Amaravathi is a small town situated on the banks of the River Krishna in the Guntur District (of which it is a mandal) of Andhra Pradesh, India. It is famous for its Amareswara temple dedicated to Lord Shiva. The temple is one of the famous Pancharamas. Amaravati, also known as Dhanyakataka/Dharanikota was the site of a great Buddhist Stupa built in pre-Mauryan times. It was also the capital of Satavahanas, the first great Andhra kings who ruled from the 2nd century BCE to the 3rd century CE, after the downfall of Maurya empire.
The Skanda Purana gives a picture of the place and the Siva temple located here. Sage Narada explains to Sounaka and other saints that Amareswara is situated in Amareswaram on the bank of river Krishna and is on the southeastern side of the Srisailam temple.
The town was the site of a great Buddhist stupa originally built during the reign of emperor Ashoka. It was completed in 200 CE and is decorated with carved panels which tell the story of Buddha's life. The region between Krishna and Godavari rivers was an important place for Buddhism from the 2nd century BCE and some ancient sculpture in low relief has been found here. During the Satavahana period (2nd century BCE-3rd century CE), Dharanikota near Amaravati was chosen as the capital. The stupa was then adorned with limestone reliefs and free standing Buddha figures. During the period of the decline of Buddhism, this stupa was also neglected and it was buried under rubble. There is a 14th century inscription in Sri Lanka which mentions repairs made to the stupa and after that it was forgotten.
Around the year 1796 CE, Colonel Colin Mackenzie, who visited the site twice, prepared drawings and sketches of the relics in the area. Eventually, several European scholars including Sir Walter Smith, Robert Sewell, James Burgess and Alexander Rea excavated the site and unearthed many sculptures that once adorned the stupa. Many bas-relief medallions and paneled friezes decorated the Amaravati stupa. Similar to Sanchi Stupa, the stupa was decorated with carvings of life and teachings of Buddha and events of Jataka Stories, e.g. taming of a rogue elephant by Buddha. The 95 ft tall stupa was made of brick with a circular dome and platforms protruding in four cardinal directions.
Recent excavations have revealed remains of an Ashokan pillar, the first such example of Mauryan art to be found in South India. This stupa is related to the Vajrayana teachings of Kalachakra, still practiced today in Tibetan Buddhism. According to the Kalachakra tantra texts, Suchandra, the King of Shambhala and many of his retinue received the initiation into this practice by the historical Buddha. For this reason, the Dalai Lama of Tibet conducted a Kalachakra initiation at this location in 2006. Art historians regard the Amaravati art as one of the three major styles or schools of ancient Indian art, the other two being the Gandhara style and the Mathura style.
Some of the Buddhist sculptures of Amaravati betray a Greco-Roman influence that was the direct result of the close trade and diplomatic contacts between South India and the ancient Romans. Indeed, Amaravati has itself yielded a few Roman coins. The Government Museum at Egmore (Madras Museum) and British Museum, London host the "Amaravati Gallery". Chinese traveller and Buddhist monk Hiuen Tsang (Xuanzang) visited Amaravati in 640 CE, stayed for sometime and studied 'Abhidhammapitakam'. He observed that there were many Viharas and some of them were deserted, which points out that Hinduism was gaining ground at that time. Xuanzang wrote a glorious account of the place, Viharas and monasteries that existed.
The Amareswara (Shiva) temple walls have lot of inscriptions that give information about the kings who ruled over the area. The present holy shrine of Amaralingeswara (Lord Shiva) temple is associated with the reign of Vasireddy Venkatadri Nayudu who ruled the region before the advent of the British rule (See Amararama). He was well known for his benevolence, munificence and construction of a large number of temples and education centers in the Krishna River delta.
The people speak Telugu. The common traditional clothing for women is a Saree and for men a Pancha or a Lungi. The town was given a hagiographic portrayal in the famous short story series Amaravati Kathalu by Satyam Sankaramanchi. The stories describe the contemporary culture of local people during the reign of Vasireddy Venkatadri Nayudu and also post-independent times. The town is a centre of piligrimage to both Hindus and Buddhists. Amaravati is also famous for the temple dedicated to the god Shiva. The main Hindu festivals celebrated are Mahashivaratri and the Navaratri. The 30th Kalachakra festival, a popular buddhist ritual was held at Amaravati in the first week of January 2006.
It is reachable by road or by boat/coracle on the Krishna River. Amaravati is located 35 km northwest of Guntur. It is connected by the Amaravati road from the heart of Guntur. It is 46 km south west of Vijayawada. Gannavaram, north of Vijayawada is the nearest airport.