Rajaghatta – The Remains of a Mahayana Buddhist Monastery in Bangalore

The remnants of an ancient Mahayana Buddhist Vihara (Monastery) and Chaitya remained hidden for 1500 years, right in the outskirts of Bangalore, very close to the present airport. Its finding is the first archeological discovery of structures related to Mahayana Buddhism in Bangalore, Karnataka.

 

The site was discovered and excavated by Prof. M. S. Krishnamurthy (retd.) of Mysore University’s Archeology Department in 2001 and 2004. But, remained unknown to the public. There have been accounts of ancient Mahayana Buddhist Monasteries in various parts of South India, including Kanchi, a major center of learning in Tamil Nadu and Srimoolavasam in Kerala. However, an excavation of the structural remains of a Mahayana Monastery has not happened anywhere south of Nagarjunakonda, Andhra Pradesh/Telangana. In that way, the finding of the remnants of monastery and chaithya in Rajaghatta is of great significance. It sheds light not only into the presence of Mahayana Buddhism in Bangalore, but provides valuable information about Buddhist practices and life during the first millennium CE across Karnataka and the rest of South India.

 

Rajaghatta Vihara (Monastery) during excavation in 2004. (photo courtesy - Archeology Department, Mysore University)

 

Rajaghatta Chaithya during excavation. (photo courtesy - Archeology Department, Mysore University)

 

Many hundreds of small clay stupas (tsa-tsa) were obtained from the Rajaghatta site. These clay stupas contain clay disks with the inscription of buddha images and the dharani of dependent arising in Brāhmī Sanskrit script. Evidence of the presence of Mahayana Buddhism in Bangalore, Karnataka during the first millennium CE (photo courtesy - Prof. M.S.Krishnamurthy)

Rajaghatta, a small picturesque village on the outskirts of Bangalore was a Buddhist settlement from 2nd century to 7th century CE. In 2001/2004, archeologists unearthed the remains of a Mahayana Buddhist Chaitya hall and Vihara (Monastery) in this village in Bangalore rural district. The structures were built with unfired clay bricks (which are quite strong) as well as granite pillars. Many hundreds of small clay stupas (tsa-tsa) were also obtained from the site. These clay stupas contain clay disks with the inscription of buddha images and the dharani of dependent arising (ye dharmā hetu-prabhavā hetuṃ teṣāṃ tathāgato hya vadat, teṣāṃ ca yo nirodha evaṃ vādī mahāśramaṇa) in Brāhmī Sanskrit script. These kind of small stupas with relics, Buddha images and dharanis are usually made by Mahayana practitioners as a meritorious activity. There were also two urns with bone remains in a corner of the main chaithya hall. These could have been the remains of some accomplished practitioners. A few hundred meters from that site, there are also two megalithic burial sites which belong to an earlier period.

 

Buddha images inscribed on one side of the clay disks found within the mini stupas (tsa tsas) in the Rajaghatta site. (photo courtesy - Prof. M.S.Krishnamurthy)

The area is locally called Budhigundi because of the ash mounds of the remains. Initially people didn’t know the significance of this. Farmers came there to collect soil because the soil there with the decayed human remains is very fertile. Gradually, they came across many small stupas (tsa-tsa). They found that something was moving inside when they shake it. So, they broke open many in the hope of gold or other precious substances. Some farmers claim that some earlier people actually got gold form some of those. Later, one good samaritan informed the archeology department about these findings. That is how Prof Krishnamurthy visited the place and conducted the excavation.

 

The dharani of dependent arising inscribed in Brāhmī Sanskrit characters on one side of the clay disks inserted in the mini stupas (tsa tsas) found from Rajaghatta. Evidence of the presence of Mahayana Buddhism in Bangalore, Karnataka during the first millennium CE (photo courtesy - Prof. M.S.Krishnamurthy)

Unfortunately, the site was covered again with soil after shifting some of the relics to a museum (Archeology museum of Mysore University). Since the site was not converted into a heritage site by the Archeology Survey of India, it remains unprotected and hence had to be covered back. Thus, this rare archeological finding about the presence of Mahayana Buddhism in Bangalore and Karnataka again remains hidden, with the structures of the chaitya hall and the vihara underneath a farmland.  This site may be permanently lost because, before too long, high-rise apartments may come up in this site, as it is just in the outskirts of the city.

 

Archeologists excavating the Rajaghatta site. (photo courtesy - Archeology Department, Mysore University)

The Rajaghatta site was covered with sand and mud after the excavation was finished by the archeologists, so that the remains are not lost from this unguarded site. The side of the brick wall of the Monastery still visible there.

Steps leading to the Rajaghatta chaitya. (Photo Courtesy - Archeology Department, Mysore University.)

A bathing pond near the viharas , found during Rajaghatta excavation. (Photo Courtesy - Archeology Department, Mysore University.)

Dharmachakra inscribed in one of the stones near the structure outside the presently live Rajaghatta village. This stone seems to be very old, could be 2nd to 6th Century CE.

Two urns with bone remains in a corner of the main chaithya hall in Rajaghatta. (Photo Courtesy - Prof. M.S.Krishnamurthy)

Rajaghatta also has two Megalithic burial site (kallara) in the vicinity of the Buddhist archeological remains. In India, archaeologists trace the majority of the megaliths to the Iron Age (1500 BC to 500 BC).

 

There are also few Veeragallus (Hero Stones) around that area. Veeragalllus are memorial stones commemorating the death of a hero, a person who sacrificed his life for the cause of king or public in war, battlefield; cattle raids and safeguard life and dignity of women from miscreants. Archeologist estimates these to be from a later period.

 

Veeragalllu (Hero Stone)

Veeragalllu (Hero Stone)

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