Outside Uttar Pradesh and Bihar,
the largest number of Buddhist sites in India are
located in Andhra Pradesh. Buddhism flourished in
this region under the patronage of Mauryan, Satavahana
and Ikshvaku kings. In the second century AD, Acharya
Nagarjuna founded the Madhyamika School of Buddhist
philosophy (the ‘Middle Path’) in the valley now mostly
submerged under the waters of Nagarjunasagar Dam situated
about 150 Km south of Hyderabad. Other Buddhist sites
are concentrated in Visakhapatnam-Vijayawada belt.
Amaravati stupa (a mound forming
a Buddhist sacred monument), 50 Km south of Vijayawada
town, was built in the 3rd – 2nd
centuries B.C. Subsequent additions were made in the
1st-4th centuries AD under both
Satavahana and Ikshvaku kings. The site lies close
to the ancient Satavahana capital, Dhanyakataka. The
stupa, was the largest in the eastern Deccan, (36.5
m across and encircled by a 4.2 m path). This was
a brick structure covered with marble casing slabs.
Most of the broken carved capping pieces, railings
and posts are removed and displayed in the Government
museum in Chennai. Only a large earthen mound survives
of the original stupa. Some of the pieces can also
be seen in the site museum at Amaravati, in addition
to a miniature outdoor model of the original stupa.
Guntupalle is about 60 km east of
Vijayawada. Situated amidst a picturesque hill and
ravine, Guntapalle has a rock cut cave, a circular
Chaitya Hall (meeting hall), several standing images
of Buddha and more than 30 votive stupas and Viharas
(monasteries). Both rock cut and structural, architecture
at Guntapalle dates from the Satavahana period of
2nd to 1st century B.C. The
stupas have limestone cladding over brick-work. The
monuments are built on a terrace approached by a long
flight of steps.
The Chaitya Hall has an unusual circular
plan and a dome shaped ceiling adorned with rock cut
beams resembling wooden rafters. A horseshoe–shaped
arch stands at the entrance.
Sankaram is situated 41 kms west
of Visakhapatnam and 3 km north of Anakapalle. The
site has numerous monolithic votive stupas, rock cut
caves and other structures built around the 7th
Century. The main stupa was carved out of a rock and
then encased in bricks.
The site has a brick built monastery.
This consists of a rectangular court surrounded by
small cells; in the middle is an apsidal-ended shrine.
The hillside rock cut sanctuaries contain reliefs
of Buddha. Another cave has images of Ganesha and
Bhairava carved on the sides. Obviously the place
was used for Hindu worship in subsequent periods.
Nagarjunakonda and Anupu
During the 3rd –4th
centuries AD, Nagarjunakonda, 150 km south of Hyderabad,
was the capital of the Ikshvaku rulers. The ancient
site occupied an area of about 23 sq.km in a valley
on the banks of Krishna river. A large number of monasteries
and shrines were erected to serve the needs of different
Buddhist sects. Most of the excavated remains were
submerged under the enormous reservoir created by
the Dam built in the nineteen sixties on the Krishna
river. A few monuments were reconstructed on a hilltop,
which became an island in the reservoir.
At Nagarjunakonda the reconstructed
stupas have circular brick or rubble walls. The walls
have cladding of limestone slabs or plaster. The Simha
Vihara has two Chaitya halls, one encircling a Buddha
image. The Chaitya Halls and monasteries had limestone
columns set in to brick or stone walls. However only
the lower portions including the pavement slabs and
access steps survive. Nagarjunakonda also has remains
of some Hindu shrines. The island has an archaeological
museum rich in sculptures mainly from the 3rd
–4th century AD and also a few pieces from
much later periods.
Other reconstruction sites are at
Anupu on the east bank of the river. These include
a temple (3rd-4th century),
monasteries (4th century) and a Stadium
( 4th century). The monastery has also
a refectory, a store and a bath. The stadium has tiered
galleries providing seating around a rectangular court.