V RISHI KUMAR, October 22, 2015:
Ancient Buddhist city of Amaravati set to serve as a State capital again
On a sultry summer morning as I drive to Amaravati from Guntur about 27 years ago, the small road full of potholes and greenery on either side led to a sleepy town on the banks of the Krishna river.
In sharp contrast to the limelight it is receiving today, the small town was only frequented by people who wanted to connect with the ancient remains of a Maha Chaitya (Buddhist Stupa) and Buddhist teachings and to worship at the famous Amaresvara (Siva) temple on the riverside.
About two decades later, Amaravati was in news when the great Kalachakra event was held there in 2006 with the Dalai Lama and thousands of Buddhist monks in attendance at the place, believed to be once visited by Gautama Buddha.
As a rookie reporter armed with Cosina, a film-based SLR, I had an interesting meeting with PRK Prasad, Assistant Superintending Archaeologist based at Amaravati then. He took me through the heritage relics of the Buddhist site and explained the efforts to restore the Stupa in the form of a mound and how a museum created there had become a treasure trove of Buddhist artefacts.
A number of sculptures from the archaeological sites gathered from excavations now adorn the mound, which overlooks the huge Buddha statue. An inscription at the site says that Emperor Asoka played a role in the construction of the site.
Despite all the buzz about the new capital city being named after the historic town, it still remains tranquil. The scene of action, where the foundation stone-laying ceremony is to be held, is some 20 km away from Amaravati town.
The Department of Archaeology took a number of steps to preserve the artefacts and sculptures that provide deep insights into the place and its rich history.
Little did I realise the importance of the Amaravati gallery in The British Museum in London, which I visited it in 2005, and the significance of the sculptures it contained. The State government has initiated steps to recover them from the museum and bring them back to India.
A stupa was adorned with locally sourced limestone with relief depicting scenes from Jataka Tales. A number of relic caskets, coins, terracotta figurines and fragments of black and red pottery and mythical images of Yakshas, Nagas and others adorned the place,
But for the pioneering work undertaken by Colonel Colin Mackenzie of the Trignometrical Survey, the stupa would not have been discovered at Dipaladinne (Hill of Lamps) in 1797. The place gave off an air of elegance and grandeur, with full-blown lotus and signs of purna kumbha on either side of the Buddha statues. The more one tried to unravel the mystery of the place, the more complex it became.
The sculptures from the Maha Chaitya lie scattered in a number of museums, including The British Museum and Madras Museum. The neighbouring village Dharanikota was the actual site of the ancient Dhanyakataka, the capital of Satavahanas, according to ASI.
Ideally located with abundant water, the place had served as a capital for several centuries, and is again set to serve as the capital city of Andhra Pradesh.
Amaravati has thus come a full circle.
(This article was published on October 22, 2015)