The stunning state of Gujarat is popular all over the world for its rich heritage, a close connection to its roots and also for its well preserved, impressive architectural wonders. Apart from this Gujarat is extremely popular for being a religious and spiritual destination since it is home to the vital Somnath and Dwarkadheesh temples. it is also a crucial pillar in the all India Char Dham Yatra making it an important destination for Hindus from not just in India but also from all over the world. Little is known that Gujarat was once an important centre for Buddhism in India. This fact has been made clear through the presence of ancient edicts, historical recordings and numerous monuments. Although a number of literary sources mention that Buddhism had reached the Saurashtra region during the age of Lord Buddha, but the earliest archeological evidence showcasing this fact dates back to the time of emperor Ashoka. There are innumerable evidences and monuments which show that there has always been a Buddhist presence in Gujarat which includes – the Girnar Rock edicts which has Dhamma engraved in it. Other remains citing the obvious Buddhist presence include most of the rock cut caves which stretch all along the coastal region of Gujarat from Kutch to Saurashtra and up until Bharuch among other archeological sites. These caves are said to have been excavated between the 2nd and 6th century AD during the Kshatrapa rule.
Buddhism had become a popular and a widely accepted religion during the 1st and 4th century AD which continued to garner attention and importance during the Maitraka rule. During his visit to India the Chinese traveler Hiuen Tsang, had visited Gujarat and had recorded the presence of 200 monasteries that used to serve as home to 10,000 monks. The said monasteries are dotted all along the regions of Bharuch, Atali, kheta, Valabhi and Anandapura as well as Saurashtra. Another traveler known as I – Tsing had visited Gujarat during 670 AD who had also written about his observations about Sammitiya School which had the largest amount of followers in the entire western region of India. Two of the greatest centres of Buddhist studies which was recorded by I-Tsing is Valabhi along with Nalanda. During the Maitraka period Gujarat had contributed some important and highly revered Buddhist scholars. Archeological evidences which have been obtained from Taranga Hill clearly suggest that this was an extremely prominent Tantrik Buddhist centre up until the 9th century AD. Other popular monuments which bear images of Lord Buddha also include Rani ki Vav in Patan along with many other images of gods and goddesses. Some of the most valuable remains of Lord Buddha in 1963 include the site of Devnimori in the eastern and central region of this state. Excavations carried out at this site have yielded a large Buddhist establishment which can be dated back to 2nd and 7th century AD.
Gujarat became aware of Buddhism during the reign of the great Ashoka and it was consequently accepted and followed by the other local population. Here are some of the most popular structures/monuments which depict the Buddhist presence:
- Sana Cave – the cave walls depicted here have been dated back to the times of rule of King Ashoka. The ancient travelogues retrieved from the travel accounts of Hiuen Tsang and I-Tsing also contain a lot of mention about this cave.
- Vadnagar – this ancient city is said to have flourished during the time of Lord Buddha and the settlement, which was formed around the area of Kapila River also grew drastically.
- Devni Mori – This popular archeological site in Gujarat is believed to contain the architectural remains containing the teachings and ideas of Buddha.
- Kadia Dungar caves – this collection of 7 rock-cut caves which mirrors Buddha’s preaching is one of the most well-known and widely accepted evidences of Buddhist presence in Gujarat.
There is a myriad of monuments and architectural evidences which point towards the acceptance and growth of Buddhism in Gujarat. These evidences have stood through the harsh test of time and have stayed erect for centuries at an end. From caves to monasteries and Stupas it is quiet evident that Gujarat was once the centre of Buddhist studies.