Amaravati Art in the Context of Andhra Archaeology

by Sreyashi Ray chowdhuri | 2018 | 90,477 words

This page relates ‘Coastal and Maritime trade’ 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.

According to Periplus[1] and Ptolemy Machilipaṭnam was an important area for coastal trade. A route existed from Machilipatnam and went across Bay of Bengal to the eastern peninsula. Ptolemy also mentioned that Kanṭakasālā (Ghaṇṭaśālā), Koddur (Guḍur), Allosygne (Avanigadda) etc were ports in Maisolia (Masulipaṭam)[2]. This definitely points to the importance of the region as a coastal trading centre. Kanṭakasālā, that is, Ghaṇṭaśālā lie 13 miles West of Masulipaṭnam. Although Periplus is silent about this place, Ptolemy (VII. 15) mentions it as an apheterion or the point of departure for ships to Chryse chora and chryse chersonesis referred as Suvarnabhumi and Suvarnadvipa in early literary sources in South-East Asia. Thus Ghaṇṭaśālā was an international mart where the imported commodities were exchanged. Ghaṇṭaśālā was well connected with the inland port of Dhānyakaṭaka[3]. The existence of port of Dhānyakaṭaka is proved by the discovery of wharfs and navigational channels. Moreover minted money for business transaction also suggests trading links within the region and far off lands.

Wharf might have been built in 2nd century C.E[4]. The wharf is found by the side of Kṛṣṇā on the bank of which the city stood. In Dhānyakaṭaka seven structural phases have been noticed of which six are related to the embankment-cum-wharf abutting a navigational channel and the latest indicating a defence wall.

The structural details of each phase are as follows:-


Navigational channel cut into the natural lateritic ridge. It also showed occupational deposits in the shape of a series of hearths with ash.

Phase II:-

A huge wharf raised upon wooden posts which indicate rows of post holes.

Phase III:-

A brick wharf raised along with the inner side of the channel with further heightening of embankment by a mud ramp.

Phase IV:-

Brick revetment on both sides of the channel with lateritic gravel as the packing material.

Phase V:-

Reinforcement of the inner side of the channel with further raising of the embankment by the use of sand and sandstone chips.

Phase VI:-

Signs of repair to brick revetment and sand filling of the earlier phase resulting from heavy erosions.

Phase VII:-

Abandonment, filling up of channel and conversion into defence wall.

The existence of ancient maritime trade is further suggested by repeated mention of Dhenukakaṭa in the inscriptions of Kārle and Kānheri. The Dhenukakaṭa can be identified with Dhānyakaṭaka. Inscription 1020 of Luder’s list records the donation of a cave and water cistern by the nun Sarpa who was the “daughter of the lay worshipper Kulāpiya Dhamanaka, the Dhenukakaṭiya[5]. At Kārle, inscription 1090 of Luder’s List mentions the perfumer Siṃhadatta from Dhenukakaṭa[6]. Inscription 1092 refers to the son of Venuvasa, a Dhenukakaṭa[7]. Inscription 1093 the ‘Yavana Sihadhaya’ is mentioned as being from Dhenukakaṭa[8]. Inscription 1096 records the “gift of Dhamma Yavana” from Dhenukakaṭa[9]. The connection of Kṛṣṇā delta with the monastic sites like Kārle and Kānheri at the approach of the ports of Sopara and Elephanta on the west coast gives this route significance[10].

The great period of maritime activity started during the time of the Sātavāhanas. The ‘ship’ type of coins of the Sātavāhanas with one or two masts with double set of rigging is found[11] (Pl 32b). Discovery of double masted ship coins of Puḷumāvi II and Yajna Sātakarṇi in the Guṇṭur district signify sea voyages of the Andhra people[12]. On the reverse of the coin of Yajna Sātakarṇi appears double masted ship below which is a fish and conch shell symbolizing overseas trade[13].

Andhra had trade links with far off lands. In this regard mention may be made of trade with Sri Lanka and several places of South East Asia. Sri Lanka was a part of the international trade network in the Indian Ocean. The first three centuries of the Christian era India had direct connections with Sri Lanka. During the time of Periplus (c 1st Century C.E) the starting point for ships leaving Egypt for India were the ports of Myos, Hormos and Berenice. The time to leave Egypt for India was July. Making use of the south-west monsoon winds the ships sailed through the Gulf of Aden and reached the ports of the western coast of India in September or October. The return journey had to be scheduled for the month of November taking advantage of the north-east monsoon. Thus the entire process was time consuming and therefore less profitable. To avoid such inconvenience the merchants found it more profitable to buy Sri Lankan products from Indian markets than spending a year on the Island waiting for the next north-east monsoon[14].

In this endeavour the South Indian traders may have played the intermediary role between the Roman traders and Sri Lankans. Among South Indian merchants the Andhra traders definitely had a positive role to play. The Andhra traders went to Sri Lanka in search of merchandise. Thus Sri Lanka became the chief centre for Indian trade. This also led to the cultural transmission which was strongly manifested in the close artistic affinities in both the regions.

