curiosity, History

The Kapilavastu Controversy Part III


After visiting the Piprahwa Stupa, Krishna Mohan Srivastava, who was a superintending archeologist with the Archeological Survey of India took a decision. He decided to commence immediately, excavations over a wide area in Piprahwa to settle, once for all, the controversy about Kapilavastu. He had the support of a previous report of 1962, written by his co-archeologist, Mrs. D. Mitra, who after extensive excavations in the Tiaurkot area, had reported in unequivocal terms that Kapilavastu ruins can be found only near Piprahwa. Srivastava had a premonition that the relic caskets discovered by William Peppe in 1897-98, could not be the original ones received by Sakyas of Kapilvastu as one of the eight claimants to a portion of relics of the Buddha after he was cremated at Kushinagar and which were solemnized by them in a Stupa, for one simple reason. As mentioned earlier, there was an inscription on one of the smaller urns, which was written in a script, whose style clearly pointed to third century BCE. This meant that more than two centuries had passed from the time of Buddha’s cremation in 483 BCE before this urn was solemnized. A noted orientalist and indologist, Sylvain Lévi had already expressed his opinion that this inscription was probably engraved on the occasion of the rebuilding of the ancient Stupa as a mark of earlier solemn dedication. Srivastava had a feeling that the earlier and original relics must be still deep down below the relics found by William Peppe in the Stupa. He started his excavation with a small trench in the north eastern quadrant.

It should be more interesting to read about Srivastava’s excavation work in his own words. I quote from a report written by him:

A small trench was sunk in its north-eastern quadrant, which revealed interesting features. An outline of the shaft bored by Peppe could be easily observed. At a depth of six metres from the extant top of the stupa, two burnt brick chambers came to light. These chambers, separated from one another by 65 cms. of yellowish compact clay mixed with kankar, were at a much lower level than the spot where the stone box containing the inscribed casket had been found by Peppe. There was a mud deposit, about six centimetres thick, between the last course of the burnt brick stupa and the chambers. The two chambers were identical in shape, measuring 82 x 80 x 37 cms. The specific purpose of the brick chambers, to keep the sacred objects, was apparent enough from the nature of their construction. 

A soapstone casket and a red ware dish placed close to each other were observed in the northern chamber after the top three courses of brick had been removed. This dish was covered by another dish of the same type, which had broken into three pieces. Both the soapstone casket and the dish were found to be carefully packed with the help of bricks and brickbats. The casket contained fragments of charred bone. The contents of the dish could not be distinguished, because it was badly smashed and filled with earth. That there were no bone fragments in it, is, however, certain. The positions of the casket and dishes were different in the southern brick chamber. Two dishes, of the same type and size as in the northern chamber, were placed side by side just below the topmost course of the brick. Both dishes were reduced to fragments. When two further courses of brick were removed, another soapstone casket, bigger in size, came to light. The lid of the casket was found broken. On removal of the earth, which had filled up the casket, charred bones were found inside. Since the relic caskets were found in deposits contemporaneous with the Northern Black Polished Ware, they could be dated to the fifth-fourth centuries B.C., and thus earlier than the inscribed relic casket discovered by Peppe at a higher lever, and also distinguished stratigraphically. The possibility that the stupa at Piprahwa could be the same as that constructed by the Sakyas at Kapilavastu over their share of relics received at Kushinagar increased.”

 one of the soapstone caskets found by Srivastava

Having settled the doubts regarding originality of Piprahwa Stupa and the original relics of Buddha, Srivastava resumed excavation work on the ruins of a monastery on the eastern side. During excavation of the cells and the veranda on the northern side, Srivastava’s team was able to find about 40 terracotta sealings at various depths and spots. Most of the sealings were round with few being oval. Each Sealing had one of the following embossed on a side.

1.”Om Devaputra Vihare Kapilavastu Bhikkhusamghasa.”

(The term Devaputra means Son of Gods, but was a title given to themselves by Kushan Kings like Kanishka or Huvishka. The legend therefore can be read as:)

Om of the community of monks of Kapilavastu in the monastery of Kanishka or Huvishka”

2.”Maha Kapilavastu Bhikshusamghasa”

Which means

Of the community of Buddhist monks of great Kapilavastu”

3.“ Sarandasasa.”

(The third group carry the names of monks. One of them has been read as above)

 sealings bearing the legend “Kapilavastu”

After more excavations Srivastava was also able to find two massive burnt brick structural complexes, with impressive projected entrances to the east and many other structures. In a nearby site at in Ganwaria, even more burnt brick structures were found. There was a surprise silence of about three years, before Archeological survey of India finally announced, much to the heartburn of their Nepali counterparts, that the real Kapilavastu has been found. Srivastava says this, in his report, quite unequivocally and I quote:

The proximity of these structures to the ancient site of Piprawha, where the sealings with the name of Kapilavastu were found, their impressive size and constructional features and the large quantity of

antiquities found within them, leave little doubt that the structures formed the residential complex of the chief of the capital town, Kapilavastu, i.e., the Sakya King Suddhodhana and his predecessors.”

 Piprahwa Ruins

Archeological Survey of India has now put up signs at the sites in Piprahwa and Ganwaria stating that the sites are, where original Kapilvastu in which Goutama Buddha grew up, stood once. Uttar Pradesh state of India has renamed that area as Kapilavastu and tour operates have started including Piprahwa as Kapilavastu in their tours. New Delhi’s National Museum proudly displays the urn containing the Buddha relics.

 Piprahwa Stupa and the ruins

Does it mean that the controversy is now over? It does not seem so. Nepali archeologists and large section of the scholars refuse to accept India’s claims and many more studies are going on. They also point out that Indian archeologists have failed to find any ruins of fortifications and gates around the ancient city at Piprahwa, which exist in Tiaurkot. The main lacuna in Nepali standpoint however remains to be absence of a Stupa carrying relics.

 Ganwaria ruins

There is one more loose end, which bothers me. William Peppe, in his detailed description, mentions finding of gold pieces, pearls and all kinds of precious stones in the Piprahwa Stupa along with the caskets. He appears to be a man genuinely interested in Archeology and considering the manner he has chosen to give description of these treasures, found inside Stupa, it seems highly unlikely that he had just disposed of these treasures for his gains. The archeological treasures have to be some where, safely kept by him.

It now appears that this loose end, the other contents found by William Peppe, had surfaced in London in 2004 themselves.

(To be continued)

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About chandrashekhara

I am a retired electronics engineer. I am interested in writing, reading books. Other hobbies include Paper models, wooden fret work and social networking.

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