Buddhism in India

Early Theravada Buddhism
5th cent BC - 5th cent AD

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Theravada Buddhism in India

Prince Siddharta, Gandhara, 2nd-3rd cent AD, - Musée Guimet, Paris.

Early Buddhism, as taught by the historical Buddha Gautama, was a monastic discipline. It's strict discipline was not intended to be imposed on the laymen of the communities.
Around the 1st cent AD Mahayana Buddhism split from what was by then referred to as the Hinyana or Theravada. The Mahayana ("Great Vehicle") introduced the concept of Bodisattvas, Saints who remained on earth to teach the lay people unable to follow strict monastic rules. The Mahayana greatly expanded Buddhism from India through central Asia (6th-7th vent AD) into Persia, China, Indonesia, and East Asia.

Rajgir Capital of Maghada
5th cent BC
GE Map: Maghada

Rajgir was the capital city of the Magadha kings until the 5th century BC when Ajatashatru moved the capital to Pataliputra. In those days, the town was called Rajgrih. It is mentioned in Buddhist and Jain scriptures, which give a series of place-names, but without geographical context. The attempt to locate these places is based largely on reference to the works of the Chines pilgrims Faxian (399-414 AD) and Xuanzang.

Buddhist sanctuary on Griddhkuta, Vulture peak above Rajgir,
where the
Chinese pilgrim monk Faxian (399-414 AD) spent the night
Photo Wikipedia

It was here that Gautama Buddha spent several months meditating, and preaching at Griddhkuta, ('Hill of the Vultures'). He also delivered some of his famous sermons and converted King Bimbisara of Magadha and countless others to his religion. On one of the hills is the Saptparni cave where the First Buddhist Council was held under the leadership of Maha Kassapa.

Pataliputra-Patna The Mauryan and Gupta Capital
273 - 218 BC

MaghadaGE Map: Chandragupta's Mauryan Empire
GE Map: Gupta Empire
GE Map: Ashoka's Empire
GE Place Markers: Ashoka's Edicts and Pillars

With the rise of the Mauryan empire (273 BC) Pataliputra became the seat of power and nerve centre of the sub-continent. From Pataliputra emperor Chandragupta Maurya (a contemporary of Alexander) ruled an empire, stretching from the Bay of Bengal to Afghanistan. Emperor Ashoka (260-218 BC), Chandragupta Maurya's grandson, transformed the wooden capital into a stone construction around 273 BC.

Kushan Empire
60 BC-240 AD
GE Map: Kushan Empire

From Ahin Posh Tepe - One of the magnificent Gold Coins of Kanishka I, Kushan Emperor (128 AD). Kanishka on one and the Buddha on the reverse side of the coin. Found at Ahin Posh, Pakistan. Sold at a recent auction for: US$ 140,000 ! From Barry P. Murphy, Coin of the Week

The name Kushan derives from the Chinese term Guishuang, used to describe one branch of the Yuezhi, a loose confederation of Indo-European people who had been living in the Xinjiang Province of modern China. Driven west by Xiongnu between 176 and 160 BC, the five groups of the Yuezhi – the Xiumi, Guishuang (Kushans), Shuangmi, Xidun, and Dumi – reached the Hellenic kingdom of Baktria by 135 BC. They expelled the ruling Greek dynasties there, forcing these kings further south to settle along the Indus River. In the following century, the Guishuang forced the other tribes of the Yuezhi into a tight confederation. Now, as the Guishuang was the predominant power, the entire group became known by that name. This appellation was Westernized as Kushan, though the Chinese still referred to them as Yuezhi.

Like the Hellenistic Greeks and Romans, the Kushans were a multi-cultural society, incorporating much of the cultures they ruled into their own. Like their Baktrian predeccesors, early Kushan coins used Greek legends on the obverse, along with a translation in the local Karosthi script on the reverse. Beginning with Kanishka I, however, the Kushan language, written in an adaptation of the Greek alphabet with some local alterations, was used almost exclusively. From the time of Vima Taktu (Soter Megas), the Kushans also began to adopt Indian cultural elements. Embracing a wide variety of local Indian and Central Asian deities, they assimilated them with Greco-Roman types already prevalent in the region. Overall, the Kushan pantheon represented a religious and artistic syncretism of western and eastern elements.

An adept military leader who expanded Kushan power throughout much of Central Asia, Vima Kadphises was the first Kushan ruler to send a diplomatic mission to Rome, during the reign of Trajan. Vima Kadphises was also the first Kushan ruler to strike gold coins. Because the Kushans under his reign had extended their protective control over the Silk Road, the Roman gold they obtained through the trading of luxury items with the Roman Empire–-such as silk, spices, and other exotic goods–-provided the metal for the striking of the first Indian gold coins. In addition to the existing copper and silver denominations, Vima Kadphises introduced three gold denominations: the dinar (struck on an 8g weight standard), the double dinar, and a fractional quarter dinar.
In 127-147 AD Mathura became Kanishka's Kushan Capital

North-India Sites connected with the Historical Buddha
Lumbini, Nepal, Buddha's Birthplace
563 BC

A symbolic bodhi tree at the birth site of Buddha Gautama.
Photo from sacred- destinations.com

Bodh Gaya
570 BC - 400 AD

Mahabodhi Temple, Bodh Gaya, after 250 BC. Photo from Wikipedia

Historically, Bodh Gaya was known as Bodhimanda, "round under the Bodhi-tree" where the historical Buddha received his enlightenment. There was a large monastic settlement there. The main monastery of Bodhgaya used to be called the “Bodhimanda-vihara” (Pali). Now it is called the Mahabodhi Temple.
For Buddhists, Bodh Gaya is the most important of the main four pilgrimage sites related to the life of Gautama Buddha, the other three being Kushinagar, Lumbini, and Sarnath.

A modern Indian vision of the quintessence of Bodh Gaya, Photo indiafolder.com

Vaishali Stupa
2nd cent BC - 1st cent AD

The stupa and the Ashoka Pillar (2nd cent BC).
Photo Panoramio

Vaishali (Veshali) was the capital of the Licchavi Republic and later of the Vajjian Confederacy (600 BC). At the time of the Buddha (525 BC), Veshali had become immensely rich and prosperous. Its greatest fame (from later Pali texts), however, was its royal courtesan, Ambapali.

Here is her story:
Ambapali or Amrapali was an orphan which had been found at the foot of a mango tree in one of the royal gardens. ("amra", = mango, and "pallawa" = young leaves in Sanskrit). Ambapali grew to be a lady of extraordinary beauty, charm, and grace, and many young nobles of the republic desired her company. The fame of her beauty came to the ears of Bimbisara, the king of the neighboring kingdom of Magadha. Infatuated, he invaded Vaishali, and romanced her. She bore him a son named Vimala Kondanna. - All of this including the Licchavi republic sounds like an ancient Greek tale. - But now the legend takes a Buddhist turn:

Relief depicting Ambapali, 2d cent. AD Kushan red sandstone sculpture.
Photo from shunya.net

On his wanderings Gautama Buddha also reached Vaishali. Famous Ambapali received the Buddha and her retinue served him and his disciples a sumptuous vegetarian meal. Soon after he had left the city she renounced her position and joined the Buddhist order, to which she gave all her wealth. - Her son Vimala Kondanna, when he grew up, became a Buddhist monk too.
Someone wrote a novel about Ambapali. a reference to it and further elaborations of this charming story you find - where else? - in Wikipedia

Sarnath Buddhist Stupa
3rd cent AD

Ruins of the monastery and the stupa at Sarnath.
Photo Panoramio

Around 570 BC, after his enlightenment, the Buddha came here and taught his 5 disciples what he had learned. This is referred to as "the turning of the wheel of the Dharma" and marks the founding of the Sangha, the original Buddhist community of monks. The stupa dates from the 3nd cent AD.

West-Indian Early Buddhist Sites
Bhaja Buddhist Caves, Maharashtra
th cent BC

Bhaja Caves are a group of 22 rock-cut monastic caves dating back to 5th-6th cent BC.
Photo Panoramio

Stupa inside the Chaitya Hall representing the Buddha (2nd cent BC)
Photo columbia.edu

Ajanta Caves
200 BC - 500 AD

The 30 caves at Ajanta habor the largest collection of early Buddhist paintings..

The caves were dug and painted in two distinct periods: the earliest beween 200 BC and 200 AD (Early Buddhism), the later caves between 462 to 480 AD (Mahayana). During the early period the Buddha is symbolically represented by a stupa (see Sanchi), while he is shown in person in the frescoes of the later caves.

The influence of Ajanta on Buddhist painting is immense.

Frescoes in Vihara Cave 2, Mahayana 5th cent AD
Photos Wikipedia

Karla Buddhist Caves
First group: 2nd cent BC - 2nd cent AD
Second group: 5
th cent AD-10th cent AD

A complex of very well-preserved early Buddhist caves east of Lonavala, Maharashtra built in the difficult terrain of a rocky hillsides, is one of the finest examples of the ancient rock-cut caves to be found in India.

The main cave has a magnificent Chaitya (prayer hall)
with huge pillars and intricately carved reliefs dating back to the 1st century B.C.
A lion column in front is one of Ashoka's pillars. - Photo Wikipedia

Sanchi, The Great Stupa
2nd cent BC

Sanchi The Great Stupa
Photo buddha.net

The 'Great Stupa' at Sanchi is the earliest surviving Buddhist temple. It was commis­sioned by Emperor Ashoka in the 2rd century BC. One of Ashoka's pillars stands close by. The "bumpa" its nucleus was a simple hemispherical brick structure built over the relics of the Buddha. The gateways and the balustrade were added in 70 BC by King Satakarni Satavahana. There are two more, smaller stupas, several monasteries, and the foundations of several temples at the site.

