17 June, 2009

Amaravathi Stupa

Hieun-tsang, a Buddhist piligrim to India in the seventh century records the following about Amaravathi:
"The convents are numerous, but mostly deserted and ruined. Of those preserved there are about 20, with 1,000 or so priests. They all study the law of the Great vehicle. There are a 100 Deva (Hindu) temples, and the people who frequent them are numerous and of different beliefs."
Though what he says about Amaravathi itself is disappointingly meagre it establishes the fact that Buddhism was an important state religion in the Andhra kingdom.

Growth of Buddhism in Andhra
Buddhism came to Assaka country (today's Nizamabad in Andhra Pradesh) during the Buddha's lifetime. Bavari, an ascetic who set up his ashram on the banks of the Godavari river, came to know that a Buddha had arisen in the north and sent his disciples to meet him and engage him in a spiritual dialogue.

The dialogue of the Buddha with the disciples of Bavari at Vaishali is recorded in Suttanipata, which says that Bavari's disciples were converted to Buddhism and later brought dhamma to the Telugu country, Andhradesa. Literary, epigraphical and archaeological accounts confirm that almost all schools of Buddhism flourished in Andhra Pradesh for over 2,000 years. According to Suttanipata, identified as one of the older parts of Tripitaka (the complete scripture collection of the Theravada school).Even though the traditional accounts of the Buddha's visit to Andhra Pradesh are discounted, the literary evidence, as recorded by the Chinese traveller Hiuen-Tsang, shows that Buddhism entered Andhradesa by circa 400 B.C.

It was only during the reign of Asoka that the Buddhist establishment at Dhanyakataka (today's Dharanikota) attained great recognition. Asoka raised the dhamma thambani and enlarged the stupa, enshrining in it the relics of the Buddha and providing the granite railing. The historian B.S.L. Hanumantha Rao said: "Asoka bestowed special attention on Andhradesa as he found out the preference of Andhras for Buddhism."

Being an urban centre with access to the Bay of Bengal coast, Dhanyakataka grew as the focal point of Buddhism in Andhradesa. Its importance grew further when it became the capital of the Satavahanas. The Satavahana expansion over coastal Andhra and the shift of the capital to Dhanyakataka was a notable change in the first century A.D. As a result, the Andhra coastline became the hub of trade with the Romans. These changes fostered prosperity, and Buddhist establishments came up with the support of local chieftains along the trade routes in the hinterland.

The monuments built by the Satavahanas were primarily Buddhist. They were stupas (tombs erected by Buddhists over the remains of the Buddha), viharas (places where Buddhist monks lived) and chaityas (combination of a stupa and a vihara and also a place of worship).

Vajrayana, the third major school of Indian Buddhism, with its manifestations born out of Mahayana, was practised at Dharanikota. According to L.M. Joshi, Andhradesa was an ancient and popular home of Vajrayana. Dhanyakataka was the centre of Vajrayana where the Kalachakra system was expounded by the Buddha.

The foundations of the stupas in the State looked like radiating and concentric brick walls, which are absent in stupas of northern India.

The stupa was a symbol of the Buddha's death. Umbrellas were sometimes mounted at the top of stupas as a sign of honour and respect. There were four gateways in the railing around the Stupa. Each one of the gateways marked one of the four directions, north, south, east and west. The Ayaka pillars found at the four cardinal points and close to the stupas are a peculiar feature of the stupas of Amaravati, which is not seen in the stupas of Sanchi.

The Great stupa or mahachaitya at Amaravathi was one of the biggest in Andhra Pradesh with a probable diameter of 50 meters and a height of 27 meters. It has a brick circular vedika or drum with projecting rectangular ayaka platforms in the four cordinal directions measuring 7.20 X 2.10 meters. Each ayaka pillar must have stood on each platform symbolically representing the five main events in Buddha's life:
The birth
The great renunciation
The enlightnment
The first sermon
Final extinction
The drum and ayaka platforms were covered with sculptured slabs. Five crystal relic caskets containing bone pieces, pearls and gold flowers were discovered from the southern ayaka platform. This is a sariraka type of stupa.

Some of the text in the following paragraph has been borrowed from "The Development of Buddhist Art in South India" By Devaprasad Ghosh -- The Indian Historical Quarterly Vol 4:4, December, 1928, p 724-740
The circular base of the stupa was 162 ft. in diameter, perhaps only 6 ft. high, supporting a frieze and cornice, and was faced with marble slabs possessing the richest carvings and characterised by the most delicate treatments, depicting miniature representations of the stupa itself and interposed by panels elaborately carved with scenes from the life of Buddha and the Jatakas. It is very difficult to ascertain whether the dome rose directly from the drum or rested upon several receding terraces like the Gandhara, Further Indian or Indonesian specimens. The great marble dome of Amaravati, unlike the short and stunted dome of Sanchi, rose to a considerable height of 90ft. (twice that of Sanchi ) and was more or less bulging in form.

Around the outer limits of the Stupa was a tall railing made of limestone. The railing marked the boundaries of the Stupa.

The Tibetan historian Taranatha records that the great Buddhist Acarya Nagarjuna, the founder of the Madhyamika School 'surrounded the great shrine of Dhanyakataka with a railing. Along the top of the railing were limestone blocks carved with reliefs. Blocks placed like this are known as coping. Pillars were carved from large single slabs of stone. Each pillar was about 2.6 metres high and 0.85 metres wide.

Colonel Mackenzie in 1797 was responsible for starting the theory that the stupa was surrounded by two rails--one inner and another outer. It was acknowledged and the mistake was rectified. 'From some misunderstanding of the first accounts' he added, 'it was supposed that the Amaravati Stupa had an inner rail; this was a mistake; the inner circle of sculptures was the facing of the base of the stupa'. The rail at Amaravati resembled its predecessors in the principal features; but the plinth was richly carved with a frieze of running boys and animals, grotesquely treated. The rectangular pillars were as usual edged off into shallow flutes. They were decorated with half lotus discs at the top and the bottom, and circular discs in the middle inserted with a full-grown lotus or a scene, in the usual manner. But the most typical characteristic about these pillars, is the complete absence of the large standing human representations, occupying the entire surface of the uprights, such as the graceful statues of Yaksas and Yaksinis of Bharhut, Bodh Gaya and the dancing girls of Mathura. They have entirely disappeared and their place is occupied by greatly magnified and richly carved lotus discs, curling leaves carefully corrugated, comical Ganas and an enormous variety of scenic sculptures. The preference for group composition, as opposed to single figures, is very obvious in the swarming of the space between the discs--which was generally left bare and unadorned in the earlier days by vivid and animated delineation of the Jatakas and other incidents. The three cross-bars were each embellished with a beautiful lotus disc with concentric bands of petals, the most elaborate of its kind ever made, and all different. On the massive coping, the meandering creeper of Bharhut was replaced by a long wavy roll, carried by moving human figures and dwarfs and interspersed with symbols in the loops. On the whole the inner side of the rail, covered with scenes full of life and movement, was decorated with greater beauty and elaboration than the exterior.

Between the railing pillars were carved stone bars known as 'cross bars'. Each cross bar had a round sculpted face. The round face is all that survives of many of the cross bars.

This cross bar shows a lotus. The lotus is a very important symbol representing purity and goodness in a polluted environment.

The lotus plant usually grows in the murky water of swamps and pools. Its sturdy stem grows up out of the water to support a pure, often white flower which blooms above the water.

The pillar of fire is thought to be the centre of the universe which stretches between Earth and Heaven. This scene on the crossbar shows worshippers around a pillar of fire which represents the Buddha.

The casing slabs of stupas are decorated with sculptures. The female figures shown are slim and curvy. There is movement, dynamism and pulsating life in both the female and male figures.

Lions represented power and strength and were meant to ward off evil spirits and protect the Stupa. Sculptures of lions were found at the Amaravati site and are thought to have graced the four gateways.

Some slabs invariably present us with another peculiar feature, viz., a dwarf figure standing on each side of the gate, holding a tray on his head. Their constant occurrences lead us to believe that in the original structure they represented statues in the round, bearing trays to receive the offerings of the visitors. Dr. Burgess opines, 'No example of them has been found and the only analogue I know of, is a similar small figure bearing a basin by the doorjamb of the cave at Lonad of the Thana district near Kalyan." But we think a closer examination of the extant monuments may yet reveal such figures and in fact there are such at Karli and in Orissa. A pair of vases with flowers (mangalakalasa?) prominently placed at the entrance is another regular feature of the sculptured slabs.

This relief (the picture on the right) shows a stupa with an empty throne and a dharmachakra in the doorway surrounded by worshippers. This is a symbol of the Buddha's First Sermon. Scenes like this help us to imagine what the Amaravati Stupa may have once looked like.

