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1,000-year-old Buddhist temple found in Bangladesh with links to venerated ancient scholar

1,000-year-old Buddhist temple found in Bangladesh with links to venerated ancient scholar


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The remains of an estimated 1,000-year-old temple and city have been found in Munshiganj District’s Bikrampur, one of the oldest archaeological sites in Bangladesh.

According to The Daily Star , an ancient Buddhist temple featuring unique architectural elements has been discovered 23 feet (seven meters) beneath the ground. Buddhist history sites the grounds as where Atish Dipankar (980-1053) is thought to have spent his early life. Dipankar is known as a venerated Buddhist scholar and philosopher born over a thousand years ago.

Portrait of Atish Dipankar ( Atisha) From a Kadampa monastery,Tibet. Circa 1100.

The Daily Star reports that archaeology professor Sufi Mustafizur Rahman of Jahangirnagar University, and research director of the project spoke at a press conference about the temple and excavation project.

In 2015 Rahman said, “This is one of the oldest archaeological sites in our country. We have collected a number of samples from here. After conducting carbon dating on them, we will be able to gather more information about the time when these structures were built.” And recently Xinhua has reported that the carbon-14 tests on 26 relics from the site have proven that it is more than 1,100 years old.

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A team of archaeologists from China and Bangladesh have continued excavations which began in 2013. The joint project, involving the Agrashar Vikrampur Foundation in collaboration with Hunan Provincial Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology of China, has unearthed the ancient city and the buried temple. In addition, several stupas (mounded spiritual sites, usually containing Buddhist relics) and a 10 foot (three meters) wide wall have been found – the first of their kinds found in the country’s history of archaeological excavations.

The Great Stupa at Sanchi, India. (Fourth - first century BCE). Joel Suganth/Wikimedia Commons

Professor Rahman said digs have also revealed two roads made of brick laid in an ‘attractive architectural design’ and many other archaeological relics, writes Bangladesh news website, BDNews24. Pottery items and ash pits have also been unearthed, denoting a busy urban area.

As of 2018, hundreds of local and foreign tourists are seen at the site daily. Meanwhile, excavations are still underway by the joint team of Bangladeshi and Chinese archaeologists. Despite the archaeological significance of the site, there has been some delay in excavations over the years. The biggest problems? Funding and access to newer technology. Shahnaj Husne Jahan, of the Center for Archaeological Studies at the University of Liberal Arts Bangladesh, believes the site could become a world heritage location – if conservation work is completed to a high enough level. She also has stated that the site could “be the heart of Buddhist heritage tourism in this part of the world.”

Bikrampur itself is an historic locale of Bengal, a South Asian region known for its rich literary and cultural heritage. It is considered the oldest capital of Bengal since the Vedic Period.

During Emperor Dharmapala’s regime around 820 A.D, approximately 30 monasteries were built in the area. The region is said to have been the ancient center of Buddhist scholarship, with thousands of professors and students journeying to Bikrampur from as far away as Thailand, Nepal, China and Tibet.

The city and temple at the known Buddhist site with its strong links to ancient Buddhist scholar Atish Dipankar, makes archaeologists from both Bangladesh and China hopeful that further investigations will shed light on Atish Dipankar’s life and the history of Buddhism in the region. Rahman notes the evidence points to a ‘rich civilization’ in ancient Bikrampur.

Featured Image: The Bikrampur temple, estimated to be 1,000 years old. Bangladesh. Credit: Agrashar Vikrampur Foundation

By Liz Leafloor


History of the Maldives

The history of the Maldives is intertwined with the history of the broader Indian subcontinent and the surrounding regions, comprising the areas of South Asia and Indian Ocean and the modern nation consisting of 26 natural atolls, comprising 1194 islands. Historically, the Maldives had a strategic importance because of its location on the major marine routes of the Indian Ocean. The Maldives' nearest neighbours are Sri Lanka and India, both of which have had cultural and economic ties with Maldives for centuries. The Maldives provided the main source of cowrie shells, then used as a currency throughout Asia and parts of the East African coast. Most probably Maldives were influenced by Kalingas of ancient India who were earliest sea traders to Sri Lanka and Maldives from India and were responsible for the spread of Buddhism. Hence ancient Hindu culture has an indelible impact on Maldives' local culture.

After the 16th century, when colonial powers took over much of the trade in the Indian Ocean, first the Portuguese, then the Dutch, and the French occasionally meddled in local politics. However, this interference ended when the Maldives became a British Protectorate in the 19th century and the Maldivian monarchs were granted a good measure of self-governance.

The Maldives gained total independence from the British on 26 July 1965. [1] However, the British continued to maintain an air base on the island of Gan in the southernmost atoll until 1976. The British departure in 1976 at the height of the Cold War almost immediately triggered foreign speculation about the future of the air base. Apparently the Soviet Union made a move to request the use of the base, but the Maldives refused.

The greatest challenge facing the republic in the early 1990s was the need for rapid economic development and modernisation, given the country's limited resource base in fishing, agriculture and tourism. Concern was also evident over a projected long-term sea level rise, which would prove disastrous to the low-lying coral islands.


Going back to Atish Dipankar Era, 1,000-year-old Buddhist temple found in Munshiganj

A joint team of archaeologists from Bangladesh and China has unearthed an ancient Buddhist temple with unique architectural features at Nateshwar of Tongibari upazila in Munshiganj.

Agrashar Vikrampur Foundation in collaboration with Hunan Provincial Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology of China excavated this over 1,000-year-old Buddhist temple in Nateshwar in Munshiganj. The dig has so far revealed structures, terracotta motifs, and a road of the temple. Photo: Pinaki Roy

They believe this discovery will offer interesting glimpses into the early life of Atish Dipankar, one of the most venerated Buddhist saint and scholar in Asia, who was born in this area over a thousand years ago.

“This is one of the oldest archaeological sites in our country. We have collected a number of samples from here. After conducting carbon dating on them, we will be able to gather more information about the time when these structures were built,” said Professor Sufi Mustafizur Rahman, research director of the project in the Nateswar area, at a press conference at the site yesterday.

The 50-day excavation, which was started in 2013 by Agrasar Vikrampur Foundation, has also dug up an octagonal stupa and a pair of stupas with a four-metre wide wall which are the first of their kinds in the history of the country’s archaeological excavations, speakers said.

Discoveries of two roads and a 2.75-metre wide wall to the site’s southeast side speak of a rich urban area of a bygone era. Besides, other important relics including ash pits and pottery items have also been recovered from the site, they added.

Although Atish Dipankar rose to fame early in his life and traveled to Tibet in his later years where he gradually had become the second most revered Buddhist saint in the world, very little is known about his life and education in this area.

Archaeologists from both the countries expressed hope that these finds would reveal many hitherto unrevealed sides of the saint’s life as well as shedding light on the advent and decline of Buddhism in this region.

“This area could turn out to be a pilgrimage centre of Buddhism,” said Nuh Alam Lenin, director of the excavation project.

“Touching the soils and walls here, my hands have felt Atish Dipankar’s birthplace that had remained in his memories till his last days in Tibet. Here I can feel the religious reformation in Buddhism that had taken place from the tenth to the 12th century,” said Professor Chai Hunabo, head of the archaeologist team from China.

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50 Spectacular Temples of Asia: The Ultimate Travel Guide

Glorious shrines, intricate carvings, and some faith in our mind take us to these temples … that stall tall and bright. Be it a glimpse of the glorious past, a touch of historical elegance or a peek of ancient architecture, these temples have a history-gilded tale to tell. Today, 50 travel bloggers talk about their experience across various temples of Asia.

Scroll to read the ultimate travel guide to the most spectacular temples of Asia…

India

1. Khajuraho Temple, Central India:

Khajuraho is a city in central India in the Madhya Pradesh region, which is a popular stopover for long distance train journeys from one side of the country to the other. It’s also very famous for its UNESCO listed temples, which are the largest group of Hindu and Jain temples in the world.

Today only around 20 remain from the original 85 built during the Chandella Dynasty between AD900-1130. The temples are scattered over an area of 9 square miles, featuring a range of really intricate carvings depicting the traditional lifestyle of women in the medieval ages, including some very in-your-face erotic carvings. Back then it was believed that erotic sculptures were auspicious and would bring luck and well-being. Today these carvings are one of the must see attractions in the city of Khajuraho.

2. Swaminarayan Akshardham Complex, Delhi

Akshardham is one of the most fascinating Hindu temple complexes I’ve ever visited. Its architecture with the intricate details can capture your attention for hours. Its gardens and cultural programs can give you a deeper insight into Hinduism, Indian culture and important national figures. I highly recommend visiting the complex around 4 pm. This way you will be able to explore the temple, its gardens and also attend the cultural programs like the light show and exhibitions. The light show takes place in a big arena built in a traditional step well style. The whole atmosphere – the lights, the fountains, sounds and graphic presentation makes you feel a part of the play.

Another cultural program, like boat ride, transports you back to ancient India and shows the history and advanced inventions of the past. Please note, that any technical equipment and food is not allowed in the Akshardham complex. You will have to deposit cameras, phones and food in the security room at the entrance.

3. Brihadeeswar Temple, Thanjavur

The Brihadeeswar Temple at Thanjavur is the symbol of power and might of the ruler of the Chola dynasty. Also known as the Big Temple, it was built by Raja Raja Chola I of the Chola dynasty in 1010 AD. The architecture of the temple is grand and in consonance with the might and vision of the great King. A UNESCO World Heritage site, the complex has many temples built by other ruling dynasties. But the jewel in the crown remains the main central temple dedicated to Lord Shiva, King Chola’s favourite deity.

The temple is a marvelous work of granite. There is a Nandi statue in front of the temple that is also the second largest Nandi statue in India. Frescoes are found to be adorning the walls. There are a number of myths related with this grand architectural structure. Truly, the temple showcases the grand past of the rulers as well the proficient craftsmanship of the makers.

4. The Golden Temple, Amritsar

The Sri Harmandir Sahib or “The Golden Temple” as it is more commonly known as, is a stunning piece of architecture located in Amritsar, Punjab, India. It is the most important pilgrimage site of Sikhism and the literal translation of the temple name means “The abode of God”. It was covered in 162kg of 24 karat gold around 200 years after its original construction and is breathtaking to see in person. The kitchen on site serves up to 100,000 free meals a day and the two dining rooms have a combined capacity of 5000 at a time.

The temple is lit up beautifully at night, and it is well worth visiting at different times during the day to take in its full beauty under different lighting conditions. With its incredible history, tours are recommended to fully grasp how stunning this place truly is.

5. Sahastrabahu Temple, Gwalior

Gwalior city is known for its royal landmarks and temples. It’s yet another historical city I visited this year as a weekend getaway from Delhi. Gwalior is part of Madhya Pradesh (MP) State, in central India. It is one of the royal destinations to visit. Though MP is famous for temples of Khajuraho, this time I discovered similar architecture in Gwalior as well. The temples of Gwalior were so grand that they mesmerized me.

A much-recommended temple to visit is Sahastrabahu Temple also now called Saas Bahu Temple by locals. Sahastrabahu means “One with thousands of arms” this depicts a form of “Lord Vishnu” of Hindu religion. Though here too there’s no idol inside the temple, the beautiful architecture stands strong. There’s also another temple near it and that is dedicated to another Hindu God Lord Shiva. These temples are locally referred to as ‘Saas Bahu’ temples because the word Sahastra Bahu rhymes with it. Do check out the temple while you visit Gwalior.

6. Karni Mata Rat Temple

This extraordinary temple in the village of Deshnok near Bikaner, India is home to about 25,000 rats. Devotees travel long distances to worship the furry creatures, revered as reincarnated followers of Karni Mata, an avatar of the goddess Durga. The rodents, affectionately called kabbas or little children, are fed grains, milk, and prasad, a sweet holy food. Drinking the rats’ water or milk or eating food they’ve nibbled on is thought to confer supreme blessings.

Visiting the temple is not for the faint-hearted: Shoes are not allowed, and it’s considered good luck for a rat to run over your feet. Spotting a rare albino rat is particularly auspicious, since they are believed to be the manifestations of Karni Mata herself and her four sons.

7. Sri Varasidhi Vinayaka Swamy Temple – Kanipakam

Sri Varasidhi Vinayaka Swamy Temple in Kanipakam is a divine destination one must visit. Kanipakam lies in the Chittoor District of Andhra Pradesh – a Southern State in India. About 70 kms from Tirupati and 180 kms from Bangalore, this Hindu Temple is historically significant. The main deity here is Lord Ganesha also referred to as Vinayaka and the idol is considered to be Swayambhu (Self Manifested). It is also believed that the idol is growing in size on its own which is another reason to visit this place. Legend has it that when three brothers who were handicapped in different ways were digging a well for water, they hit upon the idol and blood started oozing out turning the water in the well red in colour, this sighting cured them of their deformities and they became normal again and thus began the divine connection. The architecture of the temple is amazing and the environment inside bliss.

The Temple Pond adds to the aura and the lighting of Diya or Lamp soothes the soul. Camera’ and mobile phones are not allowed inside and so capture the essence of the place with your eyes. There are Cloak rooms available to store your gadgets. The entrance to the temple is free but if you want to beat the queue, special entrance tickets are available for Rs 10, Rs 50 and Rs 100 depending on one’s preference and time constraints. Parking and wash rooms are available too.

8.Shri Mata Vaishnodevi, Katra, Jammu and Kashmir

Shri Mata Vaishnodevi is the famous temple in Katra, a popular small town located in Reasi district, of J&K, situated at the hills of Trikuta mountains, where devotees visit to pray for better lives. This temple is dedicated to Goddess Vaishno. This temple is one of the most attractive place where many pilgrims come from different parts of the Indian state and across the world throughout the year. The temple remains open 24*7.

To visit Vaishno Devi temple, the pilgrims have to register at Katra before starting the trek at the registration counter near Katra bus stand. They will then be allotted a registration number and group number. To reach the Bhawan, pilgrims have to trek 14 km plus an extra 1.5 km from Vaishno Devi temple to Baba Baironath. It is believed that the pilgrimage is not complete until you visit this temple. You can reach it by trekking, horse riding or using their helicopter service. Trekking offers amazing scenery of Trikuta Mountains. Expect to see a beautiful shrine in the form of 3 pindis, experience positive vibes, subsidized food counters, Cafe Coffee Day and other popular restaurants. Electronic devices are not allowed inside the main temple.

9. Meenakshi Temple, Madurai, India

India sure has tons of temples to delight the eyes and among them stands tall the majestic Meenakshi Temple in Madurai. The temple is dedicated to the goddess Meenakshi, a form of Parvati, Shiva’s wife. This ancient temple appears in texts dating back to the 6 th century BCE, although it has been rebuilt and expanded starting within the 14 th century. It is an important pilgrimage site and it’s also famous for its impressive size. It covers an area of over 15 acres, filled with numerous shrines and 12 important towers.

The temple can be visited daily and it is opened from early in the morning until 10 pm, but remains closed between 12:30 pm and 4:00 pm. Unfortunately, you are not allowed to take your camera inside but you are allowed to take your phone after paying a small fee. But this shouldn’t keep you from exploring it and watching the daily ceremonies which are impressive even for a non-Hindu.

