Buddhist patronage by Hindu monarchs

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By Himanshu Bhatt

In the pluralistic tradition of Hinduism, sects are all bound by common principles, objectives and pursuits (i.e., Moksha.) While many Hindus, both Vaishnavas and other, consider Buddha to have been an avatar of Vishnu, others do not but they still recognize the Buddha as an important Hindu guru, sanyasi, yogi, and one whose teachings can lead to Moksha.

Pan-Hindu monarchs, while being devout to a particular sect themselves were open to accepting and supporting their family members being of any other sect. These kings had supported various sects as to give them patronage and build temples for them. For example, King Kharavela the Jain king of Kalinga who was called a "sarva pasanda pujaka" (worshiper of all sects) and "sarva devayatana samskarana"[1] (builder of temples for all sects), there have been many Buddhist and non-Buddhist monarchs too that had supported both Buddhism and other sects.

North India

Pushyabhuti Monarchs

According to legend, Emperor Harsha worshiped Shiva on one day, worshiped Surya like his father on another, and worshiped the Buddha on another. According to the Chinese Pilgrim Xuanzang, who visited his kingdom in 636 CE, Harsha built numerous stupas in the name of Buddha. Xuanzang entered a a grand competition organized by Harsha and won the theological debate. Harsha also became a patron of art and literature. He made numerous endowments to the University at Nalanda. Two seals of Harsha have been found in Nalanda in the course of the excavations. All these favors and donations of the great emperor were crowned by the construction of a lofty wall enclosing all the buildings of the university to defend the institution from any other possible attack. In 643 he held a Buddhist convocation at Kannauj which was reputedly attended by 20 kings and thousands of pilgrims.

Sunga Monarchs

The Sungas built some stupas, including one at Baharut.

Some Indian scholars are of the opinion that the orthodox Sunga rulers were not intolerant towards Buddhism and that Buddhism prospered during the time of the Sunga kings. The existence of Buddhism in Bengal in the Sunga period can also be inferred from a terracotta tablet that was found at Tamralipti and is on exhibit at the Asutosh Museum, University of Calcutta.

An insription at Bodh Gaya at the Mahabodhi Temple records the construction of the temple as follows: "The gift of Nagadevi the wife of King Brahmamitra", so then this further means that the Sungas were in support of Buddhism.[2]

Another inscription reads:

"The gift of Kurangi, the mother of living sons and the wife of King Indragnimitra, son of Kosiki. The gift also of Srima of the royal palace shrine."[3]

Cunningham has regretted the loss of the latter part of these important records. As regards the first coping inscription, he has found traces of eleven Brahmi letters after "Kuramgiye danam", the first nine of which read "rajapasada-cetika sa". Bloch reads these nine letters as "raja-pasada-cetikasa" and translates this expression in relation to the preceding words:

"(the gift of Kurangi, the wife of Indragnimitra and
the mother of living sons), "to the caitya (cetika)
of the noble temple", taking the word raja before
pasada as an epithet on ornans, distinguishing the
temple as a particularly large and stately building
similar to such expressions as rajahastin 'a noble
elephant', rajahamsa `a goose (as distinguished from
hamsa 'a duck'), etc." Cunningham has translated the
expression by "the royal palace, the caitya",
suggesting that "the mention of the raja-pasada would
seem to connect the donor with the king's family,"
Luders doubtfully suggests "to the king's temple" as
a rendering of "raja-pasada-cetikasa."

Gupta Monarchs

It is argued by some Hindus that Gautama Buddha was a teacher of Advaita. The Amarakosha Grantha, the Sanskrit dictionary, written by Amarasimha one of the nine gems of the Gupta court, lists many of the names and epithets by which the Buddha is traditionally known:

English Pali
All-knowing, transcendental, awakened, king of righteousness, he who has come, beneficent, all-encompassing, lord, conqueror of the god of love-mara, victorious of three worlds, he who controls his senses, protector from the six enemies, possessor of the ten powers, speaker of non-dualism, teacher, lord of the sages, embodiment of splendor and eminent saint.
sarvajnah sugato buddho dharmarajastathagatah samastabhadro bhagavan marajillokajijjinah shadabhijno dasabalo ’dvayavadi vinayakah munindrah srighanah sasta munih sakyamunistu yah.

