakaṭaka as ‘Mahā Andhra’ definitely suggests a greater role of Dhānyakaṭaka in Andhra. From his accounts it can be understood that though the religious complex of Amarāvatī was falling in ruins but it provided residence to thousands of monks attached to the Mahāstūpa.

A much later Pallava record of 1100 C.E mentions Dhānyakaṭaka as an important Buddhist centre. During 12th -13th centuries the Koṭa chiefs ruled Dhāranikota/Dhānyakaṭaka. They were followed by Reddis of Koṇḍavidu. An epigraph of Koṭa chief Keṭa II dated to 1182 C.E on the pillar of Amarāvatī temple mentions worship of Buddha along with lord Śiva. It also mentions about a massive chaitya decorated with sculptures. This definitely is the Mahācaitya of Amarāvatī. The last mention of the Mahāstūpa is found in the Gadaladeniya rock inscription (1344 C.E) of Dhammakirtti (Sri Lanka) where the restoration of two storeyed image house at Dhānyakaṭaka is recorded. This definitely indicates the survival of Amarāvatī Mahāstūpa till 14th century C.E.

This long history of the Amarāvatī stūpa site vis-a vis other adjacent site can be considered as an interesting and perplexing problem. In order to find out the reason for longevity of the Amarāvatī stūpa site several factors can be taken into consideration which created a congenial environment for the longevity of the Great stūpa.

In this regard it may be suggested that the strategic geographical setting of Dhānyakaṭaka, ancient Amarāvatī was highly favourable for the longevity of the stūpa site of Amarāvatī. Situated in the fertile delta of Kṛṣṇā it became a rich agricultural base. The name Dhānyakaṭaka, that is, ‘town of paddy’ is possibly derived from the huge agricultural produce of the region. It helped Dhānyakaṭaka to become a rich market town. It was also in an advantageous location as regards its connectivity to the trade routes is concerned. The region was linked to the routes to Kaliṅga, Kośala, Maharastra, Karnataka and Kāñchī. Several Buddhist sites were located along these routes. Amarāvatī became well connected to these sites through the routes which in turned helped in the diffusion of the art style.

Dhānyakaṭaka also served as a river port because wharfs and navigational channels are discovered in the region. The sea-ports of Andhra played a significant role in indigenous and foreign traffic during 2nd-3rd century C.E. The Roman ships anchored to the ports of Sopara and Bhrigukachha (Barygaza of Romans) on the western side and coastal emporiums of Andhradeśa on the eastern side. Roman coin hoards, Roman Arretine and Amphorae and Roman features in Amarāvatī art point to the existence of Roman trading network in this region.

In the records of Periplus and Ptolemy Machilipatnam served as an important area for coastal trading network. Ptolemy mentioned Kontakossyla (Ghaṇṭaśālā) as an apheterion or the point of departure for ships to Chrysechora and Chryse chersonesis, that is, regions to South and South East Asia. Such evidences suggest Ghaṇṭaśālā as an international mart. The inland port of Dhānyakaṭaka was connected to Ghaṇṭaśālā.

The rich agricultural production and the flourishing condition of trade increased the prosperity of the masses in general and the commercial classes in particular. The prosperity of the nigamas (trading corporation), Gahapatis, Seṭṭis, Sārthavāhas, Vaniyas and other social groups associated with trade and industry played a significant role in the development of Dhānyakaṭaka. It became an important urban centre and rich mega city. Such benefits attracted the political authorities of Andhra who selected the region as their capital or mega city

