THE ANTIQUITY OF CHAMPARAN-KESARIYA STUPA

 

Dr. Anshu,

Reader, Kirori Mal College, University of Delhi

 

 

 

 

Champaran- bathed in the relics of history was part of the ancient Tirhut, the land of Raja Janak, father of Sita. It is here that Lord Buddha in his final journey from Vaishali to Kushinagar took rest for the night. Here he communicated to his disciples the news of his nirvana.  In 1917, it is here that Gandhiji launched his civil disobedience movement that ultimately led to India’s independence. The land of Gautam Buddha and Gandhiji reverberates in its simplicity and truth.

 

In the south west corner of the East Champaran district lies probably the world’s largest Buddhist Stupa. It is located in the Kesariya block and is thus popularly known as the Kesariya Stupa. Huien Tsang or Xuan Zang, the Chinese Buddhist monk, mentions about Kesariya in his travels through India.

 

 

In 637, Huien Tsang set out from Lumbini to Kusinagara, the site of Buddha's death, before heading southwest to the deer park at Sarnath where Buddha gave his first sermon, and where Huien Tsang found 1,500 resident monks. Traveling eastward, at first via Varanasi, Huien Tsang reached Vaisali, Pataliputra (Patna) and Bodh Gaya. He was then accompanied by local monks to Nalanda, the great ancient university of India, where he spent at least the next two years. He was in the company of several thousand scholar-monks, whom he praised. Huien Tsang studied logic, grammar, Sanskrit, and the Yogacara school of Buddhism during his time at Nalanda. In 646, Huien Tsang wrote his book "Journey to India in the Great Tang Dynasty", which has become one of the primary source for study of ancient history of India. It was translated in English by Thomas Watters and published in London in 1905. Huien Tsang in his travelogue has mentioned a Chakravarti Raja of the seventh century. This is confirmed by the reign of Raja Ben.  He has mentioned that 30 miles due north-west of Vaishali, in an ancient city, Lord Buddha had announced that in a previous life he was the Boddhisatva and had ruled that kingdom as a Chakravarti Raja. This ancient city was most certainly Kesariya. It is irrefutable that Lord Buddha had come to Keasriya during his final journey from Vaishali to Kushinagar. The stupa at Deora confirms this event, since stupas were built only at those places that were of great significance in the life of Lord Buddha.

 

The old town of Keasriya lies to the east of the Gandak River, 42 to 48 kilometres to the northwest of Besarh or Vaishali. It therefore corresponds exactly with the position of Hiuen Tsang's ancient town, where the Licchavi's of Vaishali took leave of Buddha.

 

It is believed that after his visit with Amrapali, Lord Buddha continued with his journey towards Kushinagar (also called Kusinara in Buddhist texts.) He travelled along the eastern banks of the river Gandak (also called Narayani, which marks the western border of Champaran). A band of his devoted Licchavis accompanied Lord Buddha in this journey. At a spot known as Kesariya, in the East Champaran district, Lord Buddha took rest for the night. It was here that he chose to announce to his disciples the news of his impending niravana (meaning, death); and implored them to return to Vaishali. The wildly lamenting Licchavis would have none of that. They steadfastly refused to leave. Whereupon, Lord Buddha, by creating a 3,000 feet wide stream between them and himself compelled them to leave. As a souvenir he gave them his alms-bowl. The Licchavis, most reluctantly and expressing their sorrow wildly, took leave and built a stupa there to commemorate the event. Lord Buddha had chosen that spot to announce his impending nirvana because, as he told his disciple Anand, he knew that in a previous life he had ruled from that place, namely, Kesariya, as a Chakravarti Raja, Raja Ben. In speaking to Ananda, Buddha told him that "for a Chakravarti Raja they build a thupo at a spot where four principal roads meet."  This description agrees most precisely with that of Kesariya, where two high roads cross, the one leading Saran to Champaran, and the other from Patna or Pataliputra to Bettiah and Nepal.

 

Excavations

The first explorer of the stupa was Col. Mackenzie in 1814. He excavated a gallery from the east of the center of the great mound. In 1835, Hodgson published a sketch of the stupa without any comment or illustration. General Cunningham conducted the first systematic excavation of the Kesariya mound in 1861-62. In his observations he states that the stupa was in the shape of a lofty brick mound capped by a solid brick tower. It was 62 feet high and 1400 feet in circumference at the base. The top of the mound was covered with solid bricks and its exterior was entirely in ruins, measuring 68 feet 7 inches high. The remains of the dome was only 12 feet 10 inches high. According to Gen, Cunningham the total height of the stupa above the mound should have been  between 80-90 feet including the missing portion of the dome and its pinnacle. The total height of the stupa in its original state would have been about 150 feet above the level of the surrounding vicinity.

 

The Archaeological Survey of India, Patna started the excavation work of the stupa from 1998. In the report of ASI, it is stated that “the structure found after excavation is a terraced circular Buddhist stupa of bricks laid in a very thin layer of mud, mortar and capped by a large cylindrical drum of solid brick work. The circular base measures about 123 meters in diameter and 386 in circumference. It rises up in six terraces. Each terrace upto the third rise contains rows of three cells at a regular interval with polygonal pattern adopted to fill up the gap between the groups of cells. On the fourth rise, smaller cells flank the central cell in the group of three. And on the fifth rise the number of cells is reduced to one instead of three because of paucity of space on the reduced perimeter. Possibly all the cells once contained stucco images of Buddha, but the evidences are now available in few cells only, owing to the fragile nature of material used in their composition and their continuous exposure to the weathering agents”. The excavations have revealed life size images of Buddha found within the cells of the stupa. At present all the excavated images are damaged. They represent different postures of Buddha, the most common being Buddha in padmasana, seated over a cushion. He is also shown seated in Bhumisparsa mudra, in which only his right hands are intact in the image.

 

 

Kesariya –In the footsteps of Buddha

 

The main tenet of Buddhas teachings is how to live a happy and peaceful life. Buddhism is not about learning beliefs from faraway lands but about looking at and thinking about our own lives. It teaches us how to understand ourselves and cope with our daily problems. An old story explains his teachings very well. A very old king went to see an old sage and asked, “What is the most important Buddhist teaching?” The sage replied, “Do no evil, do only good. Purify your heart.” The king had expected a long sermon. He was very disappointed. He said, “But even a small child can understand that.” The wise sage replied, “Yes, but even an eighty year old man cannot do it”.

 

Buddha chose the beautiful symbol of the wheel with its eight spokes to represent the Noble Eightfold Path. The Buddha's teaching goes round and round like a great wheel that never stops, leading to the central point of the wheel, the only point which is fixed, Nirvana. The eight spokes on the wheel represent the eight parts of the Noble Eightfold Path. Just as every spoke is needed for the wheel to keep turning, we need to follow each step of the path.
 

Let us tread along the paths of this great saint who walked this earth in around 566BC. Along these paths religious people have made pilgrimages throughout the ages. The Lumbini, Bodhgaya, Sarnath, Rajgir, Nalanda, and Kushinagar are the sites where Buddha himself exhorted his followers to visit. These are the great places of pilgrimage. Along the way are also places where stupas have been made, Vaishali and Kesariya being among them.  The actions of the Buddha in each of these places are described within the canons of the scriptures of the various traditions of his teaching, such as the sections on Vinaya, and also in various compendia describing his life. The sites themselves have now been identified once more with the aid of records left by three pilgrims of the past -The great Emperor Ashoka, The Chinese pilgrims Fa Hien and Hiuen Tsang. Huien Tsang was the best recorded of Buddhist pilgrims and one of the most distinguished. The Buddhist sources preserve many glimpses of the pilgrims. Several traces have been recorded in the different sources. These were the bodily relics that were permanently embedded in the monuments known as stupas. Non-bodily relics like Buddhas begging bowl, his staff, water pot and fragments of his robe also form part of the traces.  It is believed that at Kesariya Buddha gave his alms bowl to the Licchavi's of Vaishali and asked them to leave, while he set out for his final journey to nirvana.

 

 

 

Archeological Survey of India is developing the site for preservation and tourism, for which, apart from 11.85 acres of Kaisari Hind land another 11.30 acres of rayati land worth Rs.29,57,000 was transferred to  had already