Archaeologists in Andhra Pradesh Unearth Evidence of Ancient Buddhist Monastery
Archaeologists excavating a site in Visakhapatnam District in the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh have unearthed a trove of historical artifacts. The find suggests the site contains the remains of an ancient Buddhist monastery that flourished between the 3rd century BCE and the 8th century CE.
Artifacts recovered during an initial shallow excavation of the site, which is located close to hills near the village of Vommili, include a terracotta elephant head, conical mud bowls, pots with thumb- and fingerprint designs, polished blackware, dull chocolate-colored slipware, and other samples of decorated pottery and potsherds.
The Hindu newspaper reported that a standing image of the wrathful Vajrayana Buddhist deity Heruka recovered from the site by local residents had been placed under a tree and was being worshipped. The report added that cultivation of land in the area had resulted in damage to some of the artifacts.
Heruka are a category of enlightened beings in Vajrayana Buddhism that adopt a fierce expression in order to benefit sentient beings. Representing the embodiment of indivisible bliss and emptiness, heruka appear as ishtadevata, or meditational deities, for tantric practice, and are often depicted in Vajrayana art.
“We inspected the site on December 10,” said assistant director of the state’s Department of Archaeology and Museums K. Chitti Babu. “Trial excavations revealed rich historical materials. The retrieved objects indicate that the Buddhist site flourished between 3rd century BC and 8th century AD.
“This is the first time that evidence of a Buddhist monastery of such an era has been discovered in Visakhapatnam district,” he added. “Most of the Buddhist heritage sites found in the city and in Srikakulam, Vizianagaram, and Visakhapatnam districts are located along the coast and had flourished between 3rd century BC and 3rd century AD. But this site is located in the hinterland, far from the coast, and it flourished for about a thousand years.” (The Hindu)
According to the report in The Hindu, the land had recently changed hands and the current owner had applied to the district collector for permission to develop. State officials, including from the Department of Archaeology and Museums, had been assigned to look into the matter, the newspaper reported.
Buddhism first appeared in what is now Andhra Pradesh early in the religion’s history. Archaeologists have identified historical evidence indicating the presence of the Theravada, Mahayana, and Vajrayana schools of Buddhism in the region—approximately 150 Buddhist monuments and other sites have been identified in the state, including stupas, monasteries, and cave complexes. Although Buddhism declined in Andhra Pradesh during the latter part of the first millennium, there is evidence to suggest that some of these historical sites were active until the 14th century.
Evidence of Buddhist monastery found (The Hindu)
Evidence of Buddhist monastery found in Andhra Pradesh village (The Island)
The Buddhist Heritage of Andhra Pradesh (Buddhist Art News)