Excavations prove spread of Buddhism in Tamil Nadu: ASI

The Hindu, Sept 7, 2014

Tamil Nadu, India -- The recent finding of Buddhist vestiges in the form of stone sculptures and bronzes from over 125 sites in the State has revealed the once flourishing condition of Buddhist religion in Tamil Nadu, a senior official of Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) said.

These findings, especially of the Buddhist edifices at Nagapattinam, built using foreign help, also proved that India had strong trade ties with other nations in ancient days, ASI Director D. Dayalan said.

Interestingly, plotting of the sites in Tamil Nadu and Puducherry revealed not only the distribution pattern, mostly in the coastal region, but also their trade links, both maritime and overland, he said. There had been a strong link between Buddhism and trade centres. All those main business and commercial centres, including Napatapattinam, Puducherry, Chennai and Tiruvarur also had Buddhist sites. Trade centres had flourished in all Buddhist sites all over the country.

These trade routes were primary means by which Buddhist thought and imagery were conveyed from India, birthplace of Buddhism, to other Asian countries and also within, he said.

A strong link between India and China had been revealed by a noteworthy feature - many sites in Tamil Nadu and Puducherry also had Chinese and South-East Asian pottery and relics, the ASI director said.

Pottery was brought from Italy and other western countries. Aficionados from Sri Lanka and South East Asia frequented Buddhist sites, not only in Tamil Nadu, but even in Andhra Pradesh, he said.

Dayalan said their team noticed a 1.03m Buddha statue in ‘padmasana’ pose in remote Tirunattiyattankudi village in Tiruvarur district when digging a tank in a field. The ‘Ushnisa’, the cranial protuberance symbolising buddhahood in the form of a flame, found in almost all Buddha sculptures in Tamil Nadu, was partly broken. The head was separated from the body and both are now fixed together.

Interestingly a large number of potsherds and bricks of medieval period were noticed in the trench from which the statue was dug out, he said, adding it perhaps indicated a temple of that period of these Buddha statues existed in the area.