In the entire process of growth and development of Dhānyakaṭaka the religious establishment at Amarāvatī played a crucial part. It became the pivot of attraction which in turn increased the popularity of the region. Not only the local population but the pilgrims and visitors from various parts of India and abroad came, interacted and made donations independently and collectively. In this chapter we have thoroughly surveyed the epigraphical records to justify the nature of patronage to the stūpa complex. Located in the strategic geographical setting it helped the people from different walks of life to come and settle in the region. The region with all the civic amenities became a land of opportunity to the traders, artisans, craftsmen, monks and nuns who flocked around the place and actively participated in the construction, upkeep and maintenance of the monument. Thus the stūpa not only fulfilled the spiritual and aesthetic urge of the onlookers but also paved the way for socio cultural interaction and economic prosperity. This possibly gave impetus to the emergence of a nexus between the political authority, commercial group and the Buddhist order centering round the Mahāstūpa. From the above analysis it can be postulated that continuous flow of funds and active patronage from the entire society helped in the construction, maintenance and thereby survival of the monument. The convergence of so many factors in a single archaeological site of Amarāvatī was unfortunately missing in other adjacent sites of early Andhra. Hence Amarāvatī stūpa site enjoyed a long survival in comparison to other neighbouring sites of early Andhradeśa.

In the fifth chapter we have made an attempt to critically analyse the stylistic parallels that existed between Amarāvatī repertoire and the art traditions of India, Sri Lanka and South East Asia and ascertain Amarāvatī’s aesthetic impact on South Asia and South East Asia. In this effort we have also intended to show that the influence of Amarāvatī art is extensive in time and space and thereby indicate artistic survival of Amarāvatī beyond its time and geographical terrain.

In this study we have made an extensive survey of sculptural and architectural specimens from various art centres of India, Sri Lanka and South East Asia. However, in this context we have based our research work to those objects which revealed stylistic similarities and closeness in terms of form, composition, manner of depiction, use of similar technical device and decorative elements. While judging the linkages several interesting issues have come up in our discussion. These issues centred round the questions like whether Amarāvatī was the source of such akinness or Amarāvatī art received artistic impulsions from other art centre? The justifications behind such commonness are also important to our analysis. These issues have been dealt with in this chapter.

From the wide survey of artifacts it is undeniable that the Amarāvatī art demonstrated creativity and originality which influenced the art traditions of India, Sri Lanka and South East Asia. While attempting to draw parallels between Amarāvatī art and art traditions of India it can be suggested that in the initial stages of Amarāvatī art few specimens reveal closeness to the Mauryan idiom and greater number of artifacts exhibit similarities to the contemporary early narrative art traditions of Northern India. Commonness in attire, jewellery, thematic compositions, symbolic depictions of the Master etc with early reliefs of Sāñchī, Bhārhut, Ajanta (IX and X caves) and other centres of early narrative art suggests that Amarāvatī art was not disassociated with the contemporary art movement of India. In fact no art can grow in isolation and Amarāvatī art displayed the same pattern. However, Amarāvatī art showed advancement in the technical qualities of art. Moreover they were the political successors of the Mauryas. However, what Amarāvatī acquired from early schools were amalgamated and reinterpreted in its own distinctive way. Gradually Amarāvatī art developed its own unique style. In this process the local aesthetic taste always played a significant role.

The art reached its highest maturity during the reign of the later Sātavāhanas. (first half of 2nd century C.E-first quarter of 3rd century C.E). The maturity was visible in its form, content and technique. After achieving the high point of artistic development, it transmitted its creative impulses to other art centres of peninsular India. In the process of its growth and development Amarāvatī art carried its iconographic and decorative influences to Gāndhara and Mathura and in turn was touched by the Kuśana School. These linkages are well documented in this chapter.

Amarāvatī art along with the Mathura art contributed greatly to the foundation of the Gupta art. It can be said that while Mathura contributed volume, Amarāvatī contributed pliability to the Gupta idiom. Besides technical features several iconographic elements in Gupta art was shaped by the Amarāvatī art. In this respect mention may be made of the Ganeśa, Nadī devis like Gangā and Yamunā, pearl yajnopavita, full face makara as architectural embellishment popularly seen in the Gupta and post Gupta Hindu iconography. These iconographical elements were borrowed from the Amarāvatī art. A collateral branch of the Guptas, the Vākaṭakas continued the Amarāvatī tradition in the paintings of Ajanta. Besides thematic parallelism, the attenuation of female forms, pliability, use of architectural elements to provide sequence to the Buddhist story is imitations from Amarāvatī. Amarāvatī art also enriched the bold and imposing compositions of the Pallavas, Chālukyas and the Cholas.

