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Visakha traces its name to Buddhist princess

An aerial view of vintage Visakhapatnam

An aerial view of vintage Visakhapatnam  

Eminent litterateur of the city, Ganapatiraju Atchutarama Raju, demolishes the theory that Visakhapatnam got its name from Visakha or Kartikeya, and that a temple dedicated to the divine warrior of Hindu lore, had been submerged by the Bay of Bengal.

``A little skill in antiquity inclines a man to Popery: but depth in that study brings him about again to our religion,'' is the observation of Thoman Fuller, in his book, 'The True Church Antiquity'. These words apply in all fours in the study of antiquity of a place that has been phenomenally progressing in its growth and development in various facets of human activity. As history is not a mere account of events in a place but also its philosophy and religion, its study should be earnest and hearty.

Strangely believing a baseless cock and bull story about a non-existent temple, D.F. Carmichael---Collector, Magistrate and Agent to the Governor of Fort St. George in Ganjam---in his manual of the district of Vizagapatam in the Madras Presidency compiled and edited in 1869 began that work stating in section I thus:

``The term Vizagapatam is properly Visakha-Pattanam, the city of Kartikeya, the Hindu Mars. Tradition states that about 500 years ago, Kulottunga Chola---not the original sovereign of that name, but one of the Andhra dynasty of Rajahmundry, several of whom assumed the title---encamped on the site of the present town of Vizagapatam, on his way to Benares. He was pleased with the place and built a pagoda for Visakha, the favourite God of his caste on a site called Thirthapurallu, on the south of Lawson's Bay. From the encroachments of the surf this edifice has long since disappeared but at such seasons as their astrologers direct them to bathe in the sea, the Hindus of Vizagapatam go through the ceremony near the supposed site of Visakha Swami's temple. About the middle of the 17th century, the company's factory was established at Vizagapatam and there, on the cession of the Circars, the Chiefs of Council were placed; the town therefore gave its name to the District''.

The above statement is a tissue of incredible bald conjectures which at no point of time so far probablised an iota of truth in it. Four hundred years prior to the date of the above said Manual takes us to 1469 A.D. about which time no Chola king was ruling the Andhra dynasty of Rajahmundry. There is no factual evidence on ground or in the plethora of literary works of this period. There was never any kind of worship of Kumaraswami in the region. About the location of Theerthapurallu, there is no well settled version, geographically or oceanographically no oceanaut ever reported of having found any semblance of relics of a pagoda. The tradition base of the story is legless. If it were true, philanthropists are not lacking in the region who would have constructed a temple of Kumaraswami in a fine locale some time during this period of 400 years. Any scheme to retrieve the non-existent temple or to locate the fictitious structure would be Quixotic and wasteful, and the result of such explorations would benefit neither the state nor the people in any manner.

The Imperial Gazetteer of India by Henri Frowde, publisher to Oxford University, gives an account of the history of Vizagapatam district in Volume XXIV pages 325 to 327. To state in brief, Frowde narrated the fluctuations of Vengi and Kalinga rulers having sway over the district. Asoka's conquest of Kalinga which comprised this district in 260 BC; Fall of Andhra kings of Vengi before Pallavas Circa 220 AD; rule of Ganga kings of Kalinga and Chalukyas of Vengi over the district; and fall of the above two kingdoms before Cholas of Tanjore at the end of 10th century to 12th century AD; reoccupation of the district by Gangas who later fell to Gajapathis of Orissa in the 15th century; Mohammadan armies of Gulbarga running over the district in 1480 AD and by Krishna Deva Raya in 1515 AD; Mohammadan troops of Golconda completely subverting the kingdom of Orissa in 1575 AD; its ultimate forming of part of Northern Circars granted in 1753 to the French; founding of a factory at Vizagapatam in the middle of 17th century by East India Company; Battles of Bobbili and Padmanabham towards the close of the 18th century, split-up of the district into three collectorates in 1794; Permanent settlement in 1802; George Ruseels commission in 1832; Golconda disturbances in 1845-48 and 1857-58; and Rampa rebellions in 1879 were also chronologically published by Frowde in 1900. Narrating the above events in the district he made a paradoxical statement in the entry relating to the history of Vizagapatam that ''historically the town can boast of little interest. The only events of any importance that have occurred were the two occupations of the factory in 1689 by Aurangazeb's forces and in 1757 by the French under Bussy''. This statement is not in consonance with that made about the district.

