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Negotiating Co-existence of the Buddhism, Vaiṣṇavism and Śaivism: An Examination of Inter-Religious Dynamics in Early Medieval Magadha

This project belongs to:

Project leaders: Abhishek Amar
No.: 1-15

Apart from being the most powerful state formation (mahājanapada) in the early historic period, the Magadha region (situated in south Bihar) was also the place where Buddhism emerged in the early historic period. With the subsequent growth and spread of Buddhist saṅgha, a number of major Buddhist monastic centres such as Bodhgayā, Nalanda, Vikramashila, Odantapuri, and Kurkihar emerged and developed in the region between the sixth and twelfth centuries CE as reflected in the archaeological, sculptural and epigraphic remains. Concurrently, this period was also marked by the appearance and growth of Vaiṣṇavism and Śaivism, attested also by the sculptural and epigraphic sources. The growth of these two Hindu traditions meant that Buddhism had to interact and compete in the region. Therefore, this project will examine the inter-religious dynamics and competition between Buddhist, Vaiṣṇava and Śaiva religious traditions in the early medieval Magadha region.

While examining the inter-religious dynamics, the project addresses two questions, which are linked to the aims of the research field 1. The first question will be to study the emergence and growth of Hindu traditions - Vaiṣṇavism and Śaivism. How did these orders appear and spread in the region? The factors responsible for the concurrent growth of Buddhism will also be examined. The second question relates to interactions between these three orders: How was their ‘co-existence’ negotiated? The project attempts to 1) highlight the complexities involved in the formation and development of these three religious traditions, 2) bring forth the tensions and religious critiques of ‘the other’, 3) analyse the mechanisms employed by these traditions to appropriate each other, and 4) emphasise the role of synchronic and diachronic interaction in the religious landscape of early medieval Magadha. All three of these traditions negotiated their interactions through far more complex processes than the explanations of either co-existence or contestation suggested in previous works.