Archive for the ‘Buddhism’ Category

In Kalki’s epic novel, Ponniyin Selvan, which is about the the early life of 10th century Chola emperor Raja Raja Chola I, there are many references to Buddhism. In the second book, we get to see him in Sri Lanka restoring the Buddhist Viharas and getting impressed by the size of the statues of Buddha. Later when he gets caught in a cyclone and falls sick, he lives in hiding in the Buddhist Monastery of Nagappatinam in Tamil Nadu.

Recently the Archaeological Survey of India had found a 10th century Tamil inscription that mentioned the donation of land to build a Shiva temple in Kolapakkam, 20 km from Chennai. Deciphering the inscriptions, they found two Buddha statues in dhyana pose and some ornamental pillars.

S. Rajavelu, epigraphist, ASI, had recently found that the third inscription belonged to “Sri Vijaya Maharaja,” a king from Sumatra, and that it was issued in his eighth regnal year. The inscription mentions his donating 250 kuzhi (a measurement) of land to Agatheeswarar at Kolapakkam, which was in Perur nadu (country), a sub-division of Puliyur. Sri Vijaya was a contemporary of Raja Raja Chola and the palaeography of the inscription showed the script was similar to that of the period of Raja Raja Chola. Sri Vijaya had a cordial relationship with the Chola kingdom. Although the inscription mentioned Sri Vijaya’s donation to the temple, it indirectly indicated Buddhist activity nearby, because Sri Vijaya was a Buddhist.

Dr. Satyamurthy and Dr. Rajavelu explored the area and found the ruins of a Buddhist temple close to the Agatheeswarar temple. The two Buddha sculptures and ornamental pillars, in granite, were unearthed. The Buddha sculptures are three feet tall. One sculpture has a dharma chakra on either side of the Buddha. This was sculpted in the ancient region that is now Tamil Nadu. The other sculpture has a three-tiered umbrella above the Buddha’s head and women bearing fly-whisks.

According to Dr. Satyamurthy, the face of this Buddha has Mongoloid features and this sculpture shows South-East Asian influence. One of the ornamental pillars unearthed has a bas-relief of a human face, with a head-gear that shows South-East Asian influence. An image of Ganesa is carved on this pillar.

Kolapakkam perhaps was a centre of Buddhist activity. According to Dr. Rajavelu, this area coming under Tondaimandalam was noted for Buddhist activity about 1,000 years ago, prior to the Chola period. [Buddha statues unearthed near Chennai]

Update: It seems the statues are not that of Buddha, but of Jain thirthankaras


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In the period between the Mauryas and Guptas lot of wealth and energy were spent on Buddhist architecture and one of their major symbol was the stupa. The main sites of Buddhist stupas are Bharhut and Sanchi in Madhya Pradesh and Amaravati in Andhra Pradesh.

The stupa in Amaravati, which is larger than the more famous one in Sanchi, was originally built during the time of Emperor Asoka. It was completed in 200 A.D and is decorated with carved panels which tell the story of Buddha’s life. This region between Krishna and Godavari was an important place for Buddhism from the 2nd century B.C and some ancient sculpture in low relief has been found here. During the Satavahana period (2nd – 3rd century A.D), Dharanikota near Amaravati was chosen as the capital. The stupa was then adorned with limestone reliefs and free standing Buddha figures. [13]

During the period of the decline of Buddhism, this stupa was also neglected and it was burried under rubble. There is a 14th century inscription in Sri Lanka which mentions repairs made to the stupa and after that it was forgotten.

If the early history of Amaravati and its stupa is dramatic and intriguing, its chance re-discovery by the archaeologists is more so. Around the year 1796, an enterprising zamindar shifted his residence from crowded Chintapalli to deserted Amaravati. He soon invited other people to settle in Amaravati. This led to the construction of roads and houses in the area. In the course of construction, the workers often found large bricks and carved limestone slabs below the ground. The news soon reached the ears of Colonel Colin Mackenzie, who visited the site twice (in 1787 and 1818) and prepared drawings and sketches of the relics in the area. Eventually, several European scholars like Sir Walter Smith, Robert Sewell, James Burgess and Alexander Rea excavated the site and unearthed many sculptures that once adorned the stupa. In recent decades, the Archaeological Survey of India has conducted further excavations in the area.

Art historians regard the Amaravati art as one of the three major styles or schools of ancient Indian art, the other two being the Gandhara style and the Mathura style. Some of the Buddhist sculptures of Amaravati betray a Greco-Roman influence that was the direct result of the close trade and diplomatic contacts between South India and the ancient Romans. Indeed, Amaravati has itself yielded a few Roman coins[History in stone]

The Amravati school of art had great influence on art in Sri Lanka and South-East Asia as products from here were carried to those countries. It also had influence over South Indian sculpture. The Government Museum at Egmore (Madras Museum), one of the oldest and largest museums in Asia hosts the “Amaravati Gallery”.

