Friday, November 13, 2015

The Treasures of Kanganhalli

The small village of Kanganhalli in the Indian state of Karnataka briefly attracted the attention of archaeologists in the early 1950s but caused little excitement. The brick walls of an ancient city enclosing an area of about 80 hectares was situated next to the Bhimi River, the small medieval Chandralamba Temple contained a few ancient inscriptions of little interest, and there were several low mounds in the area which were likely to have ancient structures under them. Then in 1989  Kanganhalli   leapt into the news, and not just in India but internationally as well. When workmen repairing the Chandralamba Temple lifted a large flat stone beneath the statue of the temple deity they found, to their utter amazement, an inscription of King Asoka inscribed on it. Asoka's inscriptions are extreamly important for unraveling early Indian history and the discovery of each new one helps build a more compleat picture of that history. But a decade later Kanganhalli was to reveal even more of his hidden treasures to the world. When the government of Karnataka decided to dam the Bhima River, meaning that  Kanganhalli would eventually disappear below the water, archaeologists were asked to excavate the several mounds  around the village, just to see if anything of historical importance lay beneath them. They could have hardly imagined what they would find. Almost immediately crisply carved white limestone slabs covered with sculptures, a railing, 300 inscriptions and Buddha statues began to emerge. They had stumbled across one of the most important archaeological find in India since independence. What was to finally emerge was the Adhalaka Maha Caitya first built in about the 1st century BCE and which was a major centre from Buddhist pilgrims for the next 400 years. The first stupa at  Kanganhalli may have been built by Asoka and this was later enlarged and beautified by the early Satavahana kings of Andra.  Twelve such kings are mentioned in the inscriptions, greatly adding to a better understanding of this dynasty. It seems that sometime in the 4th century the stupa collapsed, displacing all the carved slabs, breaking some of them, and burying them under the rubble. Why the devotees and monks did not try to repair the stupa is unknown, but this served to preserve the carved slabs in almost perfect conditio
From a historical and artistic perspective the  Kanganhalli  stupa is of the highest importance, it has a significance for today’s Buddhists also. It shows that the Buddhism we are familiar with is almost the same as that practiced by the Buddhists of  Kanganhalli  two thousand years ago. Some of the carved slabs depict the main events in the Buddha’s biography just as it is taught in a thousand  sermons even today, from the birth right up to the sharing out of the relics. Other slabs illustrate the same Jataka stories that we read; the Mahakapi Jataka, the Vessantra Jataka, the Chhaddanta Jataka, etc. Interestingly, some of the Jatakas are named slightly differently from those we know; for example the  Sutasoma Jataka is called the Mahasutasoma. Scenes from Buddhist history are also depicted, the most important ones being of Majjhima and Durabhissara who introduced Buddhism to Kashmir after the  Third  Council, an event mentioned in the Dipavamsa. One of the most interesting of the inscriptions is above the image of a regal figure with a woman besides him and with an umbrella being held over him. This inscription, in Brahmi script, reads raya asoko, "King Asoka". This seems to be the earliest depiction of the great Buddhist monarch. At present it is quite difficult to get to Kanganhalli as the roads are poor and public transport is irregular. The nearest town is Gulbarga which has a museum housing a fine selection of the sculptures from Kanganhalli.  


Ken and Visakha said...

Superb! Thanks as always.

In the Dhamma,
Visakha and Ken

brahmavihara said...

What a magnificent find. We assume that the inundation planned for this area has likely been abandoned, or are the relics to be relocated?
Many thanks for this Bhante.

Shravasti Dhammika said...

Dear Brahmavihara, verything has been moved to a specially built museum in the district capital. But something is lost not seeing a monument it its original location. But I suppose India needs the water.

Arasu said...

Thanks Bhante. Wanting to locate this place on a map I got a bigger surprise when I searched for the nearby town of 'Gulbarga' and the first image that comes up in Google Maps is this hugh beautiful Buddha Vihara built in 2009.

Unknown said...

Thanks for this, Venerable. Gave me a warm feeling in the chest.