Digital Documentation of Buddhist Sites in Tamil Nadu
Dr. D. Dayalan
Buddhism came to South India during the period of Emperor Ashoka (c. 273236 BC). The rock edicts of him found in the bordering regions of South India invariably refer to the Buddhist dharma. However, the prevalence of Buddhism in the Tamil country till 3rd-4th century AD is not attested by any material evidences. The reason may be that consistent with pan-Indian usage, perishable materials like wood and brick had been used for the construction of secular as well as religious edifices of the early times. However, the discovery of large number of Buddhist vestiges datable to 5th-6th century AD and onwards at various places in Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry indicate the wide prevalence of Buddhism in this region. It appears that Buddhism was a flourishing faith during this period and has been patronized by the local people and the merchants and perhaps the rulers as well.
On the basis of the clue from the inscriptions, details given in the local and foreign texts and place names, a large number of sites yielding Buddhist relics are spotted all over the state. The relics include stone sculptures and bronzes, excavated remains, inscriptions and paintings The author of the present paper documented all these Buddhist vestiges and also prepared a map of Buddhist sites in Tamil Nadu with inputs such as detail of the location, nature, description, date and status of the relics, detail photographs, published references, etc. (Please see the Annexure for the List of Buddhist Sites in Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry). The mapping of the Buddhist sites not only revealed the distribution of the Buddhist sites in Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry but also the focal centres of Buddhism. Some of the epicentres of Buddhism are:
Kavirippumpattinam (110 12’ 50” N; 790 52’ 50” E) in district Tanjavur, the celebrated capital and port city of the illustrious Cholas of the Cankam age (c. 200 BC to c. 200 AD) is said to have been situated on the confluence of the river Kaviri with the Bay of Bengal. This city was known by several names in ancient period, viz., Pukar (Cilappatikaram canto.1, line. 16 & 22. canto. 6, line 32 canto. 7, line 52, 56, 64, 163, 171 & 179 canto. 8, line 4; Manimekalai canto. 5, line, 109), Pumpukar (Cilappatikiiram, canto. 1, line 10), Kakanti (R. Nagaswamy, 1980, pp. 123-124), Campapati (Manimekalai Patikam, line 8), Kavirippumpattinam (ARE, 1991 nos. 261-273), etc. Ptolemy (c.1st century AD) refers to this place as "Kaberis Emporion" (G.E. Gerini, 1992, p.408) whereas Periplus of the Erthrian sea as "Camara (W.H. Schoff, 1974, pp. 46 and 242)
Tamil literature of the first three centuries AD gives a vivid account of this celebrate port city of the Cholas, its harbour, sailors, merchants, merchandise, etc. A poem from the 1st-2nd century AD states that big ships entered the port without slacking their sails and poured out on the beach precious merchandise from different overseas countries and also other ports of India (Pattinappalai lines 185-192). Flags were fluttering on the mast of the ships heaving in the port of Pukar like huge elephants chafing (Pattinappalai, lines 203-210). It also speaks of the tall light house on the coast summoning the ships to the harbour by the night (Cilappatikaram, canto. 7 line 3), yavanar-irukkai (colony of foreign traders) (Cilappatikaram, canto. 5 line 10), etc. This metropolis was not only famous for its seafaring activities but also well known in times of yore as a glorious centre of Buddhism. Many texts indicate the existence and perhaps the prosperous condition of the Buddhist establishments at Kavirippumpattinam. The literature of Cankam period, the Augustan age which produced a bumper crop of Tamil, poetical work, do not make any direct reference to either Buddhist or Jain religions, although some references have been interpreted, often in a far-fetched manner, as an evidence of their presence. (T.N. Vasudeva Rao, 1979, pp. 68-72) The Pattinappalai, one of the Cankam works, refer to a tavappalli at Pukar. (Pattinappalai line 51-53) If the tavappalli is considered as Buddhist monastery-then it would have been the earliest reference in Tamil literature of Buddhist settlement in Tamil country in general and Kavirippumpattinam in particular. There are literary references to a Buddhist monastery called Intira vikaram in this city. (Cilappatikaram, canto. 10 line 14, canto 27 line 92; Manimekalai canto. 26 line 55) According to the tradition, the construction of these viharas is ascribed to
