Settlement in Early Historic Ganga Plain

by Chirantani Das | 143,447 words

This page relates “Water-Drainage System (regarding Rajagriha)” as it appears in the case study regarding the settlements in the Early Historic Ganga Plain made by Chirantani Das. The study examines this process in relation to Rajagriha and Varanasi (important nodal centres of the respective Mahajanapadas named Magadha and Kashi).

Part 10 - Water-Drainage System (regarding Rājagṛha)

Both the Arthaśāstra and the Mānasāra categorise cities and towns on their respect to the water sources nearby. To mention a few both the texts mention “Droṇamukha”. It is a prominent town at the midst of 400 villages on the right or left bank of a river that is connected to the sea.[1] An administrative headquarter or revenue post (Sthaniya, Karvatika, Samgrahana)all should be established between villages, at the confluence of rivers or on the bank of a lake that never dries up. That lake may be a natural or man-made lake. Any commercial post like panyapattanam, kevala, kheta all should be located on the banks of a river.[2] To summarise all the important towns must be erected at the vicinity of of a river or a perennial source of water. That never dries up. In those texts importance of water was truly recognized. Our concern is to investigate how far Rājagṛha fulfills these criteria.

Sumagadhi or Sumagadha:

The Ramayana refers to the Magadhi or Sumagadhi–this charming river that enters and exits the town Vasumati (Rajagriha). Magadha province is well known as the worthy river Magadhi and flowing amid the five of these five mountains it shines forth like a garland enwreathing them.[3] The next verse verse is even more implicative. It says that the river Magadhi is related to the development works of the king Rama and Vasu flows east its confluence in the Ganga and best farmlands and crops are raised on its course.[4] (“this Magadhi is that river which pertains to the developmental works of the great-souled king Vasu and oh, Rama, flowing towards east to its confluence in Ganga, this river garlands best farmlands and their crops on its way.”) From the descriptions and in all probabilities it emerges that the Ramayana identifies Sumagadhi is the Son. N.L. Dey is of the same opinion that Sumagadhi is the Son and flows from the eastern side of the Rajagriha. The reason of this opinion may be the importance attached to it the epic. The Son is the largest river of the region and Dey took Sumagadhi as the Son. There are enough reasons to refute the view of N. L. Dey. First the Mahabharata mentions Sona and Mahasona which are crossed by the pandavas while going towards Rājagṛha. It was a nada because its width. On the basis of references in the epics it emerges Sona emerges Sona as a separate river was knownon those days. Therefore Sumagadhi and Sona are not same. More importantly present Son flows quite far off Rajagriha and that is to the west of Rajagriha. But in the Ramayana Sumagadhi is said to have flown to the east of Rajagriha. If Sumagadhi is the Son then it is almost impossible that the river Son has changed its course so much from the original position. Going by this logic Sumagadhi cannot be Son. Moreover the Buddhist sources had some other opinion about Sumagadhi. Both Digha Nikaya and Samyutta Nikaya point out that the Sumagadha or Sumagadhi as a tank, which stood somewhere in the outer city of Rajagriha. The two names Sumagadhi and Mora nivapa(peacock’s feeding ground) occurred togetherin the Digha Nikaya. These are the two places occasionally visited by the Buddha. They are situated near Gijjhakuta or vulture’s peak.[5] Therefore the Buddhist sources point to the Sumagadhi as a tank or a pond. B.C. Law also goes with the Buddhist sources and locates it near Gridhrakuta. The landed property of Udumbarika Devi lay near this tank and river Sappini flows near it. A famous Brahmin village Eknala is also located near it.

