More than 400 Buddhist bronzes have been unearthed in Tamil Nadu. More than 350 are from the ancient port of Nagapattinam. This historic city was an active Buddhist centre during the Chola period. During the 11th century CE, the Sailendra kings of Sumatra built a large vihara here, which was visited by Buddhist monks from different countries.
A 15th century Pali inscription discovered at the old city of Pegu in Burma attests to this. Ruins of a ‘Buddhist pagoda', till the Jesuit missionaries demolished them in the 19th century, were visible in Nagapattinam. The Theravada or orthodox form of Buddhism, which views the Buddha as a great ascetic rather than a god, was widely prevalent in Tamil Nadu.
However, many of the Nagapattinam bronzes belong to the the opposing tradition – the Mahayana, which views the Buddha as a superhuman. Along with the Buddha, images of Mahāyāna such as Avalokitesvara were also discovered. These images, like the other Chola bronzes, are of appreciable artistic merit. Many of these bronzes are now part of the Chennai Government Museum collection. Unfortunately, only a small number is currently on display.
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