|Fact FileThe lower Krishna basin had been the birth place of civilization of South India. Buddhist chronicles of Sri Lanka called it Majerika, a name still extant in Patha Majeru near Machilipatnam. Buddha Ghosha said that the sermons of Buddha were first recorded by Andhakas and were later translated to Pali. The earliest sample of Brahmi script in India is from the relic casket of Bhattiprolu stupa and it mentions the name of a king, Kubiraka. Jaina tradition names Dhanada, a king of Ava (Andhra) as converted to Buddhism and his patron Sangha Sri was blinded by a curse of Jaina seers and so the country became known as Andhaka Rashtra. Historian BSL Hanumanta Rao had supposed that Dhanada of the Jaina tradition and Kubiraka of Bhattiprolu is the same person. Tradition also asserts that a delegation of twenty thousand monks from the Krishna basin headed by Mahadeva Bhikshu had visited the foundation ceremony of the stupa at the capital of Sri Lanka.|
He looked dumbstruck at the pageant wading through the dark waters of Kanna Benna.
The royal barge looked like a celestial chariot. Its forequarter tilted skywards in a smooth curve crowned by the sculpted head of a water buffalo, symbol of the kingdom. Seven longboats pulled the barge, each with six oarsmen swinging their arms to the drumbeat, looked like the flying horses of the solar chariot. The mid ship was wide almost twenty paces across with an arched roof of reeds, decorated with colorful garlands and buntings. The gemstones of the serpent throne glittered myriad hues in the evening sun. The king of Majelanka Desa reclined on it surrounded by his courtiers.
Nagabuddhi, a young man of fourteen, folded up his robe and hopped down the hill to the makeshift dock, just in time. The prior of the monastery, Sangha Siri was already there waiting, accompanied by the senior monks. The Naga king, Dhanada, removed his massive headgear shaped like the hood of a serpent. He placed it on the throne with reverence before stepping down the ramp. King or commoner, all are equal on the holy soil of Avarasaila. It was then for the first time he had noticed Bhadanta Mahadeva behind the king, leading a delegation of monks in saffron robes and shaven heads.
Nagabuddhi was just an acolyte monk at Avarasaila, a monastic order of scribes called Ava Gana. They were the custodians of the magical glyphs handed down through generations. Few knew the meanings of those symbols except their teacher, Sangha Siri and his close disciples. Legend has it that long ago a thousand years bygone; their ancestors came from a country of great cities in the west. Today it was their job to transcribe hundreds of ancient manuscripts on fresh sheets of birch bark. The pride of the Avarasaila monastery was the collection of Pravachanas of The Enlightened One, written in the ancient script.
He loved his work. As an apprentice, his job was to tend to the old books in the library already in various stages of decay. Every day without fail, a paste of neem leaves, pepper and the oil of camphor was carefully applied to the baskets, in which the manuscripts are stored, to keep away the vermin. ‘But can it stop the time and elements?’ he had always wondered.
He was alone in the dark cavern, with a half filled wooden bucket hanging from his neck and holding thick swabs of cotton wool soaked in the paste, when he heard the congregation walking in. The king was whispering something into the ears of Sangha Siri. The king was a Nirgrandha, follower of the faith of Vardhamana. But the monk and the king were more than friends. The monk’s daughter was one of the chief consorts of the king.
‘Chaitya…Upasaka…,’ Nagabuddhi trained his ears unable to discern the faint words, as he squatted in the darkest corner terrified even to breathe lest he’s noticed. Then Mahadeva Bhanta spoke, his voice bouncing off the walls of the cave.
‘This is a momentous occasion for the faith of Sakya Muni. Dhamma may prevail in the lands of Kanna Benna. The king of Majelanka has seen the light of the Eightfold Path,’ he announced.
‘By the grace of Buddha, my dream has come true. From today on, my son, the king shall shed his old name and be known as Raja Kubiraka,’ Thera Sangha Siri echoed with equal vigor. ‘It is time to give thanks to Tathagata.’
