Settlement in Early Historic Ganga Plain

by Chirantani Das | 143,447 words

This page relates “Archaeological surveys in and around Rajgir” 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 11 - Archaeological surveys in and around Rajgir

Archaeological surveys are in no way exhaustive in and around Rajgir. Though some success has been achieved in exploration and identification of the Buddhist sites this is far from being satisfactory and things are far poorer as regards the other religious settlements and sites. It has already been shown that an Ājīvika base grew out at Bodhgaya. From the Jātakas we learn that Ājīvikism developed as a dominant religious force in the Middle Gaṅgā Plain during Gośāla’s lifetime and Rājagṛha, Udddandapura, Campā, Vārāṇasī, Alabhiya, Vaiśālī and Savatthi were the successive and principal centres of Ājīvia activities until Gośāla attained his Jinahood. The Jaina Bhagavati Sutra mentioned these names in connection with a line of Ajivika teachers who preceded Goshala. They were Enejjaga at Rājagṛha, Kallarama at Uddandapura, Mandiya at Campā, Roha at Vārāṇasī, Bharaddai at Alabhiya, Ajjuna Goyamaputta at Vaiśālīand lastly Makkaliputta Gośāla at Savatthi.120 On the basis of these successive names B. M. Barua concludes that the Ājīvika movement initially started as a local movement in the Rājagṛha region but shortly within a century it broke the confines of Rajagriha and reached the Middle country. In the east west the movement spanned from from Campā to Savatthi.121

Buddhist sources mention that the Ājīvikas only recognized three teachers–Nanda Vaccha, Kisa Samkicca and Makkhali Goshala. Since we don’t have any literary work of their own the Ājīvika representation in contemporary, rival texts is somewhat biased. But this did not hinder us to know their area of movement. From the Jaina sources it has been derived that Mahāvīra and Gośāla were very close to each other. Together they spent quite a long time. In the beginning of his career Gośāla maintained himself by following the profession of a bard. His name suggests his hereditary profession was that as the word mankha means a bard. He moved to places as his job demanded and one day he met Mahāvīraat a weaver’s colony at Nālandā near Rājagṛha.122 Other Jaina authors like Padmanabha S. Jaini also maintains that Gośāla was indeed a bard in his early life, spinning tales and showing pictures to people for entertainment. Regular movement of these religious preachers brought the people into close contact with them and made this region into a discursive field for the growth of a superior philosophy like Buddhism, on the other hand made a rich clientele for these new religious orders. For the commoners presence of heretic groups in their locality kept them aware of the heretical movements of the day. Buddhism had a relatively late emergence characterised by a rich but simple philosophy which could attract a large number of people.

Another factor that largely accounts for the diffusion of the Buddhist philosophy was the Buddha’s regular movement and interaction with the people of the whole of Gaṅgā Plain. In this region the Buddha was often seen passing between Rājagṛha and Nālandā and halting at Ambalithika.123With Ambalithika as the base the Buddha could regularly contact with the people of Aṅga and Magadha. We hear of the Brahmin Kūṭadanta of the Khanumata village located somewhere between Rājagṛha and Nālandā. This was a prosperous village gifted to the Brahmin Kūṭadanta by king Bimbisāra. The Buddha had a long discourse with him and finally had him as his lay follower.124Again in another occasion the Buddha was travelling in the Aṅga country and reached Campā which was a populous and wealthy place and here he had a long discourse with the Brahmin Sona Daṇḍa.125

The Buddha also had a discussion with the householder Kevaddha while he was staying at Pāvārika’s Mango Grove at Nālandā.[1] These routes running over ancient Aṅga-Magadha Mahājanapadas frequented by the Buddha formed a part of the Buddhist topography that may be demonstrated by the limited archaeological excavations of the region. A few available examples may explain the case in point. The monastic site of Chandimao, 12 km east of Silao in the Rajgir-Bihar Sharif road has been excavated recently By the ASI. A brick-built temple had been the main finding of this excavation. Twelve votive stūpas were discovered to the north and south of the temple. Most of them were circular at the base and have hemispherical tops. A few pottery specimens found at the site were of Red Ware types with Plain or sometimes with a reddish slip. Other artefacts like terracotta objects, sealings, images of Hindu and Buddhist pantheon of the 8th- 9th centuries CE were present at the site.[2] Though the antiquities found at the spot were of a much later date the site and many others like this formed a Buddhist circuit in the Rājagṛha-Nālandā area which was also a part of a much bigger Buddhist zone already developed within the lifetime of the Buddha. Perhaps sites like this operated as halting points in the sojourn of the Buddha along this route and later grew as monastic sites under devout Buddhist rulers like the Pālas because the area formed the core region of their territory. A similar monastic site is Nongarh in the Jamui sector at Lakhisarai district. A stūpa mound made of well-burnt bricks and remnants of a monastery were reported from the site though in a much ruined condition. Three Yakṣinī figures of early centuries CE were recovered from the site. Dilip K. Chakrabarti put them to the first century CE. Moreover he identified a small BRW settlement nearby towards the main Lakhisarai-Jamui road and bearing antiquities of an early date.

BRW layers were also reported from Jhimjhimiya-Kalisthan of Sahebganj.[3] Settlements existed in this belt from the pre-Buddhist times and came under Buddhist influence since the days of the Buddha. Such Buddhist sites are scattered all over the Aṅga-Magadha region. They are often located in the hinterland or along the trade routes-a fact that has been recognised by both Dilip K. Chakrabarti[4] and Monica L. Smith.[5] In this case a prominent Buddhist landscape can be noted both in the hinterland and trade routes by the presence of scores of stūpas, monasteries, sculptures revealed by excavations. This was an area with two supreme and earliest of urban sites of Rājagṛha and Campā and both also participants of long distance trade. Trade routes passed through this region and other than ruling class major patrons of Buddhism were the merchants, guilds, artisans and various other professional groups located near these trade routes. Therefore monasteries often established by merchants’ money grew up along these trade routes and pilgrimage and trade routes are the one and the same. On the basis of knowledge and understanding so far attained it appears that the popularity and patronage that Buddhism gained mainly created this wide distribution of Buddhist sites in this belt and elsewhere. The overall emergent picture is that Buddhism created a wide popular base in Aṅga-Magadha area and rendered a cultural fabric to the urban sector.

With the broadening of Rājagṛha’s cultural circuit we see several small to medium rural to semiurban sites springing up in the suburbs or along the routes accessed by various groups, where there was the scope of human movement and had the amenities were available. In the next segment, growth of Nālandā as a Buddhist cum chief cultural satellite of Rājagṛha will show the inter settlement relations in this particular context.

Footnotes and references:


Ibid.,Kevaddha Sutta, 11.1, p.175.


Indian Archaeology 2000- 2001, A Review, ASI, New Delhi, p.18.


Dilip K. Chakrabarti, op.cit., 2001, pp. 173-75


Dilip K. Chakrabarti,op.cit., 1995, p.192.


Monica L. Smith, The Archaeology of South Asian Cities in Journal of Archaeological Research, 14(2): 97-142p.120.

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