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Author:Laxman Burdak, IFS (Retd.)

Map of Amravati district

Dhanakakata was a Buddhist place visited by Xuanzang in 639 AD in South India. Alexander Cunningham has identified Dhanakakata with Amaravti, Maharashtra.[1]


Origin of name


Visit by Xuanzang in 639 AD

Alexander Cunningham[2] writes that

[p.530]:On leaving Andhra, Hwen Thsang proceeded to the south through forests and over desert plains for 1000 li, or 167 miles, to To.na.kie.tse.kia, which M. Julien renders by Dhanakakacheka. But I have already pointed out in my account of Tse-kia, or Taki, in the Panjab, that the Chinese syllable tse is used to represent the Indian cerebral ṭ, which would make the name Dhana-kaṭaka. I have also referred to the inscriptions in the caves of Kanhari and Karle with the name of Dhanakakaṭa, which I have suggested as the true reading of the Chinese word, by the transposition of the last two syllables.[3] The name of Dhanakakata is found in no less than four of the cave inscriptions, in all of which it has been read by Dr. Stevenson as the name of a man, whom he calls Xenokrates, a Greek. But according to my reading of these inscriptions, the name is undoubtedly that of the city or country to which the recorders of the inscriptions belonged. As these inscriptions are short, I will, in justice to Dr. Stevenson, here quote them.

The inscription on which Dr. Stevenson founds his

[p.531]: opinion of the Greek origin of the recorder is thus read by himself:[4]

Dhanukākadha Yavanasa Sihadhāyanam thabha dānam.

" A gift of lion-supporting pillar by the Greek Xenocrates."

My rendering is somewhat different, —

"Lion-bearing pillar-gift of Yavana of Dhanuka-kaṭa"

Dr. Stevenson translates Yavana as " Greek ;" but the following inscription[5] shows most distinctly that Dhanukakaṭa is the name of a place, and consequently Yavana must be the name of a man.

Dhenukakaṭa Usabhadata-putasa
Mita Deva nakasa thabha dānam.

This is translated by Dr. Stevenson as : —

"The gift of a pillar by the chief Mitra Deva, son of Dhenukakata (surnamed) Rishabadatta."

To explain this translation he supposes Dhenuka-kata to be a Greek, with a Greek name, and to have also a Hindu name which he " probably assumed when he embraced Buddhism, or on adoption into some Hindu family, when names also are changed." But by taking Dhanukaka as the name of a place, this inscription may be rendered without any forced assumption of a second name. My rendering is, —

" Pillar-gift of the chief Mitra-Deva, son of Rishabadatta of Dhanukakaṭa"

The third Karle inscription is unfortunately slightly imperfect in the donor's name, and the concluding

[p.532]: word is unintelligible, but the opening of the inscription as read by Dr. Stevenson is :[6]

Dhanukakata (su) bhavikasa, etc.

which he translates, " The gift of a pleasant abode by Dhanukakata," etc. Here the word which has been restored and translated as " a pleasant abode " is the recorder's name, which I feel strongly inclined to read as Bhoviveka, as Hwen Thsang mentions a famous saint of Donakakatta named Po-pi-fei-kia, that is literally Bhoviveka in Pali, or in Sanskrit Bhavaviveka.

The fourth inscription, which is found at Kanhari, consists of nine lines, and is one of the most important of the western cave records, as it is dated in the well- known era of Salivahana. Dr. Stevenson[7] reads the opening as follows : —

Upāsakasa Dhenukakatinasa kalapa (naka) manakasa, etc.

and refers the record to " Dhenukakaṭa the architect." But a more perfect copy of this inscription, published by Mr. West,[8]: gives the true reading of the first line as : —

Upāsakasa Dhanukakateyasa Kulapiyasa.

of which the literal translation is, " (Gift) of Kulapiya, an Upāsika of Dhanukakata."

The date of the inscription, which is at the end of the last line, is erroneously transcribed by Dr. Stevenson thus : —

data va salā sāka datya lena.

and by adding the previous word chivarika he translates it as follows :

[p.533]:"Here is a hall established for Buddhist-priests; here the Buddha-tooth cave."

