Monday, December 20, 2010

Seeking Buddha in Gujarat

Compiled by Eisha Sarkar for Mumbai Mirror  
Posted On Monday, December 13, 2010 at 05:55:00 PM
Known more for Hindu and Jain religious places, Gujarat is now hoping to play host to Buddhist pilgrims too. While in January this year, Chief Minister Narendra Modi shared the dais with His Holiness the Dalai Lama at the International Seminar on Buddhist Heritage at Vadodara, the state's tourism department is now going all-out to promote the “Buddhist Footprints in Gujarat” through its website. 
The earliest archaeological evidence of Buddhism in Gujarat dates back to Emperor Ashoka’s reign (269–232 BC). Saurashtra (known as Surashtra/ Saraostes/Syrastene in the past) finds a mention in early Buddhist literature such as the Indriya Jataka, Milinda Panha, Petavatthu, etc. In the sixth century, Bhattarkka, a general of the Gupta Emperors, established an independent principality around Valabhi (Vallabhipur). He was a devout Shaivite but the Maitraka rulers that followed him, though Hindus themselves were great patrons of Buddhism. On his visit to Gujarat in 640 AD, Chinese traveller Hiuen Tsang noted the presence of 200 monasteries housing 10,000 monks at Bharuch, Atali, Kheta, Valabhi, Anandapura and Surashtra. Both Hinayana and Mahayana Buddhism were prevalent in Gujarat. 

The following are the main Buddhist archaeological sites in Gujarat:

Vadnagar, Mahesana
Nearly 128 km from Ahmedabad, the archaeological site between River Banas and River Rupen, has a 12-cell structure that belonged to a Buddhist vihara or monastery and housed monks from the 2nd to 4th century AD. Hiuen Tsang, who visited Vadnagar (then known as Anandapur) in the 7th century, reported that the city had some 10 sangharams (resting places for Buddhist monks) with a 1,000 Buddhist monks. Archaeologists found around 2,000 artefacts including a Buddha idol, an amphora, figurines, a crucible, a grinding stone, seals, a terracotta head wearing a turban, shell bangles, necklace beads, copper and silver coins that are housed at the Museum of Archaeology at the Maharaja Sayajirao University, Vadodara.

Perched atop the Taranga Hills nearby, is a shrine dedicated to Devi Taranamata. The idols of Taranmata and Dharanmata are of Buddhist Goddess Tara, the "Mother of all Buddhas," which usually refers to the enlightened wisdom of the Buddhas. In the Dharanmata Temple, over the halo behind the head of the marble sculpture of the Goddess Tara, is a lotus on which rests the Amitabh Buddha. The sculpture also displays the symbolic representation of the Buddha in form of an elephant, a horse and a chakra.

Devnimori, Sabarkantha
Better known for its hot-springs, Devnimori located 132 km from Ahmedabad has a large Buddhist establishment that dates back to the period between 2nd and 7th centuries AD. King Ashoka is said to have erected as many as 80,000 stupas across India. He unearthed the ashes of Buddha from their original place and distributed them across the country, building stupas accordingly. One such stupa, from the 4th century was excavated in early 1960s at Devnimori. Close to the major trade routes of Mewar and Dungarpur, Devnimori was the site of an important Buddhist monastic centre 1,600 years ago.  The mahastupa’s still there but the relics including a casket containing Buddha’s ashes and 17 terracotta statues of Buddha are now housed in the Department of Archaeology at The Maharaja Sayajirao University, Vadodara.

Khambalida, Rajkot district

Located near Gondal, Khambalida has three caves dating back to the 4th-5th century AD, one of which is the chaitya (an assembly or prayer-hall) with a worn-out stupa. The entrance is flanked by two large sculptures: Bodhisatva Avalokiteshvara Padmapani on the right and Avalokiteshvara Vajrapani on the left, both with an image of paradise behind. These are the only depictions among the caves of Gujarat of Avalokiteshvara, one of the most celebrated bodhisattvas of Mahayana Buddhisms. The caves date back to 4th-5th century AD and were hewed out of the local limestone rock.

Talaja, Bhavnagar district
On the Shatrunjaya River, near 60 km from Bhavnagar lies Talaja that houses important sites for Buddhism, Jainism and Hinduism. There are 30 rock-cut Buddhist caves, with fine carvings of Bodhisattvas. The most impressive structure is the Ebhala Mandapa, a large hall with four octagonal pillars. The caves are around 2,000 years old and were built before the famous Ajanta and Ellora caves. 

Vallabhipur, Bhavnagar district
Valabhi (now Vallabhipur) was a renowned centre of Buddhist studies. The Valabhi University was especially devoted to the studies of the Sammatiya School and Hinayana Buddhism unlike the famed Nalanda University (in Bihar) which leaned towards Mahayana Buddhism. Valabhi was famous for its catholicity. Students from all over the country, including the Brahmin boys, came here for higher education and graduates were given prominent executive posts. Little remains of its past glory, though.

Junagadh district
A prominent Buddhist centre since Ashoka’s reign, Junagadh district is sprinkled with rock-cut-caves, monasteries and stupas at 15-odd sites such as the Ashokan rock edict at Girnar, Baba Pyara Caves, Khapra Kodia caves, Upparkot caves, Panheswer Caves, Mai Gadechi, Matri, structural monastery at Intawa, brick stupa at Bordevi and Vajrapanat, Sana caves, caves around Prabhas Patan, Mandor Caves and Savni-Gir.

Inscribed in Pali language on a large mass of black granite on Girnar Hills (4 km east of Junagadh), is one of the most important Edicts of Emperor Ashoka. Ashoka’s edicts were the first written inscriptions in India after the ancient city of Harappa fell to ruin. The 14 edicts are on the 16 attributes of a virtuous life and the construction of the Sudarshan Lake for the welfare of the society. This monolith bears inscriptions spanning eight centuries and three different dynasties.

Buddhist caves, about 2000 years old, are among the oldest monuments at Uparkot. Carved out of monolithic rock, these three-tiered caves are famous for their exquisite art. The caves are adorned with decorated pillars and entrances, water cisterns, horseshoe- shaped chaitya windows with female figures, an assembly hall and cells for meditation. The Khapra Kodia caves are the most unadorned of the Junagadh caves. The Baba Pyara caves are the oldest and simplest.

The five Siyot Caves (also called Lakhpat caves) overlook the Great Rann of Kutch and date back to the first century AD. There is an east-facing sanctum and an ambulatory. Siyot must have been one of the 80 monastic sites at the mouth of Indus River that Hiuen-tsang in his report.

Getting there:
Gujarat has one of the better developed road networks in India. State transport and private buses are the best and the cheapest modes of transport. Ahmedabad is well-connected to all major cities and towns by road, rail and air. 


John Positive said...

Hi Innate Explorer. i feel very comfortable with you. i've traveled many areas from Gujarat (little of Rajasthan) on down to Kerala.

I wrote about it in From one fellow explorer to another, I always wish you fair winds, open homes, healthy meals, and smiling faces to greet you everywhere you go.

It is a good trait to be able to make a rock talk.

God bless you on your journey through life. It will be very fruitful for you.

The John Positive Company

Innate Explorer said...

Thank you!