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Buddhist Art at Amaravati - varnamvarnam
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Buddhist Art at Amaravati

In the period between the Mauryas and Guptas lot of wealth and energy were spent on Buddhist architecture and one of their major symbol was the stupa. The main sites of Buddhist stupas are Bharhut and Sanchi in Madhya Pradesh and Amaravati in Andhra Pradesh.

The stupa in Amaravati, which is larger than the more famous one in Sanchi, was originally built during the time of Emperor Asoka. It was completed in 200 A.D and is decorated with carved panels which tell the story of Buddha’s life. This region between Krishna and Godavari was an important place for Buddhism from the 2nd century B.C and some ancient sculpture in low relief has been found here. During the Satavahana period (2nd – 3rd century A.D), Dharanikota near Amaravati was chosen as the capital. The stupa was then adorned with limestone reliefs and free standing Buddha figures. [13]

During the period of the decline of Buddhism, this stupa was also neglected and it was burried under rubble. There is a 14th century inscription in Sri Lanka which mentions repairs made to the stupa and after that it was forgotten.

If the early history of Amaravati and its stupa is dramatic and intriguing, its chance re-discovery by the archaeologists is more so. Around the year 1796, an enterprising zamindar shifted his residence from crowded Chintapalli to deserted Amaravati. He soon invited other people to settle in Amaravati. This led to the construction of roads and houses in the area. In the course of construction, the workers often found large bricks and carved limestone slabs below the ground. The news soon reached the ears of Colonel Colin Mackenzie, who visited the site twice (in 1787 and 1818) and prepared drawings and sketches of the relics in the area. Eventually, several European scholars like Sir Walter Smith, Robert Sewell, James Burgess and Alexander Rea excavated the site and unearthed many sculptures that once adorned the stupa. In recent decades, the Archaeological Survey of India has conducted further excavations in the area.

Art historians regard the Amaravati art as one of the three major styles or schools of ancient Indian art, the other two being the Gandhara style and the Mathura style. Some of the Buddhist sculptures of Amaravati betray a Greco-Roman influence that was the direct result of the close trade and diplomatic contacts between South India and the ancient Romans. Indeed, Amaravati has itself yielded a few Roman coins[History in stone]

The Amravati school of art had great influence on art in Sri Lanka and South-East Asia as products from here were carried to those countries. It also had influence over South Indian sculpture. The Government Museum at Egmore (Madras Museum), one of the oldest and largest museums in Asia hosts the “Amaravati Gallery”.


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