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109 | 2010
Annuaire du Collège de France 2008-2009
Résumé des cours et travaux 109e année
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Nagarjunakonda: Monasteries and their School Affiliations

Monika Zin
p. 1074-1075

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1The following investigation stems from a desire to explain narrative reliefs from the so-called Amaravati School, i.e. the Buddhist sites in Andhra Pradesh (1st c. BC and 4th c. AD). Seemingly, the reliefs from this school should be related to textual sources preserved in ‘northern’ Buddhism due to numerous scenes having no counterpart in Pali literature. As still many reliefs are left unexplained, an attempt should be made to establish school affiliations of the monasteries in which the reliefs were unearthed, with reference to the largest excavation site in the region, Nagarjunakonda, the ancient Vijayapurī of the Iksvāku.

2Inscriptions provide us with information about four Iksvāku kings, ruling in the valley between approx. 210 and 310. Vijayapurī had been founded earlier by the Sātavāhans to whom the Iksvāku were subordinated. When independent, the local dynasty tried to imitate the great Sātavāhanas from Dharanikota, approx. 125 km downstream, in the vicinity of which stands the stūpa known today as Amaravati. The Buddhism must have been very important, since there were nearly 40 Buddhist sites in the close vicinity of Vijayapurī. All those monasteries existed side by side, maintaining different architectural forms.

3The monasteries with stūpas without the āyaka-projections seem to belong to traditional schools; in two such establishments inscriptions were found connecting them with the Mahāvihāravāsins, the Theravāda-Vibhajyavāda school from Ceylon. The site 7/8, whose inscription connects it with the Mahīśāsakas, had stūpas with āyakas but no apsidal temple. Another monastic community known from the inscription belonged to the Bahuśrutīyas. Two apsidal temples facing each other and containing stūpas are most characteristic features of this monastery. Interestingly, site 4 (without any inscription) also had two apsidal temples but none of them had inside a stūpa.

4The next group of monastic units comprises sites with a stūpa, a vihāra and two apsidal temples (one of which containing a stūpa and the other one – a Buddha statue). Such site is no. 9 whose donation inscription connects it with the school of the Aparamahāvinaśailiyas. In contrast to all sites discussed above, the stūpa in site 9 was decorated with narrative reliefs. Interestingly, three other monastic units built according to the same scheme also contained reliefs: sites 2, 3, and 6. All four sites mentioned above, with identical arrangements of the monastic units, obviously belonged to a school fond of narrative depictions, apparently the Aparamahāvinaśailiya, known from the inscription at site 9.

5In the case of the most important site in the valley, i.e. site 1 (Mahācaitya), several inscriptions on the stūpa and in the caityagrha refer to the ācāryas of the Aparamahāvinaśailiya school. Between the monastery and the stūpa there was a caityagrha containing a stūpa. Except for the absence of the second apsidal temple (though the space for it is available), the design of the site corresponds precisely with other monastic units of the Aparamahāvinaśailiya School. Surprisingly, the Mahācaitya was not decorated with reliefs, which naturally raises the question: How could it be possible that no decoration was found at the biggest stūpa in the entire valley, sponsored by the royal family, in the establishment of the school which applied reliefs elsewhere?

6I am prompt to believe the answer is simple: the Mahācaitya at Nagarjunakonda is the only stūpa in the entire valley where the pradaksinapātha was enclosed by the surrounding railing. The view of the railing from the above is like the railing of the great stūpa in Amaravati. Whilst in Amaravati the stūpa was fenced-in by means of a mighty stone railing, in Nagarjunakonda only a brick foundation repeats the shape of the former. The railing, which obviously must have stood on it, is now non-existent. Thus, it must have been made of wood and disappeared together with all carved or painted scenes.

7An inscription on a stone found at site 6 apparently provides evidence for the wooden railing. The inscription names the mahācaitya (associated in Nagarjunakonda with site 1) and refers to a donation of the slab (pato) and coping (unisa). The “slab” might perhaps refer to the frieze carrying the inscription, but no usnīsas (the coping stones from the railings) have been found in Nagarjunakonda. The coping named in the inscription, which was installed mahāchetiye, must have been a coping timber rather than a ‘stone’.

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Cours et travaux du Collège de France. Annuaire 109e année, Collège de France, Paris, mars 2010, p. 1074-1075. ISBN 978-2-7226-0083-6

Référence électronique

Monika Zin, « Nagarjunakonda: Monasteries and their School Affiliations », L’annuaire du Collège de France [En ligne], 109 | 2010, mis en ligne le 27 octobre 2014, consulté le 16 décembre 2018. URL :

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Monika Zin

Professeur, université de Munich (Allemagne)

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Collège de France

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