Temple 17 (5th cent) and 40 (11th cent) on Sanchi Hill.
Photo shunya.net

Temple 17 together with the Kankali Devi Temple in Tigawa and the Deoghar Dasvathra Temple are the earliest true structural temples in India (5th cent AD). All three are well preserved.

East-Indian Early Buddhist Sites

2nd BC - 3rd cent AD

Amaravati is considered to be one of the three oldest and most important Buddhist sites on the Subcontinent (the others being Gandhara and Mathura). The Amaravati style strongly influenced the Buddhist art of Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia.

The original Amaravati stupa from its recovered frieze, 3rd cent AD

Mara's Assault on the Buddha, relief from the Amaravati stupa, 2nd cent AD
The Buddha is only symbolically shown by the empty throne and the pipa tree (aniconic representation) Photos from Wikipedia

3rd cent BC - 5th cent AD

Ancient excavated Buddha statue in the Parinirvana Temple, Kushinagar
Photo Wikipedia

At the time of the Buddha, Kushinagar was the capital of the Mallas. It was here that Gautama Buddha attained Parinirvana. The Buddha died after eating of spoiled boar's meat. He knew that he would die and forbade his disciples to touch the food.
Many of the ruined stupas and viharas here date back to 3rd century BC - 5th century AD when it was at its peak. The Mauryan emperor Ashoka contributed significantly to their construction.

Nagarjuna Konda Buddhist site
2nd cent BC - 3rd cent AD

Maha Stupa 160 AD
Photo Panoramio

Nagarjunakonda was an important Buddhist centre in South India from the 2nd cent BC until the 3rd cent AD. It was named after Acharya Nagarjuna (3rd cent AD), a Buddhist scholar and philosopher, who migrated here from Amarvati to spread the Buddha's message. He founded of Mahayana Buddhism (Madhyamika school) and governed the sangha for almost 60 years.
At the site - preserved in a museum on an island in a large man-made lake - excavations have unearthed a university, monastries, a swamedha altar, royal baths, advanced drainage systems, viharas, chaityas. Of special significance is the finding of nine stupa-like structures arranged in a wheel shaped formation which includes the Mahachaitya, the most sacred of them.

Standing Buddha. The Southeast Asian Madhyamika influence is noticeable!
Photo shunya.net

Totlakonda Buddhist Site
1st cent AD

Buddhist Complex on the hill-top of Mangamaripeta (Thotlakonda)
Photo Panoramio

The ruins came to light during an aerial survey by the Indian Navy. Excavations between 1988 and 1992 have revealed structural remains of several buildings and stupas
Text and more information aptourism.com .

Sankaram Buddhist Site
1st - 8th cent AD

Sankaram stupas
Photo Panoramio

British archeologist Alexander Rea discovered Sankaram, a 2000-year-old Buddhist site in 1907. The three phases of Buddhism , Theravada, Mahayana, and Vajrayana flourished here. The complex is famous for its numerous monolithic votive stupas, rock-cut caves, and structural brick-edifices.

Bojiannakonda, the Eastern hill of the site
Photo Panoramio

bears richer architecture. Its Main Stupa on the hilltop dominatsng myriads of stupas, mostly rock-cut one above the other. Almost every outcrop and protuberance has been converted into a stupa. A Maha stupa yielded a relic casket, 3 chaitya halls, votive platforms, stupas and vajrayana sculptures.

The Vihara on a third site was active for almost 900 years, spanning
the Theravada, Mahayana and Vajrayana phases of Buddhism.
Photo Panoramio

Kaheri Buddhist Caves
1st - 9th cent AD

These caves date from 1st Century B.C. to 9th Century A.D. The earliest are 109 tiny rock-cut cells, carved into the side of a hill. Each cave has a congregation hall with a stone pillar as stupa. Once the caves became permanent monasteries, they began to be carved out of the rock with intricate reliefs of Buddha and the Bodhisattvas carved into the walls. Kanheri had become an a university center by the 3rd century AD (Maurayan-Kushan period).

Most of the caves are viharas for monastic living, study, and meditation. (3rd cent AD)

Buddha Gautama, 7th cent AD(?)
Photos Himanshu Sarpotdar, flickr.com

Mahakali Buddhist Caves
2nd - 5th cent AD

Mahakali Buddhist caves in the city of Mumbai (2nd -5th cent AD.