Decline of Buddhism in Andhra post Ikshvaku period
Royal support, especially by Ikshvaku princesses contributed to the vibrant Buddhist activity at Vijayapuri. During the post-Ikshvaku period, from the fourth century A.D., factors such as the rise of Vishnukundi power to the north of Krishna river and the Pallavas in the southern region and in the north coastal tracts, the resurgence of the Brahmanical religion, lack of royal support and the decline of Indo-Roman trade contributed to the stagnation of the Buddhist centres.

There is evidence that the Amaravati Stupa was still used by worshippers up until certainly A.D. 1344. Hinduism was the main religion in the country at this time, but there were still practising Buddhists in India. Soon after this period, the Amaravati Stupa fell into disrepair.

By the end of the 1700s all that could be seen of the structure was a mound of rubble and some pieces of sculpture on the ground. In 1797, a British colonel named Colin Mackenzie heard of Amaravati and visited the site.

Some of the text in the following paragraph has been borrowed from "The Development of Buddhist Art in South India" By Devaprasad Ghosh -- The Indian Historical Quarterly Vol 4:4, December, 1928, p 724-740

Mackenzie found to his great chagrin that just a year before, the local Raja Venkatadri Naidu had discovered and disemboweled the mound in a fruitless search after hidden treasures; he afterwards caused a reservoir to be dug in the centre and used the priceless marble slabs in building the new temple of Amaresvara and the flight of steps to the adjacent tank of Sivaganga. Some of the slabs were utilised by the Mussalmans in their mosques, after 'carefully divesting of every carving by rubbing them on harder stones, to prevent, as it is said, any pollution arising to Muhammadan faith from idolatrous substances'.

Mackenzie returned to Amaravati in 1816 to find that many pieces of the sculpture had been carted away and reused in local building projects. Mackenzie began to draw and record the sculptures remaining at the site. He recovered some 130 slabs, made drawings of them and prepared a ground-plan of the stupa. To learn more about the sculptures he excavated, visit website: http://www.bl.uk/onlinegallery/features/amaravati/homepage.html. He sent some of the sculptures to the museum at Calcutta.

In 1845, Sir Walter Elliot began excavating at the site. but in the meantime 70pieces of sculptures left behind in the open had been carried away by the enterprising villagers and burnt into lime! It is deplorable that even the Government Public Works Engineers were equally guilty of such acts of vandalism. The slabs excavated by Sir Walter were transhipped to England and now adorn the grand stair-case of the British Museum.

The sculptures which are now in India after surviving the ruthless vandalism through the ages are shared by the Museums of Madras and Calcutta.

04 June, 2009

Traveling to Badami

As a young girl I always dreamt of being an archaeologist some day; travel to the distant land of Machu Picchu on Llamas and find the hidden treasure or solve the mystery behind the death of Tutankhamun – the most famous Egyptian pharaoh. When these childhood ambitions surface from time to time, I keep myself content by visiting ancient monuments or places of historic importance. This year (2005) our expedition took us to the ancient villages of Aihole, Pattadakal and Badami –‘workshop’ of ‘experimental’ temple forms.

Though I am not an ardent believer in religion, I enjoy visiting places of worship.
Not for the fear of the almighty, but for the simple reason that these places reflect the architectural abilities of a culture. The richness of a dynasty is also measured by their contribution to art and architecture besides the wealth in the royal treasury. The wealthier the dynasty; the larger was their contribution to art and architecture. Aihole, Pattadakal and Badami are the architectural contributions of the Chalukyan rulers. The Mughal era saw the birth of Indo Saracenic form of art and the Chalukyan era resulted in Chalukyan style of architecture.

The expedition group consisted of not –so-like-minded people. We began our journey from Bangalore on the 29th of December in the fairly comfortable KSTDC coach to Badami at 20:30Hrs. I was the only other person belonging to the fairer sex besides Revathy. The “gang” as some team members would like to be called; assembled by about 20:00 Hrs at the Majestic Bus station. No sooner was the bus parked; people began crowding into it to occupy any available seat. We had our tickets confirmed and so boarded the bus leisurely. The conductor advised us to settle in our seats. He spoke the native dialect of the northern region of Karnataka. After a last minute cancellation of two tickets the “gang” settled comfortably in their respective seats; or so I thought. A few or probably most of us called our family and friends on our mobiles before the bus could leave the limits of the Bangalore city for fear of not being able to access the network later. I had “Wuthering Heights” to keep me company and Pavan had “Sherlock Holmes”. Once settled, we began enjoying our books only to be distracted by the talks of the other people in the group indulged in pulling Niranjan’s (fondly known as “Hunter”) legs. I tried to ignore them but the discussion seemed to be getting interesting. So I decided to put my book down, close my eyes and listen to their conversation. The loud talks were definitely irritating our co-passengers and a couple of them even expressed their frustration by complaining to the persons sitting besides them. But it failed to dampen our enthusiasm and ignoring their complaints we continued talking and joking. When the bus was nearing the outskirts of the city, we all posed for a picture for our “memory album”.

