Buddha in Kalinga

The only time Kalinga gets mentioned in ancient history is during the episode where emperor Asoka had a change of heart following the bloody war. The standard line in history books is that Asoka became a Buddhist after the war and then embarked on a mission to globalize Buddhism.
In fact Asoka was associated with Buddhism much before the Kalinga war, according to Dipavamsa. In an early edict Asoka wrote, “I have been a lay Buddhist for more than two and half years, but for a year I did not exert myself well”. Also it is not clear why Asoka had a change of heart after the Kalinga war for he was involved with many wars. It is possible that there was no more territory to conquer and he used the opportunity to craft a pacifist policy which made it easier to manage people [8].
Another fact that does not get mentioned in history books is the association of Buddha with Kalinga. Huen Tsang, during his travels in in 6th century AD saw ten stupas which mentioned Buddha’s travel to Kalinga and now those stupas have been discovered in an archaeological excavation.

The discovery includes 10 Ashoka stupas, a fort which housed the royal headquarters of the Kalinga State and remains of the Ashoka period dating back to the third Century B.C, say Dr. Rout and authorities of the institute.
Excavations have already been carried out at four of the stupas located at Tarapur, Deuli and Kayama in Jajpur, according to Debaraj Pradhan, director of the excavation project and secretary of the institute. Work will be taken up at the other stupas soon. The first discovery of an Ashoka stupa was made at nearby Langudi Hill.
`In the course of the excavation that started in December 2004, we unearthed square stupas made of latrine blocks, burnt bricks, railing pillars and cross-bars, Besides, pottery and terracotta remains of the Ashoka period have been discovered in these hills,” Mr. Pradhan said.
The discovery of several inscriptions at Radhanagar village and other corroborative evidence clearly proved that the place was Toshali, royal headquarters of Kalinga during the time of Ashoka. Although scholars tried to identify Toshali with Sisupalgarh near Bhubaneswar, no inscriptional evidence was found so far, Mr. Pradhan said.
Mr. Pradhan said the research and excavation might also lead to the discovery of the exact venue of the Kalinga war. Till now it was said the war was fought on the banks of the Daya on the outskirts of Bhubaneswar. But the current excavation and survey gave indications that the war might have been fought at Yudha Meruda, which comes under the Korei block near Dharmasala.[Stupas, inscription indicate Lord Buddha’s visit to Kalinga]

17 thoughts on “Buddha in Kalinga

  1. Can you suggest any good book (preferably by Indians(ancient or modern)) that accurately mentions the transformation(reasons/events etc) of Buddhist India to a pre-dominantly Hindu India during and post-Shankara’s period?
    By the way, I had seen articles that usually mentions the Shankara’s (Kaladi) period to be during the 7th or 8th century A.D. So, isn’t the date mentioned in the following site a contradiction?

  2. Any idea if Buddha travelled down south? Did he come here, to Tamil Nadu, Kerala (which didn’t exist as a seperate place back then, did it?)

  3. Ravages, according to most books i have read, Buddha travelled much along the north-south direction from orissa to nepal. So far i have not read anywhere that he came to South India.
    One important person who came to south india, about 200 years after Buddha, was Chandragupta Maurya, who abdicated the throne and moved to somewhere close to bangalore and died by starving himself.
    Kerala is always mentioned in the Mauryan times as Keralaputras. I was reading about the Kalinga war in Eraly’s book and it was metioned that Asoka conquered a vast portion of India, and one of the places he did not conquer was Keralaputras. Arthashatra also mentions Keralaputras as a separate region.

  4. P@L, I don’t know of any book that mentions all this accurately. “Eminent Historians” put the blame for the demise of Buddhism on Brahmins. If you read any of Kosambi’s or Romila Thapar’s books, you will get that impression.
    Kanchi Kamakoti Peetam, one day just popped up this date, which makes Sankara a contemporary of Buddha. In some of the Hindu mailing lists I am a member of, people seem to have accepted it without any problems. Some people think that Buddha could be dated to around 1000 BC and Mahabharata war to around 3000 BC. Dates are thrown left and right and when there is a gap of few centuries, you start suspecting the motives of these people.

  5. I have a slightly unrelated doubt ( hence sorry for the digression ). Is there any likelihood of the “kuTTiccAttan sEva” guys around the tRshshUr region of Kerala being erstwhile buddhists? I remember hearing that “cAttan” comes from “shAstAvu”. And that many shAstA temples of Kerala were associated with buddhism, as the shabarimala ( were the words “dharma” in “dharmashastAvu” and “sharaNam” in “svAmisharaNam” are considered to be remnants from buddhist chants ).
    After all it is believed that many versions of buddhism became occultistic and that when those worshippers were adapted into hinduism they were absorbed as so-called lowercastes or dalits etc.

