On the trail of the Buddha

by T. SATYAMURTHY, The Hindu, Sept 16, 2008

Book Review: THE WHEEL AND ITS TRACKS — A History of Buddhism in Early Andhra: Sashi Sekhar; Pub. by Mokkapati Subbarayudu, 86-4-16/1, Vadrevu Nagar, Manthena Gardens, Tilak Road, Rajahmundry. Rs.2500.

New Delhi, India -- This book on the early history of Buddhism in Andhra Pradesh deserves appreciation for its excellent production. The illustrations are very captivating due to sensible use of the camera and pleasing colour combinations which draw our attention not only to the ruins of such monuments but also to their ecological setting.

This feature in the book induces the readers to go through the text with interest and it is a welcome departure from the traditional way of packing the book with loads of text and then supplementing them with old black and white illustrations at the end.

The author has included a few Buddhist places from Maharashtra, possibly due to their association with the Satavahanas, but none from Karnataka by theme and depiction, notably from Sannati where Buddhist sculptural remains, as rich as Amaravati and slightly earlier to it, were unearthed a few years back.

The occurrence of Asokan edicts at several places in northern Karnataka clearly indicates the great emperor’s urge to spread Buddhist dharma, though there is no evidence to indicate the kind of religion that was prevalent at that time. In this confusing scenario, Buddhism was introduced all over southern India, including the Andhra region. Its influence in Andhra Pradesh is now known to us because of the large number of extant Buddhist monuments there.
Spread of Buddhism

It appears that the author, while attempting to trace the arrival, spread, peaking and the ultimate extinction of Buddhism from Andhra Pradesh, has confused it with the cultural moorings of the religion. He is also quite out of place while trying to explain the kind of religious beliefs, particularly the impact of typical native beliefs that were current among the people prior to the advent of Buddhism there.

From the author’s description of the sites it is apparent that Buddhism spread fairly well in all the eco-zones such as the arid Rayalaseema, fertile river valleys and the trade-influenced coastal regions. Hence, it would be rather futile to assert that trade alone was instrumental in the spread of Buddhist beliefs. In all probability, it began to spread on its own among the masses rather on the basis of the location of the eco-zones, possibly with a certain amount of royal patronage in some areas. However, patronage of the trade guilds in the creation and sustenance of religious edifices could not be ruled out.

A map indicating the important sites could have helped those interested in them to plan and reach those places easily. Exclusion of the remains of Nagarjunakonda in Andhra Pradesh, excavated by the Archaeological Survey of India, is a glaring omission and hence makes this study somewhat incomplete. Nevertheless, this book is a welcome addition to the existing literature on the subject.

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