The ancient Buddhist movement in Karnataka left behind some of its finest archeological remains here though the movement itself was short-lived in comparison with that of the rest of South India. Buddhism reached Karnataka in its very early phase itself, as most of Karnataka was under the direct rule of Emperor Ashoka. Two stupas built by Ashoka with the relics of the Buddha and many Ashokan rock edicts adorned this land. Many of the early dynasties in Karnataka such as Satavahanas, Chutus, Badami Chalukyas, Western Gangas, Pallavas, Kadamabas and Rashtrakutas were supportive of the Buddhist movement. Remains of some Mahayana monasteries from the Ganga period were discovered in South Karnataka recently. Chalukyas were also supportive at least during their initial period, and the structure of an ancient monastery stands even now in Aihole, North Karnataka. Alupas of coastal Karnataka also patronized Buddhism.
The main schools of Buddhism in Karnataka were Mahiśāsaka (a Sanskrit-school of Hinayana, a sub-school of Sarvastivadin), Mahayana and Vajrayana. Buddhism declined in Karnataka by 7th Century CE during the later part of Chalukya rule. However, Vajrayana Buddhism continued in pockets till the 12th Century, as is evident from the inscriptions and some fine sculptures obtained from the Coastal and Central Karnataka.
Kalya in Magadi near Bangalore has a few caves where Buddhist, Jain and Shaivite Yogis and Siddhas stayed and meditated in ancient days. According to the inscriptions there the earlier name of the place is Bauddhava-samaha-puri. A few Buddhist statues are still present in the Kallesvara cave.
There was strong presence of Buddhism in Banavasi right from the time of Emperor Ashoka. Sravakayana, Mahayana and Vajrayana flourished there till 12th Cen.
There was a strong presence of Mahayana / Vajrayana Buddhism in Balligavi, Shimoga Dist, Karnataka during the period from the 10th to 12th Century CE. During that time, in Balligavi, there were renowned centers of learning of five systems including Buddhism. Inscriptions indicate that there was also a tradition of Buddhist Yoginis.
History of Vajrayana Buddhism in Dharwad, Gadag and Koppal districts – the Central Karnataka region during Kalyani Chalukyas(Western Chalukya) rule. The spread of Tara.
The history of Buddhism in Badami Caves is revealed by the buddhist carvings in the natural cave formation in the cliff-face of the sandstone quartzite hills as well as by the statue of the Buddha in the Kostaraya cave at the south-east corner of the lake.
Buddhism in Aihole, North Karnataka, flourished during the early period of Chalukya rule. Remains of a Buddhist monastery, and some Buddha and Bodhisattva statues are found in this place.
Buddhism was widespread in coastal Karnataka in ancient times. Buddhist statues are found in various places like Kadri in Mangalore, Haigunda, Babruwada and Mulur-Udupi. Kadri also had a Vajrayana Buddhist vihara.
The southern state of Karnataka has about ten edicts of Ashoka. Among those, Maski edict turned out to be of critical importance in archeologically discovering the history of India. This rock edict discovered by a gold-mining engineer contains a precious message that is worthier than gold.
Rajaghatta in the outskirts of Bangalore,South India was a Buddhist settlement from 2nd century to 7th century CE. Archeologists unearthed the remains of a Mahayana Buddhist Chaitya hall and Vihara (Monastery) along with stupas, in this village.
Soon to come
- Sannati Stupa
- Ashokan sites of Karnataka