  6. Ravages,
    Buddha seems to have visited Sri Lanka three times. Did not know that. I wonder which was his port of exit in India.
    The word Keralaputra appears in Abraham Eraly’s The Gem in the Lotus and I believe in Arthasashtra ( will have to lookup). You will not find much details, other than a casual mention. Here is the only line in The Gem in the Lotus –
    “Nearly every one of Asoka’s edicts speaks of his overriding concern for the welfare of the people. This concern also found expression in the many public welfare measures that he initiated. `Everywhere in the dominions of the Beloved-of-the-Gods…and likewise among the rulers on his frontiers, such as the Cholas, the Pandyas, the Satiyaputra, the Keralaputra, even Tamraparni(Sri Lanka), the Greek king Antiochus, and also the kings who are neighbors of this Antiochus…..

  7. froginthewell, I don’t know much about kuttichathan seva and occult things. In Malayalam newspapers you see lot of ads from people who do stuff like that.
    There is some speculation that many Buddhist temples were converted to Hindu temples, the most famous of them being Sabarimala.
    According to V. Balakrishnan in his book,History of Syrian Christians of Kerala, Sabarimala temple was constructed by the Raja of Pandalam who was a Buddhist. This temple lies in one of the shortest trading routes between Kerala and Tamil Nadu. This is one temple where people of all castes and religions are allowed, even during the time the caste system was at its peak in Kerala. (Swami Vivekananda called Kerala a lunatic assylum after visiting it and seeing the crazy caste system).
    Also see http://www.rediff.com/news/dec/31rajeev.htm

  8. >>Sabarimala temple was constructed by the Raja of Pandalam who was a Buddhist.
    As far as I know, the story of Ayyappa mentions the Raja as a Shiva devotee.
    Here is an interesting piece of info. on the social system that I came across googling.
    Putting the pieces together, one can have an hypothesis on the motivation of people such as Shankara to revive hinduism. A rigid class or caste system means that much of the real history of Kerala maybe submerged and yet to be unearthed.
    Sometimes, I wonder, if many of the so-called evils (such as the Ravanas, Kauravas and even Mahabalis) are really evils or a victim of the victorious few!

  9. Thanks a lot, JK. I did not know shabarimala used to allow all people even during those peak periods of caste system.
    But this Pandalam thing confuses me – I thought such small kingdoms came into being only after the “breakup” of the Cheras, which would be much after the Buddhist presence in Kerala came to an end. And I wonder how a matrilineal society continued to toy with the legend of Ayyappa being a *son* of the Pandalam king and at the same time having claim to the throne. Could you throw some light? Thanks a lot.

  10. P@L, After getting interested in history and reading various books on the subject, I found that dates ,events and facts are the mercy of the author. “Eminent Historians” wants to denigrate India. Other authors want to peddle their favourite theory. Since we don’t have much written documents or since archaeology is poor, people make up lot of stuff.

  11. froginthewell, the only book I have on Kerala History, “Kerala Charitram” by A Sreedhara Menon has just one paragraph on Pandalam.
    It mentions that Pandalam was a small region and it is mentioned as being existent during the arrival of the Portugese in 1498. The family of Pandalam Royal family comes from the Pandya Royal Family of Madurai. That’s pretty much it. It does not say anything about their religion or history. There is some theory on why Sabarimala could be a Buddhist temple, but nothing on the history of Ayyappa himself.
    Matrilineal system was mostly followed by Nairs and not everyone in Kerala.

  12. Most of the kShatriya families, including the current pandaLam royal family, follow the matrilineal system ( I guess because the nampUtiris wanted alliance with kShatriyas and nAyars – kShatriyas probably because they wanted a say in the royal matters, and nAyars probably because nAyar girls are more beautiful ;-)) ).
    I have heard a similar story from my maternal grandmother who says her “vaDakkumkUr” royal family ancestors’ origin had something to do with some pANDya princess married into kEraLa – don’t know the details.
    Anyway, thanks for all that wonderful information.

  13. p & l, I don’t understand which facts you put together and what hypothesis you arrived at.
    Neither rAvaNa, kauravas nor mahAbali are portrayed as absolute evils. I doubt if the “victorious few” would be interested in highlighting so many good qualities of the vanquished. And since you doubt the veracity of the legends I don’t know if it makes sense to assume that someone called shankara singlehandedly revived hinduism and reinstituted the caste system.

  14. Disclaimer: Being a sensitive issue, I hope we consider this as a debate on history and its impact on society.
    My reference was to the link:
    and I quote an excerpt from the above link:
    “By the beginning of the Christian era, there was a noticeable increase in the influence of the Chera dynasty of across the Western Ghats and into the political and cultural life of ancient Kerala. The armies of the northern empires of the Mauryas could not enter the lands of the Cheras, but Buddhism and Jainism did enter in a big way. But it was the entry of Brahmins from the boundaries of modern day Karnataka which really changed the power structure of Kerala for the next millenium.”
    So, the revival of Hinduism can be seen in a different light based on the above notes. It may be considered as part of the strategy (usually followed by new comers) to assert their authority on the natives.
    Talking of Namboothris’ alliance, I believe many Nair families (with beautiful women) has a tale to tell (I myself had heard some). But based on my recent search on this practice (known as Sambantham), I think it was absolutley humiliating for the Nairs….The way Namboothris treated their own women and women from other castes were classic cases of abuse of power.
    Talking of Mahabali, in particular, I still haven’t understood why he was punished? What was his crime? Is being good such a threatening deed??

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