10. Sai Baba Mandir in Shirdi, Maharashtra

Sai Baba of Shirdi is a revered Indian spiritual master. Interestingly, he is revered by his Hindu and Muslim devotees during and after his demise. His teachings focused on moral code of love, forgiveness, helping others, charity, contentment, inner peace and devotion to the Almighty. He spent the most crucial years of his ascetic life in Shirdi where he died in 1918. Thus, Shirdi in Maharashtra has assumed importance among devotees across all religions.

Shirdi is 250 km from Mumbai. Kopergaon railway station is well connected to major cities of India and is 16 kilometers away from Shirdi. I visited Shirdi last year with my family and was going through a hard time in life. The trip to Shirdi was a rejuvenating one and very calming indeed.

11. Shore Temple, Mahabalipuram

Mahabalipuram was the major seaport of the Pallava kingdom who ruled over South India from as early as the first century B.C. 60 kms from Chennai along the shores of The Bay of Bengal, now this small town boasts of World Heritage sites, surfer’s paradise and has a hippie air about it – a perfect place to learn about history, relish fresh sea food and experience the uninterrupted rising of the tide at night.

One of the major attractions and an architectural marvel in Mahabalipuram is the Shore Temple build using blocks of granite stones. The temple complex consists of three major shrines – the main one is dedicated to Lord Shiva. It is a typical archetype of Dravidian temple structures decorated extensively with art carvings and sculptures.

Thailand

12. The Blue Temple, Chiang Rai

The White temple and Black House are the most famous temples in Chiang Rai, attracting thousands of tourists each year. But now, there’s a new and striking temple on the scene – the Blue Temple (Wat Rong Suea Ten). Completed in 2016, the Blue Temple has not been widely promoted and remains a smaller and quieter affair.

This unique temple, is painted in an eye-catching blue with overlays of gold embellishments. The centerpiece inside the great hall, is a huge statue of a White Buddha in sitting position surrounded by contemporary Buddhist art in a psychedelic style. The name ‘Rong Suea Ten’ in Thai, translates as ‘house of the dancing tiger’ because historically, the area surrounding the temple, was full of wildlife, in particular tigers who leapt into the nearby Mae Kok river. The temple is located just a few kilometers from Chiang Rai city, in the district of Rimkok.

13. White Temple, Chiang Rai

The Famous White Temple or Wat Rong Khun in is a Buddhist temple found in Chiang Rai, Thailand. It is one of the temples that I highly recommend visiting when in Thailand. It’s uniquely designed and constructed lush with those silver and white ensembles. There is an art exhibit inside the temple which is open for people to see, yet, prohibited from taking photos or videos. The one thing that boosts my interests is the design this temple differ among many others in the country, it uniquely resembles stories of each building. Like for instance the hundreds of outreaching hands visibly situated at the bridge which symbolizes unrestrained desire, in which they call this bridge as “the cycle of rebirth”.

As a woman, the design and structure of this temple certainly amazed us plus its useful symbols on why this was unconventionally created. Don’t forget to check the “Golden Building” which is formed as the restroom building, where its gold effects mean worldly desires and money, it is absolutely the fanciest restroom that I had in my life. Don’t forget that this is a temple which is a respected place in the country, wear clothes suitable for their temple.

14. Wat Phra That – Doi Suthep, Chiang Mai

The Northern Thailand city of Chiang Mai has over 300 Buddhist Temples. The official name for these temples are Wats and they are often very elaborate and adorned with many traditional and brightly coloured reliefs depicting Buddha. Situated high on the Doi Suthep mountain overlooking Chiang Mai can be found the most famous of these temples Wat Phra That which dates from the 14th century. A deeply religious site that is visited by thousands of Thai people who make the pilgrimage up the 306 stairs to pray at the site, it’s also a must visit attraction for tourists. There are many local Chiang Mai tourist companies who can arrange a personal visit to Wat Phra That, or it can be easily reached by any of the local transport options.

We recently visited and were spellbound by its beauty. The centrepiece of the temple is the brightly coloured gold chedi, colourful statues and the smell of incense wafting through the air. We enjoyed a wonderful afternoon exploring the site with its sweeping view of Chiang Mai, and highly recommend it for anyone visiting this exciting city.

15. Wat Chedi Luang, Chiang Mai

Wat Chedi Luang is a Buddhist temple, and one of the most beautiful buildings in Chiang Mai. Located in the historic centre, it’s easy to get to and a definite addition for the Chiang Mai bucket list. King Saen Muang Ma commissioned the construction of the temple in the 14th Century, after his father died and he needed a suitable resting place for the ashes. Saen Muang Ma himself died ten years later, long before the temple ended up being completed halfway through the 15th Century.

The finished temple was slightly different to what you can see today. Back then there were three temples (Wat Chedi Luang, Wat Ho Tham and Wat Sukmin) and the building housed an emerald Buddha (Phra Kaew) as well. Unfortunately, the building was damaged during an earthquake in the late 15th Century and the Buddha was moved to Wat Phra Kaew in Bangkok. Today, a jade replica sits in its place. Since the 90s, UNESCO and the Japanese government have been working together to restore the building. It’s still very much a work in progress, but that doesn’t stop Wat Chedi Luang from being one of Chiang Mai’s most beautiful buildings.

16. Wat Pho, Bangkok

Wat Pho Temple is the oldest and largest complex in Bangkok. The said temple is located in Phra Nakhon District, just the opposite from where the Grand Palace is. Also known as Wat Phra Chetuphon, this Buddhist temple is believed to be the birthplace of famous Thai massage and also home to a 15-meter tall and 46-meter long Reclining Buddha with its feet inlaid with mother-of-pearl.

The entrance to the complex is about 100 Baht. You’re required to take off your shoes upon entering though you may put it in the bag provided at the entrance. For a good luck, I recommend to buy a bowl of coins that you can drop in the 108 bronze bowls lined parallel to the wall.

Malaysia

17. Batu Caves, Kuala Lumpur:

Batu Caves is the most sacred site for Hindus in Malaysia, with the 272 steps to the famous cave temple at the top of the hill. Located at the fringe of Kuala Lumpur City, Batu Caves offers a unique experience to the Hindu religion up close and is the home to the largest Lord Murugan statue in the world and covered with 300 litres of gold paint.

During the annual Thaipusam festival in February, Batu Caves turns into a jam-packed place filled with Hindu pilgrims from all across the country to perform their religious rituals and rite. You’ll find some mind-blowing rituals such as body piercing the skin, tongue or cheeks, as part of their offerings to the gods. Last but not least, visitors also would be able to have a little fun with wild monkeys all around Batu Caves when they make their way up to the cave temple.

18. Kek Lok Si Temple, Penang

This temple in George Town, Malaysia is one of our favourite temples in the region. It sits on top of the hill dominating the area and looks impressive when you approach it. Kek Lok Si is the biggest Buddhist temple in Malaysia. It was constructed in 1890 and is also known as the Temple of Supreme Bliss. The complex is huge and consists of multiple pagodas and shrines.

You can literally spend the whole day exploring it. The highlights of Kek Lok Si: the Pagoda of Rama VI, the Ten Thousand Buddhas pagoda, 36 meter-high bronze statue of Kuan Yin (the Goddess of Mercy), the Turtle Pond, the Three-Tier pagoda and the beautiful gardens of the top level. On the bottom level, there is a market where you can buy all sort of curiosities and souvenirs.

19. Dragon Boat Temple, Kelantan

Nestled in a quiet corner of the Tumpat district of Kelantan, is an exceptional temple carved on a boat. Yes, you heard that right. The temple stands tall with its intricate shrines and fierce dragon head supported by nagas on either side. Commonly referred to as Wat Mai Suwankiri, the complex lies at a driving distance of 30-40 minutes from the city of Kota Bharu.

Some of the most noteworthy features of the temple include red dragon-wrapped pillars, the preserved body of Phor Tan Di for worshippers to seek blessings, a tall statue of Standing Buddha and a large number of bells along the length of the temple. Brave the heat and visit this gorgeous structure by noon.

Singapore

20. Buddha Tooth Relic Temple, China Town

Situated at the heart of Chinatown, the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple is arguably the most magnificent temple of Singapore. It was set up with the objective of preserving the teachings of Buddha and providing a deeper understanding of Buddhism. Admission is free of charge. The 5-storey temple contains an impressive collection of Buddhist artefacts, relics and stupas which reflects the rich history of the religion. The Sacred Light Hall in the fourth storey contains the temple’s centrepiece, after which the temple is named.

Here, a giant stupa weighing 3500 Kilograms and made of 320 kilograms of gold, holds the Buddha tooth relic. The temple also provides plenty of opportunities for self-meditation as well as many courses that introduce the teachings of Buddhism. If you happen to drop by at the right time, you may even be able to witness a prayer in progress. Whether you are an architecture buff, a religious soul or just a traveller seeking some peace in the city, this temple is your place.

Indonesia

21. Gunung Kawi, Bali

With 83% of Bali’s population following the Hindu religion, the island has quite a large number of stunning Balinese Hindu Temples to explore. Did you know that each village has three?! You’ll also find temples in many traditional homes. Some of the larger Balinese temples are on many travellers’ itineraries but after you’ve visited a few of them they can all start to look pretty similar. That’s why we recommend visiting Gunung Kawi Temple.

Gunung Kawi is unlike any other temple we saw in Bali. Dating back to the 11th century, the highlight of Gunung Kawi is the huge shrines carved into giant rocks. Surrounded by overgrown jungle and rainwater falling over the top it feels like you’ve entered a world from India Jones. The site of Gunung Kawi is massive so even at peak times of the day there’s plenty of space to wander and explore to find your own piece of serenity. The temple entrance also features a beautiful steep rice terrace which you’re free to walk around.

22. Tanah Lot, Bali

Due to its strategic location and the wonderful views around it, Tanah Lot is one of the most beautiful and most visited temples in Bali, Indonesia. The temple, whose deity is Dewa Baruna, the protector of the seas and oceans, is an attraction not to be missed when visiting the island. The whole complex around it is very large and full of green grass and colorful flowers, but the temple itself is accessible only during the low tide, being placed on a rock surrounded by ocean waves.

Besides the dreamy panorama, the temple also has a very interesting legend to tell, about a black and white snake hiding in the black rocks and always ready to defend the temple from evil, whenever it is needed. Ideally, visit the temple in the middle of the day to catch the amazing sunset.

23. Pura Taman Ayun, Bali

As I am a huge fan of Unesco sites, I really looked forward to visit Pura Taman Ayun in Bali as it’s the only temple in Bali that is on the Unesco list. Pura Taman Ayun means ‘beautiful garden’. This 17th century temple was the main temple of the Mengwi Kingdom that ruled until the end of the 19th century. The complex has an amazing main gate and a few meru towers. The highest Meru Tower has 11 floors.

The place is a so-called penyawangan, where holy places are offered. There are altars for the mountains Agung, Batukau and Batur. Broad canals surround the complex and the pools are full of Lotus blossoms. Tourist may not enter the courtyard but are only allowed to walk around the complex.

24. Borobudur, Yogyakarta

Visiting Borobudur was definitely one of my favourite things to do in Yogyakarta. I really recommend visiting the temple at sunrise, as the atmosphere is simply magical, even on a rainy and misty day. Borobudur is the largest Buddhist temple in the world, and its sheer size will blow you away! It’s a giant pyramid with 9 different levels, including 2672 carved panels and 504 Buddha statues. And I am talking about one single temple here. Borobudur was so much larger than I expected – even with a wide-angle lens, it was impossible to capture it all in one single shot.

Make sure you allow yourself some time to walk around the temple and enjoy not just the views, but also the spectacular carvings and statues. If you have time, don’t miss the nearby Prambanan temples, which are also spectacular.

25. Prambanan, Yogyakarta

Prambanan on the island of Java is the largest Hindu temple in Indonesia. It’s located a short half-hour drive away from Yogyakarta, one of Indonesia’s main cultural hubs. Prambanan is actually a temple compound, consisting of 240 temples of varying sizes. Part of the temples have been destroyed by the 2006 earthquake. Since it’s protected by the UNESCO World Heritage Convention only parts of it can be restructured, so most of the smaller outer temples are still in ruins today.

It is one of the most visited temples and tourist attractions, so I recommend visiting early in the morning if you can. You can visit Prambanan either with an organised tour or by yourself by renting a scooter or car, just bear in mind local guides will try to offer you their services once you get there.

Japan

26. Zojoji, Tokyo

Zojoji is a Buddhist temple that is located just under the Tokyo Tower in Tokyo, Japan. This beautiful temple was relocated to its present spot in 1598. Once it had become the family temple of the Tokugawa family, additional buildings were built to increase the capacity and functionality of the temple. This included the traditional Japanese gates at the entrance, the daibonsho (big bell) and a cathedral.

Interestingly enough, Zojoji was the administrative center to govern the religious studies and activities of the Jodo shu. There were as many as 3,000 priests and novices residing within the temple. During World War II the temple was burnt down during air raids, although these have been rebuilt today.

27. Kiyomizudera, Kyoto

The historic city of Kyoto in Japan is said to contain more than 1600 temples so it can be hard to narrow it down and decide where to start but most would agree that the Buddhist temple of Kiyomizudera should be at the top of that list. Founded in 798 its history is impressive enough to see it listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Kyoto is famed for its seasonal celebrations and the temple is one of the top spots to view the cherry blossoms or jewel toned autumn leaves.

The ‘mizu’ part of Kiyomizudera means water and at the foot of the hill is a fountain with three streams of water, drinking from one of these is said to give you love, longevity or knowledge, but what will you choose? There’s also a Shinto Shrine and some great festivals throughout the year where the guardian dragon makes an appearance. The walk up to Kiyomizudera is lined with traditional style merchant houses offering interesting souvenirs and some excellent tasty treats along the way and don’t forget to look back from the entrance, the view of southern Kyoto from there is spectacular.

28. Toyokawa Inari, near Nagoya

One of the most fascinating and visually interesting temples I visited during a recent trip to central Japan was the Toyokawa Inari, about 60 km south-east of the city of Nagoya in the Aichi Prefecture. It is curious in that it is a Buddhist temple that venerates a Shinto deity, the fox god, or Inari. Over the centuries, as first one religion and then the other was persecuted, this combination aided in the temples survival.

Today Toyokawa Inari is visited by Japanese people who work in the creative arts, most notably on New Year’s Eve, when they pray for good fortune in the coming year to the Benzaiten, one of Japan’s seven deities and the only one of Indian origin (the rest being Chinese). The hundreds of stone foxes that guard the shrine are an impressive site as are the thousands of red and white banners – petitions for health, wealth and safety – that flutter in the breeze lining the path to the shrine.

29. Kinkakuji Temple, Kyoto

Kyoto, Japan is full of temples but no trip to Kyoto is complete without a visit to the iconic Kinkakuji Temple (or The Golden Pavilion). Kinkakuji is one of the most famous tourist attractions in Kyoto and chances are you have seen this temple in photos or postcards from Japan. Its official name is Rokuon-ji and it is also one of the Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto which are UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Located in northern Kyoto, this Zen temple is also called the Golden Pavilion because its top two floors are covered in gold leaf. Although it has a long history, Kinkakuji has been burned down a few times and the present structure was rebuild in 1955. Although you cannot enter inside the temple, make sure to enjoy its surrounding beautiful gardens and take a photo of its golden reflection shining across the pond.