I surrender to thee, the Enlightened One
I surrender to thee, the Righteous Path
I surrender to thee, the Order of the Pious
The chant of Three Jewels rented the air. The king bowed first to Sangha Siri before he fell at the feet of Mahadeva Bhanta
‘Raise You Kubiraka!’
‘These are Jina Dhatu,’ the monk said as he pulled out a golden urn from the folds of his robe. ‘Ye shall build the grandest monument in Bharatavarsha in His honor.’
‘My honor, Bhante,’ the king said as he received the relics of Buddha with trembling hands and placed the urn on his head reverently. ‘I shall build not just one but two great chaityas in His honor – one at my capital, Pitrudha, which I can see from my palace window at every dawn,’ he paused. ‘And another right here in remembrance of this momentous occasion. May I seek permission from you to build an Arama for the benefit of the thousand monks accompanying you when they return from Sinhala?’ he asked in the same breath.
Nagabuddhi was overcome with joy when he saw the great preceptor Mahadeva nod his head in consent.
It had taken three long years. It was a long journey by land and sea to the Island of Sinhala. Twenty thousand monks from all over world watched the interring of the relic casket at Anuradhapura. The collection of discourses of Buddha, meticulously recorded by the monks at Avarasaila was a cynosure. Every monastery wanted a copy made. Nagabuddhi became adept at reciting the books by heart and explaining the meanings and the sound values of the symbols to the hundreds of scribes and translators making copies.
He was a full-fledged monk when he returned to the banks of Kanna Benna. The King had kept his promise. A sprawling Vihara had emerged at the foot of the Avarasaila hill, more than adequate for the two thousand or more monks who formed the entourage of Mahadeva. Nagabuddhi ran up the stairs, lately cut into sheer rock, to the cavern that housed the library.
What he saw paralyzed him, his teacher Sangha Siri was laid up in bed, weak and near death. All the excitement of reaching home turned into a rage. He tried to suppress it by scouring his memory for every sutra in Vinaya Pitaka that taught self-control, in vain. A desperate cry of anguish escaped his throat…
Clouds of ash billowed as he ran into the charred walls of the cavern. ‘Not even a single leaf left,’ he heard someone say from behind. His knees gave way as he collapsed, seeing in his minds eyes the library that he had tended so fondly.
‘They came in the night, Nirgrandhas,’
He heard the feeble voice of Thera Sangha Siri speaking to the stunned monks crowded around him.
‘The place was almost deserted after you had left for Sinhala. Only a few old and unwell to keep me company, you know.’ Then he explained haltingly how a mob of fanatics, instigated by some merchants, rampaged through the Arama, as retaliation to the conversion of the king. ‘In a way… their outrage is justified,’ he nodded his head sagaciously.
‘I tried to save the books,’ he turned his unseeing eyes towards the cave. ‘But the smoke and fire blinded me…’
‘My son, the king doesn’t listen to me. He had exiled them all, from our lands as retribution.’ With those words, Sangha Siri fell silent.
Only sound was an audible sob from Nagabuddhi.
|GLOSSARYĀrāma – Monastery
Ava – Synonym for Andhra in Puranic Literature
Avaraśaila – Monastery near Amaravati
Bhanta – Short form of Bhadanta, Honorific Title Chaitya – Stupa, Temple
Jina Dhātu – Mortal Remains of Buddha
Kanna Benna – River Krishna Vēṇi
Majelanka, Majerika – Lower Krishna Delta
Nirgrandhas – Jainas
Pitruḍha – Old Name of Bhattiprolu
Śākya Muni – Title of Buddha
Tathāgata – Title of Buddha
Thēra – Buddhist Monk
Upāsaka – Lay Worshipper
Vihāra – Large Monastic Complex
Vinaya Piṭaka –Buddhist Text on Monastic Practices