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Zukas, David (2021) Understanding Buddhism from its Material Remains: Monastic Architecture and Buddhist Practice around Bhaja, Bedsa and Karla. PhD thesis. SOAS University of London. DOI:

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My thesis is a detailed, new, cave-by-cave, survey of the well known rock-cut Buddhist monasteries at Bhaja, Bedsa and Karla and the newly found Buddhist sites near them in the upper Indrayani and Pavana valleys of India’s Western Ghats. These sites had been excavated in nine phases of common architectural development that also expressed the evolution of Buddhist practice in the area. For the first time, my detailed research shows rock-cut Buddhist architecture had evolved in common phases at different monasteries within the same area. The early phases reveal temporary local monastic sites that were later turned in to permanent monasteries at different times within this area, the monks making the transition from wandering life to settled monasticism. This is an important change that has not been shown at a particular place in a definite period before. These evolutionary phases also revealed that some monks continued to practice their Buddhism in a more ascetic way while other monks serviced busy public monasteries in the area. The phases also show increased differentiation between teachers and taught that is reflected in the architecture. The later datable phases reveal when different sites encouraged lay participation in their worship. New finds include traces of dams at Bhaja that might have supported irrigation. New analysis shows the Buddhist sites were well organised monastic establishments here until at least the seventh century CE. In such ways, these research findings impact on the current debates about early Buddhism in India. My research around Bhaja, Bedsa and Karla showed that new evidence for Buddhist history can obtained from its material remains. In this area, rock-cut architecture reveals how Buddhist practice evolved in stages, from its humble start in the second century BCE to its swan song in the seventh century CE. A local history that throws light on the development of Buddhism throughout India.

Item Type: Theses (PhD)
SOAS Departments & Centres: SOAS Research Theses
Supervisors Name: Christian Luczanits
DOI (Digital Object Identifier):
Date Deposited: 17 Dec 2021 15:39

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