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Ancient Buddhist Sites In Andhra Pradesh

Andhra Pradesh (A.P), a coastal state in the south-east India, is rich in Hindu pilgrimage places like the world famous Tirumala - the abode of Lord Venkateswara. There state is also abundant in ancient Buddhist pilgrimage sites dating back to the BCE (Before Current Era) period which reflect the past glory of Buddhism in this region.

There are around 150 Buddhist pilgrimage sites with spiritual importance, in A.P. Nearly 18 of these monastic sites are considered highly important for Buddhists across the world as these are said to have the mortal remnants of Lord Buddha. These sites are featured with Stupas, Chaityas, Viharas, rock cut caves, Buddha's monolithic statues and many more Buddhist structures / treasures of the ancient times.

Spread of Buddhism in Andhradesa in the ancient times

According to historical studies, Emperor Asoka took active part in spreading Buddhism in the Indian sub-continent. The Satavahana dynasty which ruled over Andhradesa (the present Andhra Pradesh) for a long period were great patrons of Buddhism. Ikshavaku dynasty and the Vishnukundins had also contributed in the spread Buddhism in this region. In the early 5th century BCE Buddhism spread in this region and flourished for few centuries.

Amaravati (known as Dharanikota / Dhanyakataka in the ancient times) was the capital town of the Satavahana Kings. It was the main seat for Buddhist activities and from here Buddhism spread to far east countries like Japan. Most of the Buddhist pilgrimage sites in Andhra Pradesh are on the river banks and along the sea coast. The north coastal A.P was one of the maritime trade routes. In the ancient times Buddhism had spread to other parts of the world through these sea routes.

According to historical studies Acharya Nagarjuna was one of the most important Buddhist scholars / philosophers from South India. He was an advisor to one of the Satavahana kings. He is the founder of the Madhyamaka school of the Mahayana. He had set up a learning centre near Vijayapuri which was the capital of the Ikshavaku dynasty (one of the earliest dynasties of Andhradesa).

Buddhist sites in Andhra Pradesh

Andhra Pradesh is a treasure trove of Buddhist sites that speak volumes about the past glory of Buddhism in this region. These are of great importance to the Buddhists across the world and have much tourist potential. These are of great importance even to research scholars who can write volumes about the then flourished Buddhism in this region of India.

1. Amaravati - one of the most important Buddhist sites

The present Amaravati which is situated on the banks of river Krishna, (the new capital city of Andhra Pradesh) is in the Guntur district of Andhra Pradesh. It was known as Dharanikota / Dhanyakataka in the ancient times and was the capital of the Satavahana dynasty who ruled Andhradesa (the present Andhra Pradesh region) from 3rd century BCE to 1st century BCE.
Image Credit: Wikipedia
Amaravati was the main seat for Buddhist activities in the ancient times. The Amaravati Stupa (aka the Great Stupa) is the oldest and the largest Buddhist Stupa in India. In the ancient times, it was known as Deepaladimma in Telugu language which means the 'Mound of lamps'. The Telugu words 'deepalu = lamps and 'dimma' = mound. The stupa was called Mahachaitya i.e. the great sanctuary. Presently there are only remains of this Mahachaitya.

Amaravati was one of an important and famous Buddhist learning centres in India during the ancient times that attracted foreign students as well. Amaravati Stupa is related to the Vajrayana teachings of Kalachakra. This is still in practice in Tibetan Buddhism. Kalachakra was initiated by Dalai Lama and was conducted in Amaravati in 2006.

Many Buddhist sculptures and some of the finest statues of Lord Buddha with lotus symbol on the feet are exhibited in the museum at Amaravati. An Ashokan Pillar was unearthed at this place during archeological excavations and this pillar is considered as the first Mauryan art in South India.

How to reach: Vijayawada is the nearest town by rail, road and airways. Amaravati (the present capital city of Andhra Pradesh) is at a distance of 29 Km from Vijayawada. The city is an important Railway Junction and is well connected by railways, roadways and airways.

Stay: There are many star hotels as well as economy hotels in Vijayawada most of which offer a comfortable stay with complimentary breakfast.

Food: Vijayawada is well known for its spicy and delicious Andhra foods. There is no dearth for local restaurants and fast food centres in the city.

Transport: Public (APSRTC) buses, auto-rickshaws and private cabs are available in plenty.

2. Thotlakonda Buddhist Complex

The Thotlakonda Buddhist Complex is located on the Vizag-Bhimli beach road. This ancient Buddhist complex near Visakhapatnam came to limelight in the recent years during an aerial survey by the Indian Navy in this region for setting up their base.