In his transcript of this record I notice that Dr. Stevenson altogether omits the letter k which occurs between datya and lena in both copies of the inscription, in that made by Lieut. Brett, which was published by Dr. Stevenson himself,[9] as well as in that made by Mr. West. "With this correction I read the concluding words of the inscription as follows : —

data vase 30 Sakāaditya kala,

of which the literal translation is : —

" Given in the year 30 of the era of Sakaditya" that is in A.D. 78 + 30 = 108. Sakaditya is one of the common titles of Salivahana ; and the Sake era, which was established by him, is usually called in an-ient inscriptions Saka-bhupa kala, or Saka-nripa kala, both terms being mere synonyms of Sakaditya kala. Dhanukakata must, therefore, have possessed a Buddhist establishment as early as the beginning of the second century of the Christian era ; and if my suggested reading of the name of Bhavaviveka in the Karle inscription be admitted, Buddhism must have been equally flourishing during the first century, as Bhavaviveka would appear to have been a disciple of Nagarjuna.[10]

In fixing the position of Dhanukakata, at Dharanikotta, or Amaravti, on the Kistna, I have been guided not only by the bearing and distance from Andhra and Kosala, but by several other concurring reasons, which I will now detail.

[p.534]: Amongst the Buddhist traditions of Ceylon and Siam, we have an account of a country lying between the mouth of the Ganges and the Island of Ceylon, which was inhabited by Nagas. These Nagas possessed either one or two Drona measures of the relics of Buddha, which were enshrined in a beautiful and costly stupa, near the " Diamond Sands." Originally, this portion of relics had belonged to Ramagrama, near Kapilavastu; but when the Ramagrama stupa was washed away by the river, the relic casket containing one of the original eight divisions of Buddha's remains was carried down the Ganges to the sea, where it was picked up by the Nagas, and conveyed to their own country, called Majerika. Now this country was to the south of Dantapura, because Prince Danta Kumara and the Princess Hemamala, when flying from Dantapura to Ceylon with the tooth of Buddha, were wrecked on the coast near the "Diamond Sands." The name itself also helps to fix the position of the Diamond Sands, at or near Dharanikotta, on the Kistna, as the diamond mines of this part of the country are restricted to the small district of Partial, lying immediately to the north of Dharanikotta. The flight from Dantapura took place in A.D. 310, at which time, according to the Siamese version, the two Drona measures of relics were still preserved in the Naga country.[11] But three years later, or in A.D. 313, the Raja of Ceylon sent a holy priest to bring away these relics from Majerika, which was miraculously effected, in spite of the opposition of the Nagas. The Naga king then solicited a few relics from the Raja of

[p.535]:Ceylon, "-which were bestowed upon him accordingly."

There are several minor variations in the Ceylonese account, but the chief difference is in the date. According to the ' Mahawanso,'[12] the relics at Ramagrama consisted of only one Drona measure, which, after being enshrined by the Nagas at Majerika, were carried off to Ceylon in the fifth year of the reign of Datthagamini, B.C. 157, by whom they were enshrined in the Maha-thupo, or great stupa, at Ruanwelli.

The author of the ' Mahawanso ' gives a glowing account of the magnificence of this great stupa of Ceylon ; but he admits that the Chaitya at Majerika, " was so exquisitely constructed, and so superbly ornamented in various ways , . . that all the accumulated treasures in Lanka would fall short of the value of the last step of its stair."[13] According to our present knowledge of the antiquities of Southern India, this description can apply only to the magnificent stupa of Dharanikotta, on the Kistna, which was literally encased in a profusion of sculptured bas-reliefs.

