Early archaeological evidence shows that Buddhism in Gujarat dates back to the times of Emperor Ashoka (269-232 BC). The town of Saurashtra, (known as Surashtra/Saraostes/Syrastene earlier) finds a place in early Buddhist literature such as IndriyaJataka, MilindaPanha, Petavatthu, etc. In the 6th century, a general of the Gupta Emperors, Bhattarka, a devout Shaivite, established an independent principality around Valabhi (Vallabhipur). The Maitraka rulers following him, although Hindus, were great followers of Buddhism. It was on his visit to Gujarat in the year 640 BC, that Chinese traveler, Hiuen Tsang noticed the 200 monasteries housing 10,000 monks at Bharuch, Atali, Kheta, Valabhi, Anandpura and Surashtra. Gujarat was following both Hinayana and Mahayana Buddhism.
Buddhist Centers in Gujarat
During the 6th and 8th centuries AD, Vallabhi in Gujarat, was one of the most frequented cultural centers of Buddhism as an extensive congregation of Buddhist monks and nuns of both the Hinayana and Mahayana schools hailed from this region. I-Tsing also compared both Vallabhi and Nalanda in his accounts, from which it would appear that the courses of study in both the above universities were more or less comparable.
- Ashoka’s Rock Edicts: These contain inscriptions of three dynasties which speak not only of the great popular faith but also of its healing powers to convert the king.
- Upperkota Caves: The Upperkota caves are in an old fort of Junagadh where Buddhist caves are marked by a two storied hall, consisting of a water tank connected to a chamber having four pillars arranged in a square and three more pillars at the northern end. The rock above the four pillars is cut away. Buddhist caves here are interesting architecturally, both due to their plan and also on account of their decorative motives and sculptures.
- Khapra-Kodia Caves: One of the most unadorned Buddhist caves of Gujarat, a fact attributed to the its continuous occupation by a Spartan monastic group, these caves contain figurines and inscriptions speaking of divergent influences and attracting interest from eminent historians like James Burgess.
- Sana Caves: These are a large group of sixty two Buddhist caves located 24 kms., north-east of the Una Railway Station, near the village Vanika. The Viharas of Sana are adorned with pillared verandahs containing one or two cells equipped with rock cut benches.
- Talaja Caves
These are 36 caves perched at different heights on a single isolated, picturesque hill, situated near the confluence of the Shatrunji with the Talaji, with the latter flowing past it. These caves, having little architectural significance, contain a few cells at the back of a pillared verandah, discounting the existence of a typical rock-cut monastery. Archaeologists believe that there are many more caves lying buried under the hillock.
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