China

30. Luohan Temple, Chongqing

Chongqing’s Luohan Temple is a calm oasis in the middle of one of China’s biggest, noisiest, and most polluted cities. First built around 1000 years ago and remodeled in 1752, it was then rebuilt in 1945. The most famous sight at the temple is the hall containing the 500 grotesque clay arhat statues. Getting lost in the maze-like paths beneath their strange gaze is one of most disorientating experiences I’ve had at any temple, anywhere.

Temple etiquette and personal values prevented me from photographing the statues, which means you have a choice. You could either look on Google to see what they’re like, or you could go visit Luohan Temple and get face to face with them yourself. Should you find yourself in Chongqing, I highly recommend the latter.

31. Mogao Caves, Western China

Dating back to the 4th century, the Mogao Caves complex in western China is one of the most interesting Buddhist locations in the world. Located along the Silk Road, the 492 caves near the city of Dunhuang, China served as temples, monasteries, and storehouses for important Buddhist art. The Mogao Caves are now a national park and receive protection by UNESCO.

While much of the art has been removed, there are still 2,400 clay sculptures. You can see how these pieces of art were constructed by stopping by the visitor center. The number of visitors is limited to 6,000 per day, so tickets must be reserved in advance if visiting in high season (spring to fall).

Hong Kong

32. 10,000 Buddhas Monastery, Hong Kong

You will actually find 13,000 buddhas at the 10,000 Buddhas Monastery in the mountains of the New Territories in Hong Kong. To get to the temple, you must climb over 400 steps. The path is steep and of course, lined with Buddhas. Be sure to go inside the temple where the columns and walls have lots of individual little Buddhas.

The main altar contains three large Buddha statues and the embalmed remains of the Reverend Yuet Kai, the founder of the Monastery. The nine-story pagoda in the center of the plaza outside the temple is actually the one that is pictured on the back of the 100 HKD note. Above the temple, you will find the Monastery and an impressive waterfall. You will also want to admire the nice views of Hong Kong from the top.

33. Man Mo Temple, Hong Kong

The Man Mo Temple was built in 1847 and is located at 124-126 Hollywood Road. It is a traditional Chinese temple in the midst of towering skyscrapers where worshippers come to pay their respects and request wishes fulfilled by the God of Literature and the God of Martial Arts. The God of Literature (Man Cheong) is a Taoist deity he was known for being a filial scholar as well as a heroic warrior. Because of this, students often call on him for help in passing exams. The God of Martial Arts (Kwan Tai) is worshipped by both Taoists and Buddhists alike. He was best known for his loyalty and valor in times of war.

Man Mo Temple is one of the most popular temples in Hong Kong and provides amazing insight into traditional Cantonese culture.

34. Sik Sik Yuen Wong Tai Sin Temple, Hong Kong

Home of the three religions, Taoism, Buddhism and Confucianism, Sik Sik Yuen Wong Tai Sin Temple is named after the combination of Taoist organization who currently administer and run the temple (Sik Sik Yuen) and the person it is dedicated to (Wong Tai Sin).

The temple is not only popular for its pluralism for being the home of three different religions, but also for its fortune-telling as many said that the accuracy of fortune-telling in this temple is very high and accurate. And some even claim that the temple is where all the wishes come true. Not only that we can pray and make a wish in front of the altar, but we also can find the fortune teller who will interpret what they see for the worshipper. Around the temple, you can also find other fortune tellers who can do the palm and face reading.

Cambodia

35. Angkor Wat, Siem Reap

Located amongst the jungles along the outskirts of Siem Reap, the Angkor Wat temple is an architectural marvel. This temple which has been featured in a few Hollywood adventure movies, is one of the most popular destinations in the entire Southeast Asia region. Built within the confined walls of the huge ancient city of Angkor, this temple has withstood some of the most turbulent times in Cambodian history.

Each and every stone of Angkor Wat depicts tales from a bygone era of religious conflicts to the more recent Khmer Rouge regime. The beauty of this monument is best explored during dusk and dawn where you can witness some of the most stunning sunrise and sunsets at the backdrop of the magnanimous temple structure. A trip to this place is worth memories of a lifetime.

36. Valley of 1000 Lingas, Kbal Spean, Siem Reap District

On my trip to Cambodia last month, I discovered this temple of Magnificence. Around 25kms drive from Siem Reap, lies the most miraculous place I’ve seen. The area consists of many thousands of sandstone stone carvings on the river bed mainly in the formation of lingas (symbol of Lord Shiva). The river bed also has beautiful carvings of Lord Bramha, Lord Vishnu and Goddess Lakshmi. So we can see the entire Trinity on the riverbed. Your heart and mind feel so peaceful. From the parking, there is a 500 feet hike to experience a lot more lingas and motifs. I’m a total bhakt of Lord Shiva, so I felt this was an absolutely perfect place for me to visit. I’ve never seen so many Shivalings together.

You also get to see pure volcanic water. Touch it and be sure to pour a drop on your forehead, to feel all the stress and tension being released. There is also a very beautiful temple, where you can go and pour water on the Shivaling, and pray to Lord Vishnu & Lord Buddha. To reach here you need to climb a few steps, and the view from the top is simply mind blowing. End your day, by going to the magical, waterfalls and don’t forget to take a swim there. You’re surely going to feel at bliss.

Tips: Wear walking shoes, with an anti slip grip, reach early as it’s a day long experience. Carry adequate mosquito repellent. Visiting this place in dry summer seasons, is highly recommended. During rains, you cannot see the Shiva kings, and it’s risky to trek. Carry enough water, as the trek is little tiring.

Sri Lanka

37. Anuradhapura Temple, Anuradhapura

Anuradhapura definitely is one of the nicest temples and archaeological sites to visit in Sri Lanka. Located right near the city of Anuradhapura, from where there’s easy access, this is a series of Buddhist temples which are still used by the locals. On prayer days, they can be seen dressed in white (the color of prayer in Sri Lanka), placing their offerings and paying their respects at the various temples.

Given how vast it is, the best way to visit Anuradhapura is by bike. Bikes can be rented at various shops not far from the entrance of the site, and rental for the entire day shouldn’t cost more than 750 Rupees. Given the heat, it is better to set nice and early as at around 2:00 pm it becomes virtually unbearable. Make sure to wear comfortable clothes, preferably long pants and a T-shirt covering the shoulders as these are required in order to enter temples. Also carry plenty of cold water, though small shops that sell water and other drinks and food can be found around the site.

38. Dambulla Caves, Sri Lanka

The Dambulla caves complex sits on a beautiful hillside in Sri Lanka’s Golden Triangle. The temple was originally built in 80 BC but was a multi-century work in progress. The site consists of natural caves that have been painstakingly enlarged to accommodate large Buddha statues which were added in the 12th century. The caves were enhanced once again in the 18th century with the addition of detailed ceiling paintings. Then, during the British empire period in the 1930’s, a temple veranda was added which overlooks the beautiful valley below.

But what makes Dambulla truly remarkable is that the temple monastery is still in use today. It’s hard enough to imagine that this place isn’t a ruin after 1,936 years, but the fact that it still has a practical religious purpose attests to its ongoing relevance to Sri Lankan culture.

39. Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic, Kandy

If you are planning a trip to Sri Lanka, you will likely visit Kandy, the former royal capital of Sri Lanka and an essential cultural centre. The most important site in Kandy is the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic and is a must-see. A UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the most sacred Buddhist sites in the world, the temple holds a tooth of Buddha, enshrined in seven golden caskets. The tooth is venerated by Buddhists around the world and is an essential pilgrimage for Sri Lankans.

Image credit: Thierry Mignon

The temple is a large compound with various buildings and is also an insight in Sri Lankan life. Indeed, the crowds wander around and the place is alive with prayers and music. You are welcome to participate with flower offerings and respectful photography is allowed.

Nepal

40. Boudhanath Stupa, Kathmandu

Situated outside of Kathmandu, Boudhanath is probably the largest Buddhist stupas in Nepal. The mystical atmosphere in Boudhanath is heightened especially in the late afternoon or early evening when scores of devotees converged at the dome of the stupa performing the kora (ritual circumnavigation) and chanting mantras. You will see Tibetan monks in maroon robes, devotees spin prayer wheels and sounds of Tibetan chants played from shops selling Tibetan religious paraphernalia.

Boudhanath is my favourite place in Kathmandu so much so that I visited the site twice in two days! When you’re at the stupa, remember to walk around it clockwise.

41. Kopan Monastery, Kathmandu

Overshadowed by the famous Boudhanath Temple in Nepal, the Kopan Monastery is not to forget and not to be ignored when you visit Kathmandu, Nepal. It is on a high view point, 15-minute drive north of the Boudhanath. It is around 6 km away from the Thamel district, which is recommended to take a taxi to, as walking uphill in unknown and uneven streets of Kathmandu aren’t too enjoyable. This Monastery is completely calm and peaceful, perfect to go early in the day and grab a grass spot to read a book under the sun. There is no entrance fee, it’s an actual temple that you can go to pray and learn about Buddhism.

Kopan Monastery is the most popular place for foreigners to go to study about Tibetan Buddhism. It is known for people to stay for a while to study. Otherwise you can join daily morning prayers that are meditation sessions, an important part of Buddhism.

Bangladesh

42. Buddha Dhatu Jadi Temple, Bangladesh

Buddha Dhatu Jadi Temple also known as the Bandarban Golden Temple, is the biggest Buddhist Temple in Bangladesh. Buddha Dahtu Jadi Temple is located in Bandarban District in one of the most remote and least populated district in all of 64 districts in Bangladesh and with only about 0.3% of the population in Bangladesh being Buddhists, this is a rare sight in a country where 90% of the population is Islamic.

The Temple is located on the top of the highest hill in the area, 4km outside of Bandarban town. The easiest way to reach the temple is to take a local Tuk Tuk here for less than 1 USD. From the temple, you will get a panoramic view of the major parts of the State.
Myanmar.

Myanmar

43. The Popa Taungkalat Monastery, Myanmar

The monastery sits alluringly atop of a steep sided, extinct volcano, about 60 kilometers from Bagan and takes a little over an hour to get to. I visited as part of a day trip that also included a visit to a local market and a place that makes rather tasty coconut candy.

As I arrived, I looked up at Popa Taungkalat in awe, wondering how they managed to build such a spectacular feat and how knackered I’ll feel after I have climbed the 777-steps to the top. But climb I did and it was well worth it. I felt detached from the real world, perched so high with the breathtaking panoramic views of the plains below. And if you get bored of that, there are plenty of monkeys to entertain you as they surprise unsuspecting tourists . . . you have been warned.

44. Shwedagon Pagoda, Yangon

Most probably one of the most impressive golden pagodas in Asia! On my travels around the world I have seen many temples and a lot of them claim to be golden but this famous temples complex in Yangon, Myanmar is so shiny it hurts my eyes. The golden color of the Shwedagon Pagoda is so impressive that everyone who walks into the complex stops and stares.

The temple complex sits on a little hill and can be spot from around the city. Cool tip is to have a beer in the evening in any of the nearby rooftop bars and cheers with the golden Pagoda in the background.

45. Sule Pagoda, Yangon

Sule Pagoda is a 2,500-year-old Buddhist temple located on Yangon, Myanmar. According to legend, the king of spirits wanted to help a Burmese king build a shrine for a Buddha relic on the same site as where three previous Buddha relics had been buried, but he didn’t know where they were. With the help of another powerful spirit, they were able to locate these three other relics, making it so Sule Pagoda is home to four Buddha relics instead of the customary one or two.

Another interesting fact about the Pagoda is that it was constructed using a basic form utilized in Indian architecture, but the embellishments and final design are of a Mon-style Burmese influence. The main pagoda is octagonal with each side 24 feet long and the pinnacle reaches 144 ft 9 1/2 in.

Laos

46. Wat Si Saket, Vientiane

With only one day to spend in Vientiane, we knew we had to pick the perfect Wat to add to our itinerary for a single day in Laos’ capital city… and we couldn’t have chosen better than the Buddhist temple of Wat Si Saket. Located in the heart of Vientiane, Wat Si Saket dates back to the early 19th century and ranks as the oldest Wat in Vientiane.

Not only is the Wat very peaceful both inside the buildings and throughout the grounds, its decor is very memorable: we will never forget the hundreds of very small Buddha statues set into enclaves of the walls.

47. Wat Xieng Thong, Luang Prabang

Listed as a World Heritage Site, the ancient city of Luang Prabang is one of my favorite cities among Asia. Its temples, small lanes and monks in saffron-yellow robes make the city livelier. Among the temples I explored, Wat Xieng Thong is the most interesting one. Built in 1560, it is marked as the oldest temple of the city and also reputed as the most important temples of Laotian history and a great example to show the Laotian architecture of Buddhist Temples.

The beautiful two-tiered roofs – sweeping low to the ground, the highly decorated glass mosaics set of “tree of life” on its western exterior walls and the mythical statues including the famous Nagas make Wat Xieng Thong more stunning.

Taiwan


48. Wenwu Temple at Sun Moon Lake, Taiwan

Built rather recently in 1932 and then rebuilt after an earthquake in 1999, this exceptionally beautiful, well-kept temple is filled with stone carvings and fountains. I was most impressed by two immense red stone lions that guard the gates – they are the perfect place to take a souvenir photograph. The temple with its gorgeous Sun Moon Lake offers beautiful views that can enjoyed from many vantage points.

It is here that I learned that temples have three doors. No one enters through the middle door because that is for the deities. As you face the temple, you must enter through the right door, which is on the side of the dragon’s mouth, and exit through the left door, which is on the side of the tiger’s tail.

South Korea

49. Bulguksa Temple , Gyeongju

Gyeongju, South Korea was once one of the largest cities in the world, serving as the capital of the Silla Dynasty for hundreds of years. During this period, Bulguksa Temple was an important Buddhist temple, a designation that continues to this day, even as Gyeongju’s overall importance faded. The current temple was built in 751, with several rounds of reconstruction having taken place during the following centuries. Today, Bulguksa Temple is a grand complex of various sized buildings, with lovely gardens to explore as well.

The colorful architectural details of Bulguksa Temple merit close attention, while the expansive grounds mean that it’s easy to find a quiet corner experience tranquility. There are little gems to find everywhere, including dragon door handles, drums, roof decorations, statues, and more. Gyeongju isn’t on the itinerary of many visitors to South Korea, but it should be. The city’s historic center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with Bulguksa Temple being just one of the many magical places that give travelers a better sense of Korean history.

50. Haedong Yonggungsa Temple, Busan

Built in 1376, Haedong Yonggungsa Temple in Busan is a beautiful Buddhist temple situated right on the coast with breathtaking views of the East Sea. The best time to visit this coastal temple is during the summertime when the weather is hot and the sun is shining. However, the temple is open year round so you could explore when the temperatures are chilly.

Walking and exploring the majestic grounds is worth the trip out to the far-east area of Busan. Marvel at the large golden Buddha statues while the waves crash against the rocky shores. Make sure you throw a coin over the bridge. If it lands into the ceramic bowl, it is said to bring you much luck and prosperity.


Going back to Atish Dipankar Era

A joint team of archaeologists from Bangladesh and China has unearthed an ancient Buddhist temple with unique architectural features at Nateshwar of Tongibari upazila in Munshiganj.

