March 29, 2010


[The present Piprahawa site in India, recognized as the city of Kapilavastu, is none other than the Nigrodha’s Park with monasteries and a huge Buddhist complex and Kapilavastu city is without doubt Tilaurakot and the pilgrimage organizers of Sri Lanka will have to revise their itineraries to travel another 21 miles from Lumbini of Nepalese Terai to visit Kapilavastu.]

By Rohan L. Jayetilleke                                  

In 1876 the British archaeologist John Cunningham, after his formal study of Indian archaeology hastened to write his ‘Ancient Geography of India’. His assistant A. C. Carlleyel, followed him to India the same year. Not finding any notable ruins in Sahet Mahet (Sravasti or Savatthi) and only huge mounds of earth. He was unaware that under these mounds were the buried ruins of Savatthi were the Veluvanarama, the first monastery gifted to the Buddha and the Jetavanaramaya, where Buddha expounded most of his teachings. This archaeologist not learned in Pali, was unaware of the reference in the Tripitaka literature of ‘Rajagahe Viharati Veluvane Kalandaka Niwasa’ (resident at Rajgir’s Veluvana Vihara in the Squirrels’ sanctuary), travelled a further 18 miles thereof and reached Bhuilatal, bristling with brick mounds on the banks of the river Rawai, and concluded it was the old site of the Kapilavastu city, where Prince Siddhartha was born and the capital of the Sakyan kingdom of Kapilavastu. Cunningham hastily agreed with his juniors findings.

The dynasty of Rana rulers of Nepal of the time being Hindu fanatics, fearing any Buddhistic ruins unearthed in their territory would undermine Hinduism did not permit foreigners to carry out any excavations or investigations in their territory. The British archaeologists had to confine their investigations mainly on the Indian territory and of the famous sites of Buddhist India such as Kapilavastu, Ramagrama (modern Rampurva) and Lumbini calculated to have been in Gorakhpur and Basti districts of Uttar Pradesh as contented by Babu Krishna Rijal, one of Nepal’s most energetic archaeologists.

However, by the end of the 19th century there was a dramatic change in the attitudes of Nepalese rulers on archaeology. The ruling Rana’s brother, General Khadga Sumsher J. B. Rana, himself an amateur archaeologist, invited Dr. Alois Anton Fuhrer, a German archaeologist working for the British in India, carry out excavations in Nepal. Fuhrer who had a deep insight into the Pali Buddhist literature, was convinced that King Suddhodana’s (father of Buddha Gautama) country and capital might not have been as flat as the Indian Terai and looked further north.

This contention of Fuhrer is buttressed by the reference in Theragatha verses 527-33, wherein King Suddhodana, commissioning Kaludaya, the son of one his ministers to proceed to Rajagaha (Rajgir) and persuade his son, the Buddha to visit Kapilavastu. Kaludayi having reached Rajagaha first became a Bhikkhu under the Buddha. However, the end of the winter, it was after the Enlightenment, Kaludayi announced his mission in verse to persuade the Buddha to make the journey to Kapilavastu. Biding his time until the biting wintry season of the foothills of Himalayas had ceased and the spring dawned facilitating the Buddha to undertake the journey on foot from Rajagaha to Kapilavastu, with ease and comfort.

Lord, there are trees that now like embers burn;

Hoping for fruit, they have let their green veils drop

And blaze out boldly with a scarlet flame;

It is the hour, Great Here, Taster of Truth.

Trees in high bloom that are a mind’s delight,

Wafting odours to the four winds of space,

Their leaves they have let fall, expecting fruit;

It is time, O Here, to set out from here.

Now is the pleasant season, Lord, for travel,

For it is not too cold or over-warm.

Let the Sakyans and the Koliyans see you

Facing the west, crossing the Rohini River

(Theragatha verses 527-33)

The present site in Indian territory named Piprahawa, supposed to be the site of the city of Kapilavastu, is not situated beside a river, as observed by this writer in his long and arduous visit to this area recently. This is the place where Kapilavastu relics of the Buddha were found by archaeologist K. M. Srivastava of the Archaeological Survey of India about fifteen years ago and the Sri Lankans too had the opportunity of venerating these relics when they were brought from India for exposition. The above quoted verse gives the correct location of Kapilavastu. According to the Theragatha Commentary, the River Rohini runs southwards and separates the Sakyan country Kapilavastu (Buddha’s father’s kingdom) on the west from the Koliya country (Buddha’s mother’s kingdom) on the east. Rajagaha lay far to the south across the Ganges, so one travelling from there via the Vajjian country and then the Koliyan country would cross the river facing west.

Fuhrer located the Asokan pillar, with its fallen horse capital as described by the Chinese pilgrim monks Fa-Hien and Hieun Tsing, and declared the place as Lumbini. The Pillar had the Asokan inscription, "Hida Buddha jate Sakyamuni" (The Buddha, the Sakyan Sage, was born here). This inscription and the pillar stand very proudly today, defining the place the Greatest Son of India and the then and also now of the universe, was born.

Fuhrer, following the directions given in the above quoted Theragatha identified river Rohini with Jamnar flowing past Tilaurakot of Nepal Terai and located ruins of a town on its western bank. The site agreed with the descriptions given by the two Chinese pilgrim monks in their travel notes. Fuhrer noted, "Every spot mentioned by the two pilgrim monks can be easily identified." He also discovered three Asokan pillars in the vicinity.

The Northern Indian Sanskrit work Divyavadana, records that Emperor Asoka in the eighth year of his reign and the conquest of Kalinga, which resulted in the loss of millions of lives was moved to a self examination of the catastrophe he had brought about and as per his Rock Edict XIII says, ‘One hundred and fifty thousand in number were the men who were deported thence, one hundred thousand in number were those who were slain there, and many times as many as those who died; After that, now that the country of the Kalingas has been taken, Devanampriya is devoted to a zealous study of Dharma, by the love of Dharma, and to the instruction of people in Dharma’. Thus departing from the beaten track of ‘Digvijaya’ (conquest of lands, Asoka launched himself on Dharmavijaya, conquest through Dhamma. Asoka started on a pilgrimage in the company of his preceptor Upagupta Maha Thera (Maha Moggaliputta Tissa Maha Thera) who chaired the Third Buddhist Council convened by Asoka at Pataliputta (Patna) and the first place visited by the royal pilgrim was Lumbini. Further in the Nigliya Pillar, Inscription of Asoka in his fourteenth regal year says, When king Devanampriya Priyadarshin had been anointed fourteen years, he enlarged the stupa of the Buddha Ronakamana to the double of its original size"; When he had been anointed twenty years he can me himself and worshipped this spot and caused a stone pillar to be set up".

This historic spot which had been consecrated with a stupa by a king earlier than Asoka, then called Nigliya is now called Niglihawa, predates Gautama Buddha as Buddha Konagamana was predecessor of Gautama Buddha and Fuhrer visited the place and identified the stupa and the Asokan pillar. This spot is in Nepal Terai on the close environs of Tilaurakot.

In view of the findings of Fuhrer based on incontrovertible literary, ephigraphical and physical evidence, the British Indian government then sent P. C. Mukherjee to Nepal to fix the exact location of Kapilavastu. Mukherjee explored the entire region in 1899 and zeroed in on the Tilaurakot site. Historian Vincent Smith confirmed the findings; "The identification of the city on the bank of Banganga with Kapilavastu of Hiuen Tsiang may, I think, be accepted as absolute claim."

Tilaurakot thus remained accepted Kapilavastu for six decades, but by a mysterious quirk of fate Nepal invited Debala Mitra of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) to excavate Tilaurakot in 1961, possibly to get more flak to the identification by acquiring the concurrence of the Indian archaeological authorities as well.

Debala Mitra of the ASI fug up a north-western trench at the site and declared that "the site does not go beyond third century BC, and the capital of Kapilavastu still remains unidentified". The structures that Mukherjee thought were of Kapilavastu were classified by her as of the Seventh AD.

Mitra’s conclusions propelled others to look again for Kapilavastu/ ASI’s K. M. Srivastava then dug up Piprahawa in Basti district, which had been examined by Mukherjee. Mukherjee’s surmises were Piprahawa had been a Sakyan colony with a few post-Buddha period monasteries. Srivastava, despite the clear and loud evidence found at Tilaurakot, declared Piprahawa as the Sakyan capital Kapilavastu, which angered the Nepalese.

The Nepalese are disturbed not on the Srivastava’s official report but, his unacademic approach by writing newspaper articles and granting interviews on how he found the lost city, prior to publishing his findings in academic journals. There was much loss between the Indian and Nepalese archaeologists on this score.