It is difficult to reconcile the discrepancy between the dates of the Siamese and Ceylonese chronicles ; but I think it is highly improbable that these Naga relics could have been carried to Ceylon at so early a date as 157 B.C., at which time it is more than doubtful whether Buddhism had penetrated to any part of Southern India. I would suggest, as a possible explanation of the discrepancy, that the relics may have been carried off to Ceylon in A.D. 313, as stated in the Siamese chronicles, and there enshrined in the great

[p.536]: stupa of Ruanwelli ; and that in after times their acquisition was erroneously assigned to Dutthagamini, the original founder of the stupa. The famous tooth itself, which was taken from Kalinga to Ceylon, in A.D. 310, was enshrined in the Dharmmachakra, an edifice erected by Devanam-piyatisso, the contemporary of Asoka, about 240 B.C., and was afterwards transferred to the Abhayagiri Vihara, which was erected in B.C. 89.[14]

But whether this explanation be accepted or not, we know from the general consent of all the Buddhist chroniclers and pilgrims, as well as of the 'Mahawanso' itself, that the Ramagrama relics were still enshrined in their original receptacle, at Ramagrama, in the middle of the third century, B.C., when Asoka was building stupas over all the relics of Buddha that were divided after his death. If, therefore, the relics were removed to Ceylon in B.C. 157, as stated in the ' Mahawanso,' we must crowd into a period of little more than 80 years the destruction of the original stupa at Ramagrama, the enshrinement of the relics at Majerika in the most magnificent stupa in all India, and their subsequent removal to Ceylon. But according to the very competent authority of Mr. Fergusson,[15] the erection of the Dharanikotta stupa, "judging from its elaboration, may have taken fifty years to complete." We have, therefore, only about thirty years left for the stay of the relics at Ramagrama, after the time of Asoka, and for their subsequent stay amongst the Nagas of Majerika. For this reason, I prefer the account of the Siamese chronicles ; and I

[p.537]: would accordingly fix the date of the removal of the Drona measure of relics, from Dharanikotta to Ceylon, in the year 313 A.D.

It must be noted, however, that the people of Northern India were happily unaware that the Drona of relics enshrined at Ramagrama had been carried off by the Nagas to Majerika, as both Fa-Hian and Hwen Thsang, who actually visited the place in the fifth and seventh centuries, mention that the stupa was still standing. It is curious, however, to learn from the journals of both pilgrims, that even in their days the Ramagrama relics were believed to be watched over by the Nagas of a tank close by the stupa.[16] According to the original Buddhist legend, these Nagas had prevented Asoka from removing the relics from Ramagrama. In the lapse of time, when Ramagrama had become deserted, as it was found by both pilgrims, this legend might easily have assumed the slightly altered form that the Nagas had carried off the relics to prevent their removal by Asoka. This form of the legend would have been eagerly seized upon by the Nagas of Southern India, and the transfer of the relics to their own country of Majerika, would at once have commanded the easy belief of a credulous people.

In mentioning the relics that were removed from Ramagrama, the Ceylonese chronicles call them one Drona measure, and the Siamese two Dronas. I presume, therefore, that they were generally known as the Drona-dhatu, or " Drona of relics." In Pali this name would be Dona, which may probably be the true original of Hwen Thsang's To.na.kie. The full name

[p.538]: would have been Donakadhatu, or simply Donaka, which with kot a added would make Donaka-kotta, corresponding with the Chinese syllables To.na-kie-kia-tse, as well as with the Dhanakakata of the [inscriptions]]. Now I have already shown from the dated inscription of Kanhari that the name of Dhanakukata is as old as A.D. 108, but as it is spelt in all the inscriptions with dh and not with d, I infer that the legend about the Drona of relies is later than that date. We know that it was a common practice amongst the Buddhists to alter the spelling of the local names so as to obtain meanings which might be adapted to legends of their Teacher. Thus Taksha-sila, the "hewn stone," became Taksha-sira, or the " cut-off head," and Adi-chhatra, or " King Adi's canopy," became Ahi-chhatra, or the "serpent canopy," over the head of Buddha. With reference, therefore, to the Naga guardianship of the Drona of relics at Ramagrama, I think it highly probable that the old name of Dhanaka was changed to Donaka by the Buddhists, for the special purpose of adapting it to their legend regarding the disposal of the Ramagrama Drona of relics.

