Settlement in Early Historic Ganga Plain

by Chirantani Das | 143,447 words

This page relates “Buildings of 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).

Gordon Childe thinks monumental buildings distinguish cities from villages. Vijay Thakur also takes it as a necessary urban feature. Such buildings create awe in the heart of the visitor. In case of early historical India there are not many monumental buildings. Ghosh thinks the buildings mentioned in the Pali literature might be made of perishable items and therefore do not exist anymore. He did not attach much importance to this criterion because of a general absence of monumental buildings in the beginning of the early historical age. He thinks monumental buildings in the form of religious shrines did not exist in early India like ancient Sumer or Egypt because religious thought in early historical India did demand any such colossal shrine.

In the context of early India as well as Rājagṛha he said the Jivakarama monastery at Rājagṛha had an elliptical structure suggesting the earliest layout of stupa. There are two other contemporary structures at Rājagṛha -Ajātaśatru’s stūpa and the Veṇuvana complex. From Hiuen Tsang’s description we know that Veṇuvana monastery was located about one li from the north gate of the mountain city. The site had a circuit of 770 feet (235 metres). Towards its northern limit, a mound of debris has been found. Marshall thinks that the vihara seen by Fa-Hien and Hiuen Tsang was buried under the mound. A few trial trenches were dug out by Dr. Bloch both around the large grave on the top and on the eastern slope.[1] The Buddhist texts referred it as a favourite hang out place of the Buddha. The site was carefully chosen as not to far from city facilities yet not too close to the city’s bustle.

Both Fa-Hien and Hiuen Tsang mentioned Ajātaśatru’s Tope located 300 paces outside the west gate. Having obtained one portion of the Buddha’s body relics Ajātaśatru built this stupa.[2] A. Ghosh on the other hand referred to Manjusri Mulakalpa which says Ajātaśatru’s stūpa was within the Veṇuvana area. Therefore it may be the mound to the left of the modern road. Stone remains of this structure might be found there.[3]

Another important site in old Rājagṛha was the Saptaparṇīcave or hall where the first Buddhist council was held. Here Maha Kāśyapa with 999 arhats compiled the Tripiṭakas. Hiuen Tsang reports that in front of this cave a large hall was built by Ajātaśatru for the accommodation of arhats.[4] The Vinaya text mentions that in the rainy season following the death of the Buddha met at Rājagṛha because in Rājagṛha alms is plentiful and there is no want of lodging places.[5] It might not have been easy to accommodate large number of arhats in the cave and Ajātaśatru built this hall. Though the site is known as Ajātaśatru’s stūpa it is not beyond question that Ajātaśatru really built it. John Marshall questions the reliability of Chinese traveller’s accountand even expressed his doubt about the Buddhist council of Rajagriha.[6] In his view the structure’s identification is not beyond question.

There are some other buildings at Rājagṛha but probably made on a later date. None of them are very impressive, thus not fulfilling Childe’s criteria of urbanism. Ghosh offers a probability that in early India buildings were made of perishable items and therefore did not exist for long. Again he says that absolute absence of any building equipments does not support such a contention.[7]

Footnotes and references:


Mohammad Hamid Quraishi, Revised by A. Ghosh,“Rajgir” New Delhi, Published by the Director General, Archaeological Survey of India, 1987 pp. 13-14.


James Legge, Travels of Fa-Hien or Record of Buddhist kingdoms, chapter XXVIII, New York, Cosimo Classics, 2005,p.80.


A. Ghosh, op. cit, 1987, p. 14.


Watters, op. cit, 1961, p.159.


Friedrich Maxmüller ed. & translated from Pali by T.W. Rhys Davids and Hermann Oldenberg, Kullavagga, XI.1, 2,Vinaya Text, part. lll, Sacred Book of the East, vol. 20, Oxford, 1885,p.372.


John Marshall, op. cit,1905- 06, p.100


A. Ghosh, The City in Early historical India, Simla, Indian Institute of Advanced Study, 1973,pp.67-

Like what you read? Consider supporting this website: