Saturday, March 7, 2015

Rampurwā a compelling case for Kuśinārā- Part II

A Pillar buried in the ground in a slanting position, showing a portion of capital was reported by Mr. Carlleyle in 1877 at Rampurwā (Carylleyle 2000: 51).  About 850 ft south of the Pillar  he saw two large ‘stūpa’ mounds (20ft and 15ft high) and a shattered stump of stone pillar exactly between the two mounds (Fig. 2 & 3). After excavation at the North Pillar, he discovered Ashokan inscriptions on the Pillar.
Carylleyle noted that the Rampurwā Ashokan Pillar along with the three other pillars of Bakhrā (Vaiśālī), Laoriya ara-raj (Arerāj), Laoriya-navandangarh (Nandangaṛh) looked like a representation of the ancient Magadha-Nipāl highway. Caryllyle expected to find a couple of more Ashokan Pillars further north in Himalayan valleys along the ancient trade routes (Fig-1). 
 ‘Rampurwa pillar was exactly on the ancient road leading into Nipāl. From thence there are three passes leading across the second range of hills, called the Sidra Range, into Nipā, namely the western pass, a central pass, and an eastern one. The Western pass is called the Churiya Ghati. The central pass is called the Thori Ghati, and runs along the Kudi Nadi. The eastern pass is called Goramasaon’ (Caryllyle 2000: 55).

In 1880-81 Alexander Cunningham inspected the site and shared same opinion as Carylleyle;
‘......... perhaps the pillars were placed to mark out a high road into Nepal, or they might, with equal probability, have been arranged to commemorate some great march!’(Cunningham, Garrick 2000: 112).

Cunningham opened the two mounds but didn’t share much information except a fragment of ‘Lingam’ that he found at depth of 6ft. Cunningham most probably didn’t find anything interesting to further continue the excavation or visit the site again.

Fig.1- Ashokan Pillars along the river Ganak

Excavation at the Pillar site was again done by Daya Ram Sahani in 1907-08. The excavation revealed a floor laid by Ashoka (3rd BCE) 7ft below the then surface (Fig-2). He also found bull capital of the South Pillar and lion capital of the North Pillar. Both the capitals detached from the Pillars were found lying on the Ashokan brick floor layer. Daya Ram Sahani excavated both the Pillars and for safety, relocated both of them on the eastern mound (15ft) where they are currently kept (Fig.3 & 7). Bull capital now adorns the Rastrapati Bhawan, New Delhi and the lion capital is displayed at Indian Museum, Kolkotta.  
Fig. 2- Southern Pillar in course of excavations in 1907-08.

Carylleyle and Cunningham were aware about  the two Ashokan Pillars in close proximity that Xuanzang saw at Kuśinagara (Kuśinārā). They could not link Rampurwā Pillar(s) and Xuanzang's description of Kuśinagara, probably because both of them thought the Rampurwā pillars to be just one Pillar (North Pillar) and assumed the broken shaft of the South Pillar as some portion of the North Pillar. This confusion that there were actually two pillars and not one as earlier reported was removed by Sahani in 1907-08.

‘Nevertheless the object of the digging has been fully realized. It has been proved, as Mr. Longhurst surmised after his inspection of Rampurwa, that what had previously been taken to be portions of one and the same pillar are in reality two distinct columns’ (Sahani 1990: 187).

Carylleyle and Cunningham linked the discovery of ‘one inscribed Ashokan Pillar’ at Rampurwā with the three pillars (Vaiśālī, Arerāj and Nandangaṛh) along the east bank of river Ganḍak making some important route or path (Fig.1). Sahani on the other hand was surprised by absence of any ruins in the surroundings of Pillars site (Sahani 1990: 181). There was no further excavation at Rampurwā after 1907-08.
Fig.3- An aerial view of Rampurwā Pillar site.

An aerial view of two pillars kept on 2nd mound at Rampurwā
However, there is more than what meets the eye; a careful examination (GIS interpretation of Xuanzang and Faxian’s descriptions) reveals a different picture. Chinese monk-scholars Faxian (Fahien, 5th CE) and Xuanzang (Hsüan-tsang, 7th CE) traveled from Śrāvasti to Kuśinārā touching Kapilavastu, Lumbinī and Rāmagrāma (Fig. 11 and 13). At Kuśinagara Xuanzang saw two Ashokan Pillars in close proximity marking the places of Mahāparinirvāṇa of the Buddha and the distribution of Buddha’s relic. Rampurwā falls on the same track as taken by both the pilgrims and also has two Ashokan Pillars in close proximity as mentioned by Xuanzang.   
On our exploration trip to Rampurwā on 1st March, 2015, we met Shri Joginder Manjhi (Fig.4). Manjhiji works as the guard of the ASI protected Ashokan Pillar site at Rampurwā. We shared with him  objective of our visit.  In the course of our conversation, he told us how out of curiosity, he in his spare time has been exploring the nearby areas and discovered ancient remains.
Fig. 4- Shri Joginder Manjhi with some potteries from the fields.
He and many other locals keep discovering potshards in many of the agricultural fields surrounding the Pillar. They called all such agricultural fields as ‘Khapḍail’. Khapaḍā means fired roofing tiles and Khapḍail means places (plots) that have fragments of Khapaḍā. Villagers feel that these Khapaḍā fragments are very ancient and these agricultural fields and places with numerous potshards are places that had habitation in ancient times. Manjhiji took us to a few of the Khapḍail plots in the vicinity of the Pillar site. In one of the agricultural fields, the potshards were exposed during floods few years back when the rushing water washed off few feet of the surface.
Fig. 5- A Google image of Riverbeds around Rampurwa Pillar site.
Each year overflowing rivers gushing off the Himalayas inundate this entire area and deposit layers of sand and earth year after year. Satellite image shows many river beds (many river courses) in and around Pillar site (Fig.5). The excavation at both the Pillar site in 1907-08 revealed that the base of the Pillars (Ashokan brick flooring) was 7ft below the then surface buried under layers of earth and sand. Two thick layers of sand were created by rivers/rivulets that flew over the Pillar site for a couple of centuries ( Fig. 2). 
Fig.6- A cross-section of field created by river revealing ancient remains.
An occasional finding of potshards in the vicinity of Pillar site is only the tip of the iceberg (Fig.6). Based on the excavation from 1907-08 and revelation of potshards in agriculture fields in this vicinity we can very safely assume that the ancient remains is buried inside up to 10ft of layers of earth and sand created by  rivers and rivulets during monsoons.  The preliminary findings are compelling and certainly merit further research.

The map of Rampurwā showing it to be the place of  Mahāparinirvāṇa of the Buddha. (Fig. 7)
(Based on Pali sources and travel accounts of Faxian and Xuanzang)
  • Pali sources mention that at the time of the Buddha the kingdom of Mallā was divided into two parts, having their respective capitals in Kuśinārā and Pāvā. Both cities were separated by three gāvuta-(1 gāvuta is little less than 2 miles) (DA.ii.573). Pali sources further inform us that on the way from Pāvā to Kuśinārā lay the stream of Kakuttha on the banks of which was the Ambavana (Mango groove); beyond that was the Hiraññavatī river, and near the city, in the south-westerly direction, lay the Upāvāttana, the Sāla-grove of the Mallas.      
  • We know from Mahāparinibbāna Sutta (Mahāparinirvāṇa Sūtra) that Buddha on his last journey stayed at a mango groove of Cunda in Pāvā.  The following morning, Buddha had his last meal at Cunda house and then left for Kuśinārā. On his way to Kuśinārā, Buddha attained Mahāparinirvāṇa at Upāvāttana, the Sāla-grove of the Mallas (UdA.238; DA.ii.572f).
  • Faxian mentions the city south to the place of  Mahāparinirvāṇa of the Buddha as the ‘city of Kusianagara’ (Beal 2005: 94).
  • Xuanzang is tight-lipped about any city named Kuśinagara (Kuśinārā). He instead mentions Kuśinagara as a country. He mentions an ‘old city’ that was 3-4 Li south-east of the place (Ashokan Pillar site) of Mahāparinirvāṇa of the Buddha. The ‘old city’ was the capital of Kuśinagara. The ‘old city’ had the house of Cunda at the north-east corner and Ashoka built a stūpa to mark the place of Cunda (Watters 2004: II 25-45).
According to Xuanzang, the ‘old city’ where Cunda lived was the ancient capital of Kuśinagara. Therefore Pāvā, according to Xuanzang was ancient capital of Kuśinagara.
Fig.7- The map plotting the description in the Pali sources and Chinese monk-scholars Faxian and Xuanzang in reference to the twin Pillar site (place of Mahāparinirvāṇa of the Buddha).

Is Bhitiharwā (27°14' 43N   84°29' 21 Ethe site of Pāvā?
Joginder Manghi ji next took us to an agricultural field (27°15' 08 N   84°28' 55 E) one kilometer west of village Bhitiharwā and 2.6 kms south-west of Pillar site (Fig.7 & 9). Few years back, during digging at this spot, many ancient bricks were discovered by villagers (Fig.7, 8 & 9). On physical examination the bricks appear to be very ancient but the exact period that these bricks belonged to can be found only through scientific analysis. Discovery of ancient bricks 2.6 km in the south-west direction of Pillar site (27°16' 11N   84°29' 57 E) is important because this could be related to Pāvā (Fig. 7).  
It’s known from Pali sources that at the time of Buddha, Pāvā was an important city of Mallas. Faxian in 5th CE noticed that the monasteries and stūpas to mark the event associated with the Mahāparinirvāṇa of Buddha were in good condition but the ‘city of Kusinagara’ was in ruins with only families of monks living there. In 7th CE, the Chinese monk-scholar Xuanzang found the ‘old city’ of Cunda in ruins. The ‘old city’ (Pāvā) according to Xuanzang was 10 Li (3-4 km) in circuit. 

Fig.8- An ancient brick recovered from the field.
Fig.9- The field from where the Bricks were found.
Pāvā of Pali sources, ‘old city’ of Xuanzang and ‘city of Kusinagara’ of Faxian all lie in same area in proximity of the Bhitiharwā (Fig.7).

Pillars and Inscriptions 

Fig. 10- The inscribed North Pillar and mutilated South Pillar

Xuanzang mentions two inscribed pillars in close proximity to mark the places where Buddha attained Mahāparinirvāṇa (South Pillar) and where Buddha was cremated and his relics distributed (North Pillar).  According to Xuanzang, both the Pillars were inscribed narrating the events (of Mahāparinirvāṇa and relics distribution). However, in 1907-08, when both the Pillars were excavated only the North Pillar was found to have inscriptions. 

The North Pillar bears Dhamma inscriptions by Ashoka inscribed in the 26th year after his coronation and not the event of relic distribution as mentioned by Xuanzang.

It is an established fact that Ashokan scripts (3rd BCE) was not in use during Xuanzang’s time (7th CE). It is very likely that neither Xuanzang nor any of the local residents of Kuśinagara could read what was inscribed on the Pillars. Xuanzang documented what he was told by the people there. A gap of 900 years (3rd BCE to 7th CE) is a long time, probably, in later centuries post 3rd BCE; some tradition evolved relating the significance of the place with the inscription on Pillar.

A possible explanation on why Ashoka installed a Pillar with Dhamma inscription at a place where Buddha was cremated and his sacred relics distributed is probably Ashoka installed Pillar without inscription to mark important events associated with the Buddha and the Dhamma inscriptions were put on Pillars later (26th year of coronation in this case).  

