Draksharama is situated at a distance of 4 miles from Ramachandrapuram which is a taluk head-quarter in East Godavari district of Andhra... The place is very famous as a seat of a temple of Bhimeswaraswami [Ramesan N., Temples and Legends of Andhra, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, p. 112] The epigraphy on the walls of the temples is perhaps the richest amongst all the temples of Andhra..." [Ibid. p.11]
Story of Daksha Prajapati
About the origin of name, Ramesan observes:
"The name Drakshrama is said to be a corrupted form of 'Daksha' 'arama' or the garden of Daksha-prajapathi..."
"...Daksha Arama or the modern Draksharama, is said to be the seat of this famous Yajna of Dakshaprajapathi, and in memory of it, even today, orthodox Brahmins do not perform any Yajna or such ceremonies, within the premises of Drakshrama. [Ibid. 113]
This seems to be far fetched. The word should means a garden of grapes. Be it as it may, the fact remains that word arama is a well known Buddhist word applied to abodes of Buddhist bhikshu.
As a matter of fact the story of yajna of Daksha Prajapati is told about many shrines all over the length and breadth of the country and not only about Draksharama. Also it has many versions. And hence there is nothing historical about it, but it denotes the trend of people of those times. Dr. Ambedkar gives details of story in many places. One version of the story is as follows: [Ambedkar: 1987: Riddles in Hinduism, vol.4,163]
"... Who is this Shiva whom the Brahmins adopted as their God in preference to Indra? The story of Daksha Prajapati's Yajna and the part played by Shiva throws great light on Shiva. The story is that somewhere in the Himalayas king Daksha was performing an Yajna. This Yajna was attended by all Devas, Danavas, Pishachas, Nagas, Rakshasas and Rishis. But Shiva absented as Daksha did not give him invitations. Dadhichi one of the Rishis scolded Daksha for his failure to invite Shiva and to perform his puja. Daksha refused to call Shiva and said "I have seen many of your Rudras. Go away, I don't recognize your Shiva." Dadhichi replied " You have all conspired against Shiva, take care, your Yajna will never reach a successful finis." Mahadeo coming to know of this created a Rakshas from his mouth and this Rakshas destroyed the Yajna started by Daksha. This shows that there was a time when Brahmins refused to recognize Shiva as the God to be worshipped or it shows that Shiva was against the Yajna system of the Brahmanas."
"The difference between the Aryans and the Non-Aryans was cultural and not racial. The cultural difference centred round two points. The Aryans believed in Chaturvarna. The Non-Aryans were opposed to it. The Aryans believed in the performance of Yajna as the essence of their religion. The Non-Aryans were opposed to Yajna. Examining the story of Daksha's Yajna in the light of these facts it is quite obvious that Shiva was a Non-Vedic and a Non-Aryan God. The question is why did the Brahmins, the pillars of Vedic culture, adopt Shiva as their God?"
Thus anti-Yajna and anti-chaturvarna spirit is shown by this story. As Saivism had already become a part of Hinduism by the time this centre came up, the association of this story with this place should be considered as an allusion of it being a Buddhist site, as Brahmins are known to shun the Buddhist places, and that may be the reason of origin of the legend of Daksha-Prajapathi.
This place is also sacred to Muslims.
"...There is a tomb in Draksharama of a Muslim saint by name Saiyid Shah Bhaji Aulia with a mosque attached to it. This muslim saint is said to have lived 500 years ago. He was born according to tradition, at Gardex near Madina in Arabia, and came to Draksharama with his disciples during the course of his tours. Being hungry, they slaughtered the temple bull of a Saivite mutt at Drakshrama and ate it. In the dispute that ensued, the relative greatness of the saint and the local Saivite head of the mutt has called into question, and to settle the matter, a Sivalilngam was thrown into the pond, by name Lingala Cheruvu, and both the Muslim saint and the Saivite Mathadhipathi were asked to bring back the Linga by the power of their worship. The Muslim saint, it appears, prayed to the infinite Lord who is the same for all, irrespective of all difference, and the Lord being pleased with the depth of his devotion acceded to his request. The Muslim saint who won in the contest was then given the mutt to live in, and he converted it into a sacred mosque. The descendants of this saint are said to be still living in Draksharama". [Ibid. p118]
Miracles apart, the gist of the legend shows that the masses around the area supported the Muslim saint. As is well known, the supporters of these Muslim saints were people of lower castes, who of course, were originally Buddhists. Hence, it stands to reason that in olden times, the area was predominantly Buddhist.