The complex is situated on a small hillock that is 420 feet high overlooking sea (Bay of Bengal). Archeological excavations at this complex revealed few breathtaking structures like stupas, chaityas, pillared congregation halls and stone pathways, viharas with cells, storerooms, refectory (bhojanasala) and huge water reservoirs. Thotlakonda derived its name from the local / Telugu word 'thotte' (pl. 'thottelu') i.e. water tank and 'konda' is the Telugu word for hill. Many Buddhist treasures like pieces of chatra (umbrella) with Brahmi lipi (script) inscriptions, few silver coins of Satavahana period, silver coins of Roman empire indicating their foreign trade to India through sea route and the feet of Lord Buddha with ashtamangala symbols were also unearthed at this place.

The excavations at this complex reveal the Hinayana sect of Buddhist settlement that flourished from 3rd century BCE to 3rd century CE (Current Era). It was a religious as well as Buddhist learning centre. This Buddhist complex is declared as a Protected Monument by the Govt of A.P.

How to reach: Visakhapatnam, a major city in the east coast, is the nearest city by rail, road and airways. The city is well connected with many important places of the country by railways, roadways and airways. Thotlakonda is 15 Km away from Visakhapatnam.

Stay: Visakhapatnam being a major city, there are many star and budget hotels in the city that provide a luxurious / comfortable stay and most of the hotels offer complimentary breakfast.

Food: There are good number of restaurants that offer local foods, sea-foods on the beach road and continental food as well. There are many fast food centres as well.

Transport: APSRTC buses / private buses, aut-rickshaws, private cabs are available.

3. Bavikonda

This site is close to Thotlakonda and is at a height of 130 m from the sea level. This is one of the oldest Buddhist sites in Asia. Many Buddhist structures and treasures are excavated at this site. There are huge circular water storage tanks. These were even used to dye the robes of the monks. There are also traditional rain water harvesters at this place. As there are number of water wells on this hill, the local people called it 'Bavikonda'. The word 'bavi' means water well in Telugu language.

The relic casket in Mahachaitya at this place is said to contain the mortal remnants of Lord Buddha, hence it is considered as one of the most sacred sites in Asia.

How to reach: Visakhapatnam is the nearest city.

4. Pavurallakonda

This Buddhist site is also known as Narasimha Swamy Konda by the local people. Pavurallakonda is an ancient Buddhist site situated on a hillock that lies to the west of Bheemli. It is at a height of 150 m above the sea level. There are ruins of Buddhist monastery on the hillock. The excavations reveal Hinayana Buddhist settlement with human habitation that flourished here from 3rd century BCE to 2nd century CE.

The Buddhist monastery at this site 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 flows nearby this place and empties into Bay of Bengal. The place might have derived its name from the local word 'pavurai', the Telugu word for limestone which is used for drawing rangoli (muggulu), 'pavurallu' is the plural word.

How to reach: Pavurallakonda is at a distance of 24 Km from Visakhapatnam and is easily accessible from Visakhapatnam.

5. Bojjannakonda and Lingalakonda

These Buddhist sites near a small village called Sankaram in the Visakhapatnam district are the 2000 year old. Bojjannakonda is on the east hillock and Lingalakonda is on the west hillock. These two are one of the most remarkable Buddhist sites in Andhra Pradesh that flourished at Sankaram village (known as Sangharam in the ancient times) from 4th century CE to 9th century CE during the time of Hinayana, Mahayana and Vajrayana phases of Buddhism.

These two complexes 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. A number of small rock-cut stupas were unearthed at Lingalakonda. Also many 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.

There are a number of monolithic stupas in rows at Lingalakonda. As the dome-shaped stupas look like Shivalingams, the local people called the hillock as 'Lingalakonda' (Hill of Lingas). There are 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).

How to reach: Anakapalle, a suburb of Visakhapatnam, is the nearest town. The Buddhist site of Sankaram is at a distance of 3.5 Km from Ankapalle and around 40 Km from Visakhapatnam. Anakaplle is well connected with the major cities of the country by railways.

Stay: Anakapalle is a busy commercial town. There are good number of economy hotels in the town. Most of the hotels do not meet the international standards.

Food: There are hotels / restaurants that offer local foods. There are also fast food centres but these are not upto the international mark.

Transport: APSRTC / private buses, auto-rickshaws, cabs and very few manually driven rickshaws are available.