(Smith Vincent, 1924, p.185) This vikaram as referred to in Cilappatikaram of c.5-6th century AD was not constructed by hand or machinery, but was a mind-born institution. (Cilappatikaram, canto. 27 line 92) It further mentions that Indra caused these sacred seven viharas to be built near the Mahapoti tree, sacred to Buddhist in the city of Pukar. (Cilappatikaram, canto 10. line. 11-14) Associating any place or religious edifices with the divine heroes or great kings in order to boost its importance and antiquity is a common tradition in India. Following this tradition the vikarams at Pukar are also ascribed to divine authorship i.e. to Indra and to the great kings like Ashoka or Makentra. There is no probability at all of Ashoka or Makentra having built a stupa or monastery in this area. This narration is tainted by legendary accounts and cannot be relied upon for the purpose of history. The mentioning of seven vikarams at Kavirippumpattinam is quite interesting. Number seven seems to be a very auspicious number to Buddhist religion. Buddha is said to have made seven steps immediately after birth. The Manuci Buddhas are also seven in number. The Manimekalai, composed with the intension of exaltation of Buddhism, is crucial for the study of the various Buddhist establishments at Kavirippumpattinam. It is, in fact significant that Manimekalai, the heroine of the poet-philosopher Cattanar, started as a Buddhist novitiate in Pukar, and is made to visit all the key centres of Buddhism in Tamilakam, Ilam (Ceylon) and South-East Asia. She adopted the robes of a pikkuni under the tutelage of Aravana atikal, the head of the Cankam of Pukar. (Maniimekalai, canto. 15 lines. 55-59)
The existence of seven Intira vikarams at Pukar is conspicuously mentioned in the epics. The reference to the Intira vihara of Pukar and Mapoti occurs in the Cilappatikaram, when Kovalan narrates a dream to the brahmana named Matalan.
(Cilappatikaram, canto. 10 line 11-14) After leaving Pukar for Maturai, Kovalan and Kannaki are said to have crossed the outer gate of this city and then passed by the seven vikarams known as Intira vikaram. (Cilappatikaram, canto. 27 line 92) From this statement in Cilappatikaram, it is clear that this Buddhist establishment was located in the outskirts of the urban area. The epic further states that Macattuvan after hearing of his son Kovalan's unjust execution by the Pandya king disgusted of worldly life and joined the Buddhist Cankam establishments in the Intira vikaram of Pukar. (Cilappatikaram, canto. 27 line 90-95) This vikaram is also frequently mentioned in the Manimekalai. (Manimekalai, canto. 26 line 55; canto. 28 line 70) The Intira vikaram seems to be very popular at that time and was considered to be prestigious to compare it with other vikarams. While describing the Cera capital Vanci, Manimekalai mentioned a vikaram, which is said to be as beautiful as the Intira vikaram of Kavirippumpattinam. (Manimekalai, canto. 28 lines 69-71) Interestingly, Cattanar speaks of a small pavilion made of crystal in a park called Upavana. A replica of the Buddha's foot print was worshipped there. (Manimekalai, canto.3 lines 59-66; canto.5 lines 95-105; canto. 6 lines 11-12) The same author asserts that Killivalavan, a Cola king converted the prison into a Buddhist monastery at the request of the nun Manimekalai. (Manimekalai, canto 19. line 157-162)
In addition, there existed in the same city, the Cakkaravalakkottam, a Buddhist temple near the burial ground. (Manimekalai, canto. 6 lines 202-204; Cilappatikaram, canto. 9 line 20) The shrine was also perhaps known as Cutukattukkottam ("temple in the cremation ground") on the outskirts of Pukar. It was probably associated with the Kapalikas, a group of ardent Saivas, but later seems to have been converted into a Buddhist one. The existence of meeting ground of the Cutalai nonpikal (Kapalikas) in the Cutukattuk kottam is referred to in the Manimekalai (canto 6 line 86-89). The Cakkaravalakkottam seems to have been a symbolic representation of the universe as per Buddhist notions. Manimekalai's accounts on Cakkaravalam says that it had the depiction in clay; the Meru hill, with its seven allied hills, four island continents, two thousand islets and the celestials residents in them. (Manimekalai, canto. 6 lines 190202) It is
interesting to note that this description strikingly tallies with the plan of the remains unearthed from a site known as Pantuvasnuvara in Ceylon. The excavator of this site gives the following interpretation. "The plan reminds one of the manner in which the universe was conceived by the people of India and Ceylon in ancient times. The square structure corresponds to the mountain Meru, the ridges to the circles of mountains which are said to encompass it, and the depressions to the oceans in between these circles of mountains. Encircling all it was believed, there was Cakkravala, beyond which the light of the sun and moon does not travel. The central features being buried, the universe must have been here represented as seen from a point very much above the summit of Meru.