Archaeological Evidence of it being a Buddhist Shrine
However, Ramesan gives what he calls 'a legend' in support of this. As a matter of fact, this is no mere legend but a statement of scientific, archaeological facts:
"The third legend about this temple is that the temple was originally a Buddha Chaitya and that during the course of revival of Hindu worship, it was converted into a Hindu temple. The Mula Virat or the Linga is said to be one of the Ayaka Stambhas of the original Buddha Chaitya. Chaityas or Stupas in Buddhists methods of worship, are mounds raised over the corporeal relics of Lord Buddha or a great Acharya. Buddhist Stupas and Chaityas are spread all over India, but one of the main characteristics of the Andhra type of Chaityas and Stupas is the existence of the five vertical pillars, called the Ayaka Stambhas, which are erected in the four cardinal directions viz. East, South, West and North. In all the Chaityas of Andhra, this is a peculiar characteristic which is found. These Ayaka Stambhas which are five in number, are said to represent the five major incidents in the life of Lord Buddha viz, Janana or Birth, Mahabhiniskramana or the great renunciation, Samyak-Sambhodi of the prefect realization. Dharma Chakra Pravarthana or the setting in motion of the wheel of Dharma, and Mahaparinirvana or the final absorption of Lord Buddha into the Infinite. The Ayaka Stambhas are generally vertical pillars made of white marble stone." [Ibid. p.114]
Amaravati and other centres converted
He further continues:
"Andhra Desa and especially the Krishna river basin has been a famous seat of Buddhism, and many stupas have been found in this valley as for example at Amaravathi, Goli, Jaggayyapeta, Gantasala etc., not to speak of the Mahachaitya at Nagarjunakonda. During the period of the revival of Hindu worship. For example, in the Garbha Griha of the Amareswara temple of Amravathi in Guntur district, there is a typical white marble lotus medallion slab of the Buddhist type. The peculiar characteristic Buddhist type of bricks are also found in the temple. It is therefore possible that the Buddhist Chaitya and the Ayaka Stambhas have been reconverted into a Hindu temple and adapted for linga worship. There is nothing irregular about this, since in whatever form one worships the Lord, the place still retains its greatness". [Ibid. p.114]
Without joining issues on the last statement, however, it might be pertinent to ask, whether it would be proper to worship the Lord Bhimeswaraswami by Trisaran and Pancha Sheela if a devotee so desires.
Very many shrines were Buddhist
It is also proper to quote another legend which gives correlation between various shrines:
"There is yet another popular legend about the origin of this temple. In this temple, Lord Shiva is worshipped in Lingakara. The shape of the Mula Virat, is a long cylindrical pillar some 20 or 25 feet high. The legend is, that these are parts of an original linga which broke off into 5 pieces and fell at five different places or Aramas viz. Bheemarama in West Godavari, Amararam of Amravati in Guntur, Daksharama or Draksharama in East Godavari and Kurmarama which is Lotipalli in East Godavari District..." [Ibid. p. 113]
This legend connects the various place. Some of them have been already shown to be Buddhist in origin. Because of this connections, it may be presumed that all these places were originally Buddhist.
Ayaka Stambhas were converted into Siva lingas
Dr. I. K. Sarma, while discussing various sites in Andhra Desa, observes:
"...The Mauryan conquest of coastal Andhra was, therefore, probably earlier to Asokan accession and the Religion of Buddha came to Andhra almost certainly in the pre-Mauryan age. It is of great importance that Asoka in his IVth pillar edict defines the duties of such rajukas in the administration. We have seen above how Amravati - Dharanikota grew with a Buddhist base right from a Pre- Mauryan period. This very place came to be regarded as an aramaksetra with the Amareswara Linga as the presiding deity of the Sthala. The toponym Amaravati itself is regarded as a corrupt from of "Aramavati". It is not without significance that the long east coast covered by Godavari- Krishna deltas, located mid-way between the Magadha (the home of Buddhism) and Ceylon (the strong-hold of Buddhism) developed aramakshetras. We have known at least five such aramas. These are Draksharma and Kurmarama, both in East Godavari district; Somarama and Ksirarama, in west Godavari district and Amararama in Guntur district. In each of these places a vast temple complex for Siva was raised by Bhima-I (812-921 A.D.) the Eastern Chalulkyan monarch. An unusually tall Linga was consecrated in the Sanctum which is double storied Sarvatobhadrika shrine. Several angalyas, tall prakara walls with dalans were added by the successive rulers. An examination of such a Linga within the Amaresavra temple, Amaravati itself has revealed that the upper most part of the Linga, which is nearly six meter high, has a square mortise hole although rounded off and in the remaining four places too (also Adikesvara temple, Chebrolu Guntur district, the Linga within the main sanctum was similarly tall and of Palnad lime stone. There is no doubt that a Buddhist pillar (ayaka or mandapa Khambha) was shaped to a linga in all these cases." [Sarma: 1988: 9]
Affinity of Magadha towards coastal Andhra
He further observes:
"...We may now recall to mind certain important Aramas of Buddhist fame. Veluvanarama and Jivakarama (Rajagruha); Ambapalivanaarama (Vaisali), Jetavanarama (Sravasti), Goshitarama, Kukkutarama and Pavarr-arama (Kausambi) etc. All these belong to rich merchants. They were famed right from Buddha's time and nurtured the growth of Buddhism. At the Amaravati Mahacaitya a unique sculptured Steele depicted these aramas with full architectural detail and each frame ... was duly labeled also in early Brahmi characters of 3rd century B.C. No where else in Buddhist art we have such well dated sculptured scenes. All these facts emphasize the close affinity and the firm hold of the Magadhan Buddhism on the coastal Andhradesa with Amaravati- Dharanikota as its nucleus." [Sarma: 1988: 10]