Saturday, August 22, 2009

Amaravati and Nagarjunakonda – ancient Buddhist places of interest.

I got opportunities to visit a few Buddhist temples and ancient sites of Buddhist-era in India and Japan. I learnt about Gautama Buddha and Buddhism at school. But it was in later years when I began to visit more and more places associated with Buddhism that I learnt a great deal more. In this blog I wish to write about two Buddhist places close to Hyderabad, which I have visited. These places are Amaravati and Nagarjunakonda. Amaravati is on the right bank of river Krishna, in Guntur district, 35 Kms. from Guntur and 307 Kms. from Hyderabad. And Nagarjunakonda is an island in the Nagarjunasagar reservoir of river Krishna in Nalagonda district, 150 Kms. from Hyderabad.
Amaravati was once a Buddhist settlement of great repute. Amaravati means ‘Deathless Realm’ in the Buddhist scriptural language, Pali. It is also the site of a grand Buddhist Stupa dating back to the time of Emperor Ashoka, which of course is in ruins now. According to Buddhist scriptures this is the place where Buddha gave the Kalachakra empowerment. Kalachakra stands for Time-wheel and Time-cycle. These cycles are akin to the movement of planets and the cycles of our breath and Kalachakra is the practice of controlling the subtlest energies within one’s body, on the path to enlightenment. The Kalachakra deity represents Buddha and thus omniscience. Since Kalachakra is time and everything is under the influence of time, Kalachakra knows all. The Amaravati Stupa which is 2000 years old and in ruins now was originally decorated with carvings of life and teachings of Buddha and Jataka tales. The 32 metres tall and 32 metres diameter Stupa was made of brick and now only its base can be seen to some height. Amaravati Buddhist sculpture are most beautiful and world famous. There is a museum housing the artifacts found here. A massive statue of Dhyana Buddha is a big attraction here.
Amaravati is also a place of Hindu pilgrimage. It has the ancient temple of Sri Amareswara that is Lord Shiva. The temple has a 15 feet high white marble Lingam. The Satavahana and Vijayanagar Kings have made great contributions to this temple. This temple is one of the five Pancharama Kshetrams in Andhra Pradesh.
Nagarjunakonda is an island hill in River Krishna named after the Buddhist monk, Acharya Nagarjuna. Nagarjuna who lived in the 2nd century AD is believed to have been responsible for the Buddhist activity in this area. During these ancient times this location has been the site of many Buddhist Universities and monasteries, attracting students from as far as China, Sri Lanka, Tibet and northern parts of India. The construction of the Nagarjunasagar Dam in 1960 submerged several Buddhist archaeological sites in this area. All the findings of this area have been dug and moved up to the hilltop where they are housed in a museum. With the completion of the Dam, Nagarjunakonda got surrounded by water on all sides and became an island.
Nagarjunakonda was also the capital of the Ikshvaku dynasty from 225 AD to 325 AD and of the Shatavahana rulers later. The excavations on Nagarjunakonda and the surroundings have yielded art works and inscriptions of great significance for the scholarly study of history. The museum houses a collection of relics of Buddhist culture and art. These include a small tooth and an ear-ring believed to be that of Buddha. The main Stupa of Nagarjunakonda named Mahachaitya is believed to contain the sacred relics of Buddha. This Stupa was 32.3 metres in diameter and 18 metres high. Among innumerable findings housed on Nagarjunakonda, the ruined monolithic statue of Buddha is the main attraction.
A ferry service takes tourists from the mainland to Nagarjunakonda. Both Amaravati and Nagarjunakonda are big tourist attractions mostly because of their proximity to the cities of Guntur and Hyderabad. The above photographs give a glimpse of these two places.

1 comment:

  1. Looks like a great trip, really nice pictures. Thanks for sharing your experience with us. I have been there a couple of times and it was really awesome experience. here area few more places to visit in Guntur that one can check out.


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