Unknown to most citizen of Mumbai-Bombay, lie 15 Buddhist caves in a neglected wooded area of the city

Buddha Maitreya with attendants (9th cent AD?)
Photos by Himanshu Sarpotdar, flickr.com

The Kushan Empire
280-550 AD

60 - 550 AD

In the 6th cent BC Mathura was the capital of the Shursen republic. In sequence became part of the Maurya empire (4th -2nd centuries BC, the Sunga dynasty (2nd century BC), and between 180 and 100 BC under the control of Indo-Greeks. During the 1st cent BC. It was conquered by the Indo-Scythians.
Mathuran Art and culture reached its zenith under the Kushan dynasty (280-550 AD) of which it was as one capital, the other being Purushpur( Peshawar). The Kushan Kings - save one - were Buddhists.

Head of a "red-stone" Kushan Buddha (5th cent AD), Photo Wikipedia

Standing Kushan Buddha, late 5th cent AD
Photo from metmuseum.org

The Kushans were an Indo-European people (chin. Yuezhi) from the eastern Tarim Basin, China. They had contacts with Rome, Persia and China, and for several centuries were at the center of exchange between East and West. Kushan Art was influenced by the Hellenistic culture of Bactria. They adopted the Greek alphabet. Their coins used Greek combined with Pali legends (in Kharoshthi script) until the reign of Kanishka (127-147 AD)
The Mathura Museum has the largest collection of early Buddhist redstone sculptures in Asia. - In 634 AD the Chinese pilgrim Xuanzang, in search for Buddhist scriptures, visited and described Mathura.

Southeast-Asian Early Buddhist Sites
3rd cent BC
GE Map: Pagan

Photo Wikipedia

According to the Theravada tradition Ashoka (3rd cent BC) sent two of his disciples, Sona Thera and Uttara Thera to Suvannabhumi (Pagan) to bring Buddhism to the Mon Kingdom. See: Wikipedia

The Mon dominated kingdom ( 874-1369) of Pagan had a mixed Mahayana-Tantrayana (in the northern parts) and Hindu population. A situation not unlike that in Nepal today. The kings, however, adhered to and supported the Theravada at least from the 1st cent AD. Due to the widespread distribution of ethnic Mon people over the entire area and their old Theravada-Buddhist tradition, Pagan became the bridge for the spread of the Theravada to Southeast Asia in the 12th cent.

Pegu-Bago, Burma-Myanmar
6th -15th cent AD
GE Map: Mon Kingdom

According to legend, two Mon princess from Thaton founded Bago in 573 AD. In Lower Burma, a Mon dynasty established itself first at Martaban and then at Pegu. During the reign of king Rajadhirat (1383 - 1421) Ava and Pegu were involved in continuous warfare. The peaceful reign of Queen Baña Thau (1453-72) came to an end when she chose the Buddhist monk Dhammazedi (1472-92) to succeed her. Under Dhammazedi Pegu became a centre of commerce and Theravada Buddhism.

Shwemandaw paya Pagoda in Bago
Photo Panoramio

The stupa was originally built in the 10th cent AD. It was destroyed several times due to earthquakes, including one in 1917 and another in 1930. Portions of the fallen pre-1917 version of the Paya remain at the site. The original version of the pagoda was built by the Mon people to hold two hairs of the Buddha.

Reclining Buddha in a shrine west of the river, 994 AD
Photo Wikipedia

Buddhist Presence in Ptolemaic Alexandria ?
2nd cent BC

It is not clear how strong the fluence of Buddhism was on Egypt and Greece during the post-Alexandrian period. Some authors have pointed to the presence of Buddhist communities in Alexandria (see below), and to the pre-Christian monastic order of the Therapeutae (possibly a corruption of the Pali word "Theravada"), who may have "almost entirely drawn (their) inspiration from the teaching and practices of Buddhist (or Jain) asceticism" (Robert Linssen).

Buddhist gravestones from the Ptolemaic period have been found in Alexandria, decorated with the wheel of the Dharma, see W. W. Tarn "The Greeks in Bactria and India".

In the 2nd century AD, the Christian theologian Clement of Alexandria recognized Bactrian Buddhists ("Sarmanoi Baktron") and Indian "Gymnosophists" for their influence on Greek thought:
"Thus philosophy, a thing of the highest utility, flourished in antiquity among the barbarians, shedding its light over the nations. And afterwards it came to Greece. First in its ranks were the prophets of the Egyptians; and the Chaldeans among the Assyrians; and the Druids among the Gauls; and the Sarmanas among the Bactrians ("Sarmanoi Baktron"); and the philosophers of the Celts; and the Magi of the Persians, who foretold the Saviour's birth and came into the land of Judaea guided by a star. The Indian Gymnosophists are also in the number, and the other barbarian philosophers. And of these there are two classes, some of them called Sarmanas, and others Brahmins ('Braphmanai')."
Clement of Alexandria "The Stromata, or Miscellanies" Book I, Chapter XV. 1

For reference see Wikipedia