Amaravati is situated in the Guntur district of Andhra Pradesh on the southern bank of the river Krishna, about sixty miles above its mouth. Lying on the outskirts of the ancient town of Dharnikota, it is famous for the Buddhist stupa and its marble-like limestone sculptures which represent the earliest Buddhist monuments in the Krishna valley and range from 200 BC to AD 300.
The short donative epigraphs on the slabs indicate that the donors to the stupa came from a distant land as Pataliputra and included merchants, caravan traders, jewelers, royal officers, etc. The stupa was known as mahachetiya and was inspired by the monks of the Chaityaka school of the Mahasamghika sect of Buddhism.
The inscriptions also indicate the gradual expansion of the stupa from the Maurya-Sunga period to the Satavahan Ikshvaku period. The stupa is badly ruined today but the idea of its architecture can be had from the carvings and sculptures on the surviving slabs.
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The Amaravati stupa was the loftiest monument in the whole of Andradesa, almost double in dimension to that of Bharhut. It had three distinctive elements. The first element was the ground railing (mahavedika) encircling the stupa and supported by the upright pillars. The pillars and railings were lavishly decorated with the Jataka stories and life scenes of Buddha. The second feature was the outer encasing of the stupa with while marble-like limestone. And the third feature was the box-like platforms projecting from the body of the stupa in each of the four directions. These were called Ayaka and were probably meant for putting offerings.
The gateways were simple without the cross beams on top as at Bharhut or Sanchi. The sculptures at Amaravati are rich in contents and depict varied forms of male and female ornaments, hairstyles, etc.