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“This will surely open a new horizon in the history of the Kathmandu Valley’’

When it comes to Emperor Asoka’s children, the standard line in most textbooks is about how Mahinda and Sanghamitta were sent to Ceylon to spread Buddhism. There is not much mention about his other children and what they did.

He had other sons named Kunala and Tivara[14]. Apparently he also had a daughter named Charumati, and recently one stupa constructed by her was found in the Kathmandu Valley.

Archaeologists at the Department of Archaeology, a government institution to conserve and protect ancient monuments of the country, said this is the first time something has been found in the Kathmandu Valley written in Brahmi script, which was prevalent in 300 BC.

Only two inscriptions have been found so far in Brahmi script in Nepal — one in Lumbini and the other in Lignihawa, both erected by emperor Ashoka.

“We were just enlightened. We could not believe when we found bricks with a word in Brahmi script. This will surely open a new horizon in the history of the Kathmandu Valley,”said senior archaeologist Prakash Darnal.

The brick has a Dharma-Chakra emblem, two Swastikas, a word “Cha-ru-wa-ti”in Brahmi script and also two other words in the most ancient form of Nepalbhasa script, Bhujimol.

“Till date, historians believe that the sixth century AD inscription of Mandeva at the Changu Narayan is the oldest inscription found in the Valley and a statue of Jaya Barma, found at Mali Gaon, is regarded as made in the second century AD”, he said.

“What we have found in Chabahil may prove that Kathmandu has a 2,300-year-old written history,”Darnal said. But he also added that the evidence is not yet scientifically tested and the word could have been written later in Brahmi script that was extinct by the second century in Nepal.

“The word “Charuwati”proves the legend of Charumati, said to be Ashoka’s daughter, and this has some grounds in the history”, he said.[2300-year-old inscription found in Chabahil]

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Where was he born again?

Even though the popular version of history says that Siddhartha was born in Lumbini in present day Nepal, there are a bunch of folks from Orissa who want to prove that the Buddha was born in Kapileshwar village in Orissa. This version is not just a emotional outburst of some fanatics, but of some archaeological experts. These folks have found some artifacts like pottery dating to 6th B.C., but I have not figured out how pottery can help in establishing this theory. But now one historian has come forward suggesting that this is all nonsense.

He said, “The Buddha was neither born in Orissa nor visited the place during his lifetime.” Mr Behera said the claims made in this regard could go against the interests of the state.

The controversy began after it was projected sometime ago that the Buddha was born at Kapileswar, a village near here. Among others, an Ashokan inscription said to have been discovered from the place in 1928 was cited to prove the point. The inscription was similar to the one discovered in 1898 at Lumbini in Nepal, which has all through been acknowledged as the evidence to point that the Buddha was born there. The Lumbini inscription describes that Ashok visited the place because the Buddha was born there.

Mr Behera said the Kapileswar inscription had already been declared as bogus. “Eminent epigraphist D.C. Sircar, at the 1980 Indian History Congress in Mumbai, had described the Kapileswar inscription as a forged document,” he added. “Historical claims must be backed by evidence . But what some people are doing is far from the truth. There has been no serious research to disprove that the Buddha was born in Lumbini,” he said.

“Buddhist literature is silent about the Buddha being born anywhere in the Kalinga region, let alone Kapileswar village. The works of almost all noted scholars on Ashoka do not mention the Kapileswar inscription as believable evidence to change history,” he said. [New debate on birthplace of Buddha]

The Govt. of India did not have the habit of issuing birth certificates to people born before 1970, so this might be a bit hard to prove. One issue where we would like to challenge Mr. Behera is regarding Buddha’s visit to Orissa. When Huen Tsang visited India in 6th century A.D. he saw some stupas which mentioned Buddha’s visit to Kalinga. Those stupas were discovered last month in an excavation. We hope Mr. Behara is not andha to this fact.

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Buddha in Kalinga

The only time Kalinga gets mentioned in ancient history is during the episode where emperor Asoka had a change of heart following the bloody war. The standard line in history books is that Asoka became a Buddhist after the war and then embarked on a mission to globalize Buddhism.

In fact Asoka was associated with Buddhism much before the Kalinga war, according to Dipavamsa. In an early edict Asoka wrote, “I have been a lay Buddhist for more than two and half years, but for a year I did not exert myself well”. Also it is not clear why Asoka had a change of heart after the Kalinga war for he was involved with many wars. It is possible that there was no more territory to conquer and he used the opportunity to craft a pacifist policy which made it easier to manage people [8].

