Settlement in Early Historic Ganga Plain

by Chirantani Das | 143,447 words

This page relates “Surroundings of Nalanda” 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).

Before flourishing as a prominent educational centre, Nalanda was laden with the memories of the greatest luminaries of the age. It had been a seat of emerging philosopho-religious sects. The Buddha’s regular visit to the place has been furnished in detail in some of the Buddhist texts. Mahavira spent fourteen rainy seasons in the Rajagriha-Nalanda region. Here he met Makkhaliputta Goshala of the Ajivika sect. Nalanda’s exposure to this new culture is probably due to its convenient location and the facilities that were available here. In the early period Nalanda owed its identity and growth to Rajagriha for being close to it. In both the Buddhist and Jaina texts it has been mentioned as the bahirika or suburb of Rajagriha. The Jaina Sutrakritanga describes Nalanda was located to the north east suburb of Rajagriha. The whole region of Rajagriha and Nalanda was described prosperous. Nalanda was furnished with many mansions. Here the wealthy householder Lepa resided. His wealth consisted of large houses, beds, seats, vehicles, chariots, gold, silver, many male and female slaves and staffs, cows, buffaloes and sheep. He was a follower of Jaina faith.[1] He held a beautiful bath hall containing hundred pillars, named Sheshadravya. The name of his park was Hastiyama.[2] Another Jaina text Kalpasutra of Bhadrabahu speaks of some hundred Jaina shrines located at Nalanda.

In the Digha Nikaya we often find the Buddha and his convoy moving from Rajagriha to Nalanda. In one such occasion he was moving with five hundred disciples. In his regular route he usually took a halt at the royal park of Ambalithika which was located midway between Rajagriha and Nalanda. Here he spent some time discoursing on his principles with some rival sects.[3] In the same text, a rich Brahmin village Khanumata was located somewhere very close to Ambalithika. The Buddha sometimes passed from here also.[4] Another favourite place of the Buddha in the area was Pavarika mango grove. It was located near Nalanda though the exact location was not clear.[5] Hirananda Shastri suggested that it may be somewhere at Silao.[6]

The fact that at Nalanda infant Buddhism found a favourable ground is found in the Kevaddha Sutta where it has been called a populous place with people following the Buddhist creed.[7] Like the Buddha, Nalanda was a seat of other heterodox sects also. In the third year of his penance Mahavira took a rain retreat in a weaver’s shed. At the same time Makkhaliputra Goshala also reached there. He was so impressed with Mahavira that he wanted to be his disciple. Being refused for thrice he was finally accepted as a disciple and then they had a long and eventful companionship. Later Goshala got separated to form his own doctrine and sect.[8] Fa-hien’s description of the place is very scanty. He says that the village of Nalo is located at a distance of a yojana to the south west of Rajagriha. He calls it the birthplace of Sariputra, one of the closest disciples of the Buddha. Sariputra died here too and a stupa was built where his body was burnt.[9] His description of this village matches exactly with Nalanda. So this view finds support among a group of scholars. The Jatakas furnished another version that Sariputra was born at Nala. There died both Sariputra and Moggallana.[10] This village is identified with Nalaka. Probably Fa-Hien visited the same place and not Nalanda. So he never mentioned monastic establishments at Nalanda.

N.L. Dey reminds us that according to Bhadrakalpa Avadana the birthplace of Sariputra was Naradagrama, while Mahavastu Avadana says he was born at Alanda, four miles from Rajagriha. Dey thinks both places are variations of Nalanda.[11] From contradictory opinions it becomes difficult to make out what was the birthplace of Sariputra or its identification with Nalanda. The only thing that draws attention that Fa–Hien visited India around 404 CE. By that time Nalanda already grew as an educational centre. Had the pilgrim visited the place, he must have mentioned the monastic buildings, which he did not. So in all probabilities it appears that he visited the insignificant village Nalo near Rajagriha which he identifies with the birthplace of Sariputra and not Nalanda. However it will be difficult to say whether Nalanda was the birthplace of Sariputra.

Footnotes and references:


Hirananda Shastri, op.cit. pp. 8,9


Subodh Kapur, Encyclopaedia of Ancient Indian Geography, Vol. II New Delhi, Cosmo Publication, 2002, p.485


Maurice Walshe, The Long Discourses of the Buddha, A Translation of the Dīgha Nikāya, Boston, Wisdom Publications, 1995,Brahmajala Sutta, pp.67-8.


Ibid, Kutadanta Sutta, pp.133-34.


Ibid, Sampasadaniya Sutta, p.417.


Hirananda Shastri, op.cit. p.12.


Dīgha Nikāya, op.cit. Kevaddha Sutta, p.175.


A.L. Basham, History and Doctrines of the Ajivikas, Delhi, Motilal Banarasidass Publishers Pvt. Ltd., 2002, p.39.


James Legge, A Record of Buddhistic kingdoms, Being an Account by the Chinese Monk Fa-Hien of His Travels in India and Ceylon, Translated and annotated by James Legge, Oxford, 1886, p.81


E.B. Cowell, ed., &translated from Pali by Robert Chalmers, The Jātaka or Stories of The Buddha’s Former