You are on page 1of 10


The influence of Buddhism is subtle but deep-rooted in the land of Andhra. Dating to the pre-
Christian era, Andhra Pradesh has some of the most fascinating archaeological monuments that tell
the story of Buddhism in the region and the legacy it left behind.

As Buddhist monks walked the countryside, their chants reverberated in the air, the people of
Andhra woke to the clanging of cymbals and the prayers of these monks. They grew around them a
sensitive and enduring culture. Even today their influence remains. The links with the past can be
seen in the monuments in a magnificent state of ruination while the more lasting influence can be
felt in the softness and gentle nature of the people of Andhra.

Andhra Pradesh is known to the present generation as the land of the ancient sites of Buddhist
learning. Even as you read about the ruins of Nagarjunakonda or Amaravati, let alone visit them, the
question that comes naturally to mind is Ȃ when did Buddhism come to Andhra? History is not so
kind as to just hand over a date and say, DzNow you know Instead it tells us many stories
spread across centuries in time.

In the pre-Christian ear, there seems to have been a lot of communication between the people
across the length and breadth of the sub continent. No, there were no satellites or indigenous
versions of them. They were people who traveled back and forth with messages. The means of
travel were varied. Andhra was famous for some of the greatest ports and through the waters the
culture of Andhra influenced the civilization of Burma, Malaysia and Indo-China.

Within the country, caravans of people Ȃ merchants, traders and religious preachers used to travel
by road with musicians, astrologers, artistsǥaccompanied by lots of other people. They were the
ones who carried cultural values, thoughts and symbolism from one area to another creating the
indomitable Indianness that defines Indians even today.

Andhra Pradesh was situated at a very central place in terms of the routes the caravans took. At a
place called Vengi, five such routes converged. Itǯs importance was recognized very early in history
and later Andhra kings even set up their capital at Vengi. In fact, Andhra Pradesh itself was often
known as Vengi and the Andhra kings as Vengi kings.

The road to Kalinga, led to the north-eastern part of India. The road to Dravida or the south was
different from the road to the south-west, which led to Karnataka. Similarly there were two paths,
one leading to the north (to the city of Kosala) and the other to the north-west, that is the modern
day state of Maharashtra. It was along these paths that Buddhist monks traveled and brought with
them ideas and influences just as they took back bits of Andhra culture. Interestingly the famous
Buddhist sites of Andhra Pradesh are all found along these routes. Nagarjunakonda and Amaravati
lie on the south-western road to Karnataka while Ghantasala lies along the road to the south. To
enumerate all the Buddhist sites in the land of Andhra would be to fill pages and pages of just
names. There are a large number of Buddhist monuments like | | |
  |are both
monasteries and temples where an assembly of monks and nuns takes place. In becoming a religion,
Buddhism followed and adopted much from various beliefs of the time. Its simple rituals were
based on the cult of  |or sacred spots. These were often groves of trees or a single sacred
tree on the outskirts of a village which was the abode of earth-spirits. They may or may not include
a stupa which is a mound that contains relics of locally revered monks and ascetics. Gradually it has
come to house other holy objects like statues. Most of these monuments were constructed near
water points and so today we can locate them along the banks of River Krishna.

These are the earliest historical monuments of Andhra. Most of them date to the Ashokan period,
4th Ȃ 3rd century B.C. This does not mean that Buddhism came to Andhra only with or after Emperor
Ashoka. When Emperor Ashoka converted to Buddhism he spread the message of the religion as far
and wide in the country as possible. There is, however, doubt whether Buddha Himself visited
Andhra Pradesh. But there is mention of the land in early Buddhist literature and stories like the
laws of Baudhayana and so, historians are as sure as reconstruction can be, the Buddhism came to
Andhra almost as soon as it was born. Many of the stupas that remain in Andhra are those that were
erected by Emperor Ashoka. It is said that the emperor sent special missions to erect stups all over
the country. In the most ancient of monuments, at Bhattiprolu, may be seen inscriptions of a
southern variation of the Ashokan Brahmi alphabet, the parent of the later Andhra script. This is, in
fact, the first evidence of the language of Telugu. At that time, scholars say, it had many Prakrit
words, gradually it came to incorporate many Sanskrit words and adopt the present day script
known as the Vengi-Chalukya script. There is a school of thought which says that because Andhra
was exposed to so many varying influences early in its history, the people learnt to absorb words
from other languages and enrich their own. Words from Pali, Sanskrit, Greek are some examples.
Telugu language has probably the largest number of alphabets: 56!

The end of the Ashokan period came with the beginning of the rule of a dynasty called the
Satavahanas. The Satavahanas ruled from 225 B.C. to 225 A.D. Their rule is famous for their
patronage of the arts. Into the period was packed tremendous growth of Buddhism and Buddhist
art in the region.

The influence of Buddhism is not always so easily discernible. It mingles so well with the local
culture that the Buddhist elements are often not separable. The art of toy making, for instance,
which flourishes in Andhra, could well have been influenced by the bright woodwork patronized by
the Buddhist. In literature, one finds many works influenced by Buddhism. The great Buddhist saint
Nagarjuna himself has contributed a corpus. The influence of Buddhism was deep rooted and
subtle. Here is an example of how it has influenced the writers of Andhra. During the National
Movement and the struggle for a separate province for Andhra many poets awoke to the call of their
state and motherland and wrote some good poetry. One pair were called Pingali and Kasturi. These
poets saw in Mahatma Gandhi a likeness to Buddha. Their poems, therefore, centered on the spirit
of patriotism but with Buddha or his disciples as the heroes!

In architecture, there are scholars who say it is the pattern of the  | and the  | that has
formed the basis of South Indian temple architecture. Whether this can be taken as the whole truth
or not, an influence cannot be ruled out. In fact there is no chasm between Buddhist and Hindu art
and so tradition continued Ȃ one weaving into another.

The Satavahana period is significant for its contribution to the history of art. The earliest historical
paintings in India, that can still be viewed, belong to this period. Some of the most glorious Buddhist
caves were excavated out of living rock along the north-western route from Vengi. Paintings closely
resembling the ones at Amaravati are found in the famous Ajanta caves. These paintings are
concentrated in caves 9 and 10.

The art of paintings grew even when Buddhism had waned. A fascinating example of continuity in
tradition can be seen in the adaptation of rock cut structures for Hindu temples. In and around
Bezawada a number of rock cut temples may be seen housing Hindu gods.
All the earlier culture of the Deccan came into a definite shape under Buddhist stimulus out of
which emerged the new Brahminical culture of the post-Satavahana period. The third century A.D.
was thus culmination of one epoch and the beginning of another political and cultural history. The
waning of Buddhist culture was gradual, so much so that in the 7th century A.D. when Chinese
traveler Hiuen Tsang visited India, he counted 50 monasteries and 4500 monks in the area. He also
noted that simultaneously there were other regions where Jainism and Brahminical order had
replaced Buddhism

Nagarjunakonda means Nagarjuna Hill in Telugu, the language used in much of the southern Indian
state of Andhra Pradesh. It is located in present day Guntur district as an island, after it was
indundated in 1960, to make way for an irrigation project of modern India, Nagarjuna Sagar Dam.
It is so named after a southern Indian philosopher Nagarjuna, of 2nd century AD, who is credited
with the spread of Mahayana Buddhism in south India as well as up north to Tibet and onwards.
It was once an important Buddhist learning and education site, that attracted Buddhist scholars
from Sri Lanka, Burma, China, Bengal and Gandhara for higher studies in Buddhist disciplines and
Buddhist thought.
Before its flooding by Andhra government in 1960, about 100 specialist archaeologists were sent in
for excavations alongwith 1000 labour to excavate whatever remnants and archeological evidence
they could find for future generations of Buddhist students and studies.
Today it is an example of the    








c  ! !"
The Buddha taught dhamma to end suffering which is caused because of
Greed, Hatred and Delusion. This dhamma He explained in terms of Morality,
Concentration and Wisdom with its secular flavor, non-sectarian ingredients
and Universal appeal. Therefore throughout history many statues of Buddha
were made to express gratitude to the world teacher-Buddha. Keeping in line
with this tradition a huge Buddha statue has been installed in the capital city
of Andhra Pradesh. This is world's largest monolithic Buddha statue weighing
350tons, 17meters in height, standing on a lotus pedestal, installed on the
rock of Gibraltar, in the middle of lake Hussain Sagar, Hyderabad in India.

Referring to images, the great philosopher Count Kaiserling writes: "I know
nothing more grand in this world than the figure of the Buddha. It is the
perfect embodiment of spirituality in the visible domain". Verily true is this
case too.

In the history of Buddhism, Andhra then a maritime power took leading role
in the spread of Buddhism to far east. Sri lanka and Andhradesa had close
links with each other from ancient times as Dantavamsa and Attakathas
testify. In the 14th century, Dharmakeerti, a leading sinhalese thera, affected
repairs at the vihara in Nagarjunakonda. About the same time the sinhalese
general Senalankadhikara was carrying out renovations to a vihara in
kanchipura. These are last records of active Buddhism not only in Andhra but
also in the entire south of India. Andhra culture had its influence on Ceylon
Buddhism. Chiefly in arts, sculpture and architecture.