The events in the district cannot be viewed as distinct and separate from those in the capital city Visakhapatnam. It is such views of a biased chronicler that lend support to the infantile gibberish, such as Visakhapatnam had been a fishermen's colony all through the ages and it has a history only a couple of centuries old.

The Gazetteer of Vizagapatam District, prepared by W. Francis in 1907 simply adopts the Carmichael Manual of 1869 in the etymological meaning of Vizagapatam, that it was the town of Vaisakha or Kartikeya. Yet this gazette may be reckoned as more informative in other respects: Francis deals in its chapter II, the political history of the district quoting authentic references to reliable records, inscriptions, etc. Dealing with the antiquity of Vizagapatam, he observed: ''The earliest extant accounts of the country speaks of it as part of the famous kingdom of Kalingas (though its exact boundaries were vague and constantly changing and stretched, perhaps, from the Mahanadi in the north to the Godavari in the south. The antiquity of this principality is amply established. It is referred to in the Brahminical and Buddhist literature assigned by professors Macdonell and Rhys Davids to the fifth and sixth centuries BC respectively by the Sanskrit gramarians Katyayana and Panini who flourished in the fourth century BC and in the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. The Buddhist chronicles refer to its forests and settlements on its coast to which the left canine teeth of Budha was brought in state, immediately after his death but the Brahminical writings speak scornfully of it, saying that he commits sin through his feet who travels to the country of the Kalingas and prescribing the purification necessary to expiate such an act. Magasthenes (302 BC), however, writes of the Kalingas as a civilized people divided into classes which followed widely different occupations.''

The further historical account of Francis right from Asoka's conquest to the political events up to 1900 AD is very informative, and the erudite. Books of William and Elphinstone, records of the Wheeler and 'Treaties' of Orme and Aitchison throw a great light on Vizagapatam town and district and they rightly deserve a deeply insightful study for further explorations on the subject as they are virtual minefields for researchers on the subject pertaining to the prospective megalopolis, ''the city of beauty and destiny''.

While Oruganti Ramachandraiah, retired professor of history and archaeology in Andhra University, who has contributed very valuable article to `Sundara Visakha' edited by me in July 1988 gives credence to the traditional beliefs, Suryanarayana, who prepared the `Civic Survey' in 1920s for the Visakhapatnam Municipality, almost rejects the traditional version that in the early years of the 14th century Kulottunga Chola of Andhra dynasty building a temple dedicated to Visakha as wrong. Suryanarayana holds that ''it would be more accurate to attribute the construction of the temple to Kulottunga I of the Chola dynasty of Tanjore, for he had subdued Kalinga once prior to 1095 AD and there is a Tamil record of his dated 1089 AD in the Simhachalam Temple close by''.

This version lends support to the contents of an inscription (No.187 of 1893) found in the temple of Sri Bhimeswara Swami in Draksharamam in East Godavari district which refers to a merchant of Visakhapatnam in the Saka year 990, corresponding to 1068 AD, donating munificently for an `Akhanda Loha Varthi', an oil lamp for non-stop service to the temple deity''.

But the version of any Chola king constructing a temple for Visakha is highly fallible and deserves outright rejection.

Therefore, the only version relating to the origin of the name of city, based on the Buddhist lore and facts on ground, that remains for consideration is strong to the core and worthy of unending exploration by researchers.

Leaving the Vedic lore and epics for future in-depth study on the present subject, a careful perusal of the Puranas lead to interesting results. Chapter 113 of Matsya Purana deals with the description of Bharata Varsha with its provinces. Andhra provinces or Janapathams existed both in the middle and in the Southern provinces during the time of the Purana, which lends support to Andhra Janapathams having once existed in present day Maharashtra. Chapter 270 deals with Brihadratha dynasty, 271 deals with Sisunaga dynasty and chapter 272 deals with the kings of Andhra dynasty. These three chapters form the subject matter of 'Bhavishya Rajaanu Keerthanam' (future rulers). It is in the Ikshvaku dynasty, Sakya and Suddhodana are predicted to have been born. It is in Magadha Brihadratha dynasty that Syenajith was ruling at the time of this Purana. The progeny of Sahadeva of the Mahabharatha period ruled the country for a thousand years. The narrative relating to future kings of Sunga dynasty also is in agreement with subsequent historical events. We find the name of Visakha Yupa in the Sisunaga dynasty who ruled for 53 years. The rule of Mahpadmananda and that of Srimukha and many minor rulers are mentioned. Suffice it to mention that some other Puranas, including 'Mahabhagavatha', also mentioned about the Kalinga and Andhra rulers.