There is thus reason to conclude that the circular site at Pantuvasnuvara is a representation in miniature of the universe……….the Cakkaravala...” (Gananath.Obeyesekere, 1984) The Cakkaravalakkottam at Kavirippumpattinam seems to be a model of a Vajrayana mantalam. In the same locality, there was a small Buddhist temple called Kuccarakkutikai which is stated to have enshrined Goddess Campapati. (Manimekalai, canto. 18 lines. 144-145, 152) The name Kuccarakutikai perhaps denotes a small temple of Gurjara (Gujarat) style. The temple was also known as Mutiyal Kottam (temple of elderly goddess). (Manimekalai, canto. 19 line 39) Campapati was considered the tutelary deity of the Buddhist at Kavirippumpattinam. (Manimekalai, canto. 25 line 160-215) In one of the pillars of the Campapati temple existed the pillar-deity known as Kantirpavai, a divine agent which has the spiritual power of explaining the past and future.
Barring the legendary portions and the miraculous elements, the details supplied by the twin epics about the Buddhist establishments at Pukar are reliable and are useful for the reconstruction of the history of Buddhism of that site.
Coming to the epigraphical and archaeological evidences, the allegedly earliest epigraphical references to Kavirippumpattinam comes from Barhut, the famous Buddhist centre near Satna in Madhya Pradesh, which flourished during the second and first centuries B.C. The inscription engraved on a railing of the stupa here says that it was the gift of a nun Soma from Kakamti. (kakamtiya somaya bikkhuniya danam). (Alexander Cunningham, 1962, p. 139) Kakamti is often identified by scholars with Kakanti, the other name of Kavirippumpattinam, which is said to have mentioned in the Manimekalai. (Manimekalai, canto 22 line37;
R. Nagaswamy, 1980, pp. 123-124; Aruvar, 1975, p.3) There are few points yet to be settled before accepting this identification unanimously. Firstly there is no archaeological evidence available till date at Kavirippumpattinam to prove the existence of a Buddhist establishment of such an early time. Secondly the name Soma is not generally met with as a proper name in the Tamil land. Thirdly there is a less possibility of contact between the coastal town on the extreme south and the remote Buddhist centre in Central India, in the pre-Christian era. It is interesting to note in this context that the votive inscriptions found at Sanchi, a famous Buddhist centre in Madhya Pradesh mention that locality as Kakanaya, Kakanava, Kakanadapota, etc., (Sir John Marshall, 1982, pp. 297 -396). The word Kakandi referred to in the Barhut inscription may be taken as a corrupt form of Kakanaya or Kakanadapota. Of course, this assumption is based on mainly the nearness of Barhut with Sanchi than Kavirippumpattinam.
Excavations were carried out by the Archaeological Survey of India in many places at Kavirippumpattinam from 1962 onwards. Interestingly the excavations in a locality known as Pallavaneccuvaram at Kavirippumpattinam yielded an excellent evidence about the existence of Buddhist vihara and temple. (IAR 1964-65, pp.24-25; IAR 1972-93, pp. 32-33) The excavations at Kavirippumpattinam revealed that the Buddhist monastic traditions of Tamilakam were to some extent common with those noticed in lower Deccan and Andhra Pradesh. The viharas noticed in Andhra Pradesh usually consisted of elongated wings and each of them contained several cells with a common verandah for each wing. The wings led into a courtyard where the shrine unit was located. It is not clear in the excavation at
Kavirippumpattinam whether there was any typical chaitya temple either with the replica of stupa or a statue of the Buddha inside as was common in most of the monasteries found in Andhra Pradesh in the Hinayana and Mahayana stages respectively.
