A Pilgrimage

The vihara at Nagarjunakonda island (click to enlarge images)

It required a visit to the ancient town reconstructed at Anupu on the banks of the Krishna river to drive home what a great setback the decline and destruction of Buddhism was to Indian civilization. A number of reasons have been ascribed to account for the atheistic religion’s demise in the land of its birth. This includes the one pointed out by DD Kosambi- that the Buddhist monasteries succumbed to their opulence. Another theory is that it was too closely aligned with centralized states and when those broke up, so did the religion. Whatever be the reasons for its ultimate decline, it is certain is that its successor- Brahmanical Hinduism, was worse. As I gazed over the monastery and the amphitheater a deep sense of reverence and awe came over me. It was soon broken, though, by the chants of shalokas from the Bhagavad Gita over the loudspeaker from a close by temple. The sound was metaphorically shattering. It was Shancaracharya, after all, who sounded the death knell of Buddhism and revived the Gita.

With the demise of the viharas, gone forever were the days when education would be open for all (castes) and not restricted to a minuscule minority. Gone too were the universities, till the British arrived and started building the new ones after the European pattern. There was a long period of the Indian version of the dark ages when social reaction triumphed.

To come back to the trip to Nagarjunakonda, which  has been reconstructed on an island after the original site was submerged under the waters when a dam was built over the Krishna river. There is a reconstructed Buddhist monastery as well as megalithic mounds. On the banks of the river there is a place called Anupu that has some of the reconstructed sites. The picture below is taken at Anupu and is the reconstruction of the amphitheater, possibly inspired by the ones in Rome. Though the association is hypothetical, the place is named after acharya Nagarjuna, the founder of the Mahayana school of Buddhism. More on him in a later post. For now, here are some pictures from the trip.

Amphitheater at the monastery, Anupu

Rooms for the monks (foreground), Anupu

A Buddha statue and a stupa, Nagarjunakonda

Cheerful people on the way…

Sunset over the past

More pictures here.


Author: bhupinder singh

an occasional blogger

4 thoughts on “A Pilgrimage”

  1. With the demise of the viharas, gone forever were the days when education would be open for all and not restricted to a minuscule minority.

    Any idea if the students of the Viharas entered married life?

    1. As far as I understand it was restricted to only monks. But your point is well taken, I should have said education would be ‘open to all castes’ and not ‘open to all’.

  2. I believe this was the case with both Jainism and Buddhism. I’m not sure how this would have prevented Brahmins from structuring a caste society. There was no Buddhist or Jain community identity (I think Jain communities were established after 8th century, restricted to few castes, in south and north-west). I’m also not sure of the ability of celibate education to bring about any social change. For an analogy, we can consider Mongolia where by 1920, 50% of the male population were supposedly Buddhist monks.

    I suppose, by ‘open to all castes’, you mean, after the ascendancy of Brahmanical Hinduism in India. Prior to that I suppose there was at least one Varna or caste that of Brahmins. I believe many of the Buddhist and Jain monks were Brahmins or so had been dutifully recorded(including mythical/historical Nagarjuna).

    1. The point I was trying to make was that the viharas and ancient Buddhist universities were great attempts at taking education to broader sections of society. They were not ideal and cannot be compared with modern education. The social reaction that set in after Buddhism did not attempt to even carry forward these legacies. None of the subsequent religions- Hinduism, Islam, Sikhism attached any importance to spreading education systematically.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: