Karnataka, a southern state of India has a rich history of Buddhism on its land. Buddhism, introduced to Karnataka well before at the very age of the Buddha, flourished in the Maurayan and Satavahanas periods. The excavation sites and Asokan edicts at Sannati, Aihole, Maski, Vadgaon Madhavpur, Brahmagiri, Vasan, Chandravalli produce the live evidences of Buddhism as a dominant religion and culture in the ancient Karnataka. The Buddhist remains like the Chaitya, Vihara and Sculptures are found scattered, in different regions in Karnataka.
Buddhism in South India with particular reference to Karnataka, patronage of Buddhism appeared from the great king Ashoka. Mauran King, Ashoka was instrumental greatly, for the spread of Buddhism in various parts of the country and outside. Ashoka ascended the throne in 273 B.C. but his coronation took place after four years in 269 B.C. The above accounts show that, at the beginning he was a cruel man later on changed himself hence Ashoka’s period is known as the golden era of Buddhism. Edicts of Ashoka are served as means for the propagation of Buddhism and Karnataka also. The edicts are 17 in number among them 13 are minor rock edicts and remaining 4 are major rock edicts found at Sannati.
Sannati: In Sannati region, about half a dozen sites within the stupa structural remains were found. An excavated stupa site at Kanaginahalli located 3 KM from Sannati shrine called chandralamba near the river Bhima are found scattered, large number of Buddhist panels and Buddha sculptures in the stupa site etc. are found therefore this place may be considered as the biggest site in Karnataka. It includes sculptures of Buddha, various sculptural panels, some with inscribed panels and inscriptions. The inscribed panels, the sculptural panels, the plan of the stupa structure etc are belonged to the period of the Satavahana only. At Tunnuru, a village near Sannati, potteries, memorial stones, Jataka sculptures, most of them fragmentary are found. All these sites showing the Buddhist relics in the form of stupa or sculptures or memorial stones or sculptural panels or narrative panels referring to Buddhism of the place, obviously they were important Buddhist centers during the period.
In the Maski edict, Ashoka says that after two and half years also he was an upasaka, then afterwards started to show interest and started the propagation. Even the laymen can attain the enlightenment, according to him, he acts on it hence, one more interesting feature of this edict is through this edict, the real name came to be noticed as the Devanamapriya Priyadarshi Raja Asoka.
- Brahmagiri Edict:
The Brahmagiri edict consisted of 13 lines in Brahmi script of Pali language. A word in the edict is written in Kharosthi. These rock edicts indicated that the locality was termed as Isila and denoted the southernmost extent of the Mauryan Empire. The Brahmagiri site is a granite outcrop elevated about 180 m. above the surrounding plains and measures around 500 m east-west and 100 m north-south. It is well known for the large number of megalithic monuments that have been found here.
- Siddhapur edict:
The Siddhapur edict was known as “Emmi Timmanagundu. It is in Brahmi script of 22 lines of which the last lines are in Kharosthi reads as “Ekathataviye cha-pada.” The name of several places including suvamagiri, Isila etc are mentioned. In his rock edict II the independent border kingdoms, the cholas pandyas in plural, satiyaputa, mostly Atiyaman of the Kongu region and Keralaputa with whom, the Mauiyan king maintained good relationship.
It is considered as the most important feature of the Ashokan inscriptions where the names of some locations, boundaries, were referred and it is clear in the Mahavamsa the Ceylonese literary work. After the pataliputra council, it is assumed by Guru-thera moggaliputa, thought of future 85 its development (Buddhism) in the Kartika maasa, theras were sent to different neighboring countries. One among them was mahishamandala, which according to scholars was modem Mysore. It is assumed that mahisha maisa Mysore in Kannada was used by the localities. In the Mahishmati, the site name was used as “Mahishamandala” because mahisati is pali language.
- Udegollam Edict:
This Udegollam edict, also depicts the name of Ashoka. In the edicts of Gavimatha, palkigunda, at Koppala, not only refers to minor edicts of Ashoka but also shows an engraving of Buddha’s foot print is noteworthy.
The Brahmagiri and Siddhapur Edicts of Ashoka provide the information about Ashoka’s presence at place called Suvamagiri. It was one of the most important center of Buddhism. Many scholars have tried to recognize Suvamagiri with different places. Suvamagiri was considered and identified with Kanaginahalli, a Buddhist center. Earlier, Kanagina-halli was known as Kanakanahalli in Kannada, Kanak means gold or Suvarna in Sanskrit there by called as Suvamagiri. Since, a stone slab, along with relief of Ashoka, with two female figures, mostly his wife, and a label inscription, mentioning his name was also found in the stupa at Kanagina-halli. This itself is the evidence to prove that, he stayed in this site in person, he visited and stayed at Kanaganahalli and paid homage to the stupa. The above stated statement show that Kanaginahalli may be the Suvamagiri where Ashoka is said to have camped.