One full wing of the monastery, consisting of nine oblong rooms, each measuring 3.10m x 2.40m was laid bare at Kavirippumpattinam. On the south of this row, at a distance of 2.25m a number of offsets were found in the wall indicating the presence of a common- verandah to the monastery. There was a provision of drainages of waste water which moved through a drain under the monastery unit towards north. The cells are laid in the south-east to north-west direction. The extent courses stand up to a meter or more and the size of the brick was 42 x 24 x 10cm average. A small bronze figurine of a seated Buddha in dhyana pose and a broken terracotta figurine of a goddess were found in one of the cells. The Buddha is shown on his head with the usnisa, the cranial protuberance symbolizing Buddhahood, in the form of a flame. The Lalitavistara, a Buddhist text states when the Buddha is in Samadhi, an ornamental ray called jnana "knowledge" proceeding from the opening in the usnisa, moves above his head. The shawl covered only the left shoulder leaving the right bare. Stylistically this figure is datable to the 5th century AD or little latter.
There was a Buddhapada found away from the vihara to its south. It was tilted upside down at the time of discovery, showing thereby evidence of disturbance of life and desecration of the site temporarily. The pottery associated with this layer is dateable to around 3rd-4th century AD. The Buddhapada was of Palnad lime stone and it has a small receptacle cut between the long toes of the feet and intended for the relic offerings of bone fragments and gold flowers, which were customarily deposited in it, related to the acharyas or the Buddha as the case may be, which it venerated. The buddhapada of similar nature of course
without receptacle socket noticed at Nagarjunakonda is dateable to 3rd century AD by its inscription. The buddhapada at Kaveripumpattinam is also seemingly of the Theravada school. The buddhapada pair shows the auspicious symbols such as the purnaghata, svastika and srivatsa, etc. The four important events of the Buddha's life ending with chaitya worship representing mahaparinirvana are also depicted on the slab It is datable to 3rd-4th century AD. The available evidence suggests that the monastery belonged to the fourth-fifth century AD. It went into disuse in 5th century AD, perhaps due to the effects of intrusion of the sea.
It is interesting to mention that in the concluding lines of Abhidhammavatara, Buddhadatta the author of the work mentions, “In the lovely Kaveripattana, crowded with hordes of man and women, not belonging to impure castes, endowed richly with all the requisites of a town ……. beautified with many gardens, and in a beautiful and pleasant monastery adorned with a mansion as high as the peak of Kailasa, built by Kanhadasa ………..while I was living in an old house there, by me, who am shining with qualities, such as writing beautifully on good topics ………this was composed and propounded extensively.” (Abhidhammavatara, Slokas 1409-13, Buddhadatta’s Manuals, parts. I and II) After closing the benedictory lines some later writer has added the colophon: This work named Abhidhammavatara was composed by
Buddhadatta Achariya, inhabitant of Urugapuram
The second stage of buddhist activity at Kaveripumpattinam began in the form of a temple or caitya. The caitya or temple excavated on the south of the vihara was itself a best example of early brick architecture in Tamilakam. Notwithstanding mainly the foundation and ground floor pattern of the structure is preserved at present, it reveals about the techniques of the construction in brick, adopted at that time The temple, square on plan, built in panca ratha (five offsets) style stands on a lofty plinth of brick, moulded in jagati, padma, etc. The rectangular or ‘L’ shaped as well as the small square voids in the foundation, together with the large central squarish void, would seem to suggest that the structures stood in more than one storey height and perhaps the shrine was erected by a astylar corbelling principle with staircases leading to the upper floor from all the three sides except the east, towards which it was
obviously facing. The sanctum was perhaps on the top of the central large square void, after spanned the void by corbelling method from four sides and provided with floor of the sanctum on its top. Except the traces of granite members, perhaps used as pillars the entire structure was of brick and stucco. The walls were originally decorated with the moulded bricks and stucco ornamentation. Traces of a few layers of paintings have also been noticed on the stucco pieces recovered in the excavation. There is no clear evidence about the height and number of storeys of the structure. But it could not be less than two or three storeys, as it was not uncommon in brahmanical temples of the age. The temple might have been surmounted by a vimana either on the form of kutakara or curvilinear. The available evidence suggests that the temple seems to be later than the vihara and can be dated to the sixth-seventh century AD. (IAR, 1978, pp. 32-33) The nature of some of the numerals engraved on the stone pillars, the style of the stucco heads of vyalas and dvarapalas etc. found in the site also indicate that they are of 6- 7th century AD..
Melaiyur, located very close to the site, where the Buddhist remains excavated at Kavirippumpattinam had yielded beautiful bronzes including a gilted Maitreya as a treasure trove in 1927. This place was a part and parcel of ancient Kavirippumpattinam. (R.Nagaswamy, 1992) Even today a locality in Kavirippumpattinam is known by the same name. This place is often wrongly located by scholars in the Nakappattinam region. (T.N. Ramachandran, 1954, p.52; C. Sivaramamurti, 1963, p.50) Dressed in royal attire and visualized as a crowned and bejeweled Boticattva, the gilted Maitreya figure has a socket beneath its hallow pedestal that suggest it would have fixed on either to the pedestal or prabha of a bigger image. This image is dated to 8th- 9th century AD. Perhaps the main image, by the side of which the beautiful Maitreya fixed originally is the magnificent gilded Buddha seated in front of a richly ornamented throne back, now in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. The Boston Museum acquired the screen on its own in the year 1967 and it was only some three years later that the Buddha image appeared in the market. When it became evident that the two belonged together, the Museum acquired the Bronze and placed it against its original backdrop. (Marg, vol.
Buddhist Schools at Kavirippumpattinam
It is curious to know what sort of Buddhist school or sects existed at Kavirippumpattinam and also the reason for the disappearance of Buddhism there. Alike other parts of Tamilakam, Pukar witnessed all the main sects of Buddhism i.e., Hinayana, Mahayana and Vajrayana. Archaeological and literary sources clearly portrayed the existence of Hinayana tradition of symbolic worship and of Vajrayana deities such as Avalokitecuvara, Tara, Maitreya, etc. Cakkaravalakkonam is a model of a Vajrayana mantala. A circular brick structure containing the skull, jaw and ribs of an animal of bovine species found outside the vihara also perhaps indicates the sacrifice tradition of the Vajrayana sect. (IAR, 1965-66, pp.24-25) It is appropriate to point out here that even human sacrifices were also reported to in the Vajrayana temple of Hariti elsewhere. (G.V. Saroja, May 1992)
Buddhism seems almost wiped out of Kavirippumpattinam somewhere in the medieval period. Hardly have we got any traces of Buddhism after 8th-9th century. It is but natural; the reason propounded by the scholars for the vanishing of Buddhism in Tamilakam is also applicable to Kavirippumpattinam. In addition to these there seems to be another reason also for the decline of Buddhism in this coastal city. Say around 5th-6th centuries, Pukar's position as a major commercial and political centre was seriously affected perhaps due to the submergence of part or full of the city for sometime. There is a controversy regarding the date of submergence of Kavirippumpattinam. The tentative date arrived in this paper is based on the sedimentation of sand layers found in the excavations at various places in Kavirippumpattinam from 1962-63 to 1973-74. (IAR. 1962-63, pp.13-14; IAR. 196364, pp. 20-21; IAR.1964-65, pp. 24-25; IAR. 1965-66, pp. 24-25; IAR.1970-71, p. 33; IAR. 1972-73, pp. 32-33; and IAR. 1973-74, p. 25)
The decline of commercial activity at Kavirippumpattinam perhaps forced the trading communities to abandon or lessen their activities in this city. This in turn perhaps brought to a crisis for Buddhism as it was mainly patronized by the mercantile community. Even the material evidence available, also proved that in the Tamil country Buddhist influence was confined mainly to the coastal town and urban centers where the trade activities were more. After Pukar, Nakappattinam being a prominent maritime centre under the Imperial Cholas took the responsibility of fostering the Buddhism and trade.
