Buddhist Monks and Monasteries of India: Their History and Their Contribution to Indian Culture

By Sukumar Dutt | Go to book overview

7
The Maitraka Monasteries of Valabhī

ON the break-up of the Gupta empire round the middle of the sixth century AD, the political history of India repeated itself. It became once again a string of regional histories--of small kingdoms with shifting boundaries, leaping up to power by just a pronunciamento, whose commencement or continuity is in most cases indeterminate.

Among these kingdoms, however, the Maitraka kingdom in Sourāshtra (Gujerat) with its capital at Valabhl has more spotlight from history. This off-shoot kingdom seems to have inherited the Gupta tradition of royal patronage to monasteries, and Buddhism flourished at its capital Valabhī which rose to widespread fame as a centre alike of learning and commerce under a dynasty of kings styling themselves 'Maitrakas' in their royal seals.

Valabhī, now a petty township of about 7,000 inhabitants and hardly three square miles in extent, is about three to four miles inland, eastward of the Bay of Cambay. Local tradition has it that many centuries ago it spread right down to the coast. Then the sea gained upon it on one side, giving it the 'semblance of a human ear', and swallowed up the great harbour and wharf and all the edifices of the hinterland.

On one side of Valabhī flows a stream called Ghālā. It was anciently a river of considerable width and the main artery of outward merchant traffic. It is now a short and narrow inland channel, yet with a knack of going into spate during the rains. When the water is low, the ruined foundations of many a building, washed away centuries ago by its strong current, can still be glimpsed in its bed.

From bordering fields on the north-west of the Ghālā stream have been dug out an assortment of broken pieces of red polished ware of non-Indian make, imports from Persia or Rome with which Valabhi was in commercial intercourse in ancient times. Along with these antiquities has also been found a number of scattered Buddhist antiques--small images and Buddha-heads and tiny terra-cotta tablets called Dharmagutikās with the formula of the Buddhist creed, Ye dharmā hetu-prabhavā,etc., inscribed on them.1 But other finds of

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1
The formula itself is very ancient. It is found in the Theravāda Pali canon ( Mahāvagga, I, 23, 5) where it is called 'Dhamma-pariyāya (Formula of Dhamma) for a Paribbāka'. It is found inscribed on votive stūpas and clay tablets all over India from Taxila and Kushinagara in the north to Ajanta and Kanheri in the south, mostly in its Sanskrit version. Perhaps its use as a credal formula commenced not

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