Buddhism in the Krishna River Valley of Andhra

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The treatises that were composed in Andhra would play a crucial role in the development of Mahyna ideas in Tibet, China, and Japan. The nal chapter, by Jonathan Walters, discusses Buddhist politics in Andhra in an era when Buddhism had denitely lost its popular support. He begins his chapter by challenging the validity of claims made regarding the dating of an important inscription purportedly issued by a king called Sihavarman Pallava.

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Walters raises the question of how Sihavarman could have been a Pallava ruler belonging to an earlier period when the language and the script employed in this inscription betray a much later origin. He discusses the inscriptions shared similari- ties with some twelfth century CE inscriptions issued at Amaravati by the Koa king Keta and his wives within the context of their donations to the god Buddha, in the process coming to the conclusion that the Sihavarman inscription was actually manufactured by the Koa king Keta.

Walters argues that the plausibility of this hypothesis, or Ketas rationale for inventing an older inscription while issuing donations to the temple of the Buddha, was rooted in Ketas desire to impress his Buddhist ally, the powerful King Parkramabhu I of Polonnaruva in Sri Lanka, so that Parkramabhu would know that the Buddha had received continuous patronage in the past and that he would continue to receive patronage under Ketas rule.

Walters situates this argument in the background scenario of political geography in southern India and in Sri Lanka wherein the Saiva king Keta and the Buddhist king Parkramabhu were brought together in an alliance to face their com- mon enemies in southern India. To further his argument, Walters has mentioned and reviewed a number of issues within the broader his- tory of Andhra, noting what happened to Buddhism in post-Buddhist Andhra under various dynasties and the historical implications of these developments for Sri Lanka. Thus, though the articles cover a wide range of issues from various perspectives, all of them enhance our general understanding of Andhras signicance for Buddhist history worldwide.

As suggestive as these essays may be, one of the interesting questions of a general nature to pursue in the future would be. What forces in Andhras own cultural milieu gave rise to its creative activities in art, philosophy, religious practice, and politics, a creativity that was obviously widely admired? In some cases, we have provided some specic answers relevant to specic de- velopments, but that more general question regarding the specic types of impetus responsible for the fruition of Andhras own Buddhist culture per se remains.

Our modest goal is that our reections will stimulate further sustained inquiry.

The editors would like to extend our deepest appreciation to the authors of the articles contained in this volume. We understand the nature of the work that went into to each of these articles and the dif- culty of nding the time to research and develop each contribution. Because of the problems brought about by modern versus ancient place names and the use of various languages, except in quotations, all geographic place names appear without diacritics. At the end of the volume, there is a list of place names wherein diacritics are provided. The presence of Buddhism in Andhra coincides with Andhras rst ur- banization processes.

Whether Buddhism was somehow responsible for urbanization in the Andhra region or whether urbanized society was congenial to the spread of Buddhism are not easy questions to answer with precision. Most of the explored and excavated Buddhist ruins in Andhra suggest that Buddhist institutions functioned for almost six hundred years, roughly from the third century BCE to the end of the third century CE.

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From a study of the majority of these sites, it seems as if Buddhism entered Andhra in a surge that inundated almost the whole populace but then disappeared almost as suddenly as it had made its presence, though there were isolated sites in Andhra, such as Amaravati, Nagarjunakonda, Jaggayyapeta, Salihundam, and Sankaram, where Buddhism lingered perhaps as late as the fourteenth century CE. Some theories have been put forward to account for the relative disappearance of Buddhism in Andhra, but none have proved to be very satisfactory so far.

What has been accepted, however, is that the spread of Buddhism and the rst urbanization processes in Deccan and south India coincided with each other. Trade, especially oceanic trade, was one of the major features of this urbanizing culture, activity which no doubt abetted the spread of Buddhism. Moreover, some scholars have pointed out that indirect trade with Rome or with Roman subjects came.

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Neither is this chapter focused on the continuing controversy of whether or not Andhra had direct trade relations with Rome and Roman subjects. Instead, my aim here is to trace out the rst urbanization process in Andhra in order to see how Buddhism came to be associated with it. In this study, the lower Krishna River Valley is given a special attention, as this particular region offers a continuum of evidence from the late stone age through its transition to historic ages.

This continuity creates a scope to assess the nature of historical vicissitudes that occurred in this fertile valley in which urbanization and Buddhism played concomitant roles. Here, in this context, the term Andhra corresponds to the present political unit of Andhra Pradesh, the Telugu linguistic state of modern India. The lower Krishna River Valley includes the uvial area of the River Krishna and its estuaries comprising the present administrative divisions of Krishna, Guntur, Prakasham, and parts of Nellore and Kurnool districts.

I will begin my survey with the pastoral communities in neolithic societies of the lower Krishna River Valley, people who gradually settled into agricultural communities, the communities that eventually developed extensive networks with the rest of the subcontinent and beyond. Here my rst inquiry is to see how these relations helped to spread ideas and goods from other regions of the Indian subcontinent to the south, in the process facilitating the spread of Buddhism to Andhra and its lower Krishna River Valley, a development that served as a springboard for its further dissemination to other regions in the subcontinent and beyond.

In each phase leading to the historical period, I will note technological progress, contacts with neighbors, and the evidence of emerging religi- osity. My second inquiry is to see under what circumstances Buddhism came to be accepted by these local communities. By doing so, I propose to address two different specic questions: 1 What factors contributed to Buddhism being so popular among the urbanizing populations in Andhra?