Nakappattinam (100 47’ 18.13” N; 790 50’ 32.04” E) was referred as Nikama by
Navutapattana in the Kalyani inscriptions of Dhammaceti (1476 AD). (Indian Antiquary- A Journal of Oriental Research, Vol. XXII, pp.11-53). It was a centre of trade and also of many religions including Buddhism. The close association of this place with Buddhism is revealed through the diggings in the localities called Velippalayam, Nanayakkara street and Maruntukkottala street in between 1856 to 1934 which have yielded as many as 350 Buddhist bronze images ranging from 9th century to 16th-17th century. Buddha images are mainly comprise of Buddha both in seated and standing postures, Avalokitesvara, Maitreya, Padmapani, Simhanada, Sadaksari Lokesvara, Tara, Jambhala, Vasudhara, Votive Stupas, etc. The mass production of bronzes in Nakapattinam indicates that this place was an
important centre Buddhism in India and large number of Buddhist bronzes was exported from here to various other Buddhist centres in the country. As a result of maritime contacts between South India and South-east Asian countries, there existed in Nagapattinam a colony of Buddhist and also Buddhist temples (Pallis) and Viharas. During the reign of the Pallava king Narasimhavarman II (c.700-728 AD) a Buddhist temple was constructed at Nakappattinam under the order of a Chinese king for the sake of perhaps the Chinese Buddhist who came to Nakappattinam from China for trade. It was during the reign of this Pallava king that the great Buddhist acharya called Vajrabodhi (661-730 AD) proceeded to China to spread Vajrayana there, It is mentioned that he reached China in 720 AD after visiting Ceylon and Srivijaya and presented a copy of the Buddhist text Mahaprajna to the Chinese king. The Vajrayana that Vajrabodhi took to China is also called as Tantrayana and Mantrayana. (T.N.
Ramachandran, 1954, p.14; C.Minakshi, 1977, p.251)
The Sailendras, the rulers of Srivijaya kingdom which comprised of Sumatra, Java and Malaysia peninsula were zealous Buddhists. They founded Buddhist establishments not only in their kingdom, but also in many other nations particularly India. An inscription at Nalanda in Bihar, India records that a Sailendra king
XXII 1984, pp.281-284) Similarly the Larger Leyden copper plates of Rajaraja Cola (985-1014 AD) records that a Budddhist palli (temple) in the Culamanivarma Vihara was erected by the Kitara king (kitaratt-araiyan,) Culamanivarma at Nakapattinam, perhaps for his subjects who settled at Nakapattinam for trade purpose. The record states that Rajaraja granted the revenues of the village of Anaimankalam to the Buddha residing in the surpassingly beautiful Culamanivarma vihara, of high loftiness which belittled the Kanakagiri. It had been built in the name of his father by the glorious Maravijayottunkavarman who was born in the Sailendra family, who was the Lord of the Sri-Vishaya, who was conducting the rule of Kataha ... (and) who was the son of Culamanivarman, at Nakapattinam
(Epigraphia Indica, Vol.XXII 1984, pp.213-266) The Smaller Leyden copper plates of Kulottunga Chola I (1070-1122) dated to 1090 AD records the exemption of certain taxes to the palliccandam villages of two Buddhist pallis at Nakappattinam at the request of the ambassadors of the king of Kataram. One is called as Rajendracholap Perumpalli and the other is Sailendra Chutamanivarma vihara alias Rajarajapperumpalli both built by the king of Katara (kitarattu araiyan). (Epigraphia Indica, Vol.XXII 1984, pp.267-281) As stated earlier that the Sailendra Chotamanivarma vihara was constructed by the Srivijaya king Maravijayottunkavarman during the time of Rajaraja Chola I (985-1014) after obtaining permission from the later. (Epigraphia Indica, Vol.XXII 1984, pp.213-266) Rajendracolap Perumpalli was probably constructed during the time of Rajendra
Interestingly in the collection of Rockefeller III, there is a Buddha bronze image shown standing on lotus pedestal. The pedestal is engraved with inscription in Tamil character datable to 11th cent. The inscription reads, “Rajendra cholap perumpalli akkasalaip perumpalli alvar koyilukku tiruvurcchavam elundarula alvar. Ev alvarai eluntarulivittar cirutavur nalan kunakara udaiyar Svastisri patinen visaiyattukkum akkasalaikal nayakar. “ It records that this bronze image used as a procession deity in the Rajendracholap Perumpalli Akkasalaip Perumpalli was made by Nalankunakara Utaiyar of Cirutavur. The Akkasalaip Perumpalli is seems to be either the alternative name of Rajendracholap Perumpalli or a sub-shrine within Rajendracholap Perumpalli. Akkasalai means goldsmith and the Patinen visaiyam is a merchant guild of medieval period in South India. Perhaps the Akkasalaip Perumpalli was patronized by the merchant community. (Y. Subbarayalu, 1993 pp. 43-47)
