Bojjannakonda, India: The Hill of the Buddha Where Kings and Nobles Donated Countless Treasures
Buddhism is one of the most well-known spiritual traditions in India and its long history in the country has resulted in many spectacular and significant Buddhist sites and ruins. These include remarkable rock-cut caves, the most important of which are at Bojjannakonda. Today, the rock-cut caves are still of great spiritual worth to Buddhists and protected by the Indian government while local experts are trying to secure more funding for the location’s preservation.
From Ashoka the Great to Present Day - The History of Bojjannakonda
Buddhism flourished in northern India for many centuries. It thrived under the patronage of the Mauryan Emperors, especially Ashoka the Great. However, after the fall of the Mauryan Empire, it is possible the new Shunga dynasty persecuted the Buddhists. Over time the religion went into a decline and today they make up only a small percentage of the Indian population.
The rock cave, now known locally as Bojjannakonda, is located near the modern village of Sankaram. Between the third and ninth century AD, when it was originally known as the ‘hill of the Buddha’, this crucial Buddhist center flourished.
The three main Buddhist traditions (Hinayana, Mahayana, and Vajrayana) have all influenced the development of the site and recent archaeological digs have disclosed many artifacts that have helped to widen experts’ understanding of the history of Buddhism in India.
Statue found in the caves at Bojjannakonda ( CC BY 3.0 )
The wealth and influence of Sankaram can be found in the many Buddhist statues and the elaborate rock-caves that are located in its vicinity. As Buddhism lost it popularity after 900 AD, Sankaram went into decline, but it is still revered by the local people, most of whom are Hindus.
The Two Rock Caves at Bojjannakonda
There are actually two significant caves sites dedicated to the Buddha near Sankaram. The hill to the east of the village is known to the locals as Bojjannakonda, and the western one is officially known as Lingalakonda, although, many refer to both rock cave sites as Bojjannakonda. The eastern hill (Bojjannakonda) is covered with many stupas which are mound like features made from earth that contain Buddhist relics as well as the remains of the monks and nuns were often buried within. The stupas are large and typically have domes made from bricks.
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Rock cut stupas at Bojjannakonda ( CC BY 3.0 )
Above the central stupa, which is surrounded by small chaitya (Buddhist shrines), a massive sculpture of Buddha is portrayed meditating. In total, there are five additional smaller caves cut into the hills which have smaller Buddha status over stupas. Many panels decorated with Buddhist iconography, especially of the Buddha and his followers, have been discovered in these caves.
A statue of the Hindu goddess Hariti, who may have been absorbed into local Buddhism early on, graces an area at the foot of the hill. This indicates that the hill has been used for centuries by Hindus as well as Buddhists, which is typical of the traditionally tolerant nature of Indian people and religions.
Lingalakonda, the Site of Vaisakha Pournami Celebrations
This western hill also has several caves cut into the rock that have stupas with Buddha statues. Generally, the monuments here are not as large as those at Bojjannakonda. It is used by local people to celebrate Vaisakha Pournami, the birthday of an important Hindu deity. There have been incredible finds of coins, tablets, and other items located at the site which indicates that local aristocrats and kings made generous donations to the Buddhist community who lived at nearby Sankaram until at least 1000 AD.
Where to Find Bojjannakonda
Located in the state of Andhra Pradesh in the east of India, the twin hills of Bojjannakonda and Lingalakonda are a few kilometers from the village of Sankaram, which is not far from the bustling city of Vishakhapatnam.
Rock cut seated Buddha, Bojjannakonda ( CC BY 3.0 )
Stairs lead up the hills to the two sites and an entrance fee is charged to enter the popular Buddhist tourist centers. Accommodation to suit every budget is plentiful near Bojjannakonda.
Top image: Bojjannakonda Buddha Source: Public Domain
By Ed Whelan
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Available at: https://www.jstor.org/stable/1465151?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents
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