Chapter 29
Identification of Tirupati with Potalka

The origin of Tantrika Buddhism was previously thought to be in Assam and Bengal. But now it is believed that it actually started in South India, and Potalka, a mountain in South India, was its centre.

Trantrika Buddhism started in South India

L.M. Joshi observess:

"Potalka Parvata has been suggested as a third possible early seat of the origin of Vajrayana in the far south apart from Dhanyakataka and Sriparvata; this suggestion is based on the authority of Hsuantsang, the Sadhanamala and the Gilgit text of the Sarva-tathagatadhisthaanasattv-avalokana Biddhaksetra-san-darsanavyuha. South Indian origin of Tantrika Buddhism, already suggested many years ago by the late pt. Rahula Samkrtyayana, has been further strengthened by fresh evidence extracted from the Sekoddesatika, the Blue Annals, the Biography of Dharrmasvamin and the above mentioned Gilgit text. These authorities finally overthrow the generally accepted theory of Bengali origin of Tantrika Buddhsim" [Joshi:1977: xx and xxi]

The text quoted above was translated by Itsing in A.D.701. N. Dutt, the editor of the text, places this book in the fifth or sixth century A.D. The text locates Buddha's residence at Potalka, in South India referred to by Hsuan-Tsang as the abode of Avalokitesvara. [Joshi:1977:251]

Hiuen Tsang has described various places from South India as Buddhist centers, three among them being the most iportant. These were Dhanyakataka, Sri Parvata and Potalka. Out of these three, Dhanyakataka and Sri Paarvata have been identified with Amaravaati and Nagarjuna Konda respectively. The third one i.e. Potalka is not identified as yet, to any degree of satisfaction, though it is lately suggested to be identified with Potarlankaa in Divi Taluq of Dist.Krishna not far away from Amaravati - Bhattiprolu region, where exuberance of the images of Tara was found. [Sarma: 1988: 21]

Potalka was inaccessible

First point to note is that Potalka was most inaccessible part. Taranatha has given the following description of this. [Taranatha: 1980: 181] He mentions Acharya Dignaga being born in a Brahmana family in the city of Singavakta near Kaanchi in south. He received Pravajjya from Nagdatta, who was Vatsiputriya and also learned in doctrines of Tirthikas.

Narrating about the period of Dignaga, Taranatha mentions about an Upasaka going to Potalka, or Potala, the residence of Avalokitesvara and Arya Tara. This Upasaka was sent to Potalka to invite Avalokitesvara. Upasaka knew that journey was long and hazardous and risky to life. He took with him a road guide to Potala and "...Interestingly, Tg contains a work attributed to srimat Potalka Bhattaraka (Avalokitesvara), with the title Potalka-gamana-patrika (rglxxii.51,fn). [Taranatha:181]

About the identification of Potalka, many efforts have been made in modern times. Sri L.M.Joshi has summarized the position about the identification in the following words.:

"This Potalka is located by Hsuan-tsang in Malakuta, identified by Cunningham with a tract between Madura, Tanjore and Travancore. Nandolal De suggtested that Potalka lay in Western Ghats. N. Dutt suggests that modern Potiyam may represent Potalka. This Potalka was near Dhanyakataka and Sripavata, which places have been identified with Amaravati and Nagarjunakonda respectively..." [Joshi: 1977: 257]

Hiuen Tsang's description

The description of Potalka in Hiuen Tsang's own words, is as follows.:

"To the east of the Malaya mountaains is Mount Po-ta-lo-kia (Potalaka). The passes of this mmountain are very dangerous; its sides are precipitous, and its valleys rugged. On the top of the mountain is a lake; its waters are clear as a mirror. From a hallow proceeds a great river which encircles the mountain as flows down twenty times and then enters the southern sea. By the side of the lake is a rock-palace of the Devas. Here Avalokitesvara in coming and going, takes his abode. Those who strongly desire to see this Bodhisattva do not regard their lives, but, crossing the water (fording the streaams), climb the mountain forgetful of its difficulties and dangers, of those who make the attempt there are very few who reach the summit. But even of those who dwell below the mountain, if they earnestly pray and beg to behold the god, sometimes he appears as Tsz'-tsai-t'-ien (Isvara-deva), sometimes under the form of a Yogi (a Pamsupata); he addresses them with benevolent words and then they obtain their wishes according to their desires. Going north-east from this mountain, on the border of the sea, is a town; this is the place from which they start for the Southern sea and the country of Sang-Kia-lo (Ceylon). It is said commonly by the people that embarking from this port and going south-east about 3000 li we come to the country of Simhala." [Samuel Beal, Buddhist Records of the Western World, pp. 233 ff.]

Similarty of physical features

From the above account of Hiuen Tsang, and also as mentioned by Taranatha the following points seem to appear important.

* 1. Journey to Potalka was hazardous,and even guide for traveling had to be used, and very few people attempted to reach the hill.

* 2 On the top of the mountain there was a lake of clear water. * 3 By the side of lake there was a rock palace of Devas. Avalokitesvara was taking his abode here. Sometimes He appeared before his devotees in the form of Yogi or Isvara Deva.

Even now we find that Tirupati has got clear water lake and journey is hazardous.

Potalka was being Hinduized

Commenting on this accopunt Sri L.M.Joshi observes;

"The Potalka mmountain in this country was the favourite resort of Avalokitesvara who still appeared before his devotees in the guise of Pasupata Tirthika or as Mahesvara.

This last passage seems to indicate that Avalokita who has many attributes of Siva, was now in the process of being converted into Hindu god Siva..." [Joshi: 1977: 39]

We could like to suggest, that this Potalka as described by Hiuen Tsang, can be identified with present day Tirupati Hill and we can presume that at the time of Hiuen Tsang the Buddhist influence was declinning and the shrine was in the process of being Hinduised. Mere presence of abundance of Tara images is not enough to identify Potalka. It must be shown that the Avalokitesvara was in fact being converted to Hindu God, the fact clearly mentioned by Hiuen Tsang. Search for Potalka has to be among the Buddhist shrines converted to Brahmnic use.

Similarity in name

It is worthy to note that the earlier name of Vengadam, was 'Pullikunram' i.e. the hill of Chieftakin Pulli. This is mentioned in poems of Mamulanur, the most important of the Sangam poets. [Sitapati: 87] It was perhaps, more popular name among the Buddhists, as Pullis were Buddhists, and hence it was used by Hiuen Tsang, and perhaps name Potalka has been derived from Pullikunram. It is reasonable to presume that Pullikunram has become Po-ta-io-kia"

Chapter 28          Chapter 30