The third counsel which was held during the reign of Ashoka under guidance
of Mogalliputa Tissa, delegates of as many as six sects from Andhra i.e.
chaityaka, purvasaila, aparasila, uttarsila, rajagirika, siddarthika all described
as Andhakas participated. From now on Andhra played a pivotal role in the
history of this religion. After the decline of Magdha Empire, two powerful
empires have emerged, Andhra Satavahanas in the Deccan and Kushanas in
the Northwest. Andhra was home of Mahayana. From here it spread to other
parts of Asia. A rare genius in the history of philosophy and profounder of
Madhyamika or Sunyavada philosophy, Nagarjuna is credited with laying firm
foundations for Mahayana. A galaxy of brilliant intellects, Aryadeva, elucidator
of Madyamika philosophy, Buddhapalita, exponent of Prasangika school of
Madhyamikavada, Bhavaviveka, head of the Svatantrika school, Dinnaga,
father of Buddhist logic, Dharmakeerti, logician and epistemologist of
distinction, have appeared in the subsequent three centuries in Andhra
enriching Buddhist religion, philosophy, logic and related subjects.
Budddhagosha, a revered name in Theravada tradition, was born in
4th century A.D. in palanad area of Guntur district, Andhra Pradesh. He wrote a
treatise on tripitaka called "VISSUDHIMAGGA", which is his masterpiece on
Theravada tradition.

Andhra Pradesh has 140 listed Buddhist sites, which provide a panoramic
view of the history of Buddhism from 3rd century B.C. to 14th century A.D. The
list of inscriptions engraved on various media, lithic, copper plates, crystals,
pots, conches are 501(360 lithic records, 7 sets of copper plates, 134 inscribed
pots and conches etc.) in number. Some of the famous Buddhist sites in
Andhra are Nagarjunakonda, Amaravati and Bavikonda. It is Buddhism that
encouraged people to transform the prevailing ideas and ideals into a definite
and concretized shape, especially the form of art and architecture, philosophy
and literature. Historical role of Buddhism in Andhra was to incline local
people given to animistic beliefs into an organized religion and launch them
on the road of civilization. The cosmopolitan spirit of Buddhism helped to
remove the tribal barriers, integrated the people and gave them a cultural
identity paving way for the rise of Andhras as an imperial power under the
satavahana rule. It also gave a stimulus to the creative genius of the people
resulting in the sculptural exuberance of the stupas at Amaravati and
Nagarjunakonda and scores of other Buddhist sites in the state. Fourteen
Buddha relic caskets have been so far recovered from the sites of Andhra, the
largest number for any state in India.

According to sutta nipata identified as one of the older parts of Tripitakas,

Buddhism came to Assaka country (modern Nizamabad district of Andhra)
during the lifetime of the Tathagata himself. An ascetic by name Bavari set up
ashram on the banks of river Godavari and pursued religious life. Having come
to know that a Buddha had arisen in the north, he sent his disciples to meet
him and engage him in a spiritual dialogue. The dialogue of the disciples of
Bavari with Buddha at Vaishali is recorded in sutta nipata, which also says
that the Bavari's disciples having heard the dhamma from Tathagata himself
converted to Buddhism, and took dhamma to the Telugu country, Andhradesa.
Buddhism in Andhra flourished for over 2000 years as one of the important
religions, right from 5th century B.C. to 14th century A.D. as confirmed by
literary, epigraphical and archaeological accounts. Buddhism through
Hinayana, Mahayana and Vajrayana phases flourished for longer duration.

Though various reasons are given for the decline of Buddhism in the state, it is
obvious that Vajrayana form of Buddhism, which borrowed heavily from the
Indian tantric tradition, substituted meaningless rituals to the religious
activity that can confer mystical power on the practitioners. A body of
literature called Dharanis was devised to propitiate the vajrayana goddesses.
The Buddhists, by this point of time, having lost all intellectual vitality
resorted to tantric worship in the hope of acquiring mystical powers. Thus
narrowing down the essential difference between Hinduism and Buddhism,
especially the difference between tantrism, vishnuism and Buddhism.

Note worthy is the belief in the theory of incarnation describing the Buddha as
an incarnation of Vishnu, originally created in the Vishnu Purana which was
written later after Buddha around seventh century and was repeated in the
other Puranas. According to this story in the Vishnu Purana, the Buddha was
not the incarnation of the good qualities of Vishnu but of his unwholesome
qualities such as ignorance and delusion. The only aim of this incarnation was
to turn the followers of the Vedas against the Vedas and prevent them from
going to heaven so that the reign of Indra and the other gods in heaven could
be secure. This narrative censures not only the Buddha but also his teachings.
Another belief that Kalki, the tenth incarnation of Vishnu will completely
destroy all Buddhists is even more offensive and misleading. Thus these false
stories created confusion and made a negative impact on the believers of
Apart from this the secondary mythological gods that were introduced in the
temple under the pretext of protecting deities later became the primary gods
of the temple and the Buddha's image finally disappeared never to be found

There was one more false propaganda that the Buddha had nothing of his own
to give to the world and that the source of his teachings is from the Vedic
tradition. The truth is that Buddha was the leader of ã   tradition.
Instead of giving importance to prayers he gave importance to one's own
strenuous efforts and exertions. He clearly said I am giver of the path of
liberation. This difference between the Vedic tradition and Samana tradition
gave people a easy alternative of depending on favors from some mythological
gods to satisfy their greed and hatred rather than working themselves
strenuously against greed, hatred and delusion which is unique to Buddha's
teachings. Therefore the story in puranas proclaiming the Buddha as an
incarnation of Vishnu and other false stories made because of mutual hostility
and enmity, proved to be fatal for Buddhism in general.