The present name of the place is Dharani-kotta, which I take to be derived from the later legend regarding Bhuvaviveka, which is preserved by Hwen Thsang. This holy priest, wishing to behold the future Buddha, Maitreya, fasted for three years, while he continually repeated the mystical verses called dharanis. At the end of that time Avalokiteswara appeared to him and instructed him to return to his native country of Dhanakakata, and in front of a cavern to the south of the town to recite with perfect

[p.539]: faith the dharanis, or mystical verses, addressed to Vajra-pani, when his wish would be accomplished. At the end of three years more Vajra-pani appeared to him, and taught him a secret formula which had power to open the cavern in the palace of the Asuras, where the future Buddha was dwelling. After three years spent in the recitation of these secret dharanis, the rock opened, and Bhavaviveka bidding farewell to the multitude, who were afraid to follow him, entered the cavern, which immediately closed upon him and he was no more seen. As this miraculous legend of the dharanis was the popular belief of Dhanakakata in the seventh century, the place would naturally have been known amongst the people as Dharani-kotta, or the " Cavern of the Dharani Miracle."

From the mention of Dhanakakata in the cave inscriptions of the first and second centuries of the Christian era, we might expect to find some trace of the name in the Geography of Ptolemy. But instead of this we find a people named Aruarni, or Avarni, occupying the country below the Maisolus, or Grodavari river, with a capital called Malanga, the residence of King Bassaronaga. As Malanga is placed between the two rivers Maisolus and Tyna, its position corresponds with that of Ellur, close to which are the remains of the old capital named Vengi, which are still known as Pedda and Chinna Vegi, or Great and Little Vegi[17] That Malanga was in this neighbourhood is proved by the existence of the name at the present day in Bandar-malanga, or the " port of Malanga" a small town on the coast; 54 miles to the east- north-east of Masulipatam. I conclude, therefore,

[p.540]: that Dhanakakata was only the seat of a great religious establishment, while Vengi was the political capital of the country.

With regard to the king's name, I think that the Greek Bassaro-naga may be identified with the Pali Majeri-ka-Naga of the 'Mahawanso.'[18] Remembering the frequent interchange of the labials in m and b, and that ka is an optional affix, the Greek Bassaro may be accepted as a tolerably close rendering of the Pali Majeri ; and thus Ptolemy's Malanga would become the capital of the Nagas of Majerika.

On a general review of all the evidence in favour of the identification of Dharanikotta with the Dhanakakata of Hwen Thsang and with the Majerika Stupa of the Nagas, the most striking point is the exceeding beauty of the relic stupa, which is common to all of them. I have already quoted the account of the ' Mahawanso' as to the gorgeous magnificence of the Naga Stupa of Majerika, the last step of which was beyond the power of all the riches of Ceylon to equal. Similarly the Chinese pilgrim was struck with the unusual beauty of the religious edifices of Dhanakakata, which he describes as possessing all the magnificence of the palaces of Bactria.[19] We have also the evidence of our own eyes as to the exceeding beauty and lavish ornament of its sculptures, many of which now grace the India Office Museum, in London. And lastly, we have the tradition of the people that Dharanikotta was once the capital of this part of India.[20]

[p.541]: The age of the stupa can only be determined approximately, as the twenty inscriptions on the sculptures in London give no dates, and make no certain mention of any kings or persons whose age is known. But from the style of the alphabetical characters, I am satisfied that the inscriptions belong to the same period as those of the famous caves of Kanhari, Nasik, and Karle, which record the gifts of Gotamiputra — Satakarni, Pudumayi, and Yadyna Sri, of the Andhra dynasty. They agree also with those of the Satakarni inscription on the gateway of the Bhilsa tope,[21] as well as with those of Rudra Dama's inscription on the rock of Girnar. I have already noted that one of the Kanhari inscriptions is dated in the year 30 of the Sakaditya Kal, or era of Sake, equivalent to A.D. 108; and I may now add that Rudra Dama's inscription is dated in the year 72, which, if referred to the Vikramaditya era, will be A.D. 15, or if to the Sake era, A.D. 150, both dates being within the period of the first two centuries of the Christian era, to which I refer the Amaravati inscriptions. Colonel Mackenzie also obtained some leaden coins of Gotamiputra[22] and of other princes of the Satakarni dynasty of Andhras, when excavating the ruins at Dharanikotta — a discovery which alone is sufficient to establish the existence