Unfortunately, the South Pillar when discovered was broken and the part of the Pillar that should have bore the inscription was badly mutilated (Fig. 10).  Prima facie the South Pillar appears to be conspicuously chiseled at the place where it should have had inscriptions.   Sir John Marshall declared that the South Pillar ‘appears to have been willfully mutilated, perhaps with the purpose of destroying some inscriptions on it’ (Marshall 1908: 1088). 

In the given circumstances, for further study we may assume that both the Pillars of Rampurwā were inscribed as mentioned by Xuanzang.
Multiple identification of Kuśinārā (Kuśinagara)
Fig. 11-Faxian and  Xuanzang’s pilgrimage from Śrāvasti to Kuśinārā.

1. H. H. Williams in 1854 was first to propose Kasiā to be the site of Kuśinārā.

‘Taking a cue from a reference made by Dr Buchanan to a large mound and associated ruins, Dr Wilson had placed Kushinagar at Kasia, an isolated village some thirty-five miles east of the town of Gorakhpur in north-eastern Bihar. Cunningham tentatively went along with this view, while noting that it would be confirmed when Dr Buchanan’s “extensive mass of ruin” was excavated’ (Allen 2003: 225). 
 2. In 1861-62, Alexander Cunningham visited Kasiā.  Kasiā he said is corrupted from Kusia’ that corresponds to Kushinagara (City of Kusa grass) (Cunningham 1972: 76).
Following the accounts of Xuanzang, Cunningham in 1862-63 proposed Sāhet-Māhet as the site of Śrāvasti. The identification was further corroborated by subsequent discovery of an inscription reading ‘Śrāvasti’ found by Cunningham on a colossal statue of Buddha (Cunningham 1972: 331).
Cunningham made further exploration between Sāhet-Māhet (Śrāvasti) and Kasiā (Kuśinārā) looking for other places between Śrāvasti and Kuśinārā as mentioned by Xuanzang (Fig. 9). Based on his explorations he identified Nagar with Kapilavastu, Kakua with place of Krakuchanda, Subhay-pursa with place of Kanakmuni Buddha, Sawarnpur with Arrow Spring, Mokson with Lumbinī, Deokali with Rāmagrāma, Charcoal stupa with Sahankat (Fig. 12).
  For details refer:
 Cunningham, A.; 2000, Archaeological Survey of India Four Reports 1862-63-64-65, Vol I, Published by ASI, GOI, 2000, (First   Published in 1872).
Cunningham, A.; 1963, The Ancient Geography of India-I, The Buddhist Period, by Indological Book House, Varanasi.

3. Carlleyle, the assistant of Cunningham in 1870’s, took the same path from Sāhet-Māhet to Kasiā and rectified the identifications by Cunningham. He proposed a new set of places for all the places identified by Cunningham between Sāhet-Māhet to Kasiā. He proposed Bhuiladih for Kapilavastu, Nagara for place of Krakuchanda , Khonpa dih for  place of Kanakmuni Buddha, Sarkuhiya for Arrow Spring, Sheopur for Lumbinī, Korau dih with Rāmagrāma (Fig. 12).

For details refer: 
Carlleyle, A.C. L.; 2000, Archaeological Survey of India Report for the Year 1874-75,  Vol-XII,  Published by ASI, GOI, 2000, (First Published in1879).
-------------------------- Archaeological Survey of India Report for the Year 1875-76 and 1876-77, Vol XVIII Published by ASI, GOI, 2000, (First Published in1883).
-------------------------- Archaeological Survey of India Report for the Year 1877-78-79 and 80,  Vol XXII,  Published by ASI, GOI, 2000, (First Published in1885).

At Kasiā in an excavation of a large mound Carlleyle found a 20ft sandstone statue of reclining Buddha. The sandstone was of mixed color, mostly of red and clay. The statue had an inscription that according to Carlleyle was from 2nd CE (Carlleyle 2000: 18). Though, Cunningham mentions that inscription to be from Gupta period (4-5th CE) (Carlleyle 2000: iii).

The translation of the inscription:

The religious gift to the great Vihar, of the Lord Haribal. The colossal statue was   presented to the first united assembly* by Ṣura’ (Carlleyle 2000: 19).

In subsequent excavations at the site of Kasiā in 1900’s, many inscribed seals were discovered that read, 

śrī-Mahāparinirvāṇa- viharē bhikshu saṃghasya' Of the community of friars at the convent of the blessed Great Decease (Vogel 1990:63). 

A copper plate bearing the inscription ‘Copper plate of parinirvāṇa-chaitya’ (parinirvāṇa-chaitya-tāmrapatra was also discovered (Pargiter 1990: 77).

4. Xuanzang mentioned the presence of seven pillars in this stretch from Śrāvasti to Kuśinagara (Fig. 11).  He further mentioned two pillars at Śrāvasti around 600 Li W of Kapilavastu, two pillars at Kuśinagara about 600 Li E of Kapilavastu, and at the centre, a triad of three pillars in close proximity to mark places associated with the birth of Buddha and places associated with the Krakuchanda and Kanakmuni Buddha. The discovery of Niglivā Pillar in 1893 and Rumindei Pillar in 1896 in the terai area of Nepal was a major breakthrough as one of the most intriguing conundrums had finally been solved (Fig. 12). Inscription of the Niglivā Pillar mentioned that it was the place of Kanakmuni Buddha. The discovery of these pillars further facilitated identification of exact or tentative places of Kapilavastu, Lumbinī, and place of Krakuchanda Buddha etc as described by Faxian and Xuanzang.

Fig.12- Interpretation of Xuanzang's travel by different explorers.
As a consequence of these pillar discoveries in Nepal terai, the identifications of Kapilavastu, Lumbinī, place of Krakuchanda Buddha, place of Kanakmuni Buddha proposed by Cunningham and Carllyle in 1860’s and 1870’s were proved to be incorrect (Fig. 12).

 5.  The discovery of Ashokan Pillars associated with birth place of the Buddha and the place of Kanakmuni Buddha provided a fresh impetus for further exploration and identification of Rāmagrāma, Charcoal stūpa, Kuśinārā etc as mentioned by Faxian and Xuanzang. Many explorers have proposed a new set of identifications for these places along the Śrāvasti-Kuśinārā stretch. The identifications proposed by William Hoey (1900) and Vincent Smith (1902) are depicted on the map (Fig. 12). The bottom line is that the identifications of Kuśinārā, Rāmagrāma, Charcoal stūpa etc on this stretch are still open to interpretation (Fig. 13).

Fig. 13-Kuśinagara still open to interpretation.


What's Next?
Evidences in support of Kasiā;

1. A 20ft reclining Buddha sandstone image with an inscription from 4-5th CE.

2. Numerous sealing bearing inscription ‘Of the community of friars at the convent of the blessed Great Decease’ (śrī-Mahāparinirvāṇa- viharē bhikshu “saṃghasya”).

3. A copper plate bearing the inscription ‘Copper plate of parinirvāṇa-chaitya’ (parinirvāṇa-chaitya-tāmrapatra).

The findings at Kasiā are very important. Kasiā was definitely a very important Buddhist centre since very early period of Buddhism and the place had some connection with the Mahāparinirvāṇa of Buddha. But, do the excavated remains at Kasiā correspond to the descriptions of Faxian and Xuanzang?

Was Kasiā a ‘Relic Shrine’ as proposed by Dr. Waddell? (Vogel 1990:43). A 5.5ft reclining Buddha image was discovered at a village Aropur-Maher around 25 kms east of Bodhgayā in 2013. The Gangetic plane has hundreds of unexplored and undocumented ancient sites, most of them Buddhist. There is a possibility of finding more reclining Buddha images in future.
The present set of findings from Kasiā leads us to believe that this may be the site of Mahāparinirvāṇa of the Buddha but there are many unanswered questions. The points in favor of Rampurwā are very compelling.

1. Two (Ashokan) Pillars in close proximity as mentioned by Xuanzang (Fig.3).
2. Both the pillars fall exactly in the same track as mentioned by Faxian and Xuanzang i.e. in east direction (Fig. 13).
3. There is no mention of Buddha crossing river Ganḍak in Mahāparinibbāna Sutta.
4. Rampurwā falls on an ancient trade route connecting Magadha, Vaiśālī with Nepāl.

An explanation as to why there are no traces of stūpas, temple and other vestiges reported by Faxian and Xuanzang. And very important, where are the remains of city of Pāvā and Kuśinārā?

No proper excavation has taken place at the site of Rampurwā yet. Probably the answer lies buried inside layers of sand and earth. The partial excavation at Rampurwā revealed the Ashokan brick layer was buried more than 7ft under the layers of sand and earth deposited by rivers. The study suggests that a Ground Penetrating Radar survey is the next logical step in this direction.

The purpose of this study is not to refute the findings at Kasiā (present Kuśinārā) or create confusion but to enquire and solve the puzzle of two Ashokan Pillars at Rampurwā in order to unravel the Truth.



1. Allen, Charles; 2003, The Buddha and the Sahibs, London: John Murray (1st Pub. 2002).
2.Beal, S.; 2005, Travels of Fah-hian and Sung-Yun, Buddhist Pilgrims from China to India, Low Price Publications, Delhi: (Originally published London: Trubner and Co.: 1869).
3.--------------. 1914, The life of Hiuen-Tsiang by Shaman Hwui Li, Kegan Paul, Trench Trubner & Co. Ltd, London. (New Edition 1911).(Life -Fig. 11)
4. Carlleyle, A.C. L.; 2000, Archaeological Survey of India Report for the Year 1877-78-79 and 80,   Published by ASI, GOI, 2000, (First Published in1885).
5.Cunningham, A. & Garrick, H.B.W.; 2000, Archaeological Survey of India Report of Tours in North and South    Bihar, Vol. XVI, Published by ASI, GOI, 2000, (First Published in 1883).
6.Cunningham, A.; 1972, Archaeological Survey of India, Four Reports made during the years 1862-63-64-65,Vol-1, Published by Indological Book House,Varanasi.
7.Cunningham, A.; 1963, The Ancient Geography of India-I, The Buddhist Period, by Indological Book House, Varanasi.
8.Marshall, J.H.; 1908, Archaeological Exploration in India, 1907-8 Journal of Royal Asiatic Society (UK).
9.Pargiter F. E.; 1990, Archaeological Survey of India, Annual Report-1910-11, Published by Swati Publication, Ashok Vihar, Delhi. 
10. Sahani, Daya Ram.; 1990, Archaeological Survey of India, Annual Report 1907-08, Published by     Swati Publications, Ashok Vihar, Delhi. 
11. Vogel, J. Ph.; 1990, Archaeological Survey of India, Annual Report-1906-0, Published by Swati Publication, Ashok Vihar, Delhi. 
12. --------------------- Archaeological Survey of India, Annual Report-1904-05, Published by Swati Publication, Ashok Vihar, Delhi. 
13. Watters, Thomas; 2004, On Yuan Chwang’s Travels in India, (Edited by T. W. Rhys Davids and S.W. Bushell), Reprinted in LPP 2004, Low Price Publications, Delhi. (First published by Royal Asiatic Society, London, 1904-05). (Travel- Fig. 11)

 Abbreviations of Bibliography:
 P.T.S.    Means published by the Pāli Text Society
 DA. Sumangala Vilāsinī, 3 vols. (P.T.S.).
 UdA. Udāna Commentary (P.T.S.).

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