Archaeology of Early Buddhism

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Rowman Altamira, 2006 - Religion - 229 pages
How do archaeologists explore the various dimensions of religion? Lars Fogelin uses archaeological work at Thotlakonda in Southern India as his lens in a broader examination of Buddhist monastic life. He discovers the tension between the desired isolation of the monastery and the mutual engagement with neighbors in the Early Historic Period. He also sketches how religious architectural design and use of landscape helped to shaped these relationships. Drawing on historical accounts, religious documents, and inscriptions, as well as results of his systematic archaeological survey, Fogelin is able to shed new light on the ritual and material workings of Early Buddhism in this region, and shows how archaeology can contribute to our understanding of religious practice.

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Wanted to respond to Dr. Ranajit Pal's review. It is very much possible that Thotlakonda is a newer name of the site, isn't it? Thotlakonda also breaks out to mean "hill with pits". Those who lived in the region may have started calling the place "Thotlakonda" much later after observing these pits (thotla) on the hill (konda). 

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Lars Fogelin’s book on the archaeology of early Buddhism is extremely informative and interesting. Fogelin has made an admirable attempt to understand early Buddhism from an archaeological perspective. His work not only fills a void in the study of the background of the rise of Buddhism in India but also addresses the sociological aspects of Buddhist monastic life in Andhra Pradesh.
However, there are questions which Fogelin does not address. The suffix konda does stand for the 'hill' but the attempt to explain the name Thotlakonda from Telegu language is unacceptable. Thotlakonda may be an echo of the name Tathagata. The same is true of Bavikonda and Pavurla-konda. Pavurla-konda is certainly an echo of the name Baveru in a Jataka story. This appears to be linked to Babil or Kapil (vastu). The monasteries were near Vishakhapattanam and Vishakha, as the Manjushrimulakalpa indicates, was a name related to the Mauryas. E. Herzfeld wrote about an inscription of the VYSK (4th century B.C.) which may be linked to the Vishakhas.
Fogelin’s work is a reworking of his Ph. D. thesis and not surprisingly, like Prof. G. Schopen and other mainstream scholars, he does not talk about the absence of links of Thotlakonda with Nepal which allegedly was the earliest centre of Buddhism. T. A. Phelps has exposed the dreadful frauds in Nepalese archaeology. This, in one stroke, shifts the scenario of sixth century B.C. Buddhism to the north-west and throws light on its early diffusion. Significantly, the names Tissa, Supra etc occur is in the highly authentic Persepolis tablets. I have written that Gaumata of the Behistun inscription was Gotama. (Mithras Reader III) This entails that Sedda-Saramana of the Persepolis tablets was the true Siddhartha Gotama and that Sudda-Yauda Saramana was Suddhodana.
There were about 70-100 monks at Thotlakonda. It was active between 300 B.C. to about 200 AD. Even if we accept this conservative dating, it is far earlier than Nalanda, which is larger, and is situated in Magadha in Bihar, the so-called heartland of Buddhism. There is no proof of that Bihar was Magadha before Ashoka. The first epigraphic mention of Magadha is in an Ashokan edict at far away Bairat. Early Magadha was Magan near Cape Maceta. A Magadi dialect is known from Herat. Sir Mortimer Wheeler wrote that the Bihar area became urbanized only after the period of Bindusara.
The monastery was on the sea-coast overlooking the Bay of Bengal and had sea-borne links. Lead coins of the Satavahana period as well as Roman silver coins have been found here indicating maritime links with the west, perhaps through the Persian gulf. Kosambi wrote that many important early Buddhist centres of Maharashtra were near the coast. Terracotta tiles, stucco ornamentation pieces, sculptured panes, miniature stone-cut stupas and a copper pot containing coins was found buried in the stupa. Twelve short Brahmi inscriptions were also found.
The Stupa, painted with light coloured lime plaster, must have appeared brilliant and shinning during the day. There are also rows of wick lamps which must have served as night-time guiding landmarks for the seafaring traders and monks. Thotlakonda was within the orbit of Vengi-Kalinga which may have played a role in the complex process of diffusion of Buddhism to Sri-Lanka. Linguistic arguments link the Sinhala language to the Gujrat area and beyond and it is not impossible that the introduction of Buddhism into Sri Lanka was from the Sindh-Gujrat area..
One wonders what great masters such as Sir Aurel Stein, who almost single-handedly established the material basis of Buddhism, would have made out of this startling discovery of recent years. Was Thotlakonda linked to Gangro Daro or Banbhore (Deval) where Buddhist remains have been found and which was the gateway to the Silk-route? Although Fogelin does not consider the possibility, Buddhism may have been brought into Andhra Pradesh by monks from Deval near Karachi. Dr. Ranajit Pal


Introduction Archaeology and Early Buddhism
A Brief History of the Early Historic Period in South Asia
Buddhism in Early Historic Period South Asia
Religion Ritual Architecture and Landscape
Thotlakondas Archaeological and Environmental Context
Beyond the Monastery Walls
The Architectural Layout and Organization of Thotlakonda Monastery
Thotlakonda Monastery in Its Local Landscape
About the Author

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About the author (2006)

Lars Fogelin is a visiting assistant professor at Albion College. He received a B.A. in anthropology from Ithaca College, an M.A. from the Un iversity of Hawaii at Manoa, and a Ph.D. in anthropology from the University of Michigan in 2003. He has published in Asian Perspectives ("Ritual and Presentation in Early Buddhist Architecture," 42:1) as well as in edited volumes in the U.S., Europe and India. He is co-editor, with Carla M. Sinopoli, of Imperial Imaginings: The Dean C. Worcester Photographic Collection of the Phillippines, 1890-1913, a cd-rom addressing American colonialism. Prior to his first trip to India in 1994, he conducted research in Israel, the Mediterranean, Peru, and the Dutch West Indies. Beginning in September 2000 he directed the Northeast Andhra Monastic Survey near the modern city of Visakhapatnam, India. In addition to South Asian archaeology, he has a strong interest in the archaeology of religion, architecture, landscape, and ceramic analysis.

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