They believe this discovery will offer interesting glimpses into the early life of Atish Dipankar, one of the most venerated Buddhist saint and scholar in Asia, who was born in this area over a thousand years ago.

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"This is one of the oldest archaeological sites in our country. We have collected a number of samples from here. After conducting carbon dating on them, we will be able to gather more information about the time when these structures were built," said Professor Sufi Mustafizur Rahman, research director of the project in the Nateswar area, at a press conference at the site yesterday.

The 50-day excavation, which was started in 2013 by Agrasar Vikrampur Foundation, has also dug up an octagonal stupa and a pair of stupas with a four-metre wide wall which are the first of their kinds in the history of the country's archaeological excavations, speakers said.

Discoveries of two roads and a 2.75-metre wide wall to the site's southeast side speak of a rich urban area of a bygone era. Besides, other important relics including ash pits and pottery items have also been recovered from the site, they added.

Although Atish Dipankar rose to fame early in his life and traveled to Tibet in his later years where he gradually had become the second most revered Buddhist saint in the world, very little is known about his life and education in this area.

Archaeologists from both the countries expressed hope that these finds would reveal many hitherto unrevealed sides of the saint's life as well as shedding light on the advent and decline of Buddhism in this region.

"This area could turn out to be a pilgrimage centre of Buddhism," said Nuh Alam Lenin, director of the excavation project.

"Touching the soils and walls here, my hands have felt Atish Dipankar's birthplace that had remained in his memories till his last days in Tibet. Here I can feel the religious reformation in Buddhism that had taken place from the tenth to the 12th century," said Professor Chai Hunabo, head of the archaeologist team from China.


1,000-year-old Buddhist temple found in Bangladesh with links to venerated ancient scholar - History

1,000-year-old Buddhist temple found in Munshiganj
A joint team of archaeologists from Bangladesh and China has unearthed an ancient Buddhist temple with unique architectural features at Nateshwar of Tongibari upazila in Munshiganj.

They believe this discovery will offer interesting glimpses into the early life of Atish Dipankar, one of the most venerated Buddhist saint and scholar in Asia, who was born in this area over a thousand years ago.

Agrashar Vikrampur Foundation in collaboration with Hunan Provincial Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology of China excavated this over 1,000-year-old Buddhist temple in Nateshwar in Munshiganj. The dig has so far revealed structures, terracotta motifs, and a road of the temple.

“This is one of the oldest archaeological sites in our country. We have collected a number of samples from here. After conducting carbon dating on them, we will be able to gather more information about the time when these structures were built,” said Professor Sufi Mustafizur Rahman, research director of the project in the Nateswar area, at a press conference at the site yesterday.

The 50-day excavation, which was started in 2013 by Agrasar Vikrampur Foundation, has also dug up an octagonal stupa and a pair of stupas with a four-metre wide wall which are the first of their kinds in the history of the country’s archaeological excavations, speakers said.

Discoveries of two roads and a 2.75-metre wide wall to the site’s southeast side speak of a rich urban area of a bygone era. Besides, other important relics including ash pits and pottery items have also been recovered from the site, they added.

Although Atish Dipankar rose to fame early in his life and traveled to Tibet in his later years where he gradually had become the second most revered Buddhist saint in the world, very little is known about his life and education in this area.

Archaeologists from both the countries expressed hope that these finds would reveal many hitherto unrevealed sides of the saint’s life as well as shedding light on the advent and decline of Buddhism in this region.

“This area could turn out to be a pilgrimage centre of Buddhism,” said Nuh Alam Lenin, director of the excavation project.

“Touching the soils and walls here, my hands have felt Atish Dipankar’s birthplace that had remained in his memories till his last days in Tibet. Here I can feel the religious reformation in Buddhism that had taken place from the tenth to the 12th century,” said Professor Chai Hunabo, head of the archaeologist team from China.


A hush falls over the room when Ammaji Akka starts reading out from the yellowing pages of a textbook called Simt-us-Sibyan (Pearls of Wisdom for the Young). Her voice may quaver, but her fingers glide surely on the modified Arabic alphabet that expresses ideas in Tamil.

The Salem-based septuagenarian is among a dwindling number of people who know Arabu-Tamil (or Lisan al-Arwi), the link-language that texts like Simt-us-Sibyan are written in. A language that evolved to facilitate communication between Arab settlers and the Tamil Muslims in southern India and Sri Lanka, Arwi was in active use from the 8th century up to 19th century.

A former Ustad Bi, or female teacher of Islamic scriptures, Ammaji Akka used to visit Tamil Muslim families at home to tutor adolescent girls and women in how to recite the Holy Quran in Arabic.

Simt-us-Sibyan (written by Maulana Mohamed Yusuf al-Hanafi al-Qadiri) was a learning tool in religious studies and for many Tamil Muslim children up to the 1970s, used to be a part of Quran recitation classes.

Ammaji Akka, a former Ustad Bi or teacher of Islamic scriptures, reads an Arabu-Tamil booklet at her home in Salem. Photo: Special Arrangement/The Hindu

“I have four Arabu-Tamil books — Noor Nama (an account of Prophet Muhammad’s life), Simt-us-Sibyan, Ya Sayed Maalai (songs in praise of the Prophet) and Penn Buththi Maalai (advice for Muslim women). Though nobody wants to learn Arabu-Tamil anymore, I still read these books out loud after the evening (Maghrib) prayer, because I believe they will bring good fortune to the neighbourhood,” says Ammaji Akka.

Linguistic influence

The impact of Arabs on the Indian subcontinent is most evident in its languages and Arabu-Tamil is just one of the several hybrid tongues that were once prevalent here.

“The vocabulary and certain grammatical features of indigenous languages like Hindi, Punjabi, Bengali and Sindhi have been affected by Arabic,” says KMA Ahamed Zubair, assistant professor, Department of Arabic, New College, Chennai, who has written four books on Arabu-Tamil. “Some of the languages along the western and southern coasts of India even adapted the Arabic script, as evident in Sindhi, Arabu-Tamil, Gujarati, Arabu-Malayalam, Arabu-Telugu and Arabu-Bengali.

“According to catalogues maintained in the Madras Archives Library, there are 3000 Arabu-Tamil books dating from 1890-1915, on a variety of subjects,” says Zubair. While the Arabu-Tamil texts still in use seem to be primarily religious in nature, the language had covered general topics like sports, astronomy, horticulture, medicine, and children’s literature, among others, when it was in common usage. On most social occasions, such as weddings, invitations would be issued in Arabu-Tamil.

“The Bible was translated in Arwi. There are four Arwi dictionaries published in the 1930s. Magazines in the language were printed in Ceylon and Rangoon since the 1870s,” says Zubair.

Dr KMA Ahmed Zubair of New College, Chennai, with books on Arabu-Tamil. Photo: R. Ravindran/The Hindu

Literacy drive

Arabu-Tamil spurred a major literacy drive in the Tamil Muslim community in pre-independence India, with women especially using the language to play vital roles in education, medicine and even politics.

“In those days, Tamil Muslims were invariably taught Arabic, not Tamil,” says J Raja Mohamed, former curator of Pudukottai Government Museum, who has chronicled the use of the language in his book Maritime History of the Coromandel Muslims (A Socio-Historical Study on the Tamil Muslims 1750-1900). “In conservative families, women were educated in Arabu-Tamil rather than Western languages. Many people still have archive files of personal correspondence and bookkeeping ledgers in Arabu-Tamil. Most of the Islamic folkloric traditions such as prayer songs and hymns in praise of the Prophet were recorded in this language.”

Tamil Muslim merchants were the descendants of Arab maritime traders who had settled down in the coastal areas of southern India. The power of this mercantile community declined in the early 20th century due to stiff competition from the British and the reluctance of the Tamil Muslims to adopt new shipping technology and modern education.

After independence, Arabu-Tamil started losing out to the predominance of English in nearly every sphere of life, and has become an heirloom language that only a few can remember. Seminaries in Kayalpattinam and Kilakkarai are among the places where rare Arwi manuscripts can be found. With qualified calligraphers of Arwi no longer available, most printers have stopped publishing Arabu-Tamil books.

  • The Arwi alphabet consists of 40 letters, out of which 28 are from Arabic, and 12 are devised by adding diacritical marks that allow Arabic letters to express sounds particular to Tamil.
  • Common loan words from Arabic that are still in use in Tamil:
  • Abattu (danger, from the Arabic root Aafat)
  • Baaki (remaining, from Arabic root Baaqi)
  • Jilla (district/zone, from Arabic root Zill’a, one side of a triangle)
  • Wasool (levying/collection, from the Arabic root Wusool, arrival)

Need for revival

It is ironic that while Arabic is taught at graduate level in several colleges across the State, Arabu-Tamil doesn’t get much attention, except in a few madrassas (religious schools).

“Arwi works should be introduced as Open Educational Resources (OER) content to reach Tamil Muslims and the diaspora living in Malaysia, Singapore, Myanmar and Bangladesh,” says Zubair, who has devised Unicode substitutes for four Arwi characters in a research paper.

There are others who are hoping to revive interest in the language among young people. E Mohamed Ali, a former telecom employee based in Tiruchi, learned Arwi in his childhood through the devotional songs taught by his mother.

He is currently transliterating into Tamil, the Arwi song anthologies Tohfat-ul-Atfal and Minhat-ul-Atfal written by noted Sri Lankan Islamic scholar Syed Mohamed Alimsa for a local magazine, and is also planning to release an audio CD of the same with young singers.

“Arabu-Tamil enriched not just Arabic, but also Tamil, in many ways. Notable poets and writers of the coastal districts have written extensively in this language. Bringing it back would be a rewarding experience for the coming generations,” says Ali.


Education has always been given great prominence in Indian society since the times of the Vedic civilization, with Gurukul and ashrams being the centers of learning. And with evolving times, a large number of centers of learning were established across ancient India of which Takshashila and Nalanda are the most famous ones known today. Here is the list of major ancient universities of India that flourished across ancient India.

1. Nalanda

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Nalanda is one of the well-known ancient universities of India. Nalanda is located in the Indian state of Bihar, about 55 miles south-east of Patna, and was a Buddhist center of learning from 427 to 1197 CE. It has also been called “one of the first great universities in recorded history. It a large Buddhist monastery in the ancient kingdom of Magadha (modern-day Bihar) in India. At its peak, the university attracted scholars and students from as far away as China, Greece, and Persia. Archaeological evidence also notes contact with the Shailendra dynasty of Indonesia, one of whose kings built a monastery in the complex. However, it was later sacked by Turkic Muslim invaders under Bakhtiyar Khalji in 1193, a milestone in the decline of Buddhism in India.

Nalanda University was established by Shakraditya of Gupta dynasty in modern Bihar during the early 5th century and flourished for 600 years till the 12th century. The library of this university was the largest library of the ancient world and had thousands of volumes of manuscripts on various subjects like grammar, logic, literature, astrology, astronomy, and medicine. The library complex was called Dharmaganja and had three large buildings: the Ratnasagara, the Ratnadadhi, and the Ratnaranjaka. Ratnadadhi was nine stories tall and stored the most sacred manuscripts including the Prajnaparamita Sutra and the Samajguhya.

In 2010, the parliament of India passed a bill approving the plans to restore the ancient Nalanda University as a modern Nalanda International University dedicated for post-graduate research. Many East Asian countries including China, Singapore, and Japan have come forward to fund the construction of this revived Nalanda University. According to the Kevatta Sutta, in the Buddha’s time, Nalanda was already an influential and prosperous town, thickly populated, though it was not until later that it became the center of learning for which it afterward became famous. Mahavira is several times mentioned as staying at Nalanda, which was evidently a center of activity of the Jains.

Nalanda was very likely ransacked and destroyed by an army of the Mamluk Dynasty of the Muslim Delhi Sultanate under Bakhtiyar Khilji in c. 1200 CE.[20] While some sources note that the Mahavihara continued to function in a makeshift fashion for a while longer, it was eventually abandoned and forgotten until the 19th century when the site was surveyed and preliminary excavations were conducted by the Archaeological Survey of India. Systematic excavations commenced in 1915 which unearthed eleven monasteries and six brick temples neatly arranged on grounds 12 hectares (30 acres) in the area. A trove of sculptures, coins, seals, and inscriptions have also been discovered in the ruins many of which are on display in the Nalanda Archaeological Museum situated nearby. Nalanda is now a notable tourist destination and a part of the Buddhist tourism circuit.

2. Takshashila

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Ranked as the top tourist destination in Pakistan by The Guardian newspaper in 2006. Taxila or Takshashila was an ancient capital city of the Buddhist kingdom of Gandhara and a center of learning, what is now North-Western Pakistan. It is one of the most known Ancient universities of India. Taxila was an early center of learning dating back to at least the 5th century BCE. It is considered a place of religious and historical sanctity by Hindus and Buddhists and was the seat of Vedic learning where the emperor Chandragupta Maurya was taken there by Chanakya to learn in the institution. The institution is very significant in Buddhist tradition since it is believed that the Mahayana sect of Buddhism took shape there.

Taxila is known from references in Indian and Greco-Roman literary sources and from the accounts of two Chinese Buddhist pilgrims, Faxian and Xuanzang. According to the Indian epic Ramayana, by Bharata, younger brother of Rama, an incarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu. The city was named for Bharata’s son Taksha, its first ruler. Buddhist literature, especially the Jatakas, mentions it as the capital of the kingdom of Gandhara and as a great center of learning. Greek historians accompanying the Macedonian conqueror described Taxila as “wealthy, prosperous, and well governed.” Taxila was situated at the pivotal junction of South Asia and Central Asia. Its origin as a city goes back to c. 1000 BCE. Some ruins at Taxila date to the time of the Achaemenid Empire in the 6th century BCE followed successively by Mauryan, Indo-Greek, Indo-Scythian, and Kushan periods. Owing to its strategic location, Taxila has changed hands many times over the centuries, with many empires vying for its control. When the great ancient trade routes connecting these regions ceased to be important, the city sank into insignificance and was finally destroyed by the nomadic Hunas in the 5th century. The archaeologist Alexander Cunningham rediscovered the ruins of Taxila in the mid-19th century.

Some scholars date Takshashila’s existence back to the 6th century BCE or 7th century BCE.It became a noted center of learning at least several centuries before Christ and continued to attract students from around the old world until the destruction of the city in the 5th century CE. Takshashila is perhaps best known because of its association with Chanakya. The famous treatise Arthashastra (Sanskrit for The knowledge of Economics) by Chanakya, is said to have been composed in Takshashila itself. Chanakya (or) Kautilya the Maurya Emperor Chandragupta and the Ayurvedic healer Charaka studied at Taxila.

Generally, a student entered Takshashila at the age of sixteen. The Vedas and the Eighteen Arts, which included skills such as archery, hunting, and elephant lore, were taught, in addition to its law school, medical school, and school of military science.

3. Vikramashila

Vikramashila was one of the two most important centers of Buddhist learning in India during the Pala Empire. Vikramashila was established by King Dharmapala (783 to 820) in response to a supposed decline in the quality of scholarship at Nalanda and flourished for 400 years till 12th century until it was destroyed by the forces of Muhammad bin Bakhtiyar Khilji around 1200. Atisha, the renowned Pandita, is sometimes listed as a notable abbot. Vikramashila (village Antichak, district Bhagalpur, Bihar) is located at about 50 km east of Bhagalpur and about 13 km north-east of Kahalgaon, a railway station on Bhagalpur-Sahebganj section of Eastern Railway. It is approachable through 11 km long motorable road diverting from NH-80 at Anadipur about 2 km from Kahalgaon. Interestingly, it gave direct competition to Nalanda University with over 100 teachers and over 1000 students listed in this University.

This university was well known for its specialized training on the subject of Tantra (Tantrism). One of the most popular graduates from this University was Atiśa Dipankara, a founder of the Sharma traditions of Tibetan Buddhism who also revived the Buddhism in Tibet.

The remains of the ancient university have been partially excavated in Bhagalpur district, Bihar state, India, and the process are still underway. Meticulous excavation at the site was conducted initially by B. P. Sinha of Patna University (1960–69) and subsequently by Archaeological Survey of India (1972–82). It has revealed a huge square monastery with a cruciform stupa in its center, a library building and cluster of votive stupas. To the north of monastery, a number of scattered structures including a Tibetan and a Hindu temple have been found. The entire spread is over an area of more than one hundred acres.

4. Valabhi

Valabhi University was established in Saurashtra of modern Gujarat at around 6th century and it flourished for 600 years till the 12th century. The University of Valabhi was an important center of Buddhist learning and championed the cause of Hinayana Buddhism between 600 CE and 1200 CE. Chinese traveler Itsing who visited this university during the 7th century describes it as a great center of learning. For some time, the university was so good that it was even considered to be a rival to Nalanda, in Bihar, in the field of education.

Gunamati and Sthiramati, the two famous Buddhist scholars are said to have graduated from this University. This University was popular for its training in secular subjects and students from all over the country came to study in this University. Because of its high quality of education, graduates of this University were given higher executive posts. Though Valabhi is known to have championed the cause of Hinayana Buddhism, it was neither exclusive nor insular. Brahmanical sciences were also taught here along with the doctrines of Buddhism. References have been found to Brahmanic students who came to learn at this university from the Gangetic plains. Apart from religious sciences, courses offered included Nīti (Political Science, Statesmanship), Vārtā (Business, Agriculture), Administration, Theology, Law, Economics, and Accountancy. Students graduating from Valabhi were usually employed by kings to assist in the government of their kingdoms.

The prominence of Valabhi was known over the whole of Northern India. Kathasaritsagara narrates the story of a Brahmana, who was determined that he would rather send his son to Valabhi, than to Nalanda or Banaras. Gunamati and Sthiramati were two of its Panditas very little is known about the other famous teachers and scholars who lived here. It is quite certain that a stamp of approval of doctrines preached by various scholars by the Panditas of Valabhi, who were of authority, was valued highly in learned assemblies of many kingdoms. Valabhi was visited by Xuanzang, a Chinese pilgrim, in the 7th century and by Yijing towards the end of the century. Yijing described the university as at par with the Buddhist monastic center Nalanda.

When Hiuen Tsiang (also known as Xuanzang) visited the university in the middle of the 7th century, there were more than 6000 monks studying in the place. Some 100 monasteries were provided for their accommodation, as, the citizens of Valabhi, many of whom were rich and generous, made available the funds necessary for running the institution. The Maitraka kings, who ruled over the country, acted as patrons to the university. They provided enormous grants for the working of the institution and equipping its libraries.

In 775 CE, the patron kings succumbed to an attack by the Arabs. This gave the university a temporary setback. Even afterward, the work of the university continued incessantly, as the successors of the Maitraka dynasty continued to patronize it with bountiful donations. Not much information has been retrieved regarding the university during and after this period. The defeat of its patron kings had definitely led way to the slow death of all its educational activities in the 12th century. In September 2017, the Indian central government started to consider a proposal to revive the ancient university.

5. Somapura

Somapura Mahavihara was established by Dharmapala of Pala dynasty during the late 8th century in Bengal and flourished for 400 years till the 12th century. The University spread over 27 acres of land of which the main complex was 21 acres was one of the largest of its kind. It was a major center of learning for Bauddha Dharma (Buddhism), Jina Dharma (Jainism) and Sanatana Dharma (Hinduism). Even today one can find ornamental terracotta on its outer walls depicting the influence of these three traditions. It is one of the largest and best known Buddhist monasteries in the Indian subcontinent with the complex itself covering more than 20 acres, almost a million square feet (85,000 sq. meters). With its simple, harmonious lines and its profusion of carved decoration, it influenced Buddhist architecture as far away as Cambodia. Epigraphic records testify that the cultural and religious life of this great Vihara, was closely linked with the contemporary Buddhist centers of fame and history at Bodhgaya and Nalanda, many Buddhist treatises were completed at Paharpur, a center where the Vajrayana trend of Mahayana Buddhism was practiced. The Mahavihara is important for the three major historical religions in the region, serving as a center for Jains, Hindus, and Buddhists.

Excavations show that it was built by the second Pala king, Dharmapala, around 781-821 AD. This comes from clay seals with inscriptions that were discovered. It is one of the five great mahaviharas, or monasteries, which were established in ancient Bengal during the Pala period. As mentioned above, these five monasteries existed together, forming a system of coordination among themselves. The Somapura Mahavihara was inhabited steadily for a few centuries, before being abandoned in the 12th century following repeated attacks and being burnt nearly to the ground in the 11th century by the Vanga army. About a century later Vipulashrimitra renovated the Vihara and added a temple of Tara.

Over the next centuries, the Somapura Mahavihara steadily declined and disintegrated, left abandoned by the new Muslim rulers of the area, until reaching its current state of decay. The Mahavihara was entirely covered by grass over the centuries after its abandonment, and it was more or less forgotten at that point. In the 1920s the site began to be excavated, and more and more was uncovered over the next decades. Work increased drastically after independence, and by the early-1990s the site was at roughly its current level of excavation. A small site-museum built in 1956-57 houses the representative collection of objects recovered from the area. The excavated finds have also been preserved at the Varendra Research Museum at Rajshahi. The antiquities of the Museum include terracotta plaques, images of different gods and goddesses, pottery, coins, inscriptions, ornamental bricks, and other minor clay objects. The importance of Somapura Mahavihara has resulted in its being included in the UNESCO World Heritage List. Today it is one of the prime tourist destinations in Bangladesh.

6. Jagaddala

Jagaddala Mahavihara was a Buddhist monastery and seat of learning in Varendra, a geographical unit in present north Bengal in Bangladesh. It was founded by the later kings of the Pāla dynasty, famously believed to be King Ramapala (c. 1077-1120), which was the largest construction works undertaken by the Pala Kings.

Little is known about Jagaddala compared with the other mahaviharas of the era. For many years, its site was could not be ascertained. A.K.M. Zakaria inspected five likely locations, all called Jagdal or Jagadal, in the Rajshahi-Malda region: in Panchagarh in Haripur Upazila of Thakurgaon in Bochaganj Upazila in Dinajpur in Dhamoirhat Upazila of Naogaon Bamangola block of Malda, India.[3] Of these, significant ancient ruins were present only near the Jagdal in Naogaon district. Excavations under the aegis of UNESCO over the past decade have established the site as a Buddhist monastery.

A large number of monasteries or viharas were established in ancient Bengal and Magadha during the four centuries of Pala rule in North-eastern India. Dharmapala is said to have founded 50 viharas himself, including Vikramashila, the premier university of the era. Jaggadala was founded toward the end of the Pāla dynasty, most likely by Rāmapāla. According to Tibetan sources, five great Mahaviharas stood out: Vikramashila, Nalanda, past its prime but still illustrious, Somapura, Odantapurā, and Jagaddala. The five monasteries formed a network “all of them were under state supervision” and their existed “a system of co-ordination among them … it seems from the evidence that the different seats of Buddhist learning that functioned in eastern India under the Pāla were regarded together as forming a network, an interlinked group of institutions,” and it was common for great scholars to move easily from position to position among them.

Jagaddala specialized in Vajrayana Buddhism. A large number of texts that would later appear in the Kanjur and Tengjur were known to have been composed or copied at Jagadala. It is likely that the earliest dated anthology of Sanskrit verse, the Subhāṣitaratnakoṣa, was compiled by Vidyākara at Jaggadala toward the end of the 11th century or the beginning of the 12th.

Śakyaśrībhadra, a Kashmiri scholar who was the last abbot of Nalanda Mahavihara and instrumental in transmitting Buddhism to Tibet, is said to have fled to Tibet in 1204 from Jagaddala when Muslim incursions seemed imminent. Historian Sukumar Dutt tentatively placed the final destruction of Jagadala to 1207 in any case, it seems to have been the last mahavihara to be overrun.

In 1999 Jaggadala was submitted as a tentative site for inclusion on the list of UNESCO World Heritage sites. UNESCO reports that excavation has revealed “an extensive mound, 105 meters long by 85 meters, which represents the archaeological remains of a Buddhist monastery . . . finds have included terracotta plaques, ornamental bricks, nails, a gold ingot and three stone images of deities.

7. Odantapuri

Ancient Odantapuri University Ruins located on Hiranya Prabat in Bihar sarif is also known as odantpura vihar or odantapuri Buddhist mahavira. Founded in the 8th century by emperor Gopala of Pala Dynasty, it flourished for 400 years till the 12th century. It was basically one of the sixth universities in ancient India established primarily for the purpose of propagating Buddhist learning and teachings. Apart from this, It is also regarded as the second oldest university after Nalanda established in ancient times. It is comparatively a lesser known important tourist destination in Bihar as we still know little about this place.

What we know today about Odantapuri history is primarily from the sources of books written by Tibetan and Chinese travelers during that period. According to Tibetan books, there were 12000 students at odantpuri. Acharya Sri Ganga who used to be a student of Vikramshila university was a professor at the Vikramashila University was a graduate of this Odantapuri University as later on he joined Odantapuri and regarded as one of the famous alumni of this university.

It remained in existence as a great learning center for Buddhist teachings for almost four centuries. In 1193 AD when Notorious Muslim Turkish invader Bhakhtiyar Khilji found this university, he mistakenly believed it as a fortress due to its long walls and ordered his army to destroy it. This was the same time when Nalanda university too was set on fire by his army. His misdeeds proved to be the last nail in the coffin for both the glorious university of ancient India. This led them to undergo almost oblivion for more than six centuries until excavation started in the 19th century. Ancient Tibetan texts mention this as one among the five great Universities of its time, the other four being Vikramashila, Nalanda, Somapura and Jagaddala Universities – all located in ancient India.

8. Pushpagiri

Puspagiri University was a prominent seat of learning that flourished until the 11th century in India. Today, its ruins lie atop the Langudi hills, low hills about 90 km from the Mahanadi delta, in the districts of Jajpur and Cuttack in Orissa. The actual university campus, spread across three hilltops, contained several stupas, monasteries, temples, and sculptures in the architectural style of the Gupta period. The Kelua river, a tributary of the Brahmani river of Orissa flows to the northeast of Langudi hills and must have provided a picturesque background for the university. The entire university is distributed across three campuses on top of the three adjoining hills, Lalitgiri, Ratnagiri, and Udayagiri. Recently a few images of Emperor Ashoka have been discovered here, and it has been suggested that the Pushpagiri University was established by Emperor Ashoka himself.

Excavation work carried out at Lalitgiri-Ratnagiri-Udayagiri hills has brought to surface the ruins of a wonderful brick monastery with beautiful carvings, a temple with bow shaped arches, 4 monasteries and a huge stupa. The Buddhist treasures unearthed from here also include a large number of gold & silver articles, a stone container, earthen pot and traces of Kushana dynasty and Brahmi script. A massive image of the Buddha is a unique find, the image has pursed lips, long ears, and wide forehead.

Iconographic analysis indicates that Lalitgiri had already been established during the Sunga period of the 2nd century BC and making it one of the oldest Buddhist establishments in the world. The architectural remnants found in Lalitgiri remind one of the Gandhar & Mathura craftsmanship. Set in the valley of two rivers, Birupa and Chitrotpala, the monastery was “discovered” by a local British official in 1905. A seven-year excavation of the site by the Archeological Survey of India beginning in 1985 yielded number if stone inscriptions, seals, sealings, and pot-shreds, which established the site as having flourished between 2nd-3rd to 14-15th century AD. Lalitgiri is especially interesting because here, one could observe the evolution of Buddhism from the Theravada sect with its austere and plain worship of a stupa to the growth of Mahayana and Vajrayana (tantric) sects with their elaborate pantheon of Bodhisattvas and other deities. Many fine examples of these deities can be found in a small sculpture shed built near the main stupa at Lalitgiri. These include images of Tara, Aparajita, Prajnaparamita, and Maitreya, as well as are images of Buddha Muchalinda, Buddha in Bhumisparsa (touching the earth) and Dhyani (meditation) poses, and a bas-relief depicting Buddha’s descent from heaven. Scattered near the ruins of the monastery are several stray images, including a magnificent reclining Buddha in his final resting place lying underneath a huge Banyan tree. The main stupa at Lalitgiri is 15 meter in diameter and is constructed in Sanchi style. It is visible from afar. The ruins of four monasteries have been discovered in the nearby area.


Contents

Information about Ashoka comes from his own inscriptions other inscriptions that mention him or are possibly from his reign and ancient literature, especially Buddhist texts. [12] These sources often contradict each other, although various historians have attempted to correlate their testimony. [13] Plenty is known or not known, and so, for example, while Ashoka is often attributed with building many hospitals during his time, there is no clear evidence any hospitals existed in ancient India during the 3rd century BC or that Ashoka was responsible for commissioning the construction of any. [14]

Ashoka's own inscriptions are the earliest self-representations of an imperial power in the Indian subcontinent. [15] However, these inscriptions are focused mainly on the topic of dhamma, and provide little information regarding other aspects of the Maurya state and society. [13] Even on the topic of dhamma, the content of these inscriptions cannot be taken at face value: in words of American academic John S. Strong, it is sometimes useful to think of Ashoka's messages as propaganda by a politician whose aim is to present a favourable image of himself and his administration, rather than record historical facts. [16]

A small number of other inscriptions also provide some information about Ashoka. [13] For example, he finds a mention in the 2nd century Junagadh rock inscription of Rudradaman. [17] An inscription discovered at Sirkap mentions a lost word beginning with "Priy", which is theorised to be Ashoka's title "Priyadarshi", although this is not certain. [18] Some other inscriptions, such as the Sohgaura copper plate inscription, have been tentatively dated to Ashoka's period by a section of scholars, although this is contested by others. [19]

Much of the information about Ashoka comes from Buddhist legends, which present him as a great, ideal king. [20] These legends appear in texts that are not contemporary to Ashoka, and were composed by Buddhist authors, who used various stories to illustrate the impact of their faith on Ashoka. This makes it necessary to exercise caution while relying on them for historical information. [21] Among modern scholars, opinions range from downright dismissal of these legends as mythological to acceptance of all historical portions that seem plausible. [22]

The Buddhist legends about Ashoka exist in several languages, including Sanskrit, Pali, Tibetan, Chinese, Burmese, Sinhala, Thai, Lao, and Khotanese. All these legends can be traced to two primary traditions: [23]

  • the North Indian tradition preserved in the Sanskrit-language texts such as Divyavadana (including its constituent Ashokavadana) and Chinese sources such as A-yü wang chuan and A-yü wang ching. [23]
  • the Sri Lankan tradition preserved in Pali-lanuage texts, such as Dipavamsa, Mahavamsa, Vamsatthapakasini (a commentary on Mahavamsa), Buddhaghosha's commentary on the Vinaya, and Samanta-pasadika. [23][17]