6. Boddhikonda, Ghanikonda and Gurabaktakonda

Ramateertham is a small village in the Vizianagaram district. The archeological excavations at this place has revealed three parallel hills standing in east-west direction and separated with a narrow valley. Archeological excavations have revealed the remains of Buddhist settlements on these hills that date back to 3rd century BCE to 1st century CE. These three are the lesser known Buddhist sites in Andhra Pradesh.

Boddhikonda: This is the southernmost of the three parallel hills that consist of natural caves, rock art, images, 3rd century BCE remains of Buddhist monastery.

Gurabaktakonda: This is the centre hill of the three parallel hills. It is known as 'Gurubhaktulakonda'. There are ruins of Buddhist monastery on the north side of the hill. There are also many ruins of chaityas, brick mounds, brick stupas, Buddha statue and ruins of other Buddhist structures.

Ghanikonda: This is the northern hill of the three parallel hills and presently is known as Durgakonda. There are remains of Buddhists structures like mounds on this hill.

How to reach: Vizianagaram is the nearest city which is well connected by railways and roadways. Ramatheertham is at a distance of 12 Km from Vizianagaram.

Stay: Vizianagaram is a upcoming city. There are many semi-luxury and budget hotels which offer a comfortable stay.

Food : Many restaurants are available that offer local Andhra food.

Transport: Ramatheertham can be easily reached from Vizianagaram. APSRTC buses / private buses and private cabs are available from Vizianagaram to Ramatheerthalu.

7. Salihundam

Archeological excavations at Salihundam had revealed many Buddhist stupas,sculptures and architectural shrines that were built during the period from 2nd century CE to 12th century CE. These Buddhist structures throw light on the Mahayana, Theravada and Vajrayana periods of Buddhism that thrived at this place.

Salihundam is a small hilly village located on the banks of the River Vamsadhara in Srikakulam district.

How to reach: Srikakulam is the nearest town which on the main Howrah-Madras line.

Stay: Srikakulam is a small town and few budget hotels. It is better to stay at Visakhapatnam for a comfortable stay, to reach this Buddhist site.

Food: There are normal restaurant that offer local Andhra food (not so hygienic).

Transport: Private cabs, private buses and APSRTC buses are available from Visakhapatnam.

8. Dantapuram / Dantapuri

The place is known by different names Dantapuram / Dantapuri / Dantavarapukota / Danthavarapuri / Boudha Gyana Danthapuri. This is a small village on the banks of River Vamsadhara in the Srikakulam District. Archeological excavations revealed few Buddhist stupas, structures, establishments and antiquities at this place like terracota beads, semi-precious beads, ornaments, stone objects like muller, white stones, bone objects, various kinds of pottery and many more.

According to historians, this place remained the capital of the Kalinga kings from 261 BCE after the Battle of Kalinga. The Kalinga king, Brahma Dutta constructed a monument on Boudha Gyana Dantha at this place and it came to be known as Danthapuri. Earlier it was known as 'Dhantavaktruni kota'.

9. Adurru

Adurru is a small village and a Buddhist site located on the banks of river Vainateya in the East Godavari district. The 2nd century monastic site is situated on a mound which is called 'Dubbaraju Gudi / Dubbaraju Dibba' by the local people. Archeological excavations had unearthed the ruins of a Maha Stupa at this place. According to historical studies the foundation stone for Buddhist site at this place was laid by Sanghamitra, the daughter of Emperor Asoka of the Maurya dynasty.

How to reach: Amalapuram is the nearest town by road and Mamidikudru bus station, Jaggannapet bus station and Appannapalli bus station are the nearest APSRTC bus stations.

Palakollu is the nearest Railway station which is at a distance of 25 Km approx. Only few trains run via this place. Better to opt for Rajamundry RS which is nearly 130 Km away.

Stay: There are budget / comfort hotels in Rajamundry at reasonable prices

Food: Traditional delicious Andhra foods.

Transport: APSRTC / private buses and private cabs available to the Buddhist site.

10. Bhattiprolu

Bhattiprolu is a small village in the Guntur district. Few relics of Buddha and jewels, three mounds, inscribed stone relic caskets, ruins of a stupa, a Mahachaitya (Great Stupa) with the remains of pillared halls, ruins of votive stupa, a stone receptacle that has a copper vessel containing a silver casket and a gold casket enclosing beads of bone and crystal were discovered at this place during archeological excavations.