Another fact that does not get mentioned in history books is the association of Buddha with Kalinga. Huen Tsang, during his travels in in 6th century AD saw ten stupas which mentioned Buddha’s travel to Kalinga and now those stupas have been discovered in an archaeological excavation.

The discovery includes 10 Ashoka stupas, a fort which housed the royal headquarters of the Kalinga State and remains of the Ashoka period dating back to the third Century B.C, say Dr. Rout and authorities of the institute.

Excavations have already been carried out at four of the stupas located at Tarapur, Deuli and Kayama in Jajpur, according to Debaraj Pradhan, director of the excavation project and secretary of the institute. Work will be taken up at the other stupas soon. The first discovery of an Ashoka stupa was made at nearby Langudi Hill.

`In the course of the excavation that started in December 2004, we unearthed square stupas made of latrine blocks, burnt bricks, railing pillars and cross-bars, Besides, pottery and terracotta remains of the Ashoka period have been discovered in these hills,” Mr. Pradhan said.

The discovery of several inscriptions at Radhanagar village and other corroborative evidence clearly proved that the place was Toshali, royal headquarters of Kalinga during the time of Ashoka. Although scholars tried to identify Toshali with Sisupalgarh near Bhubaneswar, no inscriptional evidence was found so far, Mr. Pradhan said.

Mr. Pradhan said the research and excavation might also lead to the discovery of the exact venue of the Kalinga war. Till now it was said the war was fought on the banks of the Daya on the outskirts of Bhubaneswar. But the current excavation and survey gave indications that the war might have been fought at Yudha Meruda, which comes under the Korei block near Dharmasala.[Stupas, inscription indicate Lord Buddha’s visit to Kalinga]

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Professor Zemaryali Tarzi has made it his life’s mission to find the third reclining Buddha at Bamiyan. Information about this reclining Buddha comes from the notes of Huen Tsang, who traveled to India as well.

To some, the search is a quixotic one. If the ancient Chinese pilgrim is to be believed, the sleeping Buddha is almost as long as the Eiffel Tower is tall. How could such a monumental structure disappear underground, some ask, and how could it be salvageable if it still exists?

Tarzi has possible answers: The statue could have been deliberately buried centuries ago by devotees to protect it from invading Muslim armies, or it could have been covered after a major earthquake. But more important, his team has begun uncovering at the site clay figures and sophisticated structures that lend support to his grand theory.

Last summer, the dig uncovered a wall that Tarzi is convinced is part of the ancient monastery that housed the huge statue. Excavators have also discovered several dozen sculptures of Buddha heads and other statue fragments, some dating to as far back as the 3rd century — when Bamian was growing as a Buddhist center. At the very end of the digging season, Tarzi found evidence as well of what he believes may be part of a huge statuary foot.

He is aware of the professional skepticism surrounding his quest — some have said the reported size of the structure has been misunderstood, while others suggest that the reclining “statue” may have been an outcropping of rock that reminded the religious of a sleeping Buddha — but he insists the evidence is clear. [Afghan Archaeologist Seeks Sleeping Buddha]

During the weekend, I met Nadia Tarzi, daughter of Zemaryali Tarzi, the archaeologist mentioned in the above story. She has now started the Association for the protection of Afghan Archaeology which aims to raise awareness of Afghan Culture.

I asked her if the only information for this Buddha was from Huen Tsang and she said that’s the only one they know. Huen Tsang was very accurate in his descriptions about the standing Buddhas and their dimensions and hence they believe the reclining Buddha should exist as well. For example, here at Varnam we have reported about the findings at Sirpur which was described in the writings of Huen Tsang. But Nadia Tarzi would like to know if there are any other ancient works which mention this Buddha.

Related Links: Along Huen Tsang’s path, Buddha’s Foot

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Buddha’s Foot

While we only have seen pictures of the two Bamiyan Buddhas, archaeologists have been looking for a missing third reclining Buddha. Now they seem to have uncovered the long-missing statue’s foot.

Two years ago, a French team led by the Afghan-born archeologist Zemaryali Tarzi of Strasbourg University began excavations for the 985-foot-long reclining statue representing the Buddha in a state of “Mahapari nirvana,” or ultimate enlightenment.The dig finally may have yielded something promising. “Professor Tarzi has found a structure which has still to be properly identified but which could be part of the foot of the Sleeping Buddha, maybe the toe,” said Masanori Nagaoka, UNESCO’s Kabul-based culture consultant. “Alternatively, the structure could be the platform on which the giant statue reclined,” he added. [Find stirs Sleeping Buddha talk]

And at the same time the Kiwis are helping to piece back the two statues that were destroyed.

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