A female figure has been discovered from the Maniyar math. It bears the the inscription “bhagini Sumagadhi” it is not known whether it had any link with the sumagadhi tank or the tank is named after any lady named Sumagadhi cannot be confirmed.[6]

Is Sumagadhi Sakari? Near Rajagriha there flows another river named Sakari. It rises in the high hills of Chhotanagpur and flows through the Hazaribagh, Gaya, Patna and Monghyr districts. It flows to the east of the city. From description of the Ramayana from every possibility M.S. Pandey thinks it to be Sumagadhi. Presently it flows over Rājagṛha and Pandey thinks it is not impossible that that the river Sumagadhi has slightly changed its course which earlier flew to the east of Rājagṛha. Thereby he believes that Sumagadhi is present sakari. The Mahabharata speaks of another river Shuktimati and Beglar identifies it with sakari.

Panchanae or Sappini? Next important river close to Rājagṛha is Panchanae. Its real name is Panchanana or having five mouths. The river is formed by five streams meeting together at the south of Rajagriha. The river finally meets the Ganga. The river has alternatively as Sappini. The name is probably has got the name from its winding course. Samyutta Nikaya records once the Buddha visited the bank of this river to meet some wanderers. It was a large retreat of wanderers.[7] Considering the similarity in the course, location, and nature of Sappini and modern Panchanan one may conclude that both are the same.


Another very significant river flowing near Rajagriha is Phalgu. The river had historical and mythical importance attached to it. Two rivers Niranjana and Mohana unite together above gaya to form the river Phalgu. Beside the Niranjanariver Gautama attained enlightenment and became the Buddha. Combined stream of Niranjana and Mohana flows under the name Phalgu and near the Barabar hill bifurcates again and later unites with other insignificant rivers and then the united stream is known as the Harohar.[8]

Hiuen Tsang speaks of the Mo-Ha river, that he crossed going east from the Bodhi tree district. From Thomas Watters’ commentary we learn that Julien thinks this Mo-Ha is actually Mahi. But Watters thinks that Chinese Mo-ha cannot denote Mahi. Rather he thinks Mo-ha may stand for a proper noun denoting simply a great or large river. (maha means great in Sanskrit.) The pilgrim mentions while going east from Mo-ha river through a forest he reached Kukkutapada mountain with high peaks.[10]

Tapodas or hot springs:

Rajagriha is famous for its hot springs scattered all over and the fact is attested by variety of literature. The Mahabharata praise the holy waters of these hot springs (tapodas) for purificatory baths. They are known as tapodas. The Jaina sources refer to the Vipulaas the sacred hill where one may find cold and hot springs. Along the hill Sarasvati and other streams with water with healing qualities flow.[11]


Tapodarama is a Buddhist retreat or monastery derived its name from Tapoda, a hot waterlake says Budhaghosha.[12] Tapoda is the name of a stream which fed the Tapoda lake. From that lake flows the hot Tapoda river between two boiling purgatories. So the water is so hot. While the Buddhist literature mentions Tapoda as a hot river, the Mahabharata uses Tapodah as a plural form to indicate hot springs in and Rājagṛha.

Hiuen Tsang speaks of two hot springs ten li above Yashtivana made and usedby the Buddha himself. His commentator Watters identifies the two hot springs with Ta-pu–ho or hot river and tapodarama or hot water monastery near Rājagṛha often found in the Buddhist literature. In this connection he also says there are a number of hot springs in the neighbourhood of Rājagṛha. Perhaps Watters also used tapoda as a plural form to denote all the hot springs of the area.[13]

Tapoda and Sarasvati:

It has already been mentioned that along the Vipulagiri flows the stream Sarasvati. There are other sources to support the view. Tapodarama monastery is located near the Banganga defile crossing the modern over bridge over the stream Sarasvati. Travelling 182 metres right to the north gate of the outer fortification one may find it. There is a myth that one day king Bimbisara could not finish his bath in the Tapoda lake (the Sarasvati or the chief hot spring) in time and found the city gate(probably the north gate) closed and spent the night in the Venuvana vihara.[14] B.C. Law says that Tapodarama was the Buddhist retreat for monks near hot springs, Tapoda stream, lake or pool. The credit to bring this forgotten spring to limelight goes to D.N. Sen. Law agrees with Sen that that tapoda stream is no other than Sarasvati. Both the Vinaya text and the Digha Nikaya portray Tapodakandara as a retreat for the Buddhists and described it as a delightful place.[15] One Jataka story was also narrated in the Tapoda monastery.[16] Law identifies Tapodakandara as a natural cavern in the rock in the rock near hot springs and calls it Tapaban.