Da tang xi yu qiou fa gao seng zhuan written by venerable Yi-Jing between 1 and 2 year of TianShou of T’ang dynasty (690-691 AD) mentions about thirty- nine Buddhist monks came to India through the south sea during the T’ang dynasty period and visited Nagappattinam perhaps to see the Buddhist centres there.(Huimin Bhikkhu et.al. August 2007) The Guruparamparai of 12th century records that the Vaishnava Alvar Tirumangai of 8th-9th century robbed the gold image of Buddha from Nakappattinam and used the gold out of it for the construction of Ranganatha temple at Srirangam.
The description of a place called Tuta meaning an "earthern tower" in the flat land of Patan (Nakapattinam) in the Daoyi Zhiluels refers to the existence of a brick tower which had a Chinese inscription. The inscription quoted in the Daoyi Zhilue gives the date of construction of the tower as the eighth moon of the third year of Xianchun (AD. 1267). It is stated in the Daoyi Zhilue, an important 14th century Chinese work on the countries in the southern sea stretching from South East Asia to West Asia that t
he Chinese people came to Tuta and engraved the inscription in that year. Marco Polo of Venice visited Nakappattinam in the 13th century on his way to China and describes an eastern stupa in the flat land of Pa-tan (Nakappattinam) as follows, “It is surrounded with stones. There is stupa of earth and brick many feet high. It bears the following Chinese inscription: The work was finished in the 8th moon of the third year hien chw’en (1267). It is related that these characters have been engraved by some Chinese in imitation of inscriptions on stone of those countries; up to the present time they have not been destroyed.” (T.N. Ramachandran, 1954, p.14) The existence of Buddhist edifice constructed by the king of China at Nakapattinam is also attested to by the Kalyani
inscription. The Kalyani inscriptions are situated at Zaingganaingm the western suberb of the Pegu. They comprise ten stone slabs with inscriptions on both sides. The language of the first three stones is Pali and that of the rest is Talaing, being a translation of the Pali text. Dhammaceti or Ramadhipati, the king of Pegu put up these inscriptions in 1476. (Indian Antiquary, Vol. XXII, pp.29-51) According to the inscription a group of theras visiting Ceylon, being shipwrecked, travelled on foot to Nakapattinam and there they visited the site of the Patarikarama monastery. They worshipped an image of the Buddha in a cave constructed at the behest of the Maharaja of Cinadesa. (Indian Antiquary, Vol. XXII, 1984, p.45) It is well known that a broken brick tower had been standing in Nakapattinam till 1867 when it was pulled down by the Jesuits. (Indian Antiquary XXII, 1984, pp.224-227) It was variously known as the Putuvelikopuram, Old Pagoda, Black Pagoda and Jaina Pagoda. . (Indian Antiquary, Vol. XXII, p.224)
Antiquary, Vol. XXII, p.224)
The sketch of the monument prepared in 1846 at the instance of Walter Elliot provides clue on the architectonic affiliation of the edifice. M.Textorde- Ravisi, Governor of Karikal describes the building as follows, “the remains of this tower appeared to have a height of about 30m. It forms an irregular square of 11m.33 by 10m.66. The walls have a thickness of 4.50m. Each storey overhangs on the interior by 0m.33, in a manner to form a summit. The primary opening was as
it is in more ancient Buddhist constructions at 5m below the soil. The materials are of enormous bricks perfectly made and superior to those with which one builds now a days in the country. The cement is clayey earth only; at the interior and in superstructure to the width of 0m.75 the bricks are bound by cement extremely hard. (Indian Antiquary, Vol. XXII, p.226) It had the appearance of an elongated stepped pyramidal structure. Each storey is demarcated by a prominent moulding serving as a cornice. All the four faces of the storeys were relieved with pilasters and had an opening for a door or window in the middle of each side. This structure is closely similar to the multistoried brick pagoda of China in character.