The impact of the Amarāvatī School is also seen on Sri Lankan and South East Asian art traditions. From the study of art objects it is clearly evident that the artistic interaction between Amarāvatī, Sri Lanka and South East Asian countries have been active. Stylistic similitude is visible in many artifacts. Some of them may be cited in this context. The decoration of guardstone with Nāga kings holding vases, vrkṣa devatā, makara motif, Yakṣa carrying purṇakalaśa, elephant headed gaṇa, Nāga Muchalinda depictions are imitations from the Andhra School. In case of moonstone representation seen in Amarāvatī, Sri Lanka and South East Asia it may be pointed out that this motif was originally conceived in Sri Lanka and then transported to Andhra and South East Asian countries. However, in spite of these artistic repercussions from Amarāvatī and then from Gupta and post Gupta idioms, the art of Sri Lanka and South East Asia absorbed such trends and reinterpreted them in its own distinctive way.

From the extensive survey of art objects from India, Sri Lanka and South East Asia it is apparent that Amarāvatī repertoire exerted a profound influence on the art of India, Sri Lanka and South East Asia. In this process of transmitting its creative impulses it enriched the aesthetic traditions of India, Sri Lanka and South East Asia. These linkages and connectivity surely suggested a greater role of Amarāvatī in the history of art movement in South Asia and South East Asia. In this fascinating study it again comes to light that there was artistic continuity and therefore survival of the art of Amarāvatī beyond its time and geography.

Thus from the entire study it may be stated without hesitation that the glory of stūpa art and architecture is greatly reflected in the massive Mahācaitya of Amarāvatī. Profusely dressed with sculptures of high workmanship it can be compared with gold smith or ivory carver’s craft. Such a magnificent monument naturally encouraged scholars and researchers to carry imposing studies on the subject. We have attempted to focus on a very special aspect of Amarāvatī art, that is, the problem longevity and survival of Amarāvatī in the context of Andhra archaeology. As far as my knowledge goes this problem is not comprehensively addressed in earlier works. Our investigation revealed not only the physical presence of Amarāvatī Mahācaitya from 4th century B.C.E -14th century C.E but also stylistic survival of Amarāvatī art by way of disseminating its influences to other art centres. In fact the impact of Amarāvatī on the art traditions of India, Sri Lanka and South East Asia is unanimously accepted by scholars. In the process of transmitting its aesthetic influences Amarāvatī art contributed greatly to the development and enrichment of art traditions in South Asia and South East Asia. In fact Amarāvatī art saw the introduction of some iconographic and decorative features which became an integral part of art reproductions in later art traditions. However, sometimes these motifs were reinterpreted with some modifications.

In this regard mention may be made of the introduction of Śālabhanjika motif in the birth scene of Buddha in the Amarāvatī repertoire. Here Śālabhanjika was equated with Māyādevī for the first time. Thereafter the representation became a norm in the depiction of the birth scene of the Master. Similarly deities standing on makara visible in a Amarāvatī relief can be considered as the earliest prototypes and models for the Brahmanical images of Gangā and Yamunā figures in the Gupta period. Again the Ganeśa image which became so familiar in Hindu iconography is derived from elephant eared long nosed gaṇa figure first seen at Amarāvatī. The cuḍamanimakarikā ornament on the crown, the stele with a high makara toraṇa back and full face makara seen in Amarāvatī reliefs became a part of Gupta art and later art traditions of India and abroad. Therefore it can be suggested that Amarāvatī art added new stylistic and iconographic vocabulary to the art traditions of South and South East Asia and thus earned a special place in the history of art.

In our study on a specialized dimension of Amarāvatī art, that is, the survival and continuity of art irrespective of passing ages and changing geographical scenary, the significance and contribution of the art on the art traditions of South and South East Asia is established. It is expected that such an interesting study will lead to a better understanding of the culture of Amarāvatī and add a new dimension to the study of Amarāvatī art.

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