Kalanda Nivapa:

Hiuen Tsang refers to the Kalanda Nivapa situated one li from the north gate of the mountain city was the Kalanda bamboo park with the original lodging of stoneand brick opening to the east. The pilgrim says a notable citizen of named kalanda donated this park to the Tirthikas. When he was converted to Buddhism, he takes it back, builds a hall and lodging places in it and gives the whole to the Buddha and his community. In some versions this bamboo park was a property of king Bimbisara and he gave it to the Buddha. From the Vinaya text we know that Thera Vikshus occasionally met at the banks of kalanda Nivapa.[17] It is located 200 paces to the north of the Venuvana vihara.[18] Now it is without water.

This view of Hiuen Tsang about the location of the tank was exactly accepted by Sir John Marshall. He refutes Cunninghum’s view on this. He believes the position assigned to the Kalanda hrada By Cunninghum is wrong. In the north of the garden there is a deep tank filled with black mire and Marshall identifies it as Kalanda tank, especially when he found no other tank to identify with.[19] Ghosh too agrees with the two and places the Kalandanivapa about 150 metres of to the north of modern temples and mosques near the hot springs, immediately right to the footpath.[20]

In this connection mention may be made of another reservoir pointed out by Buchanan. He speaks of a very old road attributed to Jarasandha. Here he finds a low land which is full of water in the monsoon and completely dry in the Winter and crops are raised in it. However the water stored during the rains was stored and it was raised to an upper level to a garden at Rajagriha.

Nakve Embankment:

Marshall makes a passing reference to Nakve embankment.[21] V.H. Jackson discusses it with some detail. In connection to the city wall he says that the great embankment from Udaya-Giri known as nakveband, originally joined the city wall and the whole of drainage from the Giriyak valley was brought to Rājagṛha through a moat. Kautilya refers of setum which primarily refers to an embankment or dam built for storing water. Aharayodaka is a sort of storage tank with water brought into it through a moat.[22] This Kautilyan description matches totally with the arrangements of the Nakve embankment. Therefore we may categorise it as an Aharayodaka.

Jackson mentions another embankment which runs straight along the eastern side more than a mile upto the Gridhrakuta hill and joins with another similar structure and connects with the Bimbisara road. This may also be found from Hiuen Tsang’s description.

Hiuen Tsang speaks of other water sources in the neighbourhood of Rajgir. Gridhrakuta or Vulture’s peak which was a favourite retreat of the Buddha and His order, the Buddha permitted the Brethren to make permanent water courses for a constant flow of water to the establishment. He mentions that on the south west side of the Vipulamountain there were 500 hot springs of which he saw only a few scores. They are both cold and warm. He says all of them have sprung from Anavataptalake. The water of these springs is very clear and taste just the same like the lake. He adds fountain stream flowed in 500 branches past the small hot wells and that makes the water hot.

Besides, these springs Buchanan speaks of a small river coming from the gap of the hills and passes through an old ditch.The name of the rivulet is not known. However a little up its bank, there is a ghat named Baiturni and it is considered holy.[23]


In and around Rajagriha several wells may be seen. To begin with, to the south of the Bangangapass there is a well, containing water and two shell inscriptions some 3.65 metres below. They are obtained by Beglar and dated from Samvat 1007(950CE)[24]

A list of wells may be given here.