There are several major differences between the two traditions. For example, the Sri Lankan tradition emphasises Ashoka's role in convening the Third Buddhist council, and his dispatch of several missionaries to distant regions, including his son Mahinda to Sri Lanka. [23] However, the North Indian tradition makes no mention of these events, and describes other events not found in the Sri Lankan tradition, such as a story about another son named Kunala. [24]

Even while narrating the common stories, the two traditions diverge in several ways. For example, both Ashokavadana and Mahavamsa mention that Ashoka's queen Tishyarakshita had the Bodhi Tree destroyed. In Ashokavadana, the queen manages to have the tree healed after she realises her mistake. In the Mahavamsa, she permanently destroys the tree, but only after a branch of the tree has been transplanted in Sri Lanka. [25] In another story, both the texts describe Ashoka's unsuccessful attempts to collect a relic of Gautama Buddha from Ramagrama. In Ashokavadana, he fails to do so because he cannot match the devotion of the Nagas who hold the relic however, in the Mahavamsa, he fails to do so because the Buddha had destined the relic to be enshrined by king Dutthagamani of Sri Lanka. [26] Using such stories, the Mahavamsa glorifies Sri Lanka as the new preserve of Buddhism. [27]

Numismatic, sculptural, and archaeological evidence supplements research on Ashoka. [28] Ashoka's name appears in the lists of Mauryan kings in the various Puranas, but these texts do not provide further details about him, as their Brahmanical authors were not patronised by the Mauryans. [29] Other texts, such as the Arthashastra and Indica of Megasthenes, which provide general information about the Maurya period, can also be used to make inferences about Ashoka's reign. [30] However, the Arthashastra is a normative text that focuses on an ideal rather than a historical state, and its dating to the Mauryan period is a subject of debate. The Indica is a lost work, and only parts of it survive in form of paraphrases in later writings. [13]

The 12th-century text Rajatarangini mentions a Kashmiri king Ashoka of Gonandiya dynasty who built several stupas: some scholars, such as Aurel Stein, have identified this king with the Maurya king Ashoka others, such as Ananda W. P. Guruge dismiss this identification as inaccurate. [31]

Alternative interpretation of the epigraphic evidence

For some scholars such as Christopher I. Beckwith, Ashoka, whose name only appears in the Minor Rock Edicts, should be differentiated from the ruler Piyadasi, or Devanampiya Piyadasi (i.e. "Beloved of the Gods Piyadasi", "Beloved of the Gods" being a fairly widespread title for "King"), who is named as the author of the Major Pillar Edicts and the Major Rock Edicts. [32] This inscriptional evidence may suggest that these were two different rulers. [32] According to him, Piyadasi was living in the 3rd century BCE, probably the son of Chandragupta Maurya known to the Greeks as Amitrochates, and only advocating for piety ("Dharma") in his Major Pillar Edicts and Major Rock Edicts, without ever mentioning Buddhism, the Buddha or the Samgha. [32] Also, the geographical spread of his inscription shows that Piyadasi ruled a vast Empire, contiguous with the Seleucid Empire in the West. [32]

On the contrary, for Beckwith, Ashoka was a later king of the 1st–2nd century CE, whose name only appears explicitly in the Minor Rock Edicts and allusively in the Minor Pillar Edicts, and who does mention the Buddha and the Samgha, explicitly promoting Buddhism. [32] His inscriptions cover a very different and much smaller geographical area, clustering in Central India. [32] According to Beckwith, the inscriptions of this later Ashoka were typical of the later forms of "normative Buddhism", which are well attested from inscriptions and Gandhari manuscripts dated to the turn of the millennium, and around the time of the Kushan Empire. [32] The quality of the inscriptions of this Ashoka is significantly lower than the quality of the inscriptions of the earlier Piyadasi. [32]

The name "A-shoka" literally means "without sorrow". According to an Ashokavadana legend, his mother gave him this name because his birth removed her sorrows. [33]

The name Priyadasi is associated with Ashoka in the 3rd–4th century CE Dipavamsa. [34] [35] The term literally means "he who regards amiably", or "of gracious mien" (Sanskrit: Priya-darshi). It may have been a regnal name adopted by Ashoka. [36]

Ashoka's inscriptions mention his title Devanampiya (Sanskrit: Devanampriya, "Beloved of the Gods"). The identification of Devanampiya and Ashoka as the same person is established by the Maski and Gujarra inscriptions, which use both these terms for the king. [37] [38] The title was adopted by other kings, including the contemporary king Devanampiya Tissa of Anuradhapura and Ashoka's descendant Dasharatha Maurya. [39]

Ashoka's own inscriptions do not describe his early life, and much of the information on this topic comes from apocryphal legends written hundreds of years after him. [40] While these legends include obviously fictitious details such as narratives of Ashoka's past lives, they include some plausible historical details about Ashoka's period. [40] [41]

The exact date of Ashoka's birth is not certain, as the extant contemporary Indian texts did not record such details. It is known that he lived in the 3rd century BCE, as his inscriptions mention several contemporary rulers whose dates are known with more certainty, such as Antiochus II Theos, Ptolemy II Philadelphus, Antigonus II Gonatas, Magas of Cyrene, and Alexander (of Epirus or Corinth). [42] Thus, Ashoka must have been born sometime in the late 4th century BCE or early 3rd century BCE (c. 304 BCE), [43]

Ancestry

Ashoka's own inscriptions are fairly detailed, but make no mention of his ancestors. [44] Other sources, such as the Puranas and the Mahavamsa state that his father was the Mauryan emperor Bindusara, and his grandfather was Chandragupta – the founder of the Empire. [45] The Ashokavadana also names his father as Bindusara, but traces his ancestry to Buddha's contemporary king Bimbisara, through Ajatashatru, Udayin, Munda, Kakavarnin, Sahalin, Tulakuchi, Mahamandala, Prasenajit, and Nanda. [46] The 16th century Tibetan monk Taranatha, whose account is a distorted version of the earlier traditions, [30] describes Ashoka as the illegitimate son of king Nemita of Champarana from the daughter of a merchant. [47]

Ashokavadana states that Ashoka's mother was the daughter of a Brahmin from Champa, and was prophesized to marry a king. Accordingly, her father took her to Pataliputra, where she was inducted into Bindusara's harem, and ultimately, became his chief queen. [48] The Ashokavadana does not mention her by name, [49] although other legends provide different names for her. [50] For example, the Asokavadanamala calls her Subhadrangi. [51] [52] The Vamsatthapakasini or Mahavamsa-tika, a commentary on Mahavamsa, calls her "Dharma" ("Dhamma" in Pali), and states that she belonged to the Moriya Kshatriya clan. [52] A Divyavadana legend calls her Janapada-kalyani [41] according to scholar Ananda W. P. Guruge, this is not a name, but an epithet. [51]

According to the 2nd century historian Appian, Chandragupta entered into a marital alliance with the Greek ruler Seleucus I Nicator, which has led to speculation that either Chandragupta or his son Bindusara married a Greek princess. However, there is no evidence that Ashoka's mother or grandmother was Greek, and the idea has been dismissed by most historians. [53]

According to the Ashokavadana, Bindusara disliked Ashoka because of his rough skin. One day, Bindusara asked the ascetic Pingala-vatsajiva to determine which of his sons was being worthy of his successor. On the ascetic's advice, he asked all the princes to assemble at the Garden of the Golden Pavilion. Ashoka was reluctant to go because his father disliked him, but his mother convinced him to do so. When minister Radhagupta saw Ashoka leaving the capital for the Garden, he offered to provide the prince a royal elephant for the travel. [54] At the Garden, Pingala-vatsajiva examined the princes and realised that Ashoka would be the next king. To avoid annoying Bindusara, the ascetic refused to name the successor. Instead, he said that one who had the best mount, seat, drink, vessel and food would be the next king each time, Ashoka declared that he met the criterion. Later, he told Ashoka's mother that her son would be the next king, and on her advice, left the kingdom to avoid Bindusara's wrath. [55]

While legends suggest that Bindusara disliked Ashoka's ugly appearance, they also state that Bindusara gave him important responsibilities, such as suppressing a revolt in Takshashila (according to north Indian tradition), and governing Ujjain (according to Sri Lankan tradition). This suggests that Bindusara was impressed by the other qualities of the prince. [56] Another possibility is that he sent Ashoka to distant regions to keep him away from the imperial capital. [57]

Rebellion at Takshashila

According to the Ashokavadana, Bindusara dispatched prince Ashoka to suppress a rebellion in the city of Takshashila [58] (present-day Bhir Mound [59] ). This episode is not mentioned in the Sri Lankan tradition, which instead states that Bindusara sent Ashoka to govern Ujjain. Two other Buddhist texts – Ashoka-sutra and Kunala-sutra – state that Bindusara appointed Ashoka as a viceroy in Gandhara (where Takshashila was located), not Ujjain. [56]

The Ashokavadana states that Bindusara provided Ashoka with a fourfold-army (comprising cavalry, elephants, chariots and infantry), but refused to provide any weapons for this army. Ashoka declared that weapons would appear before him if he was worthy of being a king, and then, the deities emerged from the earth, and provided weapons to the army. When Ashoka reached Takshashila, the citizens welcomed him, and told him that their rebellion was only against the evil ministers, not the king. Sometime later, Ashoka was similarly welcomed in the Khasa territory, and the gods declared that he would go on to conquer the whole earth. [58]

Takshashila was a prosperous and geopolitically important city, and historical evidence proves that by Ashoka's time, it was well-connected to the Mauryan capital Pataliputra by the Uttarapatha trade route. [60] However, no extant contemporary source mentions the Takshashila rebellion, and none of Ashoka's own records state that he ever visited the city. [61] That said, the historicity of the legend about Ashoka's involvement in the Takshashila rebellion maybe corroborated by an Aramaic-language inscription discovered at Sirkap near Taxila. The inscription includes a name that begins with the letters "prydr", and most scholars restore it as "Priyadarshi", which was a title of Ashoka. [56] Another evidence of Ashoka's connection to the city may be the name of the Dharmarajika Stupa near Taxila the name suggests that it was built by Ashoka ("Dharma-raja"). [62]

The story about the deities miraculously bringing weapons to Ashoka may be the text's way of deifying Ashoka or of indicating that Bindusara – who disliked Ashoka – wanted him to fail in Takshashila. [63]

Governor of Ujjain

According to the Mahavamsa, Bindusara appointed Ashoka as the viceroy of present-day Ujjain (Ujjeni), [56] which was an important administrative and commercial centre in the Avanti province of central India. [64] This tradition is corroborated by the Saru Maru inscription discovered in central India this inscription states that he visited the place as a prince. [65] Ashoka's own rock edict mentions the presence of a prince viceroy at Ujjain during his reign, [66] which further supports the tradition that he himself served as a viceroy at Ujjain. [67]

Pataliputra was connected to Ujjain by multiple routes in Ashoka's time, and on the way, Ashoka entourage may have encamped at Rupnath, where his inscription has been found. [68]

According to the Sri Lankan tradition, on his way to Ujjain, Ashoka visited Vidisha, where he fell in love with a beautiful woman. According to the Dipamvamsa and Mahamvamsa, the woman was Devi – the daughter of a merchant. According to the Mahabodhi-vamsa, she was Vidisha-Mahadevi, and belonged to the Shakya clan of Gautama Buddha. The Shakya connection may have been fabricated by the Buddhist chroniclers in an attempt to connect Ashoka's family to Buddha. [69] The Buddhist texts allude to her being a Buddhist in her later years, but do not describe her conversion to Buddhism. Therefore, it is likely that she was already a Buddhist when she met Ashoka. [70]

The Mahavamsa states that Devi gave birth to Ashoka's son Mahinda in Ujjain, and two years later, to a daughter named Sanghamitta. [71] According to the Mahavamsa, Ashoka's son Mahinda was ordained at the age of 20 years, during the sixth year of Ashoka's reign. That means, Mahinda must have been 14 years old when Ashoka ascended the throne. Even if Mahinda was born when Ashoka was as young as 20 years old, Ashoka must have ascended the throne at the age of 34 years, which means he must have served as a viceroy for several years. [72]

Legends suggest that Ashoka was not the crown prince, and his ascension on the throne was disputed. [73]

Ashokavadana states that Bindusara's eldest son Susima once slapped a bald minister on his head in jest. The minister worried that after ascending the throne, Susima may jokingly hurt him with a sword. Therefore, he instigated five hundred ministers to support Ashoka's claim to the throne when the time came, noting that Ashoka was predicted to become a chakravartin (universal ruler). [74] Sometime later, Takshashila rebelled again, and Bindusara dispatched Susima to curb the rebellion. Shortly after, Bindusara fell ill, and expected to die soon. Susima was still in Takshashila, having been unsuccessful in suppressing the rebellion. Bindusara recalled him to the capital, and asked Ashoka to march to Takshashila. [75] However, the ministers told him that Ashoka was ill, and suggested that he temporarily install Ashoka on the throne until Susmia's return from Takshashila. [74] When Bindusara refused to do so, Ashoka declared that if the throne was rightfully his, the gods would crown him as the next king. At that instance, the gods did so, Bindusara died, and Ashoka's authority extended to the entire world, including the Yaksha territory located above the earth, and the Naga territory located below the earth. [75] When Susima returned to the capital, Ashoka's newly appointed prime minister Radhagupta tricked him into a pit of charcoal. Susima died a painful death, and his general Bhadrayudha became a Buddhist monk. [76]

The Mahavamsa states that when Bindusara fell sick, Ashoka returned to Pataliputra from Ujjain, and gained control of the capital. After his father's death, Ashoka had his eldest brother killed, and ascended the throne. [70] The text also states that Ashoka killed ninety-nine of his half-brothers, including Sumana. [66] The Dipavamsa states that he killed a hundred of his brothers, and was crowned four years later. [74] The Vamsatthapakasini adds that an Ajivika ascetic had predicted this massacre based on the interpretation of a dream of Ashoka's mother. [77] According to these accounts, only Ashoka's uterine brother Tissa was spared. [78] Other sources name the surviving brother Vitashoka, Vigatashoka, Sudatta (So-ta-to in A-yi-uang-chuan), or Sugatra (Siu-ka-tu-lu in Fen-pie-kung-te-hun). [78]

The figures such as 99 and 100 are exaggerated, and seem to be a way of stating that Ashoka killed several of his brothers. [74] Taranatha states that Ashoka, who was an illegitimate son of his predecessor, killed six legitimate princes to ascend the throne. [47] It is possible that Ashoka was not the rightful heir to the throne, and killed a brother (or brothers) to acquire the throne. However, the story has obviously been exaggerated by the Buddhist sources, which attempt to portray him as an evil person before his conversion to Buddhism. Ashoka's Rock Edict No. 5 mentions officers whose duties include supervising the welfare of "the families of his brothers, sisters, and other relatives". This suggests that more than one of his brothers survived his ascension, although some scholars oppose this suggestion, arguing that the inscription talks only about the families of his brothers, not the brothers themselves. [78]

