HINDU VIOLENCE AGAINST BUDDHISTS AND WANTON DESTRUCTION OF BUDDHIST SITES IN INDIA
Posted on December 1st, 2017

Dr. Daya Hewapathirane

In the name of revival of Hinduism in India, between 830 CE and 966 CE (or mid 9th to late 10th centuries) the ancestors of the present Hindus of India were ruthless against Buddhists and brutally killed Buddhist monks and followers of Buddhism and wantonly destroyed many thousands of Buddha statues, stupes and vihares. According to Professor M.S. Jayaprakash, there are both indigenous and foreign sources, both literary and archaeological, which speak volumes on the havoc done to Buddhism by the Hindus of India.

Sankaracharyas were prominent Hindu leaders who were heads of Hindu monasteries of the Vedanta tradition. They along with many Hindu rulers at the time, took pride in demolishing Buddhist images and monuments, with the objective of eradicating Buddhist culture. It is recorded that Pushyamitra Sunga, a Hindu ruler was instrumental in demolishing 84,000 Buddhist stupes built by Emperor Asoka (Source: Romila Thaper, Ashoka and Decline of Mouryas, London, 1961, p. 200). This was followed by the destruction of many Buddhist centres in Magadha which was a highly significant Buddhist centre in ancient times. Here, it is reported that thousands of Buddhist monks were mercilessly killed. Jalaluka was another Hindu king who was instrumental in destroying Buddhist sites. Kinnara, the Hindu king of Kashmir demolished thousands of Buddhist viharas and caused untold suffering to many thousands of Buddhists in Kashmir which was a prominent Buddhist centre in ancient times. Many Buddhist viharas were forcibly occupied and converted to Hindu temples, by Hindu Brahmins, in Tirupati, Ahoble, Undavalli, Ellora, Bengal, Puri, Badrinath, Mathura, Ayodhya, Sringeri, Bodhgaya, Sarnath, Delhi, Nalanda, Gudiallam, Nagarjuna Konda, Srisailam and Sabarimala in Kerala.

Buddhist Nagarjunakonda

At Nagarjunakonda, located in Andra Pradesh, is another highly significant ancient Buddhist site. On its west side was Amaravathi which was another important ancient Buddhist site. The site was once the location of Buddhist universities and monasteries which attracted students from as far as ChinaGandharaBengal and Sri Lanka. In ancient times, this site housed more than 30 Buddhist viharas and excavations have yielded art works and inscriptions of great significance. At its peak, there were more than thirty monasteries and was the largest Buddhist centre in South India.

Adi Sankara a Hindu monk played a demon’s role in destroying Buddhist statues and monuments. In a most ruthless manner all Buddhist buildings at Nagarjunakonda were destroyed. Many of the pillars, statues, and sculptures were wantonly destroyed. A.H.Longhurst who conducted excavations at Nagarjunakonda has recorded the wanton destruction caused to this outstanding ancient Buddhist centre, in his book Memoirs of the Archaeological Survey of India No: 54, The Buddhist Antiquities of Nagarjunakonda (Delhi, 1938, p.6.). Local tradition holds that the Hindu Brahmin teacher Sankaracharya who came to Nagarjunakonda with his followers were ruthless in destroying Buddhist monuments. Nagarjunakonda was one of India’s richest Buddhist sites but now lies almost entirely under the Nagarjunasagar Dam. It is named after Nagarjuna, who was an icon in Mahayana Buddhism and lived in the 2nd century CE.

Buddhist Kerala

Kerala was a prominent Buddhist centre for about 1200 years with a large Buddhist population and many Buddhist temples. The Paliyam Copper plate  proves that Buddhism was introduced to Kerala during the reign of Emperor Asoka. According to researchers and historians (P C Alexander, P K Gopalakrishnan, Pavanan, Puthussery Ramachandran, Aju Narayanan), Buddhism was introduced in Kerala in the 3rd Century BCE by the missionaries of Emperor Asoka on their way to Sri Lanka. Jainism also co-existed with Buddhism creating the great Sramana civilization of the South that has given birth to literary classics such as the Thirukural, Silapatikaram, Manimekhala and the whole canon of Sangham writing.

Buddhist, Jain and Ajivaka seers introduced the Brahmi script and the art of writing to South India. All the early inscriptions now available were written in Brahmi script. Buddhism left a strong impact on Kerala. Buddhists opened schools near the many monasteries. Buddhists were responsible for the development of the Ayurvedic system of medical treatment in Southern India, especially Kerala. Thirumulla Varam, Thottappally, Podiyil Mala, Sabarimala, Kodungallur, Thrissur, Kottakkal, Madappally and Bekal were world renowned Buddhist shrines of worship, learning, health care and nature conservation. In places like Mathilakam and Kiliroor in Kerala, there were Buddhist and Jian universities and Research centres that attracted intellectuals and students from many countries.