The name `Visakha' is one of the most popular names in the Buddhist literature. Buddha consoling an affectionate grandmother, by name Visakha, on her bereavement by the loss of her granddaughter, appears in an article `Status of women in Buddhism' by K. Sri Dhammananda published in the book, `Gems of Buddhist Wisdom'. An entry `Angadesamu' in the 'Andhra Vignana Sarvaswamu' Vol.I, published by Kandukuri Bala Surya Prasada Rao, zamindar of Devidi Samsthanam in present Srikakulam district, mentions one Visakha Devi, a disciple of the Buddha, was born in Bhadaria village, seven miles south of present day Bhagalpur. The entry mentions that Visakha Devi converted many people to Buddhism.

In the same book the entry relating to Arya Vysya mentions Vasava Kanyakaparameswari, Eastern Chalukya Bheema Vishnu Varddhana and about a Visakha Nagaram. One of the oldest temples in Vizag is Vasavi Kanyakaparameswari Temple.

In Andhra University publications, we come across Ikshwaku kings as rulers of the region after the last Satavahana King Pulomavi. Among them, Vasishti Putra Chanthamolla is famous as the conqueror of much of coastal Andhra Desa. He had a son, Veerapurusha Dattu, and a daughter, Adivi Santhi Sri. That famous princess was given in marriage to Skanda Visakha Nagudu, a noble who held the titles and posts of Mahatalavara, Mahadanda Nayaka and Mahasenapathi.

G. Atchutaramaraju.

G. Atchutaramaraju.  

For students of Indian history, the name of the Chinese Buddhist pilgrim, Hiuen-Tsang is very familiar. He visited Andhra during 639-40 AD. From his travel record, it appears that he visited 70 samsthanas out of which 37 had been detailed. They are: Sthaneswaram, Viraata, Srighana, Madavaar, Brahmapura, Govisana, Achicchatra, Peelosana, Sankisa, Madhura (Uttara Madhura), Kanauj, Ayulu, Hayamukha, Prayaga, Kausambi, Kusapuram, Vaisakha, Sravasthi, Kapila, Kusingara, Varanasi, Yodhaptripura, Vysala, Vriji, Nepala, Magadha, Hiranya Parvatha, Champa, Kamkjolu, Paundravardhana, Jhajharothi, Mahesarapuramu, Ujjaini, Malwa, Khedakaira, Anandapura and Vadadi.

It appears that during his visit to Srikakulam which formed part of the Kalinga kingdom, Buddhism was on the decline in the area and there were only ten monasteries and about 500 monks. In the kingdom of Vengi also Buddhism was on the decline and there were only 20 monasteries with about 3,000 monks.

The popular belief that the town was named after Buddhist princes Visakha who is referred to in the Buddhist gathas sounds probable in view of the fact that Andhra Desa was a stronghold of Buddhism in the days of Mauryas, Asoka's conquest of Kalinga of which Vizag was a part in the third century BC is a historical fact. The recent archaeological findings of Baavikonda, Thotlakonda, etc., on the sea coast between Vizag and Bheemunipatnam and much earlier findings relating to Bojjannakonda and Sankaram (Sangharam) in Anakapalle taluq, the people with surnames of Buddha, Buddhala, Buddhavarapu and Buddharaju, etc., living in the district lend support to this.

Suryanarayana opines that some are inclined to believe that Visakhapatnam was named after a princess, Visakha by name.

It is this Buddhistic background that accounts for the cultured way of living of the people of this region. An Asokan inscription narrates the reasons for the emperor's feelings of remorse on account of his observations that in Kalinga ''dwell Brahma and ascetics, men of different sects and householders who all practise obedience to elders, obedience to father and mother, obedience to teachers, proper treatment of friends, acquaintances, comrades, relatives, slaves and servants with fidelity of devotion. To such people dwelling in that country happened violence, slaughter and separation from those they love''. It is such feelings of remorse that transformed Asoka.

It is high time people reject in toto the theory of a temple submerging in the sea and that Vizag had been a fishermen's colony till recently. The very word `pattanam' ever meant the principal city of a province or Janapatha. These cities or towns are invariably coastal towns: Machilipatnam, Bheemunipatnam and so on.

A further study and deep inquiries into the history and study of Vizag will be a prize jewel for anyone to aspire for, as this is the appropriate time when Vizag is galloping towards becoming a megalapolis besides becoming one of the world's best beauty spots.

Photo courtesy: D.S. Ambu Rao Photo: C.V. Subrahmanyam.

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