Our first halt was at … oops! I have forgotten the name of this village where we had tea / coffee. The hotel at this bus station isn’t very big but it does sell good coffee and tea. Few of us ordered coffee but were served tea instead. As long as I could wet my palate with something hot, I was content. I was too happy to even complain. The cramped muscles in my legs relaxed as we walked around and I also took this opportunity to get acquainted with Revathy. We had a pleasant introduction and I took an instant liking towards this girl. I was now sure that we would make good roommates for the next couple of days.

We boarded the bus again and proceeded towards Badami. Ideally the journey takes about 12 hours. But on that particular night, there was a heavy inflow of traffic on the highway towards Bangalore and added to this, the roads were being dug to broaden them. Our bus inched forward for almost an hour and then the flow of traffic was smooth again. O Well… that means… we shall reach our destination late by an hour! Looking at the brighter side… we would get another hour of extra sleep on the bus. I turned towards Shrikanth who had occupied the seat besides mine and noticed that he was comfortably dozing off… so I thought I would look out of the window until I could sleep. The vehicles passing by were the only source of light and I could see pieces of uncultivated land or dusty roads when other passing vehicles lit the way. Nothing seemed to interest me. So I hugged my pillow and dozed off … only to be woken up when the early morning sunlight kissed my forehead. Hmmm… after a good night’s sleep I was all set to enjoy the new day! Shrikanth was still sleeping and so I turned around to check if the others had woken up. Not a single soul on the bus stirred. I could hear someone snoring and the two men seated in front of us breathing heavily. The heavy breathing and the snoring was almost rhythmic  … It was now time to enjoy my book… I continued to read for a while and then decided to watch outside the window instead.

North Karnataka besides “Jolad Rotti” and “badnikai palya” is also famous for pigs. Some of the small villages might have more pigs than people living in them . I saw a large number of pigs roaming aimlessly on the streets; some of them even ignoring the honking vehicles. The plain lands gave way to cultivated patches of land and I noticed that Sunflowers are one of the major cash crops that are cultivated here. By now some of the guys were hungry and the hunger woke them . Someone noticed that I had bought plum cakes with me and asked Shrikanth if they could eat it. He very generously handed it to the others… without even bothering to offer me a piece. When everybody had almost finished eating he asked me if I wanted to eat the few crumbs there were left over. I said I couldn’t eat without brushing my teeth and he was glad that I refused and ate the few remaining crumbs. We finally reached Badami at 9:30 Hrs the next day.

Manunath, my friend’s brother, had managed to get us the accommodation in a cheap hotel besides the main bus station in Badami. The hotel didn’t look good from the outside and I was now praying that at least the rooms should be clean. There are very few good hotels in Badami and it is always advisable to book a room well in advance. I walked over to the reception counter introduced myself and asked the man behind the counter if Mr. Krishnamurthy had booked rooms for fifteen people in their hotel. I was glad when he confirmed that he had the rooms reserved in my name. My joy knew no bounds  when he said that hot water would be available for us to take bath. He asked if we two girls would want a separate room rather than share it with the other guys. So we girls shared one room and the guys had three rooms between them. The receptionist who I later learned was also the manager of the hotel personally walked us to our rooms on the first floor. The room was definitely dirty and there were cigarette stubs lying on the floor. The beds weren’t made and the bedspreads certainly needed a wash. The porter who had accompanied us to the rooms warned us in broken English “keep door close… big monkeys coming”. when I replied to him in Kannada he was very happy and repeated the same in Kannada. Revathy by then had walked into the bathroom to check if it was clean and by the looks on her face  I could guess it wasn’t. Then I had to tell her my experience in Italy where the bathroom was stinking and they did not even provide hot water to take bath. Finally after much apprehension she agreed to take bath in the bathroom.

No sooner had the boys checked in, they rested comfortably on the beds, whilst we girls were getting ready to take bath. The porter then got some not-so-warm water to take bath and I was glad that I could take bath with atleast the tepid water.

We were quiet hungry by then. I was impatient waiting for the boyz to get ready. I reminded Shrikanth to let us girls know when they would have their breakfast so that we could join them. I started reading “Wuthering Heights” again and after a while I heard a knock on our door and saw Shrikanth waiting outside to let us know they were ready to have their breakfast. When we were just about to lock our door Mukunda asked us for the key so that the guys could have their bath in our bathroom. We handed the key to him and walked across to the hotel on the other side of the road.

It looked quite good from the outside. The building was not older than one year. There were posters stuck on the walls advertising about the “New Year’s party” in the hotel. We sat waiting for a while inside the hotel and realized the service was bad. There were just two men taking the orders and they seemed confused about the orders we placed. With most of us hailing from the southern part of the state, idly and vada seemed to be the favorite dish and we all placed the order for Idly and vada. The man returned after checking with the cook to inform us that we would have to wait for a while before we could be served vada, as the cook was yet to prepare them! Having planned to visit Aihole, Pattadakal and Banashankari on that same day, we realized we couldn’t wait around for the breakfast and so ordered for what ever was available. We were served dosa, set dosa, Masala dosa, Uppittu, Khara bhath and God knows how many more dishes! I stopped counting after a while. We had our stomach’s fill and ordered for coffee.

Coffee is a favorite beverage in the southern part of the state and not realizing that people in North Karnataka prepared BAD coffee most of us ordered for coffee. I had lived for six and a half years of my life in the Northern part of the state and I forgot about it?! Chandan sipped coffee from his cup and remarked that he had been served tea instead. He then sipped again and exclaimed “It tastes like coffee now. I am sure they have mixed coffee and tea and served it to us!” I sipped a little coffee from my cup and my face looked like I had sipped castor oil! Shrikanth then shared his cup of tea and reminded me to order tea the next time I wanted to drink some hot beverage while we were in North Karnataka. While we sipped our tea / coffee Shrikanth had arranged for the cruiser to take us to the places we intended to visit.

03 June, 2009

Amararama or Amareshwara temple at Amaravathi

Long ago there was a sage by name Kashyapa who was married to Diti. Their son Vajranga married Varaangi who gave birth to rakshasa Taraka. Taraka performed severe penance to please Brahma, the Creator, and obtained two boons from Him. The first boon was that there should be no one more powerful than himself. The second boon was that his death could come only from a son born to Shiva.

Taraka was very bold and confident because Shiva was already deeply lost in penance and had no wife. So no son could be born. Taraka was ruthless and wicked and hated sacrifices and charity. He killed all kings who ruled over their subjects righteously.He destroyed the hermitages of the sages and set fire to the homes of good men. He put to death all pious people.

The following text has been partially borrowed from http://www.templenet.com/
Legend has it that Amaravati was once the abode of the Gods - the Devas, the yakshas and the kinnaras. They sent Brihaspati to Kusumapura to fetch Manmatha. Manmatha along with his consort Ratidevi arrived where Shiva was doing the penance. They cast their spell on Shiva and he married Parvati.Shiva's son Subramanya vanquished the demon.

The Shivalingam in his throat broke and fell in five different spots, which became the Pancharama kshetras. The foremost of these is Amareswara at Amaravati where Indra and the Devas are believed to have worshipped Shiva.

It is believed that the Shivalingam that shattered into five pieces was a huge one, and the biggest of the five pieces is a fifteen foot long column of white marble which is worshipped as Amareswara at the Amaravati temple. Legend has it that it was installed by Indra the king of the Devas, Brihaspati the guru of the Devas and Sukra the preceptor of the Asuras.

Amaravati temple is located on a small hillock referred to as Krouncha Shaila, alongside the river Krishna which flows for a short distance in a North-Southerly direction, although for the most part, the river heads eastwards towards the ocean. The river Krishna is held in reverence at this pilgrimage site, and a ritual dip in this river here is considered to be meritorious.

The structural foundations as seen today, seem to date back to the 11th century CE. The Vijayanagar kings provided grants to maintain the temple. However it was the local kings of the 18th century CE that provided vast endowments to this temple. The temple is decorated with four lofty gopurams in its outer circumambulatory path. Shiva here is referred to as Amareswara, Agasteswara, Kosaleswara, Pranaveswara, Someswara and Parthiveswara and Parvati - Bala Chamundi.

Yet another legend has it that when Shiva destroyed the three Tripuras (Tripura Samharam), all that was left was a Shivalingam, and that he divided it into five pieces and placed them for worship at the Pancharama shrines.

Yet another legend links the pancharama kshetras. The five Shivalingams worshipped at these shrines are said to be a part of a single Shivalingam said to have been created by Surya or the Sun God.

Earlier known as Dhanyakataka, Amaravathi got its present name after Amareswara Swamy