May 7, 2010


[Its periphery has wide brick ramparts and moat all around clearly making it a fortress town. With its layers of habitation proven to go back to 11th-8th century BC and its last built phase ending about 2nd century AD in Kushana period both by Indian Gangetic archeological nanogram comparision using PGW (Painted Grey Ware Culture) and NBP ware (Northern Black Polished Ware Culture) finds as well as C-14 dating and ramparts and moats making it a fortress town as described in Buddhist literature, Tilaurakot is the true and only contender for Kapilavastu.]
By Sudarshan Raj Tiwari[1]
Dear Friends at The Himalayan Voice,             
The faithful will continue to claim and feel closeness to the life of Lord Buddha as long as life remains a play of birth, old age, disease and death. Occasional expansion of the idea should be expected but Mr. Terence Phelps is different. He starts by presenting himself like an investigator of forgery of Fuhrer but shows his true colors in his concluding paragraphs where he appeals to Indian nationalism and sectarian lobby rather than to logic. 

Except it seems for Mr Phelps and the like, there should be no dispute that Siddhartha Gautam, the Buddha was born at Lumbini of Rupandehi district in Nepal. As for Mr Phelps, when he visited Lumbini in 1994, he could have seen much more than the signboard at Mayadevi temple. The archeological excavation of the Mayadevi temple started in 1992 was already in an advanced state and he could have seen the foundations of the eastern end of the pre-Ashokan brikshya-chaitya temple. Within that year’s archaeological season, the marker stone was exposed and several stages of construction spanning at least 1000 years preceding the seventh century AD Gupta phase saptaratha temple, each structure marking the birth spot as precisely as marked by the Nativity image were opened. Amazingly, even the sacred pond revealed two spring sources, one of warm and another of cold water, (see Lumbini by Basanta Bidari, 2002, page 156 for a drawing of the pond and wells therein) as if to retell the tale told to Huen Tsang. The account of Huen Tsang fits Lumbini quite well once we take the current sacred tank as the springs that came forth when the Lord was born and place the old sacred pond where Mayadevi took her auspicious bath, the one Huen Tsang saw, to its west. The study of charcoal obtained from below the brick plinth of the marker stone has been established to belong to the root of a Sal tree, Dipterocarpaceaetment Shorea. The Asoka tree in Huen Tsang’s account was to the west of Asoka pillar and spaces east of it were built over with stupas and the brikshya-chaitya in the intervening millennium.

The Ultimate Proof of Lumbini

The ultimate proof of Lumbini has to lie in the contemplation of the archeology of Lumbini itself. I recommend Mr. Phelps give a good look to ‘Lumbini, The Archeological Survey Report (1992-1995), Japan Buddhist Federation, 2005’.

About Max Deeg’s new line of approach to interpreting vigadabhi, I am skeptical. The root word in Raghuvamsa reference ‘bhiga’ is still in current use (bhigana in Hindi and bhijnu in Nepali) but the letter in the inscription is vi and such scribal error is most unlikely as the letter bhi follows closely. May be Max Deeg would like to read Keisho Tsukamoto, Professor emeritus of Indology and History of Buddhism, Tohoku University, ‘Reconsidering the Rummindei Pillar Inscription of Asoka, in connection with a piece of natural rock from Mayadevi Temple’ (pp. 215-231) in the same report for a fresh look on ‘silā-vigadabhicā’. The phrase is read as ‘the enclosure for the natural stone’. The long chain of theories about the morphology, declension and semantics of this phrase that started with Buhler has, hopefully, finally terminated with discovery of the conglomerate stone marker stone and Tsukamoto’s sila-avikrta-bhittya! Indeed it does seem to be referring to something specific here. Archeologists could be looking for a conglomerate at Niglihawa too.

The Rissho Report on Kapilavastu

Kapilavastu is ancient. It was and has to be only one. Both the pilgrims Huen Tsang and Fa Hian visited it, only they gave differing account of its distances and directions from other places of Buddhist pilgrimage nearby, which led to a research position of two potential sites for investigation to locate Kapilavastu, first mapped out by Vincent Arthur Smith by fixing the birthplace of Lord Buddha at Lumbini of Nepal as pinpointed by Ashok Pillar, then just discovered by Kaisher Sumsher Jung Bahadur Rana/Anton A Fuhrer (1896). Exploratory research were made at Piprahawa (William Claxton Peppe, 1996-98) and Tilaurakot (Purna Chandra Mukerjee, 1998) and the archeologists then agreed that Tilaurakot could be confirmed to be Kapilavastu on grounds of its location and extent, the cross section through its moat and wall and associated stratigraphy and archeological artifacts. Issue of Kapilavastu and Lumbini had both been settled as far as the British India’s Archaeological Survey of India was concerned. As Nepal’s own Department of Archeology was born in the nineteen fifties, Sakya sites became the first target areas for excavations. From 1957, Indian archeologists again descended on the sites like Lumbini, Tilaurakot and Kudan. Following deliberate and unacceptable twisting of excavation results let Nepal to organize an independent study. In 1967, Rissho University and Department of Archaeology started the spade work at Tilaurakot. With comparative credentials of Tilaurakot as Kapilavastu established, Tilaurakot went into research and conservation mode. The hypothetical basis of the two Kapilavastu theory is thus taken as tested.

It is amid such a scene that the new finds of Krishna M Srivastava at Piprahawa were reported and digs started at Ganwaria. Thus the recent politics of ancient Kapilavastu was set into motion. It had culminated into a Time of India news story in 1976.

The Piprahawa-Ganwaria Excavation Report

Further archeological excavations at Piprahawa have been called for in the past more to establish the authenticity and accuracy of the archeological finds and reports of Krishna Murari Srivastava rather than to reexamine whether Piprahawa can still be a candidate for Kapilavastu. The epigraphy from the relic casket (Peppe, 1894) and the tokens and seals (Krishna M Srivastava, 1972-74) offer evidence that Piprahawa has, one, a saririka (mahaparinirvana) Stupa with a casket dated by the script as post-Asokan and, two, one or more monastery or monasteries such as named Devaputra Vihara inhabited or frequented by or with dealings with the monks of the Kapilavastu order or by sangha named after Kapilavastu from seals datable to Kusan/Gupta periods by the script. They can hardly be admissible as evidence for the scholarly identification of Piprahawa as Kapilavastu although one may establish it as one of the settlements of that time through stratigraphic observations and finds. Even Krishna M Srivastava first reported that what he had excavated was a monastery (see his ‘Notes’ on the excavations at Piprahawa in Indian Archeology 1970-71 or photograph printed in Dharmayug of May 1973). Although written in a circle, the way the last two letters (ya nam) of sākiyanam is inscribed above and in an inner circle makes it clear that the single sentence inscription (sukiti bhatinam sabhaginikanam saputadalam iyam salila nidhane budhasa bhagavate sakiyanam) starts with the name ‘sukiti’ and ends with the phrase ‘iyam salila-nidhane budhasa bhagavate sākiyanam’. This sentence is clearly talking about the bodily remains of the Lord Sakya Buddha and sākiyanam does not qualify ‘salila-nidhane’ or ‘Sukiti’ and so does not suggest either that the relics came out of the share of the Sakya state or that Sukiti is a Sakya kinsman. So I cannot agree to your post of April 19 that suggests such interpretations. No archeologist can accept the stupa as the original place of internment of Lord Buddha’s corporeal relics simply because script style cannot be earlier than Ashok and as such would be too late by about three centuries on both counts of the period of first distribution of the relics following the mahaparinirvana and the period of relocation of Kapilavastu relic that some have suggested could have happened following the massacre of the Sakyas at the hands of Birudhaka. It only fits in to the timeline of the third redistribution of relics that was apparently caused by Ashok, when it is said that all but one of the eight primary stupa were opened and relics redistributed into 7000 secondary stupas that were to dot the new Maurya state. About the ‘historical’ destruction of Kapilavastu wrought by Birudhak, we should be clear that while the Shakya society could have gone into great disarray and dispersal (one group had arrived as far away as Nepal Valley), its effect on archeology could not have been such as to obliterate Kapilavastu altogether. This situation could have led to cessation of building activities in Kapilavastu.

As a basis of art-historical dating, the relic casket find offers other avenues of investigation such as design of the casket or technology of metal work. For a comparative assessment of technology of metal works, some materials are available from Kapilavastu and Lumbini excavations but these have not been accepted as reference as yet. So in no way would we be able to date it prior to second half of 3rd century BC and cannot be pre-Mauryan, the terminology itself being problematic in the sense that it fixes only the end of a period and not its starting point in time. The stratification which are liberally dispersed with inscribed tablets and pot shards make it even worse making archaeologists themselves suspect of the reality of such precipitous finds of Krishna M Srivastava as well as of the methods used. The tokens can hardly be made a reason to review the inscription on the relic casket that was unearthed over a hundred years ago but had not impressed the archeologists as evidence towards locating Kapilavastu. C-14 dating is always possible if the site archeology had been properly handled or preserved. A new trenching could also come in handy to do a C-14 corroboration of claimed stratigraphy. For sites to claim habitation from the period of Buddha, a commensurate C-14 dating of 7th-6th century BC like those done for Gotihawa (6th century BC, Italian excavation in 1995) and Tilaurakot (8th century BC, Bradford U in 1999) would indeed be irrefutable compared to epigraphic records, which can only be late as proposed for Piprahawa by Kapilavastu Forum in their April 15 post. Gold relic caskets without inscriptions (such as the one from Lumbini) laid in carbon datable strata or the eight-petal lotus marks (the symbol of the Shakya) on Sagarhawa stupa are better pointers to pre-Mauryan period than Brahmi epigraphy. 

Piprahawa’s claim to being Kapilavastu is thus denied by all the epigraphic materials brought out. Moreover, even if one were to accept the monastery as a palace, the very small size of the archeological site and absence of any finds to even suggest moat and wall in nearby periphery also deny it.

The Himalayan Voice’s Discussion

The Himalayan Voice discussions has not covered much new ground on archeology of Tilaurakot either. With just a passing reference to a news report of the archeological works of Robert Cunningham of Bradford University and Kosh Acharya (1998-2000) on Kapilavastu, we have bypassed the most extensive works i.e. Rissho university’s Tilaurakot excavations 1967-1977 (published as Tilaurakot, Vol 2 1978 and Vol 1 2000, largely in Japanese language). Tara Nanda Misra and Babu Krishna Rijal have only covered some aspects of this excavation as reported in Vol 2. If you consider these studies in detail, which the Vol I of Tilaurakot Report does, you will agree that there is no need to call for more excavations at Kapilavastu from the research perspective of identification. As a matter of fact, the archeological exercise undertaken by Robert Cunningham/Kosh Acharya used excavations along with magnetometer (which electronically recorded measures of earth resistance and magnetic nature of deposits below the surface) and excavation was limited in a pit of 9 square meters that went to a depth of 4.4 meters. One reason why more excavations are not advised is that we have not been effective custodians of archeological finds and the threat of its misuse or misappropriation by others against us is greater than its research merit. You have to remember that many precious finds from Tilaurakot has been lost and we should not be surprised to find them floating around as finds from rival sites. The large scale theft of painted grey ware finds from Taulihawa museum should tell how powerful is this lobby.

