Andhra Pradesh site yields new Buddhist school based on goddess

By Naresh Nunna, The Asian Age, September 4, 2006

Amaravathi, India -- Archaeological explorations at a tiny village in Andhra Pradesh’s West Godavari district by the Archaeological Survey of India have led to a find that could have major implications for the study of Buddhism.

The ASI archaeologists have come across an inscription from the first century AD that makes a mention of the Dakiniyana (Dakini is the name of the goddess, yana means school). This is said to be the first mention of the school based on a goddess, predating other mentions by about 700 years.

The inscription was discovered at a site that the ASI is excavating 42 km from Vijayawada and 70 km from Guntur in the Amaravathi belt that is world renowned for its Buddhist sites.

Disclosing the details of the astonishing find, Dr. Jitendar Das, superintending archaeologist of ASI Hyderabad, said the site at Kantamanenivari Gudem is 2 km from the famous rock cave temple complex at Guntupalli.

Tipped off by shepherds and mulberry farmers, the ASI team made excavations at the site and hit paydirt. Among their initial finds were a vandalised image of a seated Dhyana Buddha, Padma Peetha, decorated pillars and a good number of early historic pottery shreds, Dr Das said.

Besides, they found an inscription in Prakrit language using Brahmi characters dated to the 1st century AD.

Mr D. Kanna Babu, assistant superintending archaeologist and officer of Amaravathi Museum, who was on the team, interpreted the three-line inscription as saying " of bowl full of coins (masakas) given to the Arya sangh (Buddhist intelligentsia) and all adherents of Dakiniyana, who were residing at Jinanagamahaparvatha, by the householder Nagaputa hailing from Sakuda along with his wife, Bodhi and daughter."

Mr Kanna Babu said, "It was being hypothesised that the worship of goddesses in Buddhism was not seen till the 8th century AD. But this inscription shows that worship of goddesses was in place within five centuries after Buddha attained nirvana."

Mr Babu said that Dakini is mentioned as one of the four principal mother goddess in the Vajrayana (Tantrayana) in the 7th century. Dakini plays a major role in rituals of Vajrayana. The name is found Vajrayana literature of the 10th century.

The new excavations revealed for the first time a yana (school) named after Dakini. She was placed the first stage in three stage process leading to nirvana. Dakini is believed to be the introducer to the path.

At the Kalachakra that the Dalai Lama held earlier this year in Amaravathi, Dakiniyana was a prominent deity.

Dr Das said the planning of the pillars, quality of chiselling, execution of the theme, decorative features bore the mark of the Amaravathi school of art.