The Buddha has awakened once again in Andhra Pradesh

With the return of Nara Chandrababu Naidu as the Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh, it is just a matter of time for the revival of Amaravati as the sole capital of the state. Even though Naidu announced this historical place as the capital of the residual state after coming to power in 2014, his successor Jagan Mohan Reddy ditched the idea of making it a top class city for political reasons and abandoned the developmental activities there. He relegated it to the status of administrative capital when he floated the idea of three capitals.

As CBN made a spectacular comeback with his ‘One Capital’ slogan in the 2024 assembly elections, Amaravati has once again become the cynosure of the country. No doubt he will now put his foot down and transform the dilapidated city into a sustainable capital city in the next few years. This is very much evident from his gesture immediately after he entered the secretariat of Andhra Pradesh in Amaravati. He bowed to the portrait of Buddha hung on the walls outside the chamber of Chief Minister. The symbolism carries much significance for Amaravati and Andhra Pradesh.

During Naidu’s previous tenure, the Chief Minister office was filled with replicas of beautiful lotus medallion from the ancient Amaravati stupa and the stunning Buddhist jali art. As Amaravati was the seat of Buddhism in ancient times, the then government came up with the idea of reflecting various replicas around the capital city in order to give a cultural touch and attract investments from countries like Japan and China where Buddhism was prevalent. This idea was part of Naidu’s many strategies to brand Amaravati as an international city.

The region’s great Buddhist past is widely known. Amaravati was a seat of Buddhism before the rise of the Satavahanas in the second century AD. A great stupa and monastery were built there during the reign of Emperor Ashoka (269-232 BCE), and the place is known as the cradle of Mahayana Buddhism.

The Amaravati stupa was one of the largest in India, said to be much bigger and more ornate than its counterpart at Sanchi. The British rulers took it away in the early 19th century, along with many other Buddhist artefacts. They are presently housed in the Amaravati gallery of the British Museum, which offers a virtual tour of the great Buddhist shrine that once existed in Amaravati.

In order to give a Buddhist touch to the new capital, the then CM Naidu ensured prominent displays of Amaravati art, including the meditative Buddha and the Buddhist jali art, in his office at the Secretariat. Also, the invitation card for the capital foundation featured the Lotus Medallion of Amaravati Stupa. He even changed the state icon Poorna Kumbham of the Hindu tradition in 2018 to Puna Ghataka (Vase of Plenty), inspired by the Amaravati School of Art.

However, the initial zeal and enthusiasm to promote the rich heritage of Buddhism started waning towards the end of Naidu’s term as Chief Minister because it was afraid that not all sections of people would accept promotion of Buddhism in every aspect of Amaravati. After the TDP faced an ignominious defeat in 2019 elections, some astrologers have attributed it to excessive promotion of Buddhism. The same is the case with TDP founder NTR’s rather tragic end to his installation of the giant Buddha statue in Hussain Sagar Lake in Hyderabad as chief minister.

After Jagan Mohan Reddy assumed charge of the state, his government opposed the very idea of Amaravati as the capital and hence the idea of continuing with the Buddhist motif that was once prominent in government activities was shelved instantly.

A plain whiteboard with the official emblem of Andhra Pradesh replaced the bright gold-coloured lotus wheel that adorned the wall behind the CM’s chair at Jagan Mohan Reddy’s camp office at Tadepalli.The golden lotus chakra behind the CM’s seat was a representation of the aerial view of Puna Ghataka of Amaravati. The same backdrop adorned the CM’s chambers at the camp office at Undavalli and the secretariat in Amaravati during Naidu’s administration

But, they were replaced once Jagan came to power. Slowly, Naidu’s attempts to reflect the idea of Buddhism in every aspect and promote it as a cultural identifier for a separated state started dwindling in the five years.

Now the return of Naidu again to the helm of affairs in the state would mean that the activity around Amaravati starts rolling immediately. Hence, the Buddha seems to have awakened once again.

Note: This article is an excerpt from the ‘Southfirst’.