When you think of the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, perhaps the first thing that strikes to your mind is Lord Venkateswara Temple at Tirupati or the capital city Hyderabad - the IT hub of India besides it being prominent in the film industry and various other things.
Andhra Pradesh is a state with rich cultural heritage and much of tourist potential. There is literally no dearth for pilgrim places and tourist spots in this South Indian state. Besides the important pilgrim places of Andhra Pradesh, the state is a home of several interesting things particularly a state which is rich in ancient Buddhist pilgrim sites that feature Stupas, Viharas, Chaityas and Monolithic statues of Lord Buddha.
There was a spread of Buddhism in Andhra Pradesh during the 3rd and 2nd century B.C which was evident from the unearthed Stupas and other Buddhist structures belonging to that age. According to history, Acharya Nagarjuna - a Buddhist scholar set up a Buddhist learning center near Vijayapuri which was the capital of Ikshavakus - the earliest kings of Andhra Pradesh. He founded the Mahayana Buddhism in the state.
Spread of Buddhism in Andhra Pradesh
The state houses nearly 150 Buddhist sites most of which have spiritual value. Around 18 of these monastic sites comprising of Stupas and Viharas are said to contain the mortal remnants of Lord Buddha and hence are considered highly important to the Buddhists across the world.
Though Emperor Asoka is responsible for the spread of Buddhism in the Indian sub-continent, however the ancient dynasties of Andhrdesa (the present Andhra Pradesh) viz. Satavahanas, Ikshavakus and Vishnukundins are the mainly responsible for the spread of Buddhism in Andhra
The Satavahana Kings ruled over Andhra desa with Dharanikota or Dhanyakataka as their capital town which is known as Amaravati in the present days. This was the main place for Buddhist activities in the past. It is from this place that Buddhism spread to the far east countries like Japan.
Important Buddhist pilgrim places of Andhra Pradesh
Almost the entire state is rich in Buddhist pilgrim places and even in the recent years many Buddhist sites have been unearthed in the North Eastern regions of the state. All these important Buddhist sites speak tons on the Buddhist culture and heritage that once flourished in the Southern part of the Indian sub-continent. All these sites have rich tourist potential and are of great importance to the followers to Lord Buddha. Most of the Buddhist sites have gained much prominence while few other excavated sites are of lesser importance. However most of these Buddhist sites are real treasures of knowledge.
Nagarjuna Konda - the greatest Buddhist center of learning
Nagarjuna Sagar is one of the most visited places of the state and is located in the Nalgonda district of Andhra Pradesh. It is at a distance of 150 Km from Hyderabad. The place was known by the name Vijayapuri during the ancient times and was the capital of Ikshavakus - one of the oldest dynasties of the state flourished in the 2nd century B.C. This place was the major Buddhist center of learning.
Nagarjuna Konda is one of the ancient, largest and most important Buddhist pilgrim sites South India. This place houses the ancient Buddhist art and architecture as it remained the important Buddhist center of learning in the 3rd and 2nd century B.C. There is a statue of Buddha at this place which belongs to the 2nd century A.D. The place got its name after Acharya Nagarjuna who was a renowned Buddhist scholar and philosopher.
Nagarjuna Konda is an island museum which is one of its kind in India. In the mid 1950's during the mammoth construction of Nagarjuna Sagar Hydro-electric project on River Krishna, this famous Buddhist site was unearthed. This most important Buddhist site which would have been submerged in the waters of River Krishna was replicated on the small island hill called Nagarjuna Konda. During excavations at the site Buddhist Monasteries, Viharas, Chaityas, Mandapams, Aswamedha altar, Royal Baths, advanced drainage system and other Buddhist relics were unearthed at this place. Of these excavations, there is a special finding of nine structures resembling Stupas arranged in a wheel shaped formation that include the Mahachaitya, the most sacred one. The inscriptions on it in Brahmi characters reveal that the remains of Lord Buddha are preserved within it. Hence this is considered the most important and sacred for the Buddhists.
All these excavations brought light to an extensive Buddhist establishment in the place and these priceless relics of the Buddhist site were shifted to an island museum in the middle of the lake where the ruins were reconstructed in the form of an ancient Buddhist Vihara. Thus the tourists can have a glimpse of the great Buddhist era in Indian history and the rich culture that has successfully survived through the centuries.