Although I do not think the Tilaurakot token is any evidence of Kapilavastu of 6th century BC (as it belongs to 2nd century BC and is also a highly movable object), we should read the inscription as sākayasā and not sākanasyā (Babu K Rijal’s reading). The interpretation of Kapilavastu Forum is not even humourous when they suggest some missing letters of their own making. The letters in the token are neither illegible nor the word appears shortened in the manner of a modern anagram for expanding the reading into ‘sankarsanasya’! It is small in size and we may not be able to make out its meaning but that does not make it incomplete. We should also note that other token finds from Tilaurakot carry different epigraphic legends such as nigame, jetha-kichakama, dabilasa etc. Magadha and Ayodhya punch marked coins found in Kapilavastu also cannot be interpreted as pre-Mauryan habitation indicator as the coins were located in Sunga cultural layers.     

Kapilavastu Forum’s statement ‘…the archeological excavations at Tilaurakot throws light on the major structural activities taken place at the site from 2nd century BC onwards and continued up to the Kushana period’ appearing to refer to TN Mishra is a misrepresentation as this only refers to the top three periods III-V or the Maurya, Sunga and Kushana layers where the seals have been discovered. The lowest cultural layers, layer 10-13 named as Period I, at Kapilavastu have been dated to ca. 11th - 8th century BC (with attributes of Hastinapur period II such as painted grey ware and painted red ware and absolutely free of NBP ware) by Babu K Rijal. This kind of very ancient cultural layer was also substantiated by C-14 dating of charred remains in the trench investigated by Robin Cunningham/Kosh Acharya in 1998-2000 (8th century BC). Babu K Rijal names layers 8-9 as Period II dated to ca. 6th – 5th century (with fine grey wares and associated red ware mixed with NBP wares comparable to Hastinapur period III). Thus based on Gangetic nomograms used as standards in Indian archeology, the habitational stratifications about the fortification ramparts at Tilaurakot and Mound VII are datable from 11th century BC-2nd century AD.  Comparative timeline nomograms for finds of beads, bangles, iron, copper and bronze, bone and ivory objects are not yet available for dating purposes.

The result of the Magnetometer survey of Cunningham/Acharya, which covered about 600 square meters in two places, one to the east of the west gate and another to west of the east gate, has shown that the ancient city at Tilaurakot site is planned on grid iron pattern and its buildings are also all aligned parallel or perpendicular to the street. The Rissho University plots of wall ruins of mound VII also show this rectangularity and courtyard planning of individual buildings.

The town is a rectangle of proportion 3:4 and its sides measure about 400 meters by 480 meters with 7 meter wide moat all around. If we apply the systems noted in the  Vastushastra, the town looks like Nandyavarta plan of width 565 Dhanurgraha measures (equal to 27 angulas, one angula approximating 1 inch or 2.5 centimeter) and length 800 measures with moats of 10 measures on either side. Apparent moat crossings that signify gate positions have been established in west, south and east sides but the confirmation of only the east and west gates have been made. The northern central block and north-east corner block are ponds. The north western sector of the plateau has been washed away Banaganga river in history and whatever was here has been lost. The Rissho University has confirmed after investigation of the central mound that “the upper layer buildings are from Shunga-Kushana period while its lower layers to back from NBP age to Neolithic age”. Its periphery has wide brick ramparts and moat all around clearly making it a fortress town. With its layers of habitation proven to go back to 11th-8th century BC and its last built phase ending about 2nd century AD in Kushana period both by Indian Gangetic archeological nanogram comparision using PGW (Painted Grey Ware Culture) and NBP ware(Northern Black Polished Ware Culture)) finds as well as C-14 dating and ramparts and moats making it a fortress town as described in Buddhist literature, Tilaurakot is the true and only contender for Kapilavastu.

As rightly pointed by others, the palace of Kapilavastu could not be sought amid the burnt brick remains simply because architecture of the Buddha period was based on adobe and wood as evidenced by the section of ramparts of this period and the trace trenches in the strata carbon dated by Cunningham and Acharya.

[1]  The author is a Professor of Architecture at Institute of Engineering, Tribhuvan University, Kathmandu Nepal.  Please See also.