Amaravati. A name steeped in history. A name that conjures up the most glorious phase in the history of India, and of Telugus. Sai Papineni takes you on an exciting journey through time, to the beginnings, to the first stirrings of the historical process…
Anew capital needs a new name. A name that galvanizes the hopes and aspirations of the people. A name hat gives its every citizen, from the farthest corners of the state, a sense of ownership. A name that upholds e ultural ancestry and a name that is grand. It is no mean task to find one; however, we are fortunate to have ne such name which is steeped in our history. A name so completely interwoven into the cultural ethos of the state, that brings out the memories of a glorious past. A name that has taught half the world what civilization really means.
The name is Amaravati
The name conjures up the most glorious phase in the history of India when both material and cultural rosperity was at its peak. It was the capital of an empire, which was matched in extent only by the Romans, ut nmatched in its prosperity. Unlike Rome where the fruits of labor were enjoyed only by a few, here the ommon man – farmer, shepherd, artisan and the humble trader – reaped the benefits. They had built onuments unsurpassed in size and beauty and recorded their lives in plastic art and literature, for posterity. They had set new trends in fashion and lifestyle, patronized popular and plebian faiths, even invented new gods and rituals.
Who were they?
They were none other than our own forefathers, men and women of diverse faiths and professions and ackgrounds, who together called themselves Andhras, and Amaravati was their capital. It was not only the administrative center but the very cradle of their civilization. From the point of view of a historian, the arliest signs of the Iron Age in South India, the mainstay of civilization could be traced to this place. ‘The common illage folk who worship serpents and trees, even today, were the people who had carried on their shoulders he ways and means of the Iron Age civilization to the rest of peninsular India,’ they say. It’s a short journey through time, to the beginnings, where history began to take shape… The Beginnings – 500 BCE Archaeologists have found the characteristic polished black pottery of the Ganges region (NBP) at the deepest levels of Amaravati. This confirms the cultural links between Amaravati and the early historic civilization of he Indo Gangetic Plains. Today, a short distance from the river is a village called Vaḍḍamānu. The earliest tructures in the shape of a small stupa of the Jains were found here by archaeologists.
The name Vaḍḍamānu is a giveaway. With the coming of the Iron plough, the lower Krishna basin became a ice bowl. The place took a new name – Vaḍla Mānu – ‘Rice Stockpile’ (One may find its roots still hidden in words like Vaḍlu, Mānige, Māḷige, Maṇugu, Mānyam etc.). Amaravati became a magnet that attracted people from the neighboring countryside and far afield. Population grew. With the arrival of people from different laces, many new cultures – a combination of languages, faiths and merchandise – were added to the vibrant ixture. In due course, Vaḍlamānu was Sanskritized to Dhānyakaṭakam. Tibetan Buddhist records allude to these beginnings. The people of Amaravati were variously called as Nagas, Andhakas and Andhras in literature. By the Puranac age the name Andhras stuck, and the capital Amaravati became Andhranagari, the City of Andhras. Even as arly as the times of Mahavira and Buddha, the city had been an important destination. A medieval Jain text alled Avaśyaka Sūtra mentions that Vardhamāna Mahavira, the last Ford Maker of the Jainas visited the rishna valley. Buddhist tradition alludes to a visit of Gautama Buddha at Amaravati. These mentions push the ntiquity of Amaravati all the way to the 6th Century BCE and also place Amaravati at the focal point of civilization in South India By the times of Asoka, Amaravati was a burgeoning town. The famous Mahāchaitya of Amaravati was made a little more grandiose. But the true magnificence had to wait until the rise of the AndhraŚatavāhana kings.
Splendor – 230 BCE to 225 CE
Purāṇās say that Andhra kings ruled Magadha for 450 years. It was an allusion to the Śatavāhana Empire being the most dominant power in India uring that period. The Śatavāhanas ruled from many cities as the then political circumstances dictated. But heir capital – administrative, economic and spiritual – had always been Amaravati, variously called Śridhānya, Siritana, Dhanakaḍa, Thanakacheka and Dhānyakataka. This profusion of different names in literature and pigraphy only confirms the diversity of the people and the cultures that that city had hosted. In the words of autami Bālasri, mother of Śātakarni, the greatest of the Śātavahana rulers, the empire had extended way beyond the present.
Telugu speaking region and South India. No wonder, people of different languages and cultures lived in armony in this truly cosmopolitan city. An abundance of Roman coins were found at Amaravati – more than 000 in silver and gold. Smaller hoards were found spread across the length and breadth of the Telugu speaking region, proving the part played by Andhra entrepreneurs in Roman trade that had Dhānyakatakaas ts principal entrėpot. There is more to it, mercantile kingdoms promoted by the Andhra kings flourished eyond the seas, in Myanmar, the Malaysian Peninsula, Indonesia and Indo China. Old names of these ingdoms re Trilinga (Myanmar), Kaḷinga (Thailand), Andhara (Palembang in Java) and the most astounding of all, maravati for Vietnam and Laos. All the provincial capitals of this ‘Indo Chinese Amaravati’ were named after he ancient cities of the Krishna valley, viz. Kuddura, Pandara and Vijaya. These names and the cultural emnants of art and sculpture establish beyond doubt the enriching influence of the Andhras on South East sia. Wealth from all these lands contributed to making Amaravati one of the most prosperous cities of the world then.
To visualize the splendor of that metropolis, one must stand still on the banks of the Krishna, the life blood of the Telugu people, close ones eyes and listen to her… from her dark depths the images of our past will manifest themselves. Amaravati and its environs will come alive. Archaeological finds, literary allusions and representations of the city and its life in plastic art can only confirm those images.
