Topics in Kushan History Kushan History

Buddhamitra

Buddhamitra was born in Mathura, about 60 AD, the daughter of wealthy Buddhists. Buddhism would have been a part of her education, which also included literature, history and art. So when she decided on a religious vocation as a nun she was already familiar with Buddhism.
[MAP]

Buddhamitra and Bala operated along the holy sites of the Ganges river shown on the map.

When Buddhamitra was born, Mathura was still part of an independent state ruled by Saka princes. At the time, Kujula Kadphises, the first Kushan monarch, had firmly established his hold over Kabul Valley and the dynasty of Gondophares was in the final stages of collapse. While Buddhamitra was growing up Kajula's son Vima Takto was extending his conquests south. First the region of modern Pakistan and then on to Mathura. By the time Buddhamitra had completed her training she was living in a vast Empire with links to Rome and China.

All prospective nuns or monks, whether they were Buddhist or Jain, undertook training by an already established nun or monk. Buddhamitra was trained by the monk Bala. Bala was a member of the orthodox Sarvastivadin sect. And he was a fortuitous choice as a teacher because the Sarvastivadin sect in general, and Bala in particular were to have good relations with the greatest Kushan Emperor, Kanishka.

In 117 AD Bala and Buddhamitra began work together in the newly acquired Kushan domains. They were accompanied, initially, by a monk called Pushyavuddhi. The three erected monuments at Sravasti and Sarnath. They did this with the assistance of the Satraps Vanaspara and Kharapallana. The Satraps were the highest level of the new Kushan Empire's administration and their support gave Bala's evangelical campaign a stamp of official approval. After their success in Sarnath, Buddhamitra went on to Kosam where she erected several monuments between 117 AD and 123 AD, leaving her own mark on the history of India.

Buddhamitra and Bala were not concerned simply with conversion. There had been Buddhists in this region of India for centuries. Mathura was part of the heartland of Buddhism. Though the region was not dominated by Buddhists, far from it, Jain inscriptions outnumber Buddhist inscriptions two to one. But patronage, not conversion was the goal of Buddhamitra. She wished to attract the money of the rich and powerful to Buddhism in general and to the Sarvastivadins in particular. The greater the patron she could attract the better. For each patron brought wealth and influence to the sect and added greater weight to its doctrinal position. The greatest goal in the second century was of course the officials of the newly expanded Kushan Empire.

The unification imposed by the Kushans created great opportunities for Buddhist sects. They could now travel across the whole empire without hindrance. Buddhamitra took this opportunity, as did other Buddhists, even taking Buddhism beyond India to China and Central Asia. It also created an opportunity for conflict as different sects competed for followers and official patronage. Sometime between 120AD and 138AD the Kushan Emperor Kanishka held a great council in Kashmir in an attempt to resolve these conflicts. While no single sect can be said to have won in Kanishka's council most scholars think the Sarvastivadins faired well, official approval being given for important Kushan figures to patronise them. Much of the credit for this must go to Buddhamitra, and people like her, whose zeal drew patronage to the sect throughout the first and second centuries.

Buddhamitra's contribution was remembered in 148AD. Her niece, a nun called Dhanavati, erected an inscription in honour of Buddhamitra in the city of Mathura. The unusual format, honouring a family relation rather than a teacher, is a sign of the importance that Buddhamitra held for a moment in the history of the Empire.


Epigraphic Evidence of Women in the Kushan Empire The Fourth Buddhist Council Bibliography

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