Ankanakatte, a small village is located in Kundapur taluk in South Canara district in coastal area. There is a circular laterite brick structure by the side of national highway at the amidst of the village. It was locally called Bhavi (Well) since it is circular structure erected on the ground and studied by K.G. Vasantamadhava. According to him, this was a stupa structure. It may be dated to 15.century A.D. His study does not show the architectural details of the circular stupa. The upper part of the Circular wall is ruined. It is filled with mud it may be noted that a plinth part attached on its eastern side is buried in the ground, was the pavement of the brick as exposed recently at the site, measures 178 C.M. length and 85 c.m. in breadth. It also shows the extension of brick pavement on eastern side. Therefore, it is necessary for excavation of the plinth area around the structure. That would help to throw light on the details of the brick pavement attached at the bottom part of the circular structure.
In Shikaripur Taluk, Shimoga District a noted Buddhist site. In the Malimatha complex of the village Togarsi is located, a Mallikaijuna temple, on the north of temple, a pond called Gangehonda is situated. At the edge of the temple, a rare type of stone capital part with Buddha and his followers and a stucco head of Buddha of 2nd and 3rd Centuiy A.D.
The village Chandravalli is situated in Chitradurga District. In the village coins with engraving of a chaitya and bodhi tree are noticed by M.H. Krishna. Even he noticed small sculptures of the Buddha, Yaksha are found.
Kalya is located in Magadi taluk of Bangalore District. It is a famous village from the historical as well as religious point of view and especially Buddhism. Kalya is known as Bauddhavasamahapuri and Kalavathi in the 16th century inscription of the period.
(Bellary District) A worn out deteriorated lime-stone sculpture appears to be Buddha is placed in the Varanda and infront of Kalikadevi temple at Koppal. It shows that the deity is flanked by pilasters and he has two arms seated on enlarged circular peetha with a Dharma Chakra below the right up. It was noticed by A. Sundara. He argues that it is similar to a terracotta Buddha figure found at Maski. It is dated to 2nd century A.D
- Hampi, (Bellary District):
During the excavation at Hampi area several Buddhist relics were noticed in different places in different periods by the staff of Archaeological survey of India was found first in palace complex area near Mahanavami dibba. There are inscriptions, three stucco heads of Buddha and five inscribed penels of cornice beams and Jataka stories of Buddha. A lime stone inscription of 2nd century refers to “tarasa putasa danam.” It refers to the register of a donation by the son of Tarasa. It was presumed to be a donation to Buddhist sangha. The lime-stone members found in the Mahanavamidibba and mint area as well as a stucco head of Buddha are placed in the site museum near Kamal Mahal at Hampi. Two stucco images of Buddha collected at Kamalapur by Sri Venkatesh Aital of Chitradurga and are displayed in the museum at Dharmasthala. They are studied by A. Sundara and are comparable to Gandhara images. In the trial excavation at an area of west of kings audience hall were found five large lime-stone panels. They are of cornice beams and the relief figures of life of Buddha and Jataka stories.
- Badami ( Bagalkot District):
Badami, earlier called Vatapi which was the capital of the early Chalukyas has two type of temples of saiva, vaishnava, Jaina, shakta and Bauddha. They are structural and cave temples. There are caves at the place are quite famous. There is a natural cavern between the cave II and cave III, on the boulder below the rock shelter, the figures of unfinished Padmapani Avalokitesvara and defaced Buddha are carved.13 By the side of cave No. IV there is a small cave with a major niche. It has a figure of a certain Buddhist Jatakas. They are Nalagiri and Sundarananda episodes etc. A. Sundara says the sculptures of bodhisattva maitreya, padmapani and a Buddha at the place are located but appearance of these figures at the place, when compared with the temples of Hindu, it was not famous at Badami during the reign of early Chalukyas.14 The occurance of these figures at the place indicate that Mahayana was existed there but the account of Huen Tsang speaks the existence of both Hinayana and Mahayana at Badami.
The modern age, influenced by the scientific enquiry, quest for justice and liberty gave a call for revival of the Buddhism in the land of Karnataka after a gap of thousand years. The Dhamma-movement stroke by initiated by Dr. B.R. Ambedkar gave a new life for the marginal societies to live with dignity under the shade of Buddhism. A number of new monuments are emerging as the centers for Buddhist worship as well as to spread awareness regarding Buddha’s eternal message of peace and harmony. The grand Siddharth Buddha Vihara in Gulbarga is one of the best example of it. Karnataka in general and the northern Karnataka in particular exhibit a number of Buddha Vihara and statues of the Buddha and Dr. Ambedkar standing as symbols of equality, fraternity and dignity. Leaders like Mallikarjuna Ji Kharge has the key role in revival of the Buddhism in modern Karnataka, making the Buddha smile in its ancient land.