This Buddhist town flourished in the Sala Kingdom (the kings earlier to Satavahanas of Andhradesa). As per evidences on the inscriptions, Bhattiprolu was known as Pratipalapura and was ruled by King Kuberaka during 230 BCE. The Buddhist Stupa in this place was built around 3rd century BCE.

As per an earliest historical evidence, Brahmi Script in South India was first found at this place. It was written on a urn containing Buddha's relics. According to historians, Telugu and Kannada script are born from this Brahmi script which named Bhattiprolu alphabets.

How to reach: Guntur is the nearest Railway Station.

11. Ghantasala

Ghantasala is a small town in the Krishna District. Archeological excavations had revealed the remains of a unique Mahachaitya (Great Stupa)of the Satavahana period, remnants of Buddhist structures that include 'dharma chakra', miniature stupa, 'purna kalash' with lotus flowers indicating the birth of Lord Buddha and many more. It is said that the place derived its name from 'Kantakasaila' - the horse of Lord Buddha. The structures unearthed at this place reveal the past glory of the place that flourished as an Indo-Roman trade centre in the BCE period. The museum in Ghatasala town has a good collection of Buddhist statues.

How to reach: Machilipatnam and Tenali are the nearest towns.

Stay: There are comfortable hotels in Tenali and Machilipatnam but these are not up to international standards.

Food: Traditional Andhra food.

Transport: APSRTC buses / private bus and cabs are available.

12. Chandavaram

Chandavaram is yet another ancient Buddhist site in the Prakasam district of Andhra Pradesh. This Buddhist pilgrimage site was discovered in Chandavaram, a small village on the banks of River Gundla Kamma. It was built during the Satavahana period during 3rd century BCE to 2nd century CE. Chandavaram was a resting place for the Buddhist traveling monks in the ancient times. The Hinayana sect of Buddhism was prevalent at this place. The a double-storeyed terraced Mahastupa is located on a hill called Singarakonda. There are many viharas at this place. Few inscriptions in Brahmi script were found here that date back to the BCE period. Chandavaram is an important Buddhist site that remained an active centre for Buddhist religious activities in the ancient times.

How to reach: Donakonda is the nearest RS. Narsaraopet (7 Km) and Guntur (35 Km) are better options

Stay: Guntur has good number of budget as well as comfort hotels.

Food: The city is well known for its traditional and spicy Andhra foods.

Transport: APSRTC / private buses and private cabs are available from this place.

13. Undavalli caves

Undavalli caves near Vijayawada in the Guntur district are the monolithic rock caves of the 4th century CE that are associated with Vishnukundins. This are two-tiered caves with the caves in the 2nd structured like Buddhist monasteries and Buddhist carvings. According to historians this was a resting place for the Boudha Bhikshus / Bhikkus (Buddhist monks). There is a giant stone (granite) idol of Lord Buddha in reclining posture. According to some debaters, this idol is said to be that of Padmanabha Swamy / Vishnu. Presently this is a tourist attraction.

How to reach: Vijayawada is the nearest city by air, road and rail route.

14. Jaggayyapeta

Jaggayyapeta is a small town located on the banks of river Paleru in the Krishna district. The archeological excavations at this place found one of the oldest Buddhist stupas that dates back to 2nd century BCE. The place was known as Velagiri during the Satavahana rule. The great Buddhist stupas at this place reflect the past glory of Buddhism in this region. After the decline of Buddhism the great stupa turned into a mound.

How to reach: Vijayawada is the nearest rail, road and air route.

15. Guntupalli Group of Buddhist monuments

Guntupalli (Guntupalle) is an ancient village located near Kamaravarapukota in the present West Godavari district. The place is famous for the finest Buddhist monolithic and structural remains that date back to 3rd - 2nd century BCE. The monuments include rock-cut temple (i.e. vritta chaitya), large and small monasteries, ruined mandapa, group of stupas / stone stupas, chaitya hall with a rare carved stone entrance.

There are remains of structural buildings made of stone and bricks. remains of brick viharas and two-leveled caves. During excavations, many Buddhist valuables were found here like gold, silver and crystal beads, bronze image of Padmapani (a Boddhisatva), a casket with Devanagari inscriptions.

How to reach: Eluru is the nearest railway station which is nearly 41 Km away. Kamaravarapukota is the nearest APSRTC bus station.

Stay: There is decent accommodation available at Eluru city at reasonable rates.

Food: Local Andhra food is available in the restaurants. There are also fast food centres.

Transport: Guntupalli is an important tourist attraction. APSRTC buses / private buses and private cabs are available.


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