Ever since it was made the capital of Andhra Pradesh, Amaravati has been making headlines for various reasons. Amaravati is a small temple town in Andhra Pradesh which is located on the banks of River Krishna. Once the capital of the famous Satavahanas and Pallava Kings, Amaravati’s history dates back to the 2nd century BCE. In this article, we will take a look at Amaravati history and its religious & value.
Amaravati is situated at 39 Km from Vijayawada and 32 Km from Guntur on the right side of the Krishna river in Andhra Pradesh. The Krishna river flows north of the city as opposed to south or east as in most places and hence is considered more auspicious.
Amaravati’s recorded history is from 2nd Century BCE. As the Telugu capital of Andhra under the rule of Satavahanas, Amaravati capital’s glory had reached great heights between 2nd and 3rd century BCE. The Satavahana era started after the Mauryan era and before the Gupta era.
Rule of the Satavahana Dynasty
The kingdom of Satavahana arose on the ruins of the Mauryan empire in the first century B.C. in the north-west part of Deccan. The administration, social, religious & economic conditions, and architecture give us a glimpse of the rule of the Satavahana kings.
The coins, literature, and inscriptions during the Satavahana’s rule give us a glimpse of their administration. The highest official of the Government was the king and his office was hereditary.
The Satavahana rulers carried out their duties as per the directives of the social customs and Dharma Shastra and the kings didn’t assume any high sounding titles. The king was the commander-in-chief of the battle forces and led his armies in the battlefield.
A council of ministers would aid and advise the king in administrative affairs. The king was not only the head of the government but also the protector of the people. The Satavahana kings looked after the welfare of his subjects and considered them as his own children.
Since the Satavahana empire was very large, they had a feudal administrative system. The empire was divided amongst various feudal lords and these lords took care of the administration and managed the land revenue system.
The feudatories were divided into three grades namely, Raja, Mahabhoja and Maharathi or also called Senapati. The Raja formed the highest grade and had the rights for tax imposition and strike coins. For maintaining the efficiency of the administration, the kingdom was divided into provinces and janapadas.
Amatya or the minister was the highest official in the province. Men with proven ability were selected as the minister and this office was not hereditary. Each province had many villages under it and was administered by a Gramika. Several officials such as the Senapati, Mahabhoja, Rajadoof, Amatya and Koshadhyaksha helped the king in administration.
A special official called as the Uparakshita was appointed for the building of caves for the monks. The Brahmanas and the monks were held in high esteem and were beyond the laws of the government as they preached and practiced high standards of conduct.
The local administration has its own importance in this period and had separate organizations for the welfare of the towns and villages. Gram Sabhas administered the villages while the towns were administered by the Nagarsabha. These local bodies function independently.
The Satavahanas also had an efficient military administration. The infantry comprised of foot soldiers, elephants and cavalry and they formed the backbone of the army. Axes, swords, armors, and spears are some of the weapons of the war used by the soldiers.
In order to maintain peace and order, the Satavahanas had posted regiment in every village and the regiment was maintained with the expenses collected from the village inhabitants.
During the Satavahana rule, society was divided into 4 classes based on economic status and activity. The first class comprised of higher officials and feudal chiefs who rule over the districts and provinces. The second class comprised of officers such as Mahamatras, Amartyas, and traders. The third class comprised of writers, physicians, perfumers, goldsmiths, etc. The fourth comprised of carpenters, gardeners, fishermen, and blacksmiths.
The family formed the smallest unit in the society and was commanded by Grihapathi, the eldest living member. Women received great honor during the regime of the Satavahanas. They could pursue higher education and take part in religious ceremonies. In fact, some of the rulers had their mother’s name as their surname such as Gautamaputra, Pulumavi, Vashishthiputra, Kaushakiputra, etc.
Brahmanism flourished under Satavahanas as they themselves were Brahmanas. Intermarriages were allowed so that foreigners were absorbed into the Hindu social order.
The common man led a happy life with all the facilities and was economically well off. Agriculture and trade prospered during the Satavahana’s period. As they inherited the traits of Mauryan materialistic culture, they made their lives better. One can see the mix of northern ingredients and local elements under them. Usage of coins, ring wells, burnt bricks was learned from the Mauryas. Rice and cotton were cultivated between the Godavari and Krishna rivers. One can also find the usage of implements made of iron by peasants and well irrigation.
Professionals and traders had their own sanghas or guilds. The main objective of these guilds was to look after the interests of their trade and worked for upliftment. These guilds worked as bankers as well and were recognized by the government.
The Satavahanas carried out foreign trade through the ports of Kalyan, Broach, and Supara and had trade relations with other countries such as Rome, Egypt, and Arabia. The Indian traders even established their own settlements in the far eastern countries and also preached Indian culture.
Cotton, spices, textiles, etc were exported and items of luxury, glass, and wine were imported. The inland trade also flourished during this period. They had better roads and transport and people could easily travel between the north and the south.
Hinduism and Buddhism both flourished during the Satavahana period. As followers of Brahmanism, they performed Aswamedha Yajnas and generously donated to Brahmanas. People worshipped Krishna, Vasudeva, Indra, Pasupati, Chandra, Surya, and Gauri. Beautiful temples were built during this rule and both Vaishnavism & Shaivism flourished.