Nepalese in order to vindicate their claim of the lost city of Kapilavastu to Tilaurakot, invited the Japanese to assist them in this impasse. In 1967 Japanese and Japanese trained archaeologists of Nepal in 1967 dug up the western gateway at the Tilaurakot site, followed by two stupas to the north of the mound. The Japanese excavated part of a structure believed to be Suddhodana’s palace. Babu Krishna Rijial (Nepalese) and his colleagues found a terracotta token with the legend — Sa - ka - na - sya - meaning," the token belonged to the Sakya’s and dated it to 2nd — 5th Century BC.

The excavations since then have brought to light nearly 3,000 coins, some datable to 5th century BC, suggestive of the fact the area was habituated as early as that. The Nepalese now on firmer evidential grounds claimed that Piprahawa was probably and possibly a monastery or an out post of the Sakyan kingdom, with the capital undoubtedly at Tilaurakot, where non-monastic units of dwelling had been excavated. The large collection of coins was solid evidence of Tilaurakot been an administrative and a commercial centre rather than a Buddhist monastery, as was Piprahawa.

Further Japanese excavations yielded painted grey pottery belonging to the 5th century BC, further establishing that Tilaurakot was the lost Sakyan capital of Kapilavastu. These findings resulted in Nepal approaching UNESCO to get Tilaurakot — Kapilavastu declared a World Heritage Site. UNESCO responded and sent Dr. Robin Coningham of Bedford University in the United Kingdom. Dr. Coningham along with Dr. Armin Schmidt and Kosh Acharya started excavations in 1997, the year Lumbini was declared a World Heritage Site.

"During our first season at Tilaurakot in 1997, we created a topographical survey of the city and also conducted a geographical survey of all parts of the site" said Dr. Coningham. "While no structures were visible on the surface, once the geographical survey data was processed, it was possible to identify the line of a major street running from the eastern gateway towards the western gateway. This street was some seven meters wide and it was possible that further sub-divisions had been made by smaller streets at right angles, defining clocks of housing in between. As our survey was likely to have only recorded the final phase of occupation, it is not probably that we have identified the city lay out of the first half of the first millennium AD."

Cunningham was invited back again in 2001 to confirm the date of Tilaurakot’s (Kapilavastu newly discovered) earliest occupation. He reported, "We were there to test whether the 19th century identification, of Tilaurakot as Kapilavastu was correct and whether the Mitra discoveries of the 1960s were faulty. We worked for six weeks excavating the trench down to virgin soil at a depth of four meters in order to collect carbon samples for the first absolute chronometric dates of the site. The measurements of the dates are still awaited from Oxford University, but it is clear that the lowest contexts contain shreds of the ceramic types, painted grey".

There is solid consensus among archaeologists that painted grey ware is of the iron age in the Gangetic plain datable to the beginning of the first millennium and 6th-7th millennium BC. Cunningham concluded, "it is possible to state that there are no other major early historic city sites in close vicinity of Lumbini and that the relative sequence at Tilaurakot appears to confirm that the site’s earliest occupation is contemporary with the life of the Buddha".

The 15 carbon samples collected by Cunningham’s team are being tested at Oxford, and it is expected to confirm the early dating of the site. There is no quarrel between India and Nepal on this issue now in the face of discoveries and findings made, but now the bone of contention is with the Uttar Pradesh Tourism who has set up signboards at Piprahawa as Kapilavastu capital. Thus we the shift of the site to Nepal approximately Uttar Pradesh Tourism will lose around 20,000 tourist-pilgrims a year and a dent in the foreign exchange earning. India in May 2001 agreed with Nepal jointly develop the Buddhist pilgrim circuit, so that pilgrims from the Far East could land in Kolkata (Calcutta), travel to Buddha Gaya, thence to Saranath, Kusinagar, Sravasti, Piprahawa, before crossing over to Nepal Terai to venerate Lumbini and Kapilavastu. In respect of Sri Lankan Buddhist pilgrims the beaten track of Katunayake to Chennai by air, from there to Varanasi by train and from there onwards by hired tourist buses terminating the pilgrimage at Delhi and from Delhi to Bhopal by train and from there by road transport to Sanchi and Amaravati, back to Bhopal and Bhopal to Chennai by train and from thence to Katunayake by air. Air passages by Air India, now there is another outlet through Katunayake to Buddha Gaya by SriLankan Air Lines and from there road transport.

Still Tilaurakot, is not on the pilgrims or tourists’ itinerary. This writer had to spend a night of biting cold at the Indian border with Nepal as the ruthless Maoists insurgency on that particular day had gone on a killing spree, and dusk to following day 10.00 a.m. curfew was in force. Unless this insurgency is wiped off, tourists and pilgrims would be disinclined to risk their life and limb in Nepal.

These are the observations made regarding the Tilaurakot’s claim to be the forgotten or lost city of Kapilavastu, where of Prince Vidhudhaba illegitimate son of king Prasenadi of a slave girl, being enraged for having insulted him when he sought a Sakyan princess’s hand in marriage, Vidhudhaba of Kosala overran Sakyan and Koliyan territory, in the third attempt, his two earlier attempts prevented by the Buddha and completely annihilated the Sakayans and the few who saved their lives fled to Nepal, or other countries in the east as well as to Sri Lanka. The Sakyans who took refuge in Sri Lanka established Sakyan kingdoms at Chandanagama (yet to be identified, this writer suspect it to be Handungamuwa on the west of Mahiyangana, as Handun is chandana which is sandalwood) and Kajaragama (Kataragama). The descendants of these two Sakyans dynasties were the honoured guests invited by King Devanampiyatissa of Anuradhapura in the third century BC to participate in the ceremony of planting the sapling of Sri Maha Bodhi brought by Theri Sangamitta, at Mahamegavanna of Anuradhapura. The Sakya Princess Baddhakachchana arrived in Sri Lanka to be the queen of King Panduvasdewa, with her brothers too was from the exodus of Sakyans from the Sakyan kingdom of Kapilavastu.

Tilaurakot’s claim to Kapilavastu is dependent mainly on four pieces of evidence:

Firstly, according to Buddhist literature Kapilavastu was situated on a river which they called Bagirathi (Bhgya — Rathi or Wathie, the damsel of prosperity). In India there are numerous rivers called Bhagirathi, as conventionally and traditionally the community named its favourite river Bhigarathi, and these rivers finally invested on the Ganga (Gangese). All rivers in India are given feminine names such as Ganga, Yamuna, Rohini, Anoma, Saraswathie, and Neranjana and so on. "Tilaurakot is situated on the Banganga which is thought to have been called Bhagirathi by the Sakyans" said Prof. Tulsi Ram Baidya, Chairman of the Nepal History Association. "There is no river near Piprahawa, now considered as Kapilavastu".

Secondly, a capital town would have been fortified. The old capital Rajagaha of the Kingdom of Maghadha girdled by mountains of Isagili, Vehara, Pandava, Vepulla and Gijjakhuta (some now bearing new names) was fortified and the remains of the fortification of hard brownish sandstones, 6 feet wide and the eight feet tall with no plastering could be still seen. In India, in demarcating large tracts of fields and orchards are not secured with fences but with the very same sandstone short walls, one would observe travelling through India by train or road transport for days on end. "We can still see remnants of a meat and at the Tilaurakot site. The walls are 10 feet wide" said Prof. Baidya. "Unless it was a city, it could not have been walled. The area of Kapilavastu is around 1,700 feet by 1,300 feet. It was too huge for a monastic complex.

Thirdly, the Japanese and Nepalese archaeologists later found grey ware in the 3rd century trench, Debala Mitra had excavated. Painted grey ware was as old as 11th century BC in the Indian sub-continent, suggestive of the fact of human habitation as early as that.

Fourthly, the huge hoard of coins found at Tilaurakot, too confirms it was a palace and these were the deposits of the royal treasury of the Sakyans. The area around Tilaurakot, is a network of excavated, unexcavated or partly excavated Buddhist sites. "There are 65 archaeological sites identified" emphasized Prof. Baidya. Birendra K. Yadav, Project Manager of Lumbini Development Trust, stated, "We want to develop at least seven of them." The first, naturally is Tilaurakot, the site of Kapilavastu. The others are Gotihawa, Kudan, Niglihawa, Arourakot, Sagarahawa and Sisania and each of these places have their own Buddhist heritage lost in the sands of time, now in the oblivion.

Gotihawa, four miles from Tilaurakot (Tilaurakot 21 miles away from Piprahawa) has a nine-foot tall brick stupa that is 68 feet in diameter. Close to it has been found a headless pillar, of Asokan style (probably of Asoka for he visited this area himself as evidenced by Niglihawa inscription). General Khadga Shamsher, who worked with archaeologist Dr. Alois Anton Fuhrer, in the late 19th century, reported that this could be the namesakes of the two Chinese Bhikkhu pilgrims, the birth place of Kakausandha Buddha, a predecessor of Buddha Gotama.

This Chinese quoted distance of 50 li (the old Chinese li measured around 175 yrads) tallies with the present day distance of four miles. Gotihawa, is derived from Ghosti meaning relatives, as Buddha Kakusandha too was a Sakyan and a relative of Buddha Gotama.

Kudan is a village near Tilaurakot where four mounds were dug up in 1962. The northern-most appeared to be a 30 — foot tall brick stupa. The other mound laid bear a compound wall and some terracotta elephants and horses, animals of the Sakyan royal cavalry. The third mound had walls of a room. The fourth had a brick structure on which a temple had been raised later. The general belief is that this is the place where King Suddhodana met the Buddha.

Niglihawa: Bhimsena Ki Nigali:

As explained in a previous paragraph Niglihawa is of great archaeological, historical and Buddhist importance, for it was the birth place of Buddha Konagamana, visited by Asoka and a stupa built by him in situ. This stupa was found by Fuhrer and Major Waddell in the 19th century. The stupa was found broken, with the bottom part still stuck on the ground and the top portion lying on the ground in the vicinity. The Nepalese villagers used to call it Bhimsena ki nigali or Bhimsena’s smoking pipe. The pillar also had two peacock capitals. This was a place of worship, with the broken Asoka pillar till medieval times, as evidenced by a Malla king’s inscription on the Asoka pillar.

In the medieval period there was a shift of Asoka pillars from their original sites and this pillar too suffered the same fate, as was the case of the shift of Meerut Asokan Pillar to Delhi, by Feroz Shah, in order to dissuade people visiting the area and reviving Buddhism, which was lost to India from the 9th century AD onwards with the murderous invaders of Islamic faith, who put to the sword 15,000 Buddhist monks of Nalanda and set ablaze 14 odd Buddhist libraries called Ratnagharas’ of Nalanda University of present day Champaran district of the State of Bihar. Thereafter Buddhism was lost to India and the same situation continuous even now.

A rectangular fort excavated at Araurakot, some 1,500 feet southeast of Niglihawa and revealed a fort secured by a moat, with additional protection to the south and east, indicating the existence of an ancient Buddhist monastery.

Sagarahawa is believed to be the place where Sakyans were totally massacred by Prince Vidhudhaba, during the last years of the Buddha, leading the Sakyan Kingdom to the wilderness. The other sites too, as excavations proceed will throw more light on the Kapilavastu city of King Suddhodana.

What is Piprahawa:

On this writer’s visit to Piprahawa, what he observed was a huge mound and the structure of a building complex with foundations, plinth and four feet tall walls of small ‘kutis’ for the residence of Bhikkhus with a platform in the centre, probably the ‘Ghandha Kuti’ (later called in English Fragrant Chamber but, originally a ‘Grass Hut’) the residence of the Buddha.

As per the Pali Scriptures, "When the Blessed One had stayed at Rajagaha as long as he chose, he set out for Kapilavastu. Wandering by stages, he eventually arrived there, and he stayed in Nigrodha’s Park. Now when it was morning, the Blessed One, dressed and taking his bowl and outer robe, he went to the residence of Suddhodana the Sakyan, and there he sat down on a seat made ready" (Vinaya Pitaka, Mahavagga 1:54).

Another scriptural reference is, "The Buddha the Blessed One, was living among the Sakyans in Nigrodha’s Park at Kapilavastu. Mahapajapati Gautama went to Him, she paid homage and stood at one side. Then she said, "Lord, it would be good if women could obtain the going forth from the house life into homelessness in the Dhamma and Discipline declared by the Perfect One" (Vinaya Pitaka. Culavagga 10:1, Anguttara Nikaya 8:51).

The Stupa at Tilaurakot too has a reference in the Pali Scriptures. And the Sakyans of Kapilavastu head likewise, the Mahaparinirvana of the Buddha, and they too sent an envoy to Kusinara, where Mallians kept the Blessed One’s bones in the assembly hall (durba) for seven days, and they made a lattice frame of spears set round with a rampart of bows and they honoured, respected, revered and venerated them with dances, songs, music, garlands and scent, with the demand, "The Blessed One was the greatest of our blood; we too are worthy of a share of the Blessed One’s bones. We too will build a monument (stupa) and hold a ceremony. They did receive relics and took it to Kapilavastu and raised a stupa" (Digha Nikaya 16).

The present Piprahawa site in India, recognized as the city of Kapilavastu, is none other than the Nigrodha’s Park with monasteries and a huge Buddhist complex and Kapilavastu city is without doubt Tilaurakot and the pilgrimage organizers of Sri Lanka will have to revise their itineraries to travel another 21 miles from Lumbini of Nepalese Terai to visit Kapilavastu.

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