The city stretched on the right bank for five Chinese li, that is around twelve kilometers by today’s reckoning. Buildings two to three floors high crowded the waterfront. A citadel with high walls stood at the far west. It as surrounded by orchards and a moat fed by the river. The king lived there. The administrative offices of various Nigamās and Gōṣtis were located on a straight north-south road called Mahāpatham. The road had led to Samprati Vihāra, a Jaina suburb, and probably beyond to the cantonments of standing armies. Another orth-south road called Tōraṇamāggamran parallel. It was the main commercial street lined by shops, leading rom the docks. The main dock was an engineering marvel – a deep channel was cut into the eastern side of he itadel lined with brick and stone to facilitate the entry of large ocean going vessels. We need not be surprised f Roman Triremes and Chinese Junks had made regular calls at this port. Greeks, Romans and Persians from he west and Chinese, Polynesians and Melanesians from across the eastern sea thronged the market street. ndhra craftsmen produced works of art in wood, metal and stone that adorned the stalls of Amaravati. Raw ilk imported from China was turned into drapes that embellished Roman homes. Exquisite muslins and alaṃkāri prints produced by Andhra weavers became a drain on Rome’s exchequer. These artisans and erchants became members of quasi legislative bodies called Nigama Sabhās and Gōṣtis that administered the ity and contributed greatly to skills development and education.
Lateral roads headed off from the main street into gated townships of these guilds of artisans. Residential homes were surrounded by compounds – many had gardens with walls or fences built around them. Affluent ouses were built of bricks and stone, while the smaller ones in wattle and daub. Many houses were attached o orkshops – of ironsmiths, potters, carpenters, weavers etc.. Based on the find locations of tools, furnaces and aterial remains at Amaravati, Dhūlikatta, Sātānikōta Nāgārjunikonda and other such contemporary sites, archaeologists concluded that different craftsmen lived n close communities – the germ of caste based society may be seen here.
These diverse people stood by different faiths that coexisted. The official religion of the kings was Bhāgavata- Puranic, an early form of Hinduism. Inscriptions of Śātavahana queens began with a praise of Vāsudēva and Saṃkarṣana. The earliest pictorial representations of Ganapati and Lakshmi were found in Amaravati art. Archaeologists found a layer of Jaina substratum at Vaḍḍamānu. But the most dominant faith of the times was Mahāyāna Buddhism. The city was flanked by two of the greatest centers of monastic learning – Pūrvaśaila nd Avaraśaila ārāmas. They were home to some of the celebrated teachers who spread the word to the arthest corners of the world including China. Mahāyāna became the most popular creed across the Telugu peaking region leaving an indelible impression on its language and culture. The Mahāchaitya of Amaravati ecame the focal landmark of the Andhras, praised and revered for a thousand years. The spiritual legacy of hose times still remains very much a part of the latter day Hinduism of Adi Śankara.
Legacy – 300 CE to Today
After 450 years of Śātavahana rule the empire disintegrated. In the west, the Roman Empire declined. Trade ceased. Urban occupations became less rewarding. But Dhānyakataka continued to be the symbol of rosperity, coveted by kings. Political power moved away from Amaravati to the peripheries of the Telugu egion. Pallavas of Dhānyakataka moved their capitals to Kanchi and Hemāvati, beyond the boundaries of resent day Andhra. In the east, Vāsistiputra Śivaśakti of Māṭarās moved his capital to the border of Odisha. onḍa Chuḷukis of Nāgārjunikonḍa rose to power in Western Deccan as Chaḷukyas with their capital at Bādāmi. he Telugu country had split into smaller political units. For an eternity, Telugu people never had a capital city o call their own, except for half a century when the Andhras were united under the Kākatīyas (with their rincipal feudatories, Kōta kings ruling from Dharaṇikōta).
Yet the spiritual legacy of Amaravati was kept alive. As late as the 14th Century, pilgrim monks from as far as Sri Lanka visited at the Mahāchaitya of Amaravati. Some kings also contributed to its upkeep. But by then Buddhism in India was on certain decline. With the rise of Shaivism Amaravati became Amarārāmam, the abode of Amareśwara an image of Siva. The original temple built by Chāḷukya Bhīma was later renewed by the eddy kings of Konḍavīdu. But by the 18th century the glory of Amaravati was almost forgotten. An insignificant event in 1796 brought Amaravati back into focus. With the establishment of the East India Company rule, a local zamindar, Rājah Vāsireddy Venkatādri Naidu moved his base to this village. It was he ho had discovered the ruins of the Mahāchaitya under a large earthen mound called Dīpāladinne.
The discovery led to dismembering
Antiquarians, civil servants and the so called archaeologists began unearthing the artistic masterpieces of Amaravati. As historians started piecing together the ancient glory of the Andhras, the remnants of their past were moved away to the power centers of the then British Raj. As Andhras for a thousand or more years had o capital city of their own, their cultural heritage moved to Madras and London. Even during the heyday of the ritish Raj, right thinking men like Henry Cole Jr, the then Conservator of Ancient Monuments in the 1880s, dvocated against moving the Amaravati sculptures away from home. His cries to preserve the local heritage in itu fell on deaf ears. Today, at last we shall have a new capital to call our own. It is laudable that the cabinet of the Government of Andhra Pradesh has decided to name it Amaravati, deservingly so. Now is the right time for us to make a nited effort to bring back our heritage to its rightful home.
Sai Papineni is a passionate and serious researcher of Telugu history and culture. His debut historical novel “Andhra agari” depicts the glorious era of Telugus with Amaravati as capital in the 3rd Century B.C.E.