The Satavahana kings showed tolerance towards other faiths especially Buddhism. Donations similar to Brahmanas were also given to Buddhist monks. Buddhism too flourished during this period and many stupas, caves & chaityas were built for them as well.
The foreign races such as the Greeks, Abhiras, Kushans and Sakas were admitted into the folds of Hinduism and Buddhism and became an integral part of the society.
Under the patronage of the Satavahana ruler, literature made great progress. The rulers themselves were learned men and showed a special interest in literature. You can see the significant development of Prakrit literature and language. Most of their inscriptions are in Prakrit language. The Satavahana king, Hala was a poet himself and Gunadhya, Sarva Varman were other scholars one can find in this period.
The Satavahana rulers showed special interest in building monasteries, viharas, chaityas, caves and large halls with a number of stupas and columns. Many rock caves found in the Deccan were cut during this period. The monasteries, caves, stupas, and chaityas found in Nasik, Karle, Bhuj, and Orissa are a testimony to the architecture and decoration of the Satahavahanas.
The Chaitya of Karle which is about 40 meters long and 15 meters wide & 15 meters high and had rows of 15 columns on each side was the most famous. The pillars have figures of a horse, an elephant or a rider on top. One can also see elephant carvings on the rooftop. Viharas is where the monks resided. Nasik has three viharas which have the inscriptions of Nahapana and Gautamiputra.
Stupas were the famous of all the monuments by the Satavahanas of which Amaravati Stupa and Nagarjunakonda Stupa are the most famous. Both of them are full of sculptures. Amaravati stupa is 100 feet high and measures about 162 meters across the base. The Nagarjunakonda town also has ancient Hindu brick temples in addition to Buddhist monuments.
Many of the sculptures from this period depict the life of Gautam Buddha. In fact, one can see a beautiful scene from the life of Buddha showing his feet being worshipped by his followers and also scene depicting Buddha preaching at Nagarjunakonda is full of serenity and calmness.
Other Rulers of Amaravati
After the fall of the Satavahana kingdom, Pallavas ruled Amaravati and the entire Krishna river valley. Subsequently, the region was ruled by the Chalukyas, Cholas and then the Kakatiyas in the medieval times.
Several dynasties later possessed Amaravati such as the Delhi, Bahmani, & Golconda sultanates and the Vijayanagara empire. Finally, it fell into the hands of the Mughal empire when the first Nizam of Hyderabad conquered it. It is also said that Hyder Ali of the Mysore empire also possessed it for a short period. Later it was colonized by the French in the year 1750 and then by the British in 1759.
Chinese traveler, Hiuen Tsang who was also a Buddhist monk is known to have visited Amaravati Capital during its prime in 640 CE.
In modern India, Amaravati lost its prime and glory and remained as a small temple town in Andhra Pradesh. After it has been chosen as the capital of Andhra Pradesh, hope to see Amaravati regain its past glory and bring about rich dividends for the development of the state of Andhra Pradesh.
Melting Pot of Cultures
Amaravati has been the melting pot of cultures thanks to the many rulers of Satavahana empire tolerance towards various religions. The region is also called Sridhanyakataka which means “City of Tolerance”.
Lord Amaralingeswara Swamy is worshipped by the people of Amaravati with much reverence and devotion. The presence of Amaravati Stupa shows the rich history of the Buddhist religion in this region.
The dynasties that came after the Satavahanas patronized Jainism. As the Satavahanas patronized Hinduism, the city was given the name Amararamam named after the ancient Amaravati temple Amaralingeshwara. Amaravati is also called Punyakshetra as it is home to one the Panchramas, the Amareswara Swamy temple.
The Amaravati Legend
There is a legend in Amaravati that when the demon Tarakasura was killed by Lord Subramanya, the Shivalingam in the demon’s throat broke and fell in five different places. These places are known as Pancharama-kshetras. Amaravati has the foremost of these at Amareswara. It is believed that Devas and the Indra worshiped the Shiva here.
Amaravathi’s Buddhist History
Under the Mauryan empire, Emperor Ashoka had patronized Buddhism and had built monastery and stupa in Amaravati. Even before the rise of Satavahanas, Buddhism prevailed in Amaravati.
Amaravati has one of the biggest stupas in Andhra Pradesh known as the Mahachaitya or the great Stupa which was built in the 2nd century. This Amaravati stupa has a diameter of 50 meters and is 27 meters high.
A monk from Tibet, Taranath wrote that in the year following his enlightenment on the full moon month of the Chaitra masa, Buddha emanated the mandala of the Kalachakra (The Glorious Lunar Mansions) at the great stupa of Dhanyakataka.
This shows that Amaravati (Dhanyakatakam) was a place of significance that marked the origins of many Tantric teachings in Buddhism. The Amaravati sculptures of Buddhism are unique. Slabs with Buddhist inscriptions have been found the Amaravati’s Buddhist shrine. This place is also home to some of the best known Buddhist relics which are 2000 years old making it a significant Buddhist pilgrimage center.
The Amaravati Buddhist Stupa is one of the largest stupas in India. Earlier stupas had a simple structure. They had crossbars made of limestone and simple carvings. These were later renovated by the Satavahanas and turned them into highly marked structural monuments. Amaravati Buddhist Stupa is rumored to have been constructed under the guidance of the Acharya Nagarjuna, a great saint.