Kancipuram (120 50’ 03.92” N; 790 43’ 59.02” E)
It seems Buddhism had a firm footing in the Pallava realm at many places. The Mattavilasaprahasana of the Pallava king Mahendravarman I (c.580-630 AD) refers to the existence of many Buddhist vihara at Kancipuram, the capital of the Pallavas. (N.P.Unni, 1974) Yuan Chwang, the Chinese traveller who visited India in between 629-645, mentioned in his chronicle that Kancipuram had more than 100 Buddhist monasteries with above 10,000 brethren, all of the Sthavira school. The deva temples were 80 and the majority belonged to the Digambaras. He further mentions that this country had been frequently visited by Buddha and king Ashoka
had erected topes at the various spots where the Buddha had preached and admitted people in to his order. The capital was the birth place of Dharmapala Pusa. (Thomas Watters, 1988, Vol. II, pp.226-228) Notwithstanding there are cases of bitter attack and slender by the people of other rival sects, Buddhism had a smooth sailing in Tamil Nadu during the Pallava period. In fact Buddha was happily considered by the Hindus as their god and included as an incarnation of Vishnu. The Pallava inscription in the Adivaraha cave at Mamallapuram mentions Buddha while enumerating the ten incarnations of Vishnu. (K.R.Srinivasan, 1964, p.173) The sculpture of standing Buddavatara Vishnu was carved in one of the niches on the walls of the
Vaikuntaperumal temple at Kancipuram constructed during the time of Nandivarman II Pallavamalla (731-796 AD). Large number of Buddha images ranging from 7th century to 14th century is found in and around Kancipuram indicate that it remained as an important centre of Buddhism. An impressive figure among them is the large standing Buddha of about 7th century hailed from the premises of the Kamakshi temple. (T.A.Gopinath Rao, 1915 (Reprint 1985), pp.127-129)
The other Buddhist site in Tamil Nadu mentioned by Yuan Chwang is Moloku-ta or Malakuta which is 3000 li south of Kancipuram. During his visit he saw many remains of old monasteries. Of which very few monasteries were in preservation and there was only a small number of brethren. There were hundreds of deva temples and the professed adherents of the various sects, especially Digambaras were very numerous. Not far from the east side of the capital were the remains of the old monastery built by Ashoka’s brother Mahendra (?) with the foundations and dome, the latter alone visible, of a ruined tope on the east side of the remains. The tope has been built by Ashoka to perpetuate the memory of Buddha. (Thomas
Watters, 1988, Vol. II, pp.228-232)
The occurrence of many Buddha images of 10th -13th century AD in and around Pondicherry indicates that this area was flourished as an important centre of Buddhism at least in the period between the 10th to 13th century AD. The noteworthy feature is that almost all the places where the Buddha statues reported have yielded Chinese and South-East Asian potteries datable to 10th-14th century AD. Arikametu, the famous trading station on the east coast of India, yielded
many Chinese potteries in addition to the pottery and other materials brought from Italy and other Western countries. The Chinese celadon wares found at Arikametu have the characteristic of the Sung and Yuan Lung Chuan wares and may be ascribed to circa 10th-12th centuries AD. The co-existence of the Chinese/South-East Asian materials and the Buddha images of identical period at Manappattu, Kirmampakkam, Arikametu (Ariyan kuppam), Pondicherry, etc. may suggest a close relation between them. It may not be erroneous to presume that the Buddhist vestiges found in this locality are either made for or influenced by the merchants who came to these trading stations for trade purposes from China/South-East Asian countries and settled there either permanently or for a while.
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