  1. Just outside the old south gate there is one well containing stagnant water.
  2. North West to it another similar well though it is choked with earth.
  3. Between the last mentioned one Maniyar math lies one well which is almost filled up.
  4. About fifty feet to the west of it there is another 30 feet deep well.
  5. A similar well is said to have existed to the southwest gate which cannot be found.[9]

Udakasthanam of Kautilya:

It may be relevant to note that Kautilya had a clear idea and he emphatically described the water arrangement in the town planning chapter. He says an embankment, a tank or a reservoir is immovable property. He described where and how the water courses or tanks may be built up.[25]

He suggested a constant supervision of the places supplying water. He laid down fines and punishments for damaging, obstructing or polluting natural or artificial waterworks flowing near settlements or agricultural fields. Similarly monetary rewards were given up to those who built up, repaired water works. Encroachment on public water works should be severely dealt with.[26]

The same is echoed in the Manasara which also prescribes a constant flow of water to the settlements through natural or artificial waterworks. It laid down in the south, the west or the south west should be dug tanks suitable for supplying bathing and drinking water.[27] Even the Buddhist literature prescribed creation of water tank around settlement. One of the Jataka stories refers to digging up a water tank at Rājagṛha. It was also beautified by planting five kinds of lotuses in it.[28]

Considering the principles of the ancient treatises and numerous tanks, lakes, wells, rivulets Rājagṛha fulfills the criteria of a well -planned town suitable for human settlement and to be a capital.

Though human colonisation and settlement took roots in this Aṅga-Magadha zone corresponding to modern South Bihar since the Neolithic-Chalcolithic times, some of nodal centres grew up because of some advantages to others. For Rājagṛha, its topography and its location seemed to be of overwhelming importance. Being a hill girt city it could offer a degree of security that was of high priority for the early rulers. Secondly, complex road network placed Rājagṛha at the juncture or end of important long distance routes. Having minerals and other resources at near location it virtually controlled and managed the mercantile traffic. This trade factor was linked to its location and immensely contributed to its growth as a nodal demographic cente.

Footnotes and references:


P. K. Acharya, Manasara Series l V,op.cit., X.75-76, pp.93-98. &The Arthaśāstra, 2.1.9, p. 63


The Arthaśāstra, op.cit.2.1.4, p. 63.


The Arthaśāstra, op.cit.2.1.4, p.63.


The Ramayana, Adikanda, 32.9, cited by B. C. Law, op.cit. p.25.


Ibid, 32.10


Quraishi, Revised by A. Ghosh, op.cit. p.25


Anguttara Nikayall, pp-29,176| in Ancient Literature


M.S. Pandey, op.cit., p.76


M.S. Pandey, op.cit., p.76


Thomas Watters, op.cit.,p.141


B.C. Law, Rajagriha in Ancient Literaturep. 5.


Saratthapakkisini, source-Law-rajagriha in Ancient Literature


Thomas waters, op.cit., p.147


Quraishi, Ghosh Rajgir, op.cit., p.39


Digha Nikaya, op.cit. Mahaparinibbanasutta, 3.41&42, p. 252


E. B. Cowell ed & translated from Pali by W. H. D. Rouse, The Jātaka or Stories of The Buddha’s Former Births, vol. ll, Delhi, Motilal Banarasidass Publishers Pvt. Ltd., 1990, no.167, Samiddhi Jātaka, p.39.


Friedrich Maxmüller ed. & translated from Pali by T.W. Rhys Davids and Hermann Oldenberg, Kullavagga, Eleventh Khandaka, VinayaText, part. lll, Sacred Book of the East, vol. 20, Oxford, 1885, p.380.


Watters-Hiuen Tsang, pp-161-2.


Marshall-Rajagriha and its Remains, pp.93-95.


Quraishi, Ghosh, Rajgir, op. cit.,p.12.


Marshall, Rajagriha and its Remains, p.91.


Francis Buchanan, p.133.


Francis Buchanan, p.133.


Quraishi and Ghosh, Rajgir, p. 34& V. H. Jackson, Notes on old Rajagriha, Annual report, Archaeological Survey of India, 1913-14, p.270.


The Arthashastra, 3.8.2, 3.8.6 & 9 pp. 249-50.


Ibid, 3.9, pp.252-56.


Manasara Series IV, l X. 160-61, p.71.


E.B.Cowell ed., The Jatakas, vol-l, op.cit.,no. 31, Kulavaka Jataka, p.79.

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