Shankaracharya and their close associates organized a religious crusade against the Buddhists in Kerala which led Buddhists and people of non-Hindu faith to be burnt alive. This is narrated in detail in the book Sankara Digvijaya. The Hindu Brahmin Kumarila Bhatta, instigated king Suddhavanan of Ujjaini of Madya Pradesh to torture and exterminate Buddhists including Buddhist monks. This barbaric and coveted Brahmanic Hindu invasion happened from the 5th to 8th centuries under cruel and reckless royal patronage. The most brutal persecution of Buddhist monks/nuns and conversion of temples happened in eighth and ninth centuries under the leadership of Sankara the furious advocate of Brahmanical propaganda and violence.

Thousands of Buddhists were killed on the banks of the river at Aluva in Kerala and river Vaiga in Tamil Nadu. The Thevaram which is a collection of Tamil devotional poetry consisting of several volumes, belonging to the 7th century, documents the brutal extermination of Buddhists. Kerala was forcibly transformed into a Brahmin Hindu state. Brahmin Hindus burned the Pali canon and the sacred texts of Buddhism in Kerala. They exterminated 1,200 years of Buddhist tradition. Buddhism does not promote or accept the caste system. The Hindu Brahmans forcibly enforced the Hindu Caste system among the people who were converted to Hinduism.

The extensive ravages caused to Buddhist buildings are well evident in the ruins of former Buddhist buildings in Kerala. Buddhist Architectural and sculptural reminiscences are numerous apart from the vital linguistic and cultural imprints like the abundance of Pali words in present south Indian regional languages. Many Buddhist viharas were transformed into Hindu temples. Kings of the Second Chera Empire in particular, took action to take over Buddhist and Jain temples and converting them into Hindu temples. Almost all the existing Savarna Hindu temples in Kerala are modified Buddhist or Jain temples. Many Kerala Hindu temples which were previously Buddhist temples, show traces of Buddhist art and architecture.

In the 7th century, owing to extreme forms of persecution of Buddhists by the Pandyans in Tamil Nadu, there was an exodus of Buddhists from Tamil Nadu to Kerala. The Buddhists came to Kerala and established their temples and monasteries in different parts of Kerala and elsewhere. Buddhism flourished in Kerala until about the mid-19th century.

The Kerala state is well known for the educational and health care achievements apart from its universal literacy. All these human development indicators are not just the product of 20th century evangelical Christian missionary activities and state welfare schemes but the lasting legacy of Buddhism, the democratic, egalitarian, and inclusive way of living of Buddhists that shaped the cultural contours of Kerala from the 3rd century BCE to 13th century CE.

Writing about the ruthless activities of Sankarachariyas, Swami Vivekananda observes  …such was the heart of Sankara that he burnt to death lots of the Buddhist monks by defeating them in the argument. What can you call such an action on Sankara’s part except fanaticism?” (Complete works of Swami Vivekananda, Vol.VII. p. 118, Calcutta, 1997).

Swami Vivekananda (1863 to 1902) was a Bengali Hindu Monk, who toured the Indian sub continent extensively acquiring first-hand knowledge of prevailing conditions. He was a key figure in the introduction of the Indian philosophies of Vedantha and Yoga to the Western world. He was a primary source of influence and inspiration to outstanding Indian leaders such as Mahathma Gandhi, Jawahallal Nehru, Rabindranath Tagore, Subhas Chandra Bose, Annie Besant, Narendra Modi among others). According to Professor Jayaprakash, the Hindu atrocities on Buddhism in India has no parallel in the entire history of religious struggles.

Buddhist History of Tamil Nadu

Buddhist missionaries from the Maurya Empire of Emperor Ashoka, brought Buddhism to Southern India.  Most of the Cheras who originally arrived in Tamil Nadu were Buddhists. Manimekhalai – one of the Five Great ancient epics of Tamil literature indicates that in ancient times Buddhist missionaries were active in spreading Buddhism in Tamil Nadu and that Tamil Nadu was populated by Buddhists.  Being subject to strong persecution, Buddhism faded away gradually and disappeared completely in the 11th century.

With the ascendency of Brahmanical Hinduism in the South, starting in the 7th century, Buddhists of Tamil Nadu and elsewhere in the South were subject to acute forms of persecution by Brahmin Hindus with help from the Pandyan Dravidian royal family. Aalavaipathikam records that around 640 CE., Sambanda Murti, a Brahmin, with the help of the Pandyan Dravidian royal family, caused the massacre of 8,000 Buddhist monks in Madurai, Tamil Nadu. Buddhist nuns were reportedly made into ‘devadasis’ or women “dedicated” to worship and service of a Hindu deity or a temple for the rest of her life. A steady decline of Buddhism began in the eighth century with the arrival of more Brahmin Hindu missionaries who forcibly converted Buddhist shrines to Hindu temples. Hindu monasteries were established, and Hindu priest-scholars were trained in Tamil Nadu and elsewhere in Southern India.

