Budhist Stupa

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he great stupa or Mahachaitya at Amaravati was one of the biggest in Andhra Pradesh with a probable diameter of 50 meters and a height of 27 meters. It has a brick built circular vedika or drum with projecting rectangular Ayaka platforms in four cardinal directions measuring 7.20 X 2.10 meters each. Five Ayaka pillars must have stood on each platform symbolically representing the five main events in Buddha’s life viz., the birth, the great renunciation, the enlightenment, the first sermon and the final extinction. The drum and Ayaka platforms were covered with sculptured slabs. All the four-ayaka platforms have yielded seven crystal and one Ivory relic caskets, some of which contain bone-pieces, pearls, precious stones and gold flowers. This is a Sariraka type of stupa and hence it’s great importance.

Mounted on this circular drum stood an anda or hemispherical dome. Tall sculptured dome slabs covered the vertical part of the dome, above which came decorations in stucco. Scenes from the life of Buddha, Jataka stories, animal motifs, floral decorations formed the subject matter of these sculptures carved on the locally available light green limestone.The drum was crowned by a harmika or box like structure over which stood a chhatra or umbrella. All now missing except the remains of the plinth.

The drum of the stupa had a well laid Pradakshinapatha or circumambulatory path of 4 meters width paved with Cuddapah slabs protected by a railing in stone on its outer extreme end, pierced on all the four sides by gateways projecting out. The railing consisted of Urdhvapatas or Upright pillars, three suchis or cross-bars connecting each pair of upright pillars, and Ushnisha or coping stone running on top of those pillars. Seated lions stood on pillars guarding either side of the gateways. The stone railing of later periods was highly ornamental.

The history of Mahachaitya is spread to a period of roughly over a thousand and seven hundred years (circa 3rd century. B.C to circa 14th century A.D). The foundation of this Maha-stupa must have been laid by the great Mahadeva-Bikshu emissary of Emperor Ashoka who was deputed to Mahishamandala for the propagation of the Buddhist norm. The first construction is believed to have been plain and modest.

The ornamental renovations were brought later during the next seven centuries. The stupa had received its rich patronage from seven centuries. The stupa had received its rich patronage from Kings like Vasistiputra Pulumavi, Sivaskanda Statakarni, Gautamiputra Yajna Sri Satakarni, Buddhist monks like Acharya Nagarjuna, nuns like Nanda and lay-Devotees like Utara, Khalata etc. Evidence shows that the stupa was an object of worship receiving attention during the reign of the dynasties of the Satavahana, Ikshvaku, Chalukya, Pallava, Salankayana. Vishnukundin, Kakatiya and Kota kings. The Chinese traveler Yuan Chwang and the Tibetan Historian Taranath glorified in their accounts the greatness of this ancient seat of Buddhism.

Colonel Colin Mackenzie of the Trignometrical survey had discovered these remains of the stupa in 1797. Subsequently Archaeologists like Mr.Burgess, Sri T.N.Ramachandran, Mr.Rea, Dr.R.Subrahmanyam, Dr.K.Krishna Murthi and Dr.I.Karathikeya Sarma have worked on it.

Out of the vast sculptural wealth this stupa has yielded, a good number have become the objects of exhibition in the galleries of the British Museum, London, Musie Guimet, Germany, National Museum, New Delhi, Indian Museum Calcutta, Government Museum Madras. The rest are on display in the site museum.

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