Though there was no great persecution of Buddhists by the ruling families of

Andhradesa, at least two pallava rulers, Simhavarma and Trilochana were
zealous in destroying the monasteries at Sriparvata and Dhanyakataka.
Radical Saivaite sects like Kalamukhis initially and later, Veerashaivas
conducted an aggressive campaign condemning Buddhists as atheists.
Occupying Buddhists places, Shiva and Vishnu temples were built over
Buddhists shrines. The aggressive and often violent campaign is exemplified
by the conduct of the Veera Saiva proponent, Mallikarjuna Panditaradhya,
who after losing a debate to Buddhist monk in the court of chandole conspired
and got them, killed and destroyed their places of worship. Panditaradhya's
aggressive campaign almost wiped out Buddhism, in the Andhra country.
Earlier shankara who was known as Pracchana Buddha borrowed
Madhyamaka metaphysics and logic and modeled his mathas on Buddhist
monasteries. Kumarila and Shankara carried on virulent crusade against

Of the 140 Buddhist sites identified in the state only a few have been
excavated, the best known being Amaravati and Nagarjunakonda. There are
several equally important sites like chandavaram and Dantavaktruni kota
(Dantapur of yore), which are yet to be excavated, and which may still hold
treasures of information for us.

Now in the land that once belonged to Buddha Dhamma, an effort is being
made by Venerable K. Sangharakshita Mahathero and few dedicated people to
revive Buddhist tradition and culture. A Buddhist Cultural Complex in the
ethnic architectural style is already under construction at Secunderabad city
to create the necessary facilities and ambience. Presently some of the monks
from Ananda Buddha Vihara are being trained at the Bhikkhu Training Centre,
Maharagama, under the able guidance of most Venerable Madihe Pannaseeha
Mahanayaka Thero and Venerable Rahula Thero. The Ananda Buddha Vihara
whole heartily expresses its gratitude and thanks to the Venerables and staff
of Bhikkhu Training Centre for assisting in this noble deed. A public
charitable trust by name Ananda Buddha Vihara Trust, had been founded with
the object of reviving, preserving and propagating Buddhist tradition and
culture and making available Buddhist literature in local language Telugu.

The beautiful Ananda Buddha Vihara
Standing on the hill Mahendra
is being built in the state of Andhra.
This is due to the effort of Bhante K. Sangharakshita
& the practitioners of the technique of Vipassana
as taught by kalyanamitra G. Satyanarayana.

Here all are to practice Sila, Samadhi & Panya

to cut the difficult snare of Mara
& finally attain the bliss of Nirvana.

The Hyderabad Vipassana International Meditation Centre, which was the

first centre to organize a vipassana course in India in 1975, along with the
state government of Andhra Pradesh celebrated its silver jubilee in the year
2000. Shri S.N.Goenka visited as the state guest of Andhra Pradesh on the
request of the chief minister Mr. Chandrababu Naidu and a five public talk
series was arranged explaining the importance of Vipassana in everyone's life.
After the talk Mr. Chandrababu Naidu acknowledged the importance of moral
principles in government administration and hence announced the issuing of
order (G.O.Ms No 351, General Administration(AR&T.III) Department, dated
18th october, 2000) sanctioning special paid leave of 10 days to all
government officials wishing to take part in Vipassana courses.

Thus the 17meter tall, 350ton monolithic statue of Buddha rising above the
placid waters of Hussain Sagar is but a humble tribute of the Andhra Country
to the Tathagata to whose Dhamma they owe their spiritual and cultural
advancement in the formative years of their history.

In this world of fashion and passion

Buddha stands for compassion and dispassion.
In this world of industrialization and commercialization
Buddha stands for humanization and spiritualization.
In this world of diversity and complexity
Buddha stands for unity and clarity.
In this world of consumerism
Buddha stands for contentmentism.
This world with its attraction for customer oriented dhamma
Buddha stands for truth oriented dhamma.
In this world of conflict and poverty
Buddha stands for peace and prosperity
Statue of Liberty stands for freedom
Statue of Buddha stands for virtue and wisdom.

Ven. Bhikkhu Vinayarakkhita

Dhramayatana, Maharagama.