[p.542]: of some important buildings at this very spot during their reigns. I have already suggested that Gotamiputra Satakarni was probably the same person as the great Salivahan, or Sadavahan, who established the Sake era ; and I am inclined to assign the foundation of the Amaravati stupa to him, in about A.D. 90, and its completion to Yadrya Sri Satakarni, one of his successors, who ascended the throne in A.D. 142. This date corresponds very well with the only facts that we possess regarding the age of the stupa, namely, that it cannot be earlier than the Christian era or later than A.D. 313, when its relics were carried away to Ceylon.

At a much later date, in the beginning of the eleventh century, Danaka is mentioned by Abu Rihan, who describes it as " the plains of the Konkan." Now, the Konkan is the valley of the Kistna river, and this description of the country of Danaka adds another proof to the correctness of my identification of Hwen Thsang's Dhanakakata with the ruined city of Dharanikotta on the Kistna. According to Abu Rihan,[23] Danaka was the native country of the Karkadun, or rhinoceros. Now the same statement is made by the merchant Suliman[24] of a country in the south of

India, named Ruhmi, ... which was famous also for extremely fine muslins, that could be passed through a ring. The same country is noticed by Masudi[25] as Rahma, and by Idrisi as Rumi. Masudi, also, notes that it extended along the seacoast. Now Marco Polo mentions the town of Miifafli, in the province of

[p.543]: Masulipatam and to the north of Maabar, as famous for diamonds and for the thinnest and most delicate cotton cloths resembling spiders' webs. Mutafili has generally been identified with Masulipatam itself ; but a considerable town named Mutapili still exists near the seacoast at 66 miles to the south of Dharanikotta., and 70 miles to the south-west of Masulipatam. In either case, however, Marco's notice determines the fact that the country about the mouths of the Godavari was famous for diamonds and for delicately fine muslins. It must, therefore, have included the diamond district of Partyal, immediately to the north of Dharanikota, as well as the muslin district of Masulipatam ; and, accordingly, it may be identified with the Rahmi or Dumi of the Arab geographers. By a very slight change in the characters ... Rahmi might become ... Dhanak, which would agree with the Danaka of Abu Rihan.

According to the chronicles of Orissa,[26] the present town of Amaravati was founded, or established as a subordinate seat of government, by Surya Deva, Raja of Orissa in the twelfth century. The name is connected with the worship of Siva as Amaranatha or Amareswara ; and one of the twelve great Lingas of this god, which is assigned to Ujain, almost certainly, belonged to the holy city on the Kistna, as we know that Ujain possessed its own famous temple of Mahakala, and that all the other ten shrines of Siva belong to different places.

I cannot close this account without noting that M. Yivien de Saint-Martin has stated his suspicion that

[p.544]: the name of Dandaka is connected with Dhanakakata[27] The Dandakaranya, or forest of Dandaka, is celebrated in Indian story. Varaha Mihira,[28] the great astronomer, mentions Dandaka along with other places in the South of India as follows : Kerala, Karnata, Kanchipura, Konkana, Chinna-pattana (or Madras), etc. In this list Dandaka is distinct from Konkana, or the Upper Kistna ; and may, therefore, perhaps be identified with the lower valley of the Kistna of which Dhanakakata was the capital. But as the latter name is found in the early inscriptions of the western caves, it is probable that the mere verbal resemblance of Dandaka may be quite accidental.

Hwen Thsang describes the province of Dhanakakata as 6000 li, or 1000 miles, in circuit. These large dimensions are corroborated by its other name of Ta-an-ta-lo, that is Maha Andhra, or the great Andhra, which is noted by the Chinese editor,[29] as the other districts of Telingdna, namely Kalinga and Andhra proper are smaller than Dhanakakata. No frontier is mentioned in any direction ; but it is most probable that the boundaries of the province corresponded as nearly as possible with the limits of the Telugu language, which extended to Kulbarga and Pennakonda on the west, and to Tripati and the Pulikat lake on the south. On the north it was bounded by Andhra and Kalinga, and on the east by the sea. The circuit of these boundaries is, as nearly as possible, 1000 miles; and I am, therefore, inclined to believe that the large tract of

[p.545]: country thus described is the famous Dhanakakata of Hwen Thsang.


  1. The Ancient Geography of India: I. The Buddhist Period, Including the Campaigns of Alexander, and the Travels of Hwen-Thsang. By Sir Alexander Cunningham, p.533
  2. The Ancient Geography of India/Southern India, p.530-545
  3. See Maps Nos. I. and XIII. My correction was printed in my Archeological Report to the Government of India in 1864, but it was made several years previously. Dr. Bhau Daji has also identified the Chinese name with the Dhanakakata of the inscriptions, but he has not noticed the true reading of the Chinese syllable tse. (Bombay Journ., vol. vii. p. 68.)
  4. Journ. Asiat. Soc. Bombay, v. 156. Karle inscription No. 14.
  5. Ibid., V. 156. Karle inscription No. 11.
  6. Journ. Asiat. Soc. Bombay, v. 155. Karle inscription No. 10.
  7. Ibid., V. 20. Kanhari inscription No. 8.
  8. Ibid., vi. Inscription No 39.
  9. Journ. Asiat. Soc. Bombay, v. No. 10 of Lieut. Brett's plates of Kanhari inscriptions, which accompany Dr. Stevenson's Memoir, No. 8, p. 20.
  10. Burnouf, ' Introduction a I'Histoire du Buddhisme Indian,' p. 560.
  11. Colonel Low, in Journ. Asiat. Soc. Bengal, 1848 ; part ii. p. 87. Sec Map No. XIII.
  12. Tumour's 'Mahawanso,' p. 185.
  13. Ibid., p. 188.
  14. Tumour's 'Mahawanso,' p. 211.
  15. Journ. Royal Asiat. Soc, new series, iii. 155
  16. Beal's 'Fali-Hian,' c. xxiii. ; and M. Julien's ' Hiouen Thsang,' ii. 326.
  17. See Map No. XIII.
  18. Tumours ' Mahawanso,' p. 185, Manjerika-naga-bhawanan, "the land of the Nagas of Majeri."
  19. M. Julien's ' Hiouen Thsang,' i. 188.
  20. Hamilton's 'Gazetteer of India,' in voce " Amravatty."
  21. ' Bhilsa Topes,' p. 264. Mr. Fergusson refers to this inscription as being in the same characters as the Lat inscriptions of Asoka ; but he is undoubtedly mistaken, as the gateway inscriptions of the [[Bhilsa tope]] are in a very different character, as may be seen by a reference to my work.
  22. Sir Walter Elliot, in ' Madras Literary Journal,' 1858, vol. iii. new series: " I am responsible for the readings." See Plate XI. No. 105, Rajnya Gotamiputa Satahanisa ; also Nos. 92 and 101. No. 96 has Satakanisa, and No. 100 Pudumdvisa.
  23. Reinaud, 'Fragments Arabes,' etc., p. 109.
  24. Sir Henry Elliot's ' Muhammadan Historians of India,' by Professor Dowson, i. 5.
  25. Ibid., i. 23.
  26. Stirling in Journ. Asiat. Soc. Bengal, 1837, p. 760.
  27. M. Julien's ' Hiouen Thsang,' iii. 396. ' Memoire Analytique sur la Carte de I'Asie Centrale et de I'lnde.'
  28. Kern's ' Brihat-Sanhita,' c. xiv. ; v. 12, 13, 14.
  29. M. Julien's ' Hiouen Thsang,' iii. 110, note 2.