Earliest Buddhist religious building reported in Jammu & Kashmir

By Lalit Gupta, Kashmir Watch, Nov 29, 2009

2000 years old stupa discovered at Ambaran

JAMMU, India -- The chance find of a Kushan period stupa at Ambaran has not only taken back the date of the site to 2000 years from today, but also made it as the earliest recorded Buddhist site in the entire state.

"Associated with the Buddhist religious architecture developed by Kushanas between 1st to second century CE (Current Era), the eight-spoke stupa base in bricks was discovered during the scientific cleaning of the archaeological site of Ambaran", said R. Krishnaiya, Superintending Archaeologist, Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), Srinagar Circle, Jammu.

Ambaran, situated on right bank of Chenab, three kilometers upstream from Akhnoor and 26 kilometers from Jammu city,is already known to the world as the find spot of equisitely modelled terracotta sculptures that are popularly called as Akhnoor terracottas by scholars and art connossieurs.

Srinagar Circle of ASI during two seasons of excavations carried in the year 2000 and 2001, under the direction of the then Superintending Archaeologist, B.R.Mani, was successful in unearthing evidences of the existance of a sprawling Buddhist Complex at Ambaran along with the reliquery from the base of stupa which was dated by him between third to fourth century CE, thus taking the period of the site to Gupta period.

"To make the historic site of Ambaran ready for visit of tourists and general public, the ASI decided to undertake during current season scientific clearance of the site. But to our surprise the clearance led to unique find of a eight-spoke stupa base made up of firebaked bricks", said Krishaniya.

Such brick-stupas have also been reported from Sanghol in Haryana, Amravati and Nagarjunakonda in Karnataka. Apart from the above four small votive stupas were also earlier unearthed, at Ambaran, he said.

The eight-spoke stupa which is oldest of the lot, and datable between 1st to IInd century CE, is first of its kind to be reported from any Buddhist site in the entire J&K state, said Krishnaiya.

This latest discovery of eight-spoke stupa datable to Kushan period has established that there was a vibrant Buddhist phase in Jammu Shivaliks at the beggining of the present era and the monastic complex of Ambaran, apart from being a Buddhist religious centre for local communities also acted as a transit point for the interient monks enroute to Kashmir and further to Central Asia art, said an expert on Buddhist art.

"Since the archaeological site of Ambaran has the potential of becoming a major tourist attraction the ASI has already established a site museum and drinking and toilet facilities there. Now only the need is to put it on tourist map", said Krishanaiya.