According to Chinese sources, Maharaja Gupta or Sri Gupta, the first ruler of the Gupta Dynasty, built a Buddhist temple and offered it to Buddhist monks from China along with a gift of twenty-four villages. This temple is believed to have remained a sacred place till the 7th century CE.

It was during King Samudra Gupta's reign that cultural relations between India and Sri Lanka were established, his teacher and guide, the celebrated Buddhist scholar Vasubandhu, was appointed minister, and, with the permission of the Sri Lankan King Meghavanna, a monastery was built at Bodh Gaya for the monks and pilgrims of Sri Lanka. Chandra Gupta II who, like his father Samudra Gupta, was a devout Vaisnava by faith, gave full freedom to the practice of other faiths in his empire.

During his visit to Bengal, Fa-Hien is said to have traveled eastward along the course of the Ganges, coming across Buddhist stupas and monks at different places. In Tamralipti, he is said to have spent two years and visited twenty-two monasteries, inhabited by monks who lived in accordance with the Buddhist Vinaya.

There is archaeological evidence to corroborate Fa-Hien's account about the thriving state of Buddhism in the Gupta period. An inscription found at Gunaigarh near Comilla, bearing the year 188 of the Gupta era (506 or 507 CE), records a gift of land by Maharaja Vainya Gupta in favour of the Buddhist Avaivarttika Sangha of the Mahayana sect.

Kashmir

Lalitaditya Muktapida built many Vaishnava temples dedicated to many of the avatars of Vishnu, including Buddha temples. He is a figure that patronized Buddha-worship in the Kashmir region.

Bengal

Due to the Buddhistic Hindu empires in the Bengal region, Buddha-worship has gained much popularity. For example the Bauls are still heavily influenced by the Buddhistic traditions practiced by the empires. Many Bengalis are also named after the Buddha or have Buddhistic names, such as Buddhadeb, Saugata, Samanta, and Rahul. Buddha Purnima is very popular in the Bengal. Just as in other Hindu temples, people will find not just one deity in the temple but others as well and Ganesha is found in the Paharpur and Halud viharas.

Khadga Monarchs

After the fall of the Gupta Empire, the Khadga Dynasty ruled Bengal for two centuries till the rise of the Palas. It was from the time of the Khadga Dynasty that the Harikel kingdom is believed to have become a dominant force in these parts.

Chandra Monarchs

This was a Vaishnava dynasty in South Bengal. Kings such as Saichandra and a few others are believed by authors A. M. Chawdhury such as to have propagated Vaishnavism.

After the death of Tanu Dev, Vasu Dev became the king of Kanker state. He got started to celebrate the festival of Rath Yatra at Kanker. In this festival they walked in a procession with the statues of Jagannath, Balbhadra and Subhadra. This festival was very popular in villagers. He ruled the state up to 1482. After his death Kapeel Narendra Dev became the king. He got constructed the temple of Shiva on the bank of Mahanadi. He ruled the state up to 1504. After his death Dhar Hameer Dev ruled the state up to 1522 and after that Hameer Dev ruled the state up to 1539.

Pala Monarchs

After the post-Gupta era, the Pala Dynasty came into power in the Bengal region. They worshipped Vishnu and other avatars of Vishnu. According to some scholars, the Hayagriva avatar temple in Assam was created by the Pala Dynasty. Vishnu worship flourished under the Pala Dynasty. The Pala Dynasty then came to be known as the "Varahi Pala Dynasty." Three of the nineteen Pala rulers carried the name Gopala, one named Narayana and another Govinda. The first Gopala of the Pala Dynasty had a son named Davita Vishnu.

Well-known monasteries of the Pala period are the Traikuta, Devikota, Pandita Vihara and Jagaddala.

Deva Monarchs

Many kings of the Deva Dynasty too practiced Buddhistic Vaishnavism and King Bhavadeva of the dynaty is believed (from a seal at the site) to have created Shalvan Vihara in Mainamati (Comilla district) in present-day Bangladesh.