Considering the scope of this chapter, the rst issue will form the main focus of this study while the second is left largely to the hypothesis that I derive from the study of the rst. Archaeological sources indicate that Andhra, particularly the lower Krishna River Valley, witnessed all of the traditionally recognized pre- and protohistoric phases of cultural development that precede the early historical period. While the archaeologi- cal evidence from the early historic sites often has been subordinated to what we might ascertain from textual accounts, I aim to emphasize the former.


Archaeological evidence suggests that from BCE onward, all of the protohistoric communities of Andhra, with few exceptions, had entered the region from neighboring Karnataka by gradually moving east along the banks of the rivers Krishna and Tungabhadra. In general, their burial structures were better built than their homesteads and hence better preserved over time. They provide an excellent source for the study of these cultures, especially due to the fact that they often con- tained goods that the dead used while living.

These worldly possessions that accompanied the dead are referred to as grave goods or burial goods in archeological terminology. The study of these burial structures and their accompanied goods lead us to think that these protohistoric communities believed in some form of life after death. Megalithic buri- als with their complicated building methods signal the communities respect to their ancestors. These protohistoric burial monuments were succeeded in the historical stage by monuments containing the relics of the Buddha or famous Buddhist monks. Unfortunately, little effort has been made by scholars to connect the afterlife beliefs associated with the burials of protohistoric communities with that of later stpa cults associated with historic Buddhism.

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Instead, scholarly focus based on literary analysis has often tended to project a picture of how Buddhism and Brahmanism suddenly spread from the north of India to the south thereby exposing the southern tribes for the rst time to civilization. There were some discussions by archaeologists about the architectural and conceptual similarities between the megalithic burial and a stpa as I will quote in the following pages , but there was no attempt to show the continuity in the development of ideas and local genius from prehistoric to historic ages.

The disjunction between accounts based on literary and archaeological bases has been reected in various attempts to account for the appearance of urbanization and the historical mani- festation of religious behavior. Indeed, some Andhra sites, such as Amaravati and Nagarjuna- konda, reveal successive layers of prehistoric, protohistoric, and historic stages of lifestyle reecting a very gradual transition from rural, pastoral habitation to urban life.

Maurizio Tosi, tracing out early urban evolution in the Indo-Iranian borderland, mentions several background factors for the emergence of a city in that context The city, taken as the nucleus of demographic and economic concentration, is necessarily the direct expression of a produc- tive economy.

As such, it can hardly be dened as a cultural model or type in itself, since it has no alternatives worthy of consideration.

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The different stages of evolution of human communitiesagricultural-pastoral, mercantile and industrial have created different formulas; nevertheless, the city remains a point of conuence in its initial phase, and its growth is closely linked to possibilities of concentration and cohabitation, as well as to its capacity for attracting external groups. Amaravati, and Nagarjunakonda in the lower Krishna River Valley witnessed several evolutionary stages agricultural-pastoral, mercantile, and industrial through their pre- and protohistoric ages before they emerged as cities during the pre- and early Christian era.

Specically, some of the ancestors of those people who later worshiped Buddhist stpas in Amaravati and Nagarjunakonda can be traced back to neolithic communities who entered Andhra leading pastoral lives. Around BCE, these neolithic communities began to make use of copper and emerged as characteristically chalcolithic. That is, they used agricultural tools like hoes as well as food-processing equipment, suggesting that they had left behind their pastoral lifestyle and had begun to settle down practicing agriculture.

Pieces of jewelry made of copper, as well as copper tools recovered at places like Guttikonda, and Cinnamanur,6 indicate their interaction with their northern neighbors, such as the cul- tures that ourished in Vidarbha in Madhya Pradesh.


The evidence shows that metallurgy at this period was developed only in the Vidarbha region by chalcolithic and megalithic communities from where the implements must have been imported. Although we dont have any evidence to prove how they imported copper implements, it is plausible that these neolithic communities in Andhra exchanged their surplus agricultural produce. They showed interest in decorations and paintings, as is revealed from their pottery, terracotta objects, and rock brusings.

However, in Andhra, there is no evidence of monumental buildings belonging to neolithic-chalcolithic communities, although we know that these communities were branches of the same stock of people who lived in Karnataka. The kind of structured societies that Dhavalikar encoun- tered in Karnataka were seen in Andhra only during the next stage, the megalithic period. Be that as it may, I am primarily concerned here with the earliest structures built for the living and the dead. At Nagarjunakonda, the com- munities who had arrived by BCE lived in underground dwellings aligned with postholes.

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Although we dont have enough proof to show that these cairn heaps were venerated in the same way as Buddhist stpas were in the later periods, one can argue that the origins for the concept of the stpa would seem to be traceable to these early burial forms. At the same time, it is hard to miss the similarity between the shapes of Buddhist stpas and the early dwellings of the neolithic communities in the southern part of Kurnool District, people who lived in huts of an apsidal, oval, and circular type.

The newly migrated groups of neolithic-chalcolithic people in Andhra followed a postexcarnation system of burial. A majority of them attempted to arrange the bones of their dead in their original anatomical order thus reecting their ritualized care towards the dead. The transition from chaclolithic-neolithic culture to the megalithic was very smooth as far as Andhra and the lower Krishna River Valley is con- cerned.

The evidence shows that there is a continuum in many cultural practices while the new period was characterized by the use of iron and further developments in agriculture, crafts, and building technology. Just like its preceding culture, megalithic culture witnessed many different communities arriving in different parts of Andhra who overlapped each other at times. Although all of them built megalithic monuments for their dead, these communities were differentiated according to the types of these sepulchral monuments. While chalcolithic-neolithic culture in its nal stage witnessed agriculture and settled village life, it was the megalithic culture that would set the stage for urbanization in the rst historical period third century CE forward.

The examination of skulls in the lower Krishna River Valley and elsewhere in Andhra shows that the population of megalithic culture was mixed.