The south-east Asian connection with Andhra is well established. In Siam it seems that the earliest immigrants came from the region of Amarāvatī and landed probably at the port of Martaban and then travelled south through the three Pagoda Pass into the south and central Siam[15]. The driving force was Buddhism and trade. Buddhism of the Amarāvatī region had made its way into the lower central Siam during the first three centuries of the Christian era. Amarāvatī lay directly west across the Bay of Bengal from Thailand’s three Pogada Pass. Martaban was a useful port. Martaban or rather Moulmein has been the starting point of the overland caravan route from Lower Burma to Chiengmai in North Siam via Kaw Kareik and Raheng. But the Indian traders probably did not venture so far as no traces have been found[16].

The Andhra connection to South-East Asia can be strengthened by the case of Kauṇḍinyas of Funan. The Kauṇḍinyas were believed to have migrated to Funan from the Lower Kṛṣṇā valley. The migrated clan of the Kauṇḍinya went to Funan from Andhra and not from Kauṇḍinyapura of Vidarbha, the original homeland[17]. The Chinese source gives information of Kauṇḍinyas migration to Funan from Andhra. The history of the Southern Tsi (Nan Tsi-Chu-5th century C.E) makes reference to the Kauṇḍinya king or the ruler who originally came from Ki/Kiao country. It appears that ‘Ki’ in all probability is the abbreviation of the Kṛṣṇā country and Kiao stands for Kauṇḍinya. They emigrated to Funan via Pan Pan (Malay Peninsula)[18]. It can be suggested that from the port at the mouth the Kṛṣṇā they emigrated to Funan. It was probably from them the Andhra influence percolated to Indo-china.

It may be noted that Funan established by Kauṇḍinya I was considered to be the first Indianised state in South-East Asia. The Khmer rulers of Cambodia also considered themselves to be the lineal descendants of Funan rulers. The first verse of the Bayang temple inscription of Bhāvavarman refers to his descent from the Kauṇḍinyas[19].

The Kauṇḍinyas had their settlement in the Śrīśailam region (known as Śrīparvata in the early texts) meaning a mountainous tract in the Nāgārjunakoṇḍa valley in Andhra[20]. According to the Chinese sources Kauṇḍinya I married a Funanese girl Liu-yeh and established an empire at Funan. The Kauṇḍinya king possibly undertook an expansionist policy from Funan to Indonesia and for this purpose he married an Indonesian girl of royal origin. The Mison inscription of Champā dated c. 650 C.E gives details of the marriage with an Indonesian princess Nāgi Soma, the daughter of the local king[21]. Thus the Kauṇḍinya elements found its way to Indonesia. In addition to it the first kings of Palembang, Sumatra are considered to be Śailendra princes from Funan. Later Javanese rulers ideologically claimed themselves to be the legitimate successors of Śailendras[22]. Thus Funan was the cultural axis and the commercial centre, which connected all three early South-East Asian realms and Java was the centre of one of the zones of Funan[23]. Thus it is clear that the Andhra port in the mouth of Kṛṣṇā was well connected to various parts of India and parts of South and South East Asia.

Footnotes and references:


Scoff H.Wilfred (tr), 1912, The Periplus of the Erythraen Sea, Travel and Trade in the Indian Ocean by a merchant of first century A.D, London pp 252-253.


Mc Crindle J.W(tr), 1885, Ancient India as described by Ptolemy, A translation of the chapter which describe India and Central and Eastern Asia in the Treatise of Geography written by Klavdios Ptolemaios, London, pp 66-69.


Ghosh Suchandra, 2006, Coastal Andhra and the Bay of Bengal Trade Network, South Asian Studies, Vol 22, London, p 67.


Deloche Jean, 2001, ‘Geographical Considerations in the Localization of Ancient Sea–ports of India’, Chakrabarty Ranabir, Trade in Early India, New Delhi, p 320.


Lüders H, 1912, Op.cit, No 1020, Kānherī Buddhist Cave Inscription, p 107


Ibid, No. 1090, p 116.


Ibid, No. 1092, p 117,


Ibid, No. 1093, p 117.


Ibid, No. 1096, p 117.


Chakrabarti Dilip.K, 2010, Op.cit, p 2.


Sir Elliot Walter, 1970, Coins of Southern India, International Numismata Orientalia, Varanasi, p 152.


Champakalakshmi R, 1996, Op.cit, p 149.


Chandra Moti, 1977, Trade and Trade Routes in Ancient India, New Delhi, pp 99-100.


Bopearachchi Osmund, 2008, ‘Sculptures of Amaravati-Tradition in Srilanka’, Journal of the Asiatic Society, Vol L No.4, Kolkata, pp 2-3.


Le May Reginald, 2004 (Reprint), Buddhist Art in South East Asia, The Indian Influence on the Art of Thailand, New Delhi, pp 18-23.


Ibid, p 19.


Ramachandran A, Op.cit, p 168.


Ibid, p 168.


Ibid, p 169.


Ibid, p 173.


Ibid, p 176-177.


Ibid, p 177.


Ibid, p 178.

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