Store Banner Desktop

Store Banner Mobile

A Buddhist stupa at Thotlakonda Buddhist Monastery

Heavy Rain Reduces Indian Buddhist Stupa to Rubble

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

In India, archaeologists and historians have been shocked by the sudden collapse of a restored 2200-year-old Buddhist stupa at a monastery in India. The monument half-collapsed after a prolonged period of heavy rain. It had only recently been renovated and questions have been raised about the nature of the restoration work conducted on the historic monument.

The stupa is located at the Thotlakonda Buddhist Monastery, which is some 10 miles (16 km) from the bustling city of Visakhapatnam in Andhra Pradesh, in eastern India. The monastery was only first identified in the 1970s, by an aerial survey. It had been abandoned and forgotten for hundreds of years and much of the site was in ruins.

Historic Buddhist Center

Thotlakonda Buddhist Monastery ‘is perched on a hill at about 420 feet [128 m] above sea level, overlooking the picturesque Bay of Bengal’ reports the News Network Archaeology. Based on archaeological finds, the monastery was once a major religious and educational center with some one hundred monks living there. Based on the archaeological finds it was very wealthy and many coins have been unearthed. Thotlakonda was built when much of this part of India was Buddhist.

It appears that the monastery and the local region became wealthy because of trade with the Roman world and elsewhere. The site ‘flourished from 2nd Century BC to almost 2nd Century AD’,  states, Rani Sarma, a local heritage conservationist, according to the News Archaeology Network. The monastery was then likely abandoned because of the decline in long-distance trade and a revival in the popularity of Hinduism.

Buddhist remnants at Thotlakonda monastic complex, Visakhapatnam. (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Buddhist remnants at Thotlakonda monastic complex, Visakhapatnam. (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Rediscovery of the Monastery

Since the monastery was found in 1976 by an Indian navy helicopter pilot, there have been several excavations. They were carried out mainly by the Andhra Pradesh State Archaeology Department. These investigations, found that the site was ‘a major Hinayana Buddhist monastery complex, which had links with Sri Lanka’ reports the News Archaeology Network.

Buddhist Stupa

The stupa, which is the main one in the Buddhist complex, was found in a state of ruin in the 1980s. It was originally a spherical monument that probably housed, a holy relic and could even have been a place of pilgrimage. In the heyday of the monastery, it was covered in white plaster and was visible for miles. It has been speculated that the stupa was used by mariners as a landmark to guide them safely to a local port.

The local Indian authorities decided to reconstruct the monastery and its main stupa. ‘The base of the stupa was recreated in the late ‘90s or early 2000s’ according to local historian Sohan Hatangadi, The News Minute reports. The monument was completely rebuilt based on the probable original design, using modern bricks and it was intended to recreate what the structure would have looked like some two millennia ago.

Maha Stupa at Thotlakonda Monastery, India. (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Maha Stupa at Thotlakonda Monastery, India. (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Collapse in the Rain

Last Wednesday, after a sustained period of heavy rain, there was a disaster. The stupa that had been so carefully recreated partially crumbled. No one was injured during the collapse of the monument. Approximately half of the stupa is still intact and standing, while the other half is now only a pile of bricks.

There are many who are raising questions as to why a monument that had only been restored in recent years could have partially fallen. It would seem that the work was not done very professionally and did not conform to the highest standards, according to News Minute. When the monument was first built it was done painstakingly slowly to allow each layer of brick to set and harden. News Minute reports Sohan as stating that, ‘It’s possible that during the recreation, the dome was not packed tightly enough or not given enough time to weather’. It seems the original creators of the structure had better construction skills than its modern-day restorers.

The poor quality of work resulted in cracks appearing in the stupa which had been identified and repaired previously. ‘There were cracks on the stupas then and they were filled up but it was not done as per the norms’ according Edward Paul, a conservationist, reports the News Archaeology Network. As a result during the heavy rains of the past three years, water seeped into the structure. This ultimately led to the much of the stupa crumbling during the recent downpour.

News of the near collapse of the stupa is regarded as a tragedy by the local community. Many people in Andhra Pradesh are very proud of the Buddhist monastery. Moreover, it is very important to the local tourism industry. It is not known if the Buddhist monument will be reconstructed.

Top image: A Buddhist stupa at Thotlakonda Buddhist Monastery           Source: VAdkri / Twitter

By Ed Whelan



beatbeatbeat's picture

The Giza pyramids had been built thousand years (2000 BC) prior to the building of Thotlakonda Stupa (200 BC) and they are still tenacious until now. Yes, the stupa should be reconstructed, on a STRONG foundation because anyway it's such an historical religious place which is very important for the pilgrims or Buddhists themselves.


Ed Whelan's picture


My name is Edward Whelan and I graduated with a PhD in history in 2008. Between 2010-2012 I worked in the Limerick City Archives. I have written a book and several peer reviewed journal articles. At present I am a... Read More

Next article