Date of ascension

According to the Sri Lankan texts Mahavamsa and the Dipavamsa, Ashoka ascended the throne 218 years after the death of Gautama Buddha, and ruled for 37 years. [79] The date of the Buddha's death is itself a matter of debate, [80] and the North Indian tradition states that Ashoka ruled a hundred years after the Buddha's death, which has led to further debates about the date. [24]

Assuming that the Sri Lankan tradition is correct, and assuming that the Buddha died in 483 BCE – a date proposed by several scholars – Ashoka must have ascended the throne in 265 BCE. [80] The Puranas state that Ashoka's father Bindusara reigned for 25 years, not 28 years as specified in the Sri Lankan tradition. [45] If this is true, Ashoka's ascension can be dated three years earlier, to 268 BCE. Alternatively, if the Sri Lankan tradition is correct, but if we assume that the Buddha died in 486 BCE (a date supported by the Cantonese Dotted Record), Ashoka's ascension can be dated to 268 BCE. [80] The Mahavamsa states that Ashoka consecrated himself as the king four years after becoming a sovereign. This interregnum can be explained assuming that he fought a war of succession with other sons of Bindusara during these four years. [81]

The Ashokavadana contains a story about Ashoka's minister Yashas hiding the sun with his hand. Professor P. H. L. Eggermont theorised that this story was a reference to a partial solar eclipse that was seen in northern India on 4 May 249 BCE. [82] According to the Ashokavadana, Ashoka went on a pilgrimage to various Buddhist sites sometime after this eclipse. Ashoka's Rummindei pillar inscription states that he visited Lumbini during his 21st regnal year. Assuming this visit was a part of the pilgrimage described in the text, and assuming that Ashoka visited Lumbini around 1–2 years after the solar eclipse, the ascension date of 268–269 BCE seems more likely. [80] [42] However, this theory is not universally accepted. For example, according to John S. Strong, the event described in the Ashokavadana has nothing to do with chronology, and Eggermont's interpretation grossly ignores literary and religious context of the legend. [83]

Both Sri Lankan and north Indian traditions assert that Ashoka was a violent person before his conversion to Buddhism. [84] Taranatha also states that Ashoka was initially called "Kamashoka" because he spent many years in pleasurable pursuits (kama) he was then called "Chandashoka" ("Ashoka the fierce"), because he spent some years performing extremely wicked deeds and finally, he came to be known as Dhammashoka ("Ashoka the righteous") after his conversion to Buddhism. [85]

The Ashokavadana also calls him "Chandashoka", and describes several of his cruel acts: [86]

  • The ministers who had helped him ascend the throne started treating him with contempt after his ascension. To test their loyalty, Ashoka gave them the absurd order of cutting down every flower-and fruit-bearing tree. When they failed to carry out this order, Ashoka personally cut off the heads of 500 ministers. [86]
  • One day, during a stroll at a park, Ashoka and his concubines came across a beautiful Ashoka tree. The sight put him in a sensual mood, but the women did not enjoy caressing his rough skin. Sometime later, when Ashoka fell asleep, the resentful women chopped the flowers and the branches of his namesake tree. After Ashoka woke up, he burnt 500 of his concubines to death as a punishment. [87]
  • Alarmed by the king's personal involvement in such massacres, the prime minister Radha-gupta proposed hiring an executioner to carry out future mass killings, so as to leave the king unsullied. Girika, a Magadha village boy who boasted that he could execute the whole of Jambudvipa, was hired for the purpose. He came to be known as Chandagirika ("Girika the fierce"), and on his request, Ashoka built a jail in Pataliputra. [87] Called Ashoka's Hell, the jail looked lovely from outside, but inside it, Girika brutally tortured the prisoners. [88]

The 5th century Chinese traveller Faxian states that Ashoka personally visited the underworld to study the methods of torture there, and then invented his own methods. The 7th century traveller Xuanzang claims to have seen a pillar marking the site of Ashoka's "Hell". [85]

The Mahavamsa also briefly alludes to Ashoka's cruelty, stating that Ashoka was earlier called Chandashoka because of his evil deeds, but came to be called Dharmashoka because of his pious acts after his conversion to Buddhism. [89] However, unlike the north Indian tradition, the Sri Lankan texts do not mention any specific evil deeds performed by Ashoka, except his killing of 99 of his brothers. [84]

Such descriptions of Ashoka as an evil person before his conversion to Buddhism appear to be a fabrication of the Buddhist authors, [85] who attempted to present the change that Buddhism brought to him as a miracle. [84] In an attempt to dramatise this change, such legends exaggerate Ashoka's past wickedness and his piousness after the conversion. [90]

Ashoka's own inscriptions mention that he conquered the Kalinga region during his 8th regnal year: the destruction caused during the war made him repent violence, and in the subsequent years, he was drawn towards Buddhism. [92] Edict 13 of the Edicts of Ashoka Rock Inscriptions expresses the great remorse the king felt after observing the destruction of Kalinga:

Directly after the Kalingas had been annexed began His Sacred Majesty's zealous protection of the Law of Piety, his love of that Law, and his inculcation of that Law. Thence arises the remorse of His Sacred Majesty for having conquered the Kalingas, because the conquest of a country previously unconquered involves the slaughter, death, and carrying away captive of the people. That is a matter of profound sorrow and regret to His Sacred Majesty. [93]

On the other hand, the Sri Lankan tradition suggests that Ashoka was already a devoted Buddhist by his 8th regnal year, having converted to Buddhism during his 4th regnal year, and having constructed 84,000 viharas during his 5th–7th regnal years. [92] The Buddhist legends make no mention of the Kalinga campaign. [94]

Based on Sri Lankan tradition, some scholars – such as Eggermont – believe that Ashoka converted to Buddhism before the Kalinga war. [95] Critics of this theory argue that if Ashoka was already a Buddhist, he would not have waged the violent Kalinga War. Eggermont explains this anamoly by theorising that Ashoka had his own interpretation of the "Middle Way". [96]

Some earlier writers believed that Ashoka dramatically converted to Buddhism after seeing the suffering caused by the war, since his Major Rock Edict 13 states that he became closer to the dhamma after the annexation of Kalinga. [94] However, even if Ashoka converted to Buddhism after the war, epigraphic evidence suggests that his conversion was a gradual process rather than a dramatic event. [94] For example, in a Minor Rock Edict issued during his 13th regnal year (five years after the Kalinga campaign), he states that he had been an upasaka (lay Buddhist) for more than two and a half years, but did not make much progress in the past year, he was drawn closer to the sangha, and became a more ardent follower. [94]

The war

According to Ashoka's Major Rock Edict 13, he conquered Kalinga 8 years after his ascension to the throne. The edict states that during his conquest of Kalinga, 100,000 men and animals were killed in action many times that number "perished" and 150,000 men and animals were carried away from Kalinga as captives. Ashoka states that the repentance of these sufferings caused him to devote himself to the practice and propagation of dharma. [97] He proclaims that he now considered the slaughter, death and deportation caused during the conquest of a country painful and deplorable and that he considered the suffering caused to the religious people and householders even more deplorable. [97]

This edict has been found inscribed at several places, including Erragudi, Girnar, Kalsi, Maneshra, Shahbazgarhi and Kandahar. [98] However, is omitted in Ashoka's inscriptions found in the Kalinga region, where the Rock Edicts 13 and 14 have been replaced by two separate edicts that make no mention of Ashoka's remorse. It is possible that Ashoka did not consider it politically appropriate to make such a confession to the people of Kalinga. [99] Another possibility is the Kalinga war and its consequences, as described in Ashoka's rock edicts, are "more imaginary than real": this description is meant to impress those far removed from the scene, and thus, unable to verify its accuracy. [100]

Ancient sources do not mention any other military activity of Ashoka, although the 16th century writer Taranatha claims that Ashoka conquered the entire Jambudvipa. [95]

First contact with Buddhism

Different sources give different accounts of Ashoka's conversion to Buddhism. [85]

According to Sri Lankan tradition, Ashoka's father Bindusara was a devotee of Brahmanism, and his mother Dharma was a devotee of Ajivikas. [101] The Samantapasadika states that Ashoka followed non-Buddhist sects during the first three years of his reign. [102] The Sri Lankan texts add that Ashoka was not happy with the behaviour of the Brahmins who received his alms daily. His courtiers produced some Ajivika and Nigantha teachers before him, but these also failed to impress him. [103]

The Dipavamsa states that Ashoka invited several non-Buddhist religious leaders to his palace, and bestowed great gifts upon them in hope that they would be able to answer a question posed by the king. The text does not state what the question was, but mentions that none of the invitees were able to answer it. [104] One day, Ashoka saw a young Buddhist monk called Nigrodha (or Nyagrodha), who was looking for alms on a road in Pataliputra. [104] He was the king's nephew, although the king was not aware of this: [105] he was a posthumous son of Ashoka's eldest brother Sumana, whom Ashoka had killed during the conflict for the throne. [106] Ashoka was impressed by Nigrodha's tranquil and fearless appearance, and asked him to teach him his faith. In response, Nigrodha offered him a sermon on appamada (earnestness). [104] Impressed by the sermon, Ashoka offered Nigrodha 400,000 silver coins and 8 daily portions of rice. [107] The king became a Buddhist upasaka, and started visiting the Kukkutarama shrine at Pataliputra. At the temple, he met the Buddhist monk Moggaliputta Tissa, and became more devoted to the Buddhist faith. [103] The veracity of this story is not certain. [107] This legend about Ashoka's search for a worthy teacher may be aimed at explaining why Ashoka did not adopt Jainism, another major contemporary faith that advocates non-violence and compassion. The legend suggests that Ashoka was not attracted to Buddhism because he was looking for such a faith, rather, for a competent spiritual teacher. [108] The Sri Lankan tradition adds that during his 6th regnal year, Ashoka's son Mahinda became a Buddhist monk, and his daughter became a Buddhist nun. [109]

A story in Divyavadana attributes Ashoka's conversion to the Buddhist monk Samudra, who was an ex-merchant from Shravasti. According to this account, Samudra was imprisoned in Ashoka's "Hell", but saved himself using his miraculous powers. When Ashoka heard about this, he visited the monk, and was further impressed by a series of miracles performed by the monk. He then became a Buddhist. [110] A story in the Ashokavadana states that Samudra was a merchant's son, and was a 12-year-old boy when he met Ashoka this account seems to be influenced by the Nigrodha story. [95]

The A-yu-wang-chuan states that a 7-year-old Buddhist converted Ashoka. Another story claims that the young boy ate 500 Brahmanas who were harassing Ashoka for being interested in Buddhism these Brahmanas later miraculously turned into Buddhist bhikkus at the Kukkutarama monastery, where Ashoka paid a visit. [110]

Several Buddhist establishments existed in various parts of India by the time of Ashoka's ascension. It is not clear which branch of the Buddhist sangha influenced him, but the one at his capital Pataliputra is a good candidate. [111] Another good candidate is the one at Mahabodhi: the Major Rock Edict 8 records his visit to the Bodhi Tree – the place of Buddha's enlightenment at Mahabodhi – after his 10th regnal year, and the minor rock edict issued during his 13th regnal year suggests that he had become a Buddhist around the same time. [111] [94]

Construction of Stupas and Temples

Both Mahavamsa and Ashokavadana state that Ashoka constructed 84,000 stupas or viharas. [112] According to the Mahavamsa, this activity took place during his 5th–7th regnal years. [109]

The Ashokavadana states that Ashoka collected seven out of the eight relics of Gautama Buddha, and had their portions kept in 84,000 boxes made of gold, silver, cat's eye, and crystal. He ordered the construction of 84,000 stupas throughout the earth, in towns that had a population of 100,000 or more. He told Elder Yashas, a monk at the Kukkutarama monastery, that he wanted these stupas to be completed on the same day. Yashas stated that he would signal the completion time by eclipsing the sun with his hand. When he did so, the 84,000 stupas were completed at once. [26]

The Mahavamsa states that Ashoka ordered construction of 84,000 viharas (monasteries) rather than the stupas to house the relics. [116] Like Ashokavadana, the Mahavamsa describes Ashoka's collection of the relics, but does not mention this episode in the context of the construction activities. [116] It states that Ashoka decided to construct the 84,000 viharas when Moggaliputta Tissa told him that there were 84,000 sections of the Buddha's Dhamma. [117] Ashoka himself began the construction of the Ashokarama vihara, and ordered subordinate kings to build the other viharas. Ashokarama was completed by the miraculous power of Thera Indagutta, and the news about the completion of the 84,000 viharas arrived from various cities on the same day. [26]

The number 84,000 is an obvious exaggeration, and it appears that in the later period, the construction of almost every old stupa was attributed to Ashoka. [118]

The construction of following stupas and viharas is credited to Ashoka: [ citation needed ]

    , Madhya Pradesh, India , Sarnath, Uttar Pradesh, India , Bihar, India , Bihar, India Mahavihara (some portions like Sariputta Stupa), Bihar, India University (some portions like Dharmarajika Stupa and Kunala Stupa), Taxila, Pakistan (reconstructed), Taxila, Pakistan stupa, Madhya Pradesh, India Stupa, Madhya Pradesh, India , Swat, Pakistan Stupa, Karnataka, India
  • Mir Rukun Stupa, Nawabshah, Pakistan

Propagation of dhamma

Ashoka's rock edicts suggest that during his 8th–9th regnal years, he made a pilgrimage to the Bodhi Tree, started propagating dhamma, and performed social welfare activities. The welfare activities included establishment of medical treatment facilities for humans and animals plantation of medicinal herbs and digging of wells and plantation of trees along the roads. These activities were conducted in the neighbouring kingdoms, including those of the Cholas, the Pandyas, the Satiyaputras, Tamraparni, the Greek kingdom of Antiyoka. [119]

The edicts also state that during his 10th–11th regnal years, Ashoka became closer to the Buddhist sangha, and went on a tour of the empire that lasted for at least 256 days. [119]

By his 12th regnal year, Ashoka had started inscribing edicts to propagate dhamma, having ordered his officers (rajjukas and pradesikas) to tour their jurisdictions every five years for inspection and for preaching dhamma. By the next year, he had set up the post of the dharma-mahamatra. [119]

During his 14th regnal year, he commissioned the enlargement of the stupa of Buddha Kanakamuni. [119]

Third Buddhist Council

The Sri Lankan tradition presents a greater role for Ashoka in the Buddhist community. [23] In this tradition, Ashoka starts feeding monks on a large scale. His lavish patronage to the state patronage leads to many fake monks joining the sangha. The true Buddhist monks refuse to co-operate with these fake monks, and therefore, no uposatha ceremony is held for seven years. The king attempts to eradicate the fake monks, but during this attempt, an over-zealous minister ends up killing some real monks. The king then invites the elder monk Moggaliputta-Tissa, to help him expel non-Buddhists from the monastery founded by him at Pataliputra. [105] 60,000 monks (bhikkhus) convicted of being heretical are de-frocked in the ensuing process. [23] The uposatha ceremony is then held, and Tissa subsequently organises the Third Buddhist council, [120] during the 17th regnal year of Ashoka. [121] Tissa compiles Kathavatthu, a text that reaffirms Theravadin orthodoxy on several points. [120]

The North Indian tradition makes no mention of these events, which has led to doubts about the historicity of the Third Buddihst council. [24]

Richard Gombrich argues that the non-corroboration of this story by inscriptional evidence cannot be used to dismiss it as completely unhistorical, as several of Ashoka's inscriptions may have been lost. [120] Gombrich also argues that Asohka's inscriptions prove that he was interested in maintaining the "unanimity and purity" of the Sangha. [122] For example, in his Minor Rock Edict 3, Ashoka recommends the members of the Sangha to study certain texts (most of which remain unidentified). Similarly, in an inscription found at Sanchi, Sarnath, and Kosam, Ashoka mandates that the dissident members of the sangha should be expelled, and expresses his desire to the Sangha remain united and flourish. [123] [124]

The 8th century Buddhist pilgrim Yijing records another story about Ashoka's involvement in the Buddhist sangha. According to this story, the earlier king Bimbisara, who was a contemporary of the Gautama Buddha, once saw 18 fragments of a cloth and a stick in a dream. The Buddha interpreted the dream to mean that his philosophy would be divided into 18 schools after his death, and predicted that a king called Ashoka would unite these schools over a hundred years later. [77]

Buddhist missions

In the Sri Lankan tradition, Moggaliputta-Tissa – who is patronised by Ashoka – sends out nine Buddhist missions to spread Buddhism in the "border areas" in c. 250 BCE. This tradition does not credit Ashoka directly with sending these missions. Each mission comprises five monks, and is headed by an elder. [125] To Sri Lanka, he sent his own son Mahinda, accompanied by four other Theras – Itthiya, Uttiya, Sambala and Bhaddasala. [23] Next, with Moggaliputta-Tissa's help, Ashoka sent Buddhist missionaries to distant regions such as Kashmir, Gandhara, Himalayas, the land of the Yonas (Greeks), Maharashtra, Suvannabhumi, and Sri Lanka. [23]

The Sri Lankan tradition dates these missions to Ashoka's 18th regnal year, naming the following missionaries: [119]

  • Mahinda to Sri Lanka
  • Majjhantika to Kashmir and Gandhara
  • Mahadeva to Mahisa-mandala (possibly modern Mysore region)
  • Rakkhita to Vanavasa
  • Dhammarakkhita the Greek to Aparantaka (western India)
  • Maha-dhamma-rakkhita to Maharashtra
  • Maharakkhita to the Greek country
  • Majjhima to the Himalayas
  • Soṇa and Uttara to Suvaṇṇabhūmi (possibly Lower Burma and Thailand)

The tradition adds that during his 19th regnal year, Ashoka's daughter Sanghamitta went to Sri Lanka to establish an order of nuns, taking a sapling of the sacred Bodhi Tree with her. [125] [121]

The North Indian tradition makes no mention of these events. [24] Ashoka's own inscriptions also appear to omit any mention of these events, recording only one of his activities during this period: in his 19th regnal year, he donated the Khalatika Cave to ascetics to provide them a shelter during the rainy season. Ashoka's Pillar Edicts suggest that during the next year, he made pilgrimage to Lumbini – the place of Buddha's birth, and to the stupa of the Buddha Kanakamuni. [121]

The Rock Edict XIII states that Ashoka's won a "dhamma victory" by sending messengers to five kings and several other kingdoms. Whether these missions correspond to the Buddhist missions recorded in the Buddhist chronicles is debated. [126] Indologist Etienne Lamotte argues that the "dhamma" missionaries mentioned in Ashoka's inscriptions were probably not Buddhist monks, as this "dhamma" was not same as "Buddhism". [127] Moreover, the lists of destinations of the missions and the dates of the missions mentioned in the inscriptions do not tally the ones mentioned in the Buddhist legends. [128]

Other scholars, such as Erich Frauwallner and Richard Gombrich, believe that the missions mentioned in the Sri Lankan tradition are historical. [128] According to these scholars, a part of this story is corroborated by archaeological evidence: the Vinaya Nidana mentions names of five monks, who are said to have gone to the Himalayan region three of these names have been found inscribed on relic caskets found at Bhilsa (near Vidisha). These caskets have been dated to the early 2nd century BCE, and the inscription states that the monks are of the Himalayan school. [125] The missions may have set out from Vidisha in central India, as the caskets were discovered there, and as Mahinda is said to have stayed there for a month before setting out for Sri Lanka. [129]

According to Gombrich, the mission may have included representatives of other religions, and thus, Lamotte's objection about "dhamma" is not valid. The Buddhist chroniclers may have decided not to mention these non-Buddhists, so as not to sideline Buddhism. [130] Frauwallner and Gombrich also believe that Ashoka was directly responsible for the missions, since only a resourceful ruler could have sponsored such activities. The Sri Lankan chronicles, which belong to the Theravada school, exaggerate the role of the Theravadin monk Moggaliputta-Tissa in order to glorify their sect. [130]

Some historians argue that Buddhism became a major religion because of Ashoka's royal patronage. [131] However, epigraphic evidence suggests that the spread of Buddhism in north-western India and Deccan region was less because of Ashoka's missions, and more because of merchants, traders, landowners and the artisan guilds who supported Buddhist establishments. [132]

Violence after conversion

According to the Ashokavadana, Ashoka resorted to violence even after converting to Buddhism. For example: [133]

  • He slowly tortured Chandagirika to death in the "hell" prison. [133]
  • He ordered a massacre of 18,000 heretics for a misdeed of one. [133]
  • He launched a pogrom against the Jains, announcing a bounty on the head of any heretic this results in the beheading of his own brother – Vitashoka. [133]

According to the Ashokavadana, a non-Buddhist in Pundravardhana drew a picture showing the Buddha bowing at the feet of the Nirgrantha leader Jnatiputra. The term nirgrantha ("free from bonds") was originally used for a pre-Jaina ascetic order, but later came to be used for Jaina monks. [134] "Jnatiputra" is identified with Mahavira, 24th Tirthankara of Jainism. The legend states that on complaint from a Buddhist devotee, Ashoka issued an order to arrest the non-Buddhist artist, and subsequently, another order to kill all the Ajivikas in Pundravardhana. Around 18,000 followers of the Ajivika sect were executed as a result of this order. [135] [136] Sometime later, another Nirgrantha follower in Pataliputra drew a similar picture. Ashoka burnt him and his entire family alive in their house. [136] He also announced an award of one dinara (silver coin) to anyone who brought him the head of a Nirgrantha heretic. According to Ashokavadana, as a result of this order, his own brother was mistaken for a heretic and killed by a cowherd. [135] Ashoka realised his mistake, and withdrew the order. [134]

For several reasons, scholars say, these stories of persecutions of rival sects by Ashoka appear to be clear fabrications arising out of sectarian propaganda. [136] [137] [138]

Tissarakkha as the queen

Ashoka's last dated inscription - the Pillar Edict 4 is from his 26th regnal year. [121] The only source of information about Ashoka's later years are the Buddhist legends. The Sri Lankan tradition states that Ashoka's queen Asandhamitta died during his 29th regnal year, and in his 32nd regnal year, his wife Tissarakkha was given the title of queen. [121]

Both Mahavamsa and Ashokavadana state that Ashoka extended favours and attention to the Bodhi Tree, and a jealous Tissarakkha mistook "Bodhi" to be a mistress of Ashoka. She then used black magic to make the tree wither. [139] According to the Ashokavadana, she hired a sorceress to do the job, and when Ashoka explained that "Bodhi" was the name of a tree, she had the sorceress heal the tree. [140] According to the Mahavamsa, she completely destroyed the tree, [141] during Ashoka's 34th regnal year. [121]

The Ashokavadana states that Tissarakkha (called "Tishyarakshita" here) made sexual advances towards Ashoka's son Kunala, but Kunala rejected her. Subsequently, Ashoka granted Tissarakkha kingship for seven days, and during this period, she tortured and blinded Kunala. [142] Ashoka then threatened to "tear out her eyes, rip open her body with sharp rakes, impale her alive on a spit, cut off her nose with a saw, cut out her tongue with a razor." Kunala regained his eyesight miraculously, and pleaded for mercy on the queen, but Ashoka had her executed anyway. [139] Kshemendra's Avadana-kalpa-lata also narrates this legend, but seeks to improve Ashoka's image by stating that he forgave the queen after Kunala regained his eyesight. [143]

Death

According to the Sri Lankan tradition, Ashoka died during his 37th regnal year, [121] which suggests that he died around 232 BCE. [144]

According to the Ashokavadana, the emperor fell severely ill during his last days. He started using state funds to make donations to the Buddhist sangha, prompting his ministers to deny him access to the state treasury. Ashoka then started donating his personal possessions, but was similarly restricted from doing so. On his deathbed, his only possession was the half of a myrobalan fruit, which he offered to the sangha as his final donation. [145] Such legends encourage generous donations to the sangha and highlight the role of the kingship in supporting the Buddhist faith. [41]

Legend states that during his cremation, his body burned for seven days and nights. [146]


Preservation of ruins: The climate factor

Archaeological ruins at Wari-Bateshwar, Narsingdi

Given its geophysical condition, Bangladesh was not supposed to be conducive to preservation of ancient structures. Its neighbouring Indian state of Bihar, and also Nepal, have played host to the growth of scores of historic sites for centuries. In contrast, the region of eastern Bengal, now Bangladesh, boasted only a handful of these relics. Those, too, dated back to eras not too distant from now. The ruins from the past in the land remained confined mostly to the Sultanate and Mughal times and a few from the period of the East India Company's rule. Thanks to the generally humid climate and the swampy character of the land, Bangladesh had long been considered unfit for preservation of brick structures. Only a couple of decades ago, the number of the country's archaeological sites from times preceding the Mughal rule was few. Those prominent among them included the remains of Mahasthangarh (dating back to 300 BC), the ancient city of the Pundra Kingdom in Bengal, and the Paharpur Buddhist Monastery in greater Rajshahi. The latter belonged to the Pala Dynasty that ruled Bengal in the 8th-9th centuries.

With the recent discoveries of historical sites made one after another across the country, many dating back to the pre-Medieval and Medieval Bengal, the archaeological map of the country appears to be set for a redrawing. The latest in this spate of excavation of new sites is Nateshwar, a village in Munshiganj, not far from Dhaka. The place once belonged to a vast area called Bikrampur, noted for its being the place of birth of Atish Dipankar (980-1053), the legendary preacher, philosopher and academic. He is considered the second-highest Buddhist scholar after Buddha shortly after the death of the religion's founder. Aish Dipankar was born in the village of Bajrajogini in the Bikrampur region.

Bangladesh, the eastern part of Bengal, had long been considered a mostly flat river-dominant country. Except its scenic beauty comprising green crop fields, a vast mangrove forest, a few hill ranges and a long beach, the land had no tangible attractions for outsiders. It began changing with the discovery of the ruins of Mahasthangarh in Bogra district and the start of its excavation in 1931. The later spotting of the Paharpur Monastery, the Kantojeu Temple in Dinajpur district and their renovation stood witness to the faint unfolding of the archaeological richness of the land. The discoveries of a number of pre-Mughal Sultanate mosques helped add to this hitherto unknown chapter in the history of Bangladesh. That the country was indeed a treasure trove in terms of ruins from the past began gaining speed from the current century endeavours by archaeology-enthusiasts were underway in the 20th century though. The work on the now-famous Wari-Bateshwar ruins in Narsingdi began in 2012. Few are aware of the fact that the local initiative of digging with focus on a collection of coins began in 1933. With intervals caused by financial and other constraints thus delaying a full-fledged excavation project, the work was undertaken, with pauses, in 1955, 1956 and 1976, when it was left incomplete until 2012. Primarily initiated by a local enthusiast, Hanif Pathan, and his son Habibullah Pathan, the giant work was later picked by Sufi Mostafizur Rahman, teacher at the Department Architecture at Jahangirnagar University, Bangladesh. The intrepid teacher and his team eventually proved that Bangladesh had reached a level in the global architectural arena where it could take pride in a landmark discovery. As researches showed, the ancient city of Wari-Bateshwar dates back to 450 BC, during the Maurya Dynasty. Due to the location of the 2500-year-old city being a place near the old course of the Brahmaputra River, a section of scholars would like to call Wari-Bateshwar a port city. Later it came to be viewed as one of the major archaeological sites in South Asia. In fact, it sounds veritably incredible that the country can now take pride in a lost urban centre which flourished two thousand and five hundred years ago.

Apart from the major excavations, the country seems to be littered with dozens of other partly-excavated ruins. The one at Savar near Dhaka makes architects hopeful of unearthing a highly advanced locality. Prior to the start of the Nateshwar project, the ruins of a 1300-year-old Buddhist locality were found on the eastern side of the present site. Like Nateshwar this site was also dominated by several 'Stupas', road structures and drain facilities.

According to the archaeologists involved with both the excavations, the one of Nateshwar is set to emerge with a lot of distinctive features. It has 16 'Stupas' (meditation retreats), lots of well-planned space, learning chambers and other facilities found at an academic centre. Although it was declared open to visitors in 2016 and is now crowded by people interested in archaeology, the site had been detected long time back. Digging work on it formally began in 2012. Undertaken by a team led by Prof Mostafizur Rahman, in collaboration with another led by a Chinese archaeologist, the project has reportedly been provoking interest among the South Asia region's archaeological circles. That it will do so is a foregone conclusion for the centre related to the name of the great Bengalee Buddhist scholar Atish Dipankar has all the features of a self-sufficient monastery. What amazes many is the flourishing of a Buddhist city in the midst of vast rural and agrarian swathes. According to Mostafizur Rahman, the carbon-14 test of 26 relics dug out at the site has proved their age at 1,100 years. The test has been carried out at a laboratory in the USA. Identifying the spot as a monumental one, the director of China's Hunan Provincial Archaeological Institute has predicted Nateshwar's future emergence as a World Heritage Site.

Few can say with assertion that more archaeological wonders do not remain buried or undetected in Bangladesh. Contrary to the general belief, also based on geophysical support, the land has long proved conducive to preservation of brick-built ancient structures. The long survival of Mahasthangarh can be linked to the nature of soil in northern Bangladesh. But the unearthing of complete ports and cities in the alluvial and marshy Meghna-Brahmaputra river basins puzzles many. Taking it to be a great quandary, a lot of people find themselves in a maze of sorts. But some others propound new geophysical theories. The most convincing of them is the land in the distant past remained gifted with a climate friendly to certain types of brick-built structures. Those which did not comply with the construction rules of the period were devoured by the elements. A section of climate watchers finds the extremely humid air of the land to be a phenomenon not older than a couple of centuries. With these observations coming true, Bangladesh can brace for a raft of archaeological wonders springing up across the country.

State of climate has been behind the growth of many ancient civilisations. The most prominent among them is the Nile civilisation. The Egyptian region that witnessed the growth of this civilisation, and Giza, the location of the largest pyramid in the world, belonged to a fertile land awash with the River Nile. The landscape was strikingly different from today's aridity in the Giza area. That was 5,000 years ago. Carrying the giant rocks by boat along the Nile to the pyramid sites was an arduous task. But, otherwise, the construction of these man-made wonders was accomplished more or less smoothly. Scientific information like this, gleaned lately, debunks the long-held theories of extraterrestrial help in the building of the pyramids.


Watch the video: ISIS destroys ancient artifacts in Mosul (June 2022).


Comments:

  1. Migul

    Absolutely agrees with you. In this something is I like this idea, I completely agree with you.

  2. Kale

    is understood in two ways like this

  3. Dondre

    Who to you it has told?

  4. Engjell

    there are still some gaps



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