It is also said that an ancient king, Prachanda Deva of Gaur, a region within Bengal built a stupa to preserve a flaming image of Swayambhu that would be protected from the sinful world in the Kali Yuga.

Nepal

Buddhistic Hinduism is most often practiced in Nepal where Hindu temples contain Buddha murtis and Buddhist temples (including Vajra Dharma temples) contain murtis of other Hindu gods.

Also, the Newari Buddhists believe that the Trinity (Brahma-Vishnu-Shiva) is an incarnation of Buddha just as some Vaishanvas believe that Krishna also is the Trinity.

Malla Monarchs

They worshipped avatars of Vishnu, including Buddha.

Licchavi Monarchs

The Licchavi Dynasty existed in Nepal in the 6th century BCE and then rose to power in Nepal between 400-700 CE. They built sites for gods Buddha, Vishnu, and even of Shiva. They build Bodhnath of Buddha and Hadigaon of Vishnu.

The Licchavi King Haridutta claimed to be an avatar of Vishnu 1700 years ago.

All of the Licchavi kings were considered avatars of Vishnu.

Orissa

The Buddhistic Pan-Hindu Oriya kings had a major impact upon even the Oriya forest-dwellers. Many members of the Gond tribe worship Vishnu as Narayan. There is the story of Premnarayan, wherein Narayana is identified as "Budha-deo".

Bhaumakara Monarchs

Maharaja Subhakara of the Neulpur plate is endowed with epithet Parama Saugata (a great devotee of the Saugata, the Buddha). He is further described as the son of the Parama Tathagata (Buddha). Mention have been made of the Talcher Copper Plate of Sivakaradeva, the king Gayada of Bhaumakara Dynasty, in which we come across the name of Hari, Damodar, Haladhar, Madhusudan, Govinda, Tribikram, Gobardhana, Janardana, Purusottama, Sudarsana, Balabhadra, Vamana, Vasudeva, Visnu, Narayan, Narasimha and Padmanava. Thus the period of Bhaumakara rule is very important for Orissa from the religious point of view.

Boudh Monarchs

The Nilamadhaba Temple was built by Gandhamardan Dev, the last King of the Boudh royal family, before the Bhanja Dynasty took over. So this is how we know that he was a Vaishnava. However he was also in the line of the Boudh family meaning that he was a Buddhistic Vaishnava.

The Parimalagiri inscriptions in the Gandhamardan Hills might have been built by him as the hill is named after the king. Parimalagiri was a university for Buddhist monks. It is even said that this site in the country of South Kosala was visited by Hiuen-Tsang and spoken highly of the popularity of Buddhism in this region.

Bhanja Monarchs

The Bhanjas were kings in medieval Orrisa.

The Kumurukela plates of Satru Bhanja begin with an invocation to Vishnu, the god whose chest is embraced by his consort Lakshmi. Satrubhanja and Ranaka Ranabhanja called themselves devout followers of Vishnu and used the epithet as Parama-Vaishnava. In the Juruda Grant of Nettabhanjadeva, the king is described as a Parama-Vaishnava and the grant commences with an invocation to Narayana, who is stated to be the family deity (Kula-devata) of the Bhanja. In the Sonpur copper plate charter Satrubhanja described as a fervent devotee of Vishnu (Parama-Vaishnava.)

Somavamsi Monarchs

The Somavamsi kings of Orissa, worshiped Buddha and avatars of Vishnu such as Jagannath. Yayati I of this dynasty installed a Jagannath Temple at Puri.

South India

Ikshvaku Monarchs

This dynasty is especially know the have patronized Buddhism in South India. It is believed that this is the same Iskhvaku Dynasty that Rama was a member of.

Their capital was at Nagarjuna Konda.

Buddhists from other countries are said to have visited India much during their reign, especially from the ports of the Krishna and the Godavari rivers. Contact with Sri Lanka was increased greatly during their reign.

