Warning: Creating default object from empty value in /nfs/c03/h02/mnt/56080/domains/varnam.nationalinterest.in/html/wp-content/themes/canvas/functions/admin-hooks.php on line 160
Tag Archives | Buddhism

King Agathocles's Coins

(Balarama depicted on a 1st century BCE Maues coin. via wikipedia)

Between 190 and 180 BCE, towards the end of the Mauryan empire, there lived a king named Agathocles near Ai-Khanoum, in the Kunduz area of Afghanistan. There are no cities, monuments or accounts about him and he would have remained unknown if not for one thing – coins.

Some time in the 70s, archaeologists found two types of coins issued by him. One set was Greek silver coins depicting Zeus and Dionysos. He also issued bronze and silver coins, square or rectangular in shape, which portryated Indian gods like Vishnu, Shiva, Vasudeva, Buddha and Balarama. On these coins were written, in Brahmi or Kharoshthi, that the money belonged to Rajane Agathuklayasa.

“These square coins, dating back to 180- BC, with Krishna on one side and Balram on the other, were unearthed recently in Al Khanoun in Afghanistan and are the earliest proof that Krishna was venerated as a god, and that the worship had spread beyond the Mathura region,” says T K V Rajan, archaeologist and founder-director, Indian Science Monitor, who is holding a five-day exhibition, In search of Lord Krishna,’ in the city from Saturday. [New finds take archaeologists closer to Krishna-Chennai-Cities-The Times of India]

The images show Vasudeva carrying a chakra and sankha on one side and Balarama carrying a gada (club) and hala (plough) and are some of the earliest coins depicting Krishna and Balarama. But these are not recent discoveries as mentioned in Times of India; a paper on it (Narain, A.K. “Two Hindu Divinities on the Coins of Agathocles from Ai-Khanum”, Journal of Numismatic Society of India) was published in 1973.


  1. Alexander the Great and Bactria By Frank Lee Holt
  2. Iconography of Balarama By N.P. Joshi
Comments { 3 }

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”.

Comments { 0 }

The legend of Charumati maybe true

“This will surely open a new horizon in the history of the Kathmandu Valleyâ??â??

When it comes to Emperor Asoka’s children, the standard line in most textbooks is about how Mahinda and Sanghamitta were sent to Ceylon to spread Buddhism. There is not much mention about his other children and what they did.

He had other sons named Kunala and Tivara[14]. Apparently he also had a daughter named Charumati, and recently one stupa constructed by her was found in the Kathmandu Valley.

Archaeologists at the Department of Archaeology, a government institution to conserve and protect ancient monuments of the country, said this is the first time something has been found in the Kathmandu Valley written in Brahmi script, which was prevalent in 300 BC.

Only two inscriptions have been found so far in Brahmi script in Nepal â?? one in Lumbini and the other in Lignihawa, both erected by emperor Ashoka.

â??We were just enlightened. We could not believe when we found bricks with a word in Brahmi script. This will surely open a new horizon in the history of the Kathmandu Valley,â?said senior archaeologist Prakash Darnal.

The brick has a Dharma-Chakra emblem, two Swastikas, a word â??Cha-ru-wa-tiâ?in Brahmi script and also two other words in the most ancient form of Nepalbhasa script, Bhujimol.

â??Till date, historians believe that the sixth century AD inscription of Mandeva at the Changu Narayan is the oldest inscription found in the Valley and a statue of Jaya Barma, found at Mali Gaon, is regarded as made in the second century ADâ?, he said.

â??What we have found in Chabahil may prove that Kathmandu has a 2,300-year-old written history,â?Darnal said. But he also added that the evidence is not yet scientifically tested and the word could have been written later in Brahmi script that was extinct by the second century in Nepal.

â??The word â??Charuwatiâ?proves the legend of Charumati, said to be Ashokaâ??s daughter, and this has some grounds in the historyâ?, he said.[2300-year-old inscription found in Chabahil]

Comments { 1 }

Where was he born again?

Even though the popular version of history says that Siddhartha was born in Lumbini in present day Nepal, there are a bunch of folks from Orissa who want to prove that the Buddha was born in Kapileshwar village in Orissa. This version is not just a emotional outburst of some fanatics, but of some archaeological experts. These folks have found some artifacts like pottery dating to 6th B.C., but I have not figured out how pottery can help in establishing this theory. But now one historian has come forward suggesting that this is all nonsense.

He said, “The Buddha was neither born in Orissa nor visited the place during his lifetime.” Mr Behera said the claims made in this regard could go against the interests of the state.

The controversy began after it was projected sometime ago that the Buddha was born at Kapileswar, a village near here. Among others, an Ashokan inscription said to have been discovered from the place in 1928 was cited to prove the point. The inscription was similar to the one discovered in 1898 at Lumbini in Nepal, which has all through been acknowledged as the evidence to point that the Buddha was born there. The Lumbini inscription describes that Ashok visited the place because the Buddha was born there.

Mr Behera said the Kapileswar inscription had already been declared as bogus. “Eminent epigraphist D.C. Sircar, at the 1980 Indian History Congress in Mumbai, had described the Kapileswar inscription as a forged document,” he added. “Historical claims must be backed by evidence . But what some people are doing is far from the truth. There has been no serious research to disprove that the Buddha was born in Lumbini,” he said.

“Buddhist literature is silent about the Buddha being born anywhere in the Kalinga region, let alone Kapileswar village. The works of almost all noted scholars on Ashoka do not mention the Kapileswar inscription as believable evidence to change history,” he said. [New debate on birthplace of Buddha]

The Govt. of India did not have the habit of issuing birth certificates to people born before 1970, so this might be a bit hard to prove. One issue where we would like to challenge Mr. Behera is regarding Buddha’s visit to Orissa. When Huen Tsang visited India in 6th century A.D. he saw some stupas which mentioned Buddha’s visit to Kalinga. Those stupas were discovered last month in an excavation. We hope Mr. Behara is not andha to this fact.

Comments { 1 }

Buddhist residence in Bamiyan

Archaeology has returned to Afghanistan in a big way. First there was the announcement regarding the Bactrian Gold.. Then there was constant news about the search for a third reclining Buddha in Bamiyan by Zemaryali Tarzi based on a note written by Huen Tsang. Now a Japanese archaeologist team has found some new structures in Bamiyan.

A Buddhist residence and a religious meeting place have been discovered from under a huge amount of debris in the Bamiyan province of Afghanistan.

(…) Habibolah Takhari, Afghanistan cultural deputy in Iran, says that after one year of the Japanese archaeologists working in Bamiyan, at last two houses have been discovered near the destroyed Buddha statues. According to Takhari, archaeologists believe that these two buildings were Buddhist residences and a place for holding religious meetings.

(…) The statues were historically damaged a few times before, once early in the thirteenth century when the Bamiyan was attacked by Genghis Khan, by Orangzeb Khan in 1689, and by Abdol Rahman Khan in 1892 all of whom made a lot of efforts to damage the statues.[Buddhist Structures Dug up in Bamiyan]

Comments { 0 }