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Ancient Buddhist Sites In Visakhapatnam

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The city of Visakhapatnam is on the eastern coast of north Andhra Pradesh. It is one of the fastest developing cities in India. There is no dearth for tourist attractions and beautiful beaches in Visakhapatnam aka Vizag. The smart city of Vizag is famous for its natural beauty.

Vizag is also one of the famous ancient Buddhist sites and Buddhist Complexes that were excavated in the recent past.

Buddhist sites in / near Visakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh

According to studies most of the Buddhist sites in Andhra Pradesh are located on the river banks and along the trade routes. The east coast of north Andhra Pradesh was used for maritime trade and in the ancient times Buddhism spread to other parts of the world through sea routes.

In the recent past, many ancient Buddhist sites had been excavated in / near Visakhapatnam most of which date back to the 3rd and 2nd century BCE (Before Current Era).

These excavations indicate that Buddhism flourished in this region during the ancient times. Most of the Buddhist Stupas and Buddhist Monestries and Buddhist structures that were unearthed, belong to the 3rd and 2nd century BCE. As per the archaeological studies, Buddhism gradually faded away in this region due to the domination of Hinduism.

Thotlakonda Buddhist Complex

Thotlakonda is located on the Vizag-Bheemli beach road at a distance of 15 Km from Visakhapatnam. This famous Buddhist complex is situated on a small hillock (Telugu word for hillock is 'Konda') which is at a height of 420 ft above sea level. The ancient Buddhist sites / complexes of Thotlakonda, Bavikonda and Pavurallakonda near Visakhapatnam came to light when the Indian Navy was doing an aerial survey in this region to set up a Naval Base. Many Buddhist structures like stupas, chaityas, pillared congregation halls, drainage, stone pathways etc were revealed in the recent excavations by the state archaeology dept.

The excavations also revealed Buddhist treasures like chatra (umbrella) pieces with the inscriptions of early Brahmi script, few silver coins of the Satavahana dynasty, silver coins of the Roman empire indicating the foreign trade through sea route to India, miniature stone models of Buddhist Stupa and the feet of Lord Buddha with Asthamangala symbols.

From the excavations it is evident that the Hinayana Buddhist complex flourished at this place 2000 years ago. Thotlakonda is declared as a protected monument by the government of Andhra Pradesh.

According to historians, the Thotlakonda Buddhist complex declined by the end of 3rd century CE (Current Era).

Bavikonda

Bavikonda is another important Buddhist site / complex near Thotlakonda. This complex is also located on a small hillock 130 m high from the sea level and is about 15 Km from Visakhapatnam. As there are good number of tanks i.e. the traditional rainwater harvesters in this site, it is named 'Bavikonda' by the locals which literally means the hill (konda - Telugu word for hill) of wells (bavi - Telugu word for well).

This Buddhist complex also dates back to 3rd century BCE which flourished till 3rd century CE. Bavikonda is one of the oldest and sacred Buddhist centres in Asia. The ruins of Bavikonda complex speak volumes about the ancient Buddhist civilization that flourished here. There are several remnants Buddhist structures at this site that included stupas, inscriptions pottery, coins etc.

Pavuralakonda

Pavuralakonda aka Narasimha Swamy Konda is ancient Buddhist site on a hillock that lies to the west of Bhimli. Pavuralakonda is at a distance of nearly 24 km from Visakhapatnam. It is popularly known as Narasimha Swamy Konda and is at a height of 150 m above sea level.

There are ruins of Buddhist monastery / complex on the hillock. The excavations at this place reveal that a Hinayana Buddhist settlement with human habitation might have flourished here from 3rd century BCE to 2nd century CE.

The Buddhist monastery in Pavuralakonda is one of the largest Buddhist monasteries in North Coastal Andhra Pradesh. Many relics like Brahmi inscriptions, polished beads, circular chaityas, stupas, halls, foundations of viharas, coins etc were recovered at this site during excavations.

There are nearly 16 rock cut cisterns carved on the hillock for rain water storage. From this place one can have a beautiful panoramic view of the coastline of Bay of Bengal. River Gosthani flowers nearby this place and empties into Bay of Bengal.
River Gosthani emptying into Bay of Bengal at Bheemunipatnam

Bojjannakonda and Lingalakonda

Bojjannakonda and Lingalakonda are the 2000 year old Buddhist heritage sites near a small village named Sankaram in Visakhapatnam district. Sankaram village is near Anakapalle and is nearly 40 Km away from Visakhapatnam. Each of these two Buddhist sites are on two hillocks that are to the north of Sankaram village. Bojjannakonda is on the east hillock while Lingalakonda is on the west hillock.

These are one of the most remarkable Buddhist sites in Andhra Pradesh that flourished at Sankaram village (the then Sangharam) during the time of Hinayana, Mahayana and Vajrayana phases of Buddhism from 4th century CE to 9th century CE.

Bojjannakonda and Lingalakonda are rich in Buddhist culture and heritage. There is a main stupa on the hillock and many monolithic stupas, rock-cut caves, chaityas and monasteries. The word 'Boudha arama' i.e. vihara is known as Sangharam (Sangh + arama) which eventually got transformed into Sankaram.

At Lingalakonda Buddhist site a number of small rock-cut stupas and antiquities were unearthed. In addition to terracota figures, pottery and seals, a gold coin of Samudra Gupta of Gupta dynasty, few copper coins of Eastern Chalukya King Vishnuvardhana and one lead coin which might belong to Satavahana kings were unearthed during excavations.

This place is rich in Buddhist heritage and culture where there is a main Stupa on a hillock and a number of rock cut Stupas, rock cut caves and a number of monolithic Stupas in rows at Lingalakonda. The Vihara at this place was active for about 1000 years which spanned the Hinayana, Mahayana and Vajrayana phases of Buddhism. This site has a number of images of Lord Buddha carved on the inner rocks of the caves. There are even relic caskets, three Chaitya halls, votive platforms, Stupas and Vajrayana sculptures.

Earlier Bojjannakonda was known as Buddhuni Konda (the hill of Lord Buddha). INTACH (Indian National Trust for Arts and Cultural Heritage) ensured the protection of these famous Buddhist sites in and around Visakhapatnam. And all these ancient Buddhist sites in / near Visakhapatnam have been declared as heritage sites by UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation).

Spread of Buddhism in and around Visakhapatnam

It is evident from the archaeological excavations that Buddhism spread in this region during 3rd and 2nd century BCE. According to historical studies, Acharya Nagarjuna was a Buddhist scholar who had set up a Buddhist learning centre near Vijayapuri, the capital of Ikshavakus who were the earliest kings of Andhra Pradesh. The ancient dynasties of Satavahanas, Ikshavakus and Vishnukundins that ruled Andhra Desa (the present Andhra Pradesh) spread Buddhism in Andhra Desa.

Dharanikota also known as Dhanyakataka (known as Amaravati, the present / new capital of Andhra Pradesh) remained the capital of the Satavahana Kings who ruled over Andhra Desa. The present Amaravati (the then Dharanikota) was the main site where Buddhist activities took place in the ancient times. According to historical studies, Buddhism spread to far east countries like Japan from this place only.

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