Satavahana Monarchs

The Satavahanas or "Andhras" as they were known were patrons of Buddha-worship in South India. They worshiped Buddha and other avatars of Vishnu. Many of them had even worshiped Samkarshana, Gauri, Indra, the sun and moon.[4]

In Amaravati, the historian Durga Prasad notices that Buddha had been worshiped as a form of Vishnu.[5]

Vishnukundina Monarchs

Madhav Varma II is known to have patronized Buddha-worship as well is Govind Varma I. The kings prior to the Madhav Varma II seem to be patrons of Buddhism. Govinda Varma I was hailed as the Buddhist and builder of stupas and Viharas. His wife Parama Bhattari Kama Devi also patronised Buddhism and built a monastery. Vikramendra Varma II, although self-described Paramamahesvara (Shaiva) devotee of Sriparvata (i.e. Siva), made liberal grants to the same Mahadevi's Buddhist vihara. (He also built temples for Virabhadra, Ganpati, and Krishna.)[6]

The kings of this dynasty were Vaishnava as is shown by the dynasty name and first names.

In-between India

Chalukya Monarchs

The Chalukyas were known to be worshipers of Vishnu but during their time Buddha-worship also flourished. Recent findings of caves in Ajanta, Maharashtra have revealed this. These Buddhistic caves also exist in Aurangabad and Ellora.

Indonesia

Many Indian kings are believed to have emigrated to Indonesia and begin dynasties there, where they ruled by Hindu law. The Shailindra kings are believed by some scholars to be descendants of the Sailodbhava emigrants of Kongoda Orissa.[7] The Utkala and the Gangas of Kalinga (Orissa) are believed to have emigrated to Suvarnadwipa (South East Asia) through the port of Poulara with their navy.[8]

Srivijaya Monarchs

The Srivijaya Dynasty, which arose on the Island of Sumatra also built temples for both Buddha-worship and other forms of Hinduism.

Mataram Monarchs

This kingdom arose in cenrtal and eastern Java. This kingdom built the gargantuan Borobudur temple in central Java. This dynasty was overthrown by the Shailendra Dynasty.

Shailendra Monarchs

The Shailendra Dynasty that ruled over the Malay Peninsula (arose in Central Java), which includes present-day Malaysia and Indonesia, promoted Tantric Mahayana Buddhism together with the worship of Shiva and Vishnu. They built many Buddhist dedicated monuments (e.g. Borobudur around 800 CE) and other Hindu monuments (e.g. Lara Jonggrang at Prambanam around 900–930 CE) as well.

Majapahit Monarchs

They were the last dynasty of Hindu Indonesia.

Indochina

Langkasuka Monarchs

This dynasty was in contact with Asoka and was influenced by the Buddhism Asoka sent to be taught. They originated on the Malay Peninsula. They are mentioned in both Malay and Javanese chronicles.

Probable Buddhistic Pan-Hindu Dynasties

Burma

There is a legend that Buddha had visited the ancient Burman city-state of Dhannyawadi. There has also been a Burman city-state named Peikthano (or Vishnu.) Vesali is undoubtedly one of the earliest Buddhist cities in Myanmar. There are also some ancient Vishnu images of 6th century within the Vesali village. Sri Kshetra was also sometimes referred to as "Vishnu City". "Religious remains show both forms of Buddhism, Mahayanism and Hinayanism, together with Vishnu worship. There are large stone Buddhist sculptures in relief in the Gupta style,..." So then perhaps the Gupta influenced the Burmese as they did have diplomatic relations with Burma.

King Kyansittha declared himself an avatar of Vishnu and he had even constructed a large complex dedicated to Buddha.

"There were two dynasties. The first one was founded by King Abi Raza and second one by King Daza Reza, both of them came from India and belonged to Thet-kya-tha-gi or The-ghi-win Royal Dynasty."

See also

References

  1. P. 109 Jain Journal, Volume 39 By Jain Bhawan
  2. Old Buddhist Shrines at Bodh-Gaya Inscriptions By B. M. Barua
  3. Old Buddhist Shrines at Bodh-Gaya Inscriptions By B. M. Barua
  4. P. 400 Ancient India By Mahajan
  5. P. 116, History of the Andhras upto 1565 A. D.
  6. P. 57 Saivism and Saiva Art in Andhradesa, A.D. 200-A.D. 1336 By T. Nagamma
  7. P. 44 Studies in the Economic History of Orissa from Ancient Times to 1833 By Das
  8. P. 44 Studies in the Economic History of Orissa from Ancient Times to 1833 By Das