The following Hindu temples in the South were once Buddhist shrines:  the Vadakkunnathan Temple of Trichur, the Kurumba Bhagavathi Temple of Cranganore, and the Durga Temple at Paruvasseri near Trichur.  A large number of Buddha-images have been discovered in the coastal districts of Alleppey and Quilon, the most important Buddha-image being the famous Karumati Kuttan near Ambalappuzha.

Influence on Buddhist Sri Lanka

It is inevitable that the violence against Buddhists in India had its repercussions in Sri Lanka as well. Similar atrocities were  committed to Sinhala Buddhists when the Hindu Dravidians, the Pandyans and Cholas invaded Sri Lanka. The history of Hindu Dravidian involvement in Sri Lanka was marked by excessive violence against Sinhala Buddhists. This characterizes the history of Tamil invasions and involvements in Sri Lanka  from early times. Recorded history states that Sri Lanka was invaded as much as seventeen times by South Indian Hindu Dravidian invaders. Coming with armies they ruthlessly wiped out entire Sinhala villages along their way to Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa the royal capitals of the past. These highly prosperous Sinhala Buddhist capitals were ransacked and plundered and the people subject to untold atrocities. They killed Sinhala Kings or forced them to the retreat to the south. These Tamil invaders sat on the Sinhala throne and ruled over the Sinhala people for about 170 years at different times.

The Hindu Tamil threat to the Sinhala Buddhist kingdoms had become very real in the fifth and sixth centuries and intensified thereafter. At this time, the three Hindu empires in southern India–the Pandya, Pallava, and Chola, were becoming more assertive and Tamil ethnic and religious consciousness was strengthening during this period. In the meantime, in India, Buddhism was becoming increasingly vulnerable to pressure and persecution by Hinduism. It was during this time that the Hindu Chola, Pallava and Pandyans were instrumental in repeated invasions and threats to Buddhist Sinhala rulers of Sri Lanka.

By the middle of the 9th century, the Pandyans who had risen to a position of ascendency in Southern India invaded Sri Lanka. It is reported that these Dravidian Hindus caused undue violence against the Sinhala Buddhists and destroyed many Buddhist monuments and sites in Sri Lanka, including the highly venerated Thuparamaya the first stupa of Sri Lanka.  The 9th – 10th century period was a time when Sri Lanka was politically unstable, owing to relatively weak rulers but more owing to Pandyan and Chola invasions. These Hindu Pandyans and Cholas were instrumental in harassing Buddhists and plundering and destroying Buddhist sites. It is recorded that on their way to the capital city Anuradhapura, these Hindu invaders destroyed and demolished entire villages occupied by Sinhala Buddhists.

During the period 846 to 866 CE, these ruthless Hindus ransacked and plundered  the magnificent royal capital Anuradhapura and caused extensive destruction of many Buddhist buildings and monuments of this historic city, the royal capital of 1400 years. In 993, the Chola Emperor Rajaraja-I, invaded Sri Lanka, forcing the Sri Lankan ruler Mahinda- V to flee to the southern part of the country. Rajendra I, the son of Rajaraja-I, launched a huge invasion and king Mahinda-V was captured and taken prisoner to India where he died in 1037. Mahinda- V (917-1007), was the last Sinhala king to rule from Anuradhapura. The Cholas moved the capital to Polonnaruwa. Subsequent Sri Lankan rulers who came into power after the Chola reign, continued to use Polonnaruwa as their capital, thus ending the Anuradhapura regime. South Indian invasions and violence led to the abandonment of Anuradhapura the historic royal capital for 14 centuries. Sri Lanka Buddhists experienced terror in its worst forms never known in our land before, during the invasions and rule of the Hindu Dravidian Kalinga Magha.

In 1201 Sri Lanka was invaded by Magha a Hindu Dravidian Kalinga prince who took the king captive, tortured him and robbed him of all riches. He ruled for 21 years until 1222 CE. The ferocity, cruelty and barbarism of Tamils were unprecedented. These Tamils ransacked the kingdom, killed man and beast, broke images, destroyed temples, viharas, tortured the rich of their wealth and gave land to Cholas. The Tooth and Bowl relics were hidden. Kalinga Magha tyrannized the inhabitants of Raja Rata and extended his invasion to the south of the country where he was counter-attacked and compelled to retreat by the forces of the Sinhala Buddhist king Vijaya Bahu-III of Maya Rata(1222-1226 CE).