Anupa - the reconstructed site
Anupa is yet another important Buddhist site in Andhra Pradesh. This site is located near Nagarjunasagar Dam where you can see the meticulously reconstructed Buddhist University and a stadium / amphitheater with amazing and outstanding acoustics during the ancient period. The place is a rich source of history for the students and is a must see place.
Amaravati - an important Buddhist site
Amaravati which is in the Guntur district of Andhra Pradesh and is at a distance of Km from Guntur is a place important to both the Hindus and the Buddhists as well. The place which is located on the banks of River Krishna was originally known as Dharanikota or Dhanyakataka which had been the capital of the Satavahana Kings - the first dynasty of the Andhra Desa who ruled during 3rd and 2nd century A.D.
Amaravati was one of the four major learning centers of India which that attracted students from other countries as well. This place is one of the oldest Buddhist sites and it has the largest Stupa in India which is known as the Amaravati Stupa. This is a Mahachaitya Stupa and one could see only the remains of this Stupa.
During excavations at this site, an Asokan Pillar was unearthed here which is considered the first Mauryan art in South India. There is a museum at this place which exhibits lots of Buddhist sculptures and has some of the finest exhibits of Buddhism that include statues of Lord Buddha with lotus symbol on his feet.
Other Buddhist sites with lesser importance
Besides the golden triangle of Nagarjuna Konda, Anupa and Amarvati which are considered the most important Buddhist sites, many Buddhist sites have been excavated across the state of Andhra Pradesh which are of lesser importance.
This is a small place located in the East Godavari district has a famous mound which is called Dubbaraju Gudi by the local people. At the time of excavations in 1953 a Mahastupa and other Buddhist relics were unearthed at this place.
Bhattiprolu is a small village in the Guntur district and is located at a distance of 40 Km from Guntur. The excavations of 1870 unearthed some Buddhist relics and mounds. Few stones relics with crystal caskets and relics of Lord Buddha's jewels were discovered in the ruins of Mahachaitya during the excavations. The crystal caskets are preserved at the Mahabodhi Society in Kolkata.
This is a small place situated on banks of River Gundla Kamma in the Prakasam district of Andhra Pradesh. The place is around 150 Km away from Vijayawada. Chandavaram is another major Buddhist site which has a double storeyed Mahastupa on the hilltop. There are even ruins of a monastic complex which has a Mahachaitya with a dome and a three-winged Vihara. There is a museum at this place which exhibits sculptures and other Buddhist relics and inscriptions in the Brahmi script dating back the B.C period.
Ghantasala is a small place located at around 21 Km from Machilipatnam in the Krishna district of Andhra Pradesh. It is around 60 Km away from Vijayawada. This place has a special Buddhist tourist attraction as there are mains of Buddhist sculptures and a Stupa and Mahachaitya. There is a good collection of Buddhist statues and art in the museum at Ghantasala village.
Guntupalli is a small village located near Kamavarapukota in the West Godavari district. This place is at a distance of 85 Km away from Vijayawada and is located on a hill top. The beautiful rock cut caves and a circular Chaityagriha with several images of Lord Buddha made it one of the most beautiful Buddhist sites. It is said that these beautiful rock cut caves are even older than the famous Ajanta and Ellora caves.
This is a small place which is located at a distance of 40 Km from Amaravati and is on the opposite bank of River Krishna. Jagayyapeta is around 45 Km away from Vijayawada. There is a Buddhist Stupa on a hill which belongs to 2nd century B.C.
Undavalli popularly known as Undavalli Caves is located in the Guntur district. These famous caves depict the rock cut architecture that are curved out from solid rocks during the 4th - 5th century A.D. You can even see the 5 m long reclining statue of Lord Buddha at this place besides a reclining statue of Lord Vishnu which is carved from a single piece of granite.
Dhulikatta is a small Buddhist site in a village located on the bank of a stream in the Karimnagar district near Hyderabad. This site has the remains of a Mahastupa and few coins of the Roman Empire and Satavahana dynasty were found in this place. As a mention by the Greek Ambassador Megasthenes in the court of Chandragupta Maurya in the third century B.C, this place had fortified towns.
Buddhist sites in the Northern region of Andhra Pradesh
It has been found that most of the Buddhist sites in Andhra Pradesh are located on the river banks and along the trade routes. The North Eastern part of Andhra Pradesh was used for maritime trade and it was through sea routes that Buddhism spread to other parts of the world.
Besides the famous Buddhist pilgrim sites in and around Visakhapatnam, this place is renowned for the famous Hindu temple of Sri Varaha Narasimha Swamy Temple at Simhachalam near Visakhapatnam
In the recent past, many Buddhist sites have been excavated in the Northern districts of Visakhapatnam, Vizianagraram and Srikakulam most of which date back to the 3rd and 2nd century B.C.
Thotlakonda is situated at a distance of around 15 Km from Visakhapatnam on the Vizag-Bheemli beach road. This is a famous Buddhist complex which is situated on a small hillock is declared a protected monument by the government of Andhra Pradesh. This famous complex came to light during an aerial survey by the Indian Navy. The excavations revealed the complex with various Buddhist structures which include Stupa, Chaityagrihas, pillared congregation halls, drainage, stone pathways etc. In addition to these excavations, even Buddhist treasures like Chatra pieces with the inscriptions of early Brahmi lipi (letters), few silver coins of Satavahana dynasty, miniature stone models of Buddhist Stupa and the feet of Lord Buddha with Asthamangal symbols.
This is yet another important Buddhist site located on a small hillock and is about 15 Km from Visakhapatnam. The Hinayana school of Buddhism was practiced here which flourished from 3rd century B.C to 3rd century A.D. This Buddhist site is one of the oldest and sacred Buddhist centers in Asia which has carved Stupas. The ruins at this place depict the great Buddhist civilization that existed in the Southern part of India in the past. The complex at Bavikonda comprises several structures.
This 2000 year old Buddhist heritage site is one of the most significant Buddhist sites in Andhra Pradesh which flourished from 5th century B.C to 14th century A.D. This site which is located at a distance of 40 Km from Visakhapatnam is known as Bojjannakonda by the local people. 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.
Pavuralakonda which literally means 'the hill of the pigeons' in the Telugu language is a hillock lying to the west of Bhimli which is located at a distance of about 24 km from Visakhapatnam. A Buddhist settlement was excavated at this place which flourished in the 1st century B.C to 2nd century A.D. There are 16 rock cut cisterns on hillock where from you can have a panoramic view of the coastline of Bay of Bengal.
Ramateerthan is a small village located in the Vizianagaram district which is to the North of Visakhapatnam. This place is a Buddhist site with lesser importance where a number of remains of a Buddhist settlement dating to 1st century A.D have been found.
Salihundam is located on the banks of the River Vamsadhara in Srikakulam district which is a bordering the state to Odisha. This Buddhist site is of lesser importance and it has a Vihara, Mahastupa and Ayakas.
Dantapuram Buddhist site is also located on the banks of River Vamsadhara in the Srikakulam district of Andhra Pradesh. And this place has a Stupa.
In addition to these important Buddhist heritage sites in and around Visakhapatnam, this North coastal fast growing city has much tourist potential with a number of tourist attractions in and around the city like the famous Borra Caves near Araku Valley in the Visakhapatnam district. The other important place in Visakhapatnam which attracts the tourist from far apart is the Kambaalakonda eco-tourism Sanctuary
And above all Kailasagiri - the hill top park in Visakhapatnam is the most famous hangout place of the local people.
Kalyani is basically an educationist and presently a home-maker who is fruitfully utilizing her free time in freelancing, online content writing and above all blogging. She is an active lead editor at IndiaStudyChannel.com for over 2 years. She is an environmentalist who strives to protect the environment through the revival of age-old eco-friendly practices. She also strives to preserve the rich cultural heritage of India.
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More articles: Buddhist Pilgrim Places
This is really good to have the information shared on buddhism and buddist pilgrims in AP and also a nice presentation of connected articles also which will definitely create awareness to all who wanted to write good articles in ISC.
Can you please provide a reference for Amaravati being the biggest Stupa in AP and India? I need to use that reference for a competitive examination of our state.