Dr. Daya Hewapathirane

Primarily based on the article titled Hindu Violence against Buddhism in India has NO Parallel” by Professor of History: Dr. M. S. Jayaprakash (Courtesy: The Dalit Voice April-May 2006, Punnathala, Kollam District, Kerala). Other sources of information: Alexander, P C., Buddhism in Kerala. Buddhism in Kerala, 1949; Omvedt. Gail., Buddhism in India: Challenging Brahmanism and Caste, New Delhi: Sage, 2007

4 Responses to “HINDU VIOLENCE AGAINST BUDDHISTS AND WANTON DESTRUCTION OF BUDDHIST SITES IN INDIA”

  1. DAYA HEWAPATHIRANE Says:

    Additional information provided by a friend –
    Anagarika Dharmapala called upon the Sinhalese to rise up and save Bodhgaya (සිංහලයෙනි නැගිටිවු බුද්ධගයාව බේරා ගනිව්). He wanted it saved mainly from Hindus. Not from the British, Christians or Muslims. Bodhgaya was neglected, etc. by Hindus. It was re-discovered by the British (Cunningham, Beglar and Sir Ashley Eden).

    Dharmapala had a physical scuffle with a group of Hindus in Bodhgaya and entered into a court case (against advice of others) against Hindus to save it. He succeeded.

    Since 1953 Bodhgaya was managed by a Hindu majority committee. They neglected it. After it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site about 15 years ago India had to protect it. But still they failed. Two monks (one Japanese) petitioned the Indian supreme court in 2012 to take it under a Buddhist majority committee. They won and now it is finally restored.

  2. Dilrook Says:

    Thanks for the very informative and timely article Dr Daya. These facts must be very well and objectively understood to figure out the forces against Sri Lanka. Christian destruction of Buddhist shrines in the island and Muslims in India is very well known. But those were not the only foes against Buddhism.

    Further on the subject, this has a good list of sources (some spelling and grammar mistakes).

    http://bapumraut.blogspot.com.au/2013/02/how-adi-shankara-destroyed-buddhism-and.html

    [Quote] The antics of Adi Shankara in the 8th century assuming he was born in 788 and died in 820 CE are well known and part of history. Sankara postulated the Vedas as authority; and hence was ranked as a Sanatani. Later on, the priestly class appropriated this and Max Muller called it Hinduism. Thus Hinduism dates back to to the 8th century.

    He was the arch foe of Buddhism and the principal architect of its downfall in India (Pande 1994: p. 255). Adi Shankara, along with Madhva and Ramanuja, was instrumental in the revival of Hinduism through aggressive and violent means.

    The historians like Vincent Smith suggested that it was due to Adi Sankaracharya there wasdecline of Buddhism in India. Others argue that it was due to the Muslim invasion (of Bakhtyar) that Nalanda was routed and the library there was burned and thousands of Buddha viharas were destroyed subsequently. Much of this is described in The Book of Thoth(Leaves of Wisdom).

    Shashanka was the Shaivite Brahmin king of Bengal. He was manipulated by the Brahmins to become a ferocious oppressor of the Buddhists. He had destroyed the Bodhi tree of Bodh Gaya and ordered the mass destruction of all Buddhist images and monasteries in his kingdom. [Unquote]

    In the Sri Lankan context, a similar attempt was made by Kalinga Magha (1215 to 1236 AD) to replace Buddhism with Jainism. He failed.

    If LTTE succeeded, part of the island would be “secular” Tamil Eelam. Much like “secular” Hindustan, it would be a Hindu kingdom.

  3. Christie Says:

    Buddhists are attacked today. Reconversions are taking place.

  4. Ancient Sinhalaya Says:

    Buddhism disappeared from india very very quickly since Buddhist teachings didn’t suit the society there. Buddhism
    forbids killing (including animals, guaranteeing their right to life), stealing, lying, inequality (caste system etc).
    So in indian society Buddhism didn’t fit very well since it wasn’t a religion of convenience. So hindusim took hold
    again until the fast breeding and religion of violence mussies came to india. When the multiplying mussies got there, one arm of the fastest breeding religion used their Baby Machine Wives, went on overdrive and multiplied and multiplied, while the other arm of religion of violence start murdering and torching ancient Buddhist temples, universities etc. All these for religions of conveniences by their followers.

    Go to any museum in the world and see if you can find this mythical creator god. We all know you will only find
    a chimp as the origin (Charles Darwin’s Theory of Evolution). So mythical creator god theory doesn’t hold water. Then we all know big bang created the universe. To this day scientists can’t find the edges of the universe. It’s that vast, and nobody can even imagine how big the universe is. Someone can create such a thing? Religions to be true, they have to pass the science test. Only Buddhism pass the test.

    Courts the world over punish people for killing, stealing, lying etc. etc. Religions which don’t regard killing, stealing, lying, etc etc as sins, then they are religions of conveniences or what? People following these religions only cheating themselves and accrue a lot of sins. As a result they won’t be two-legged creatures in their next lives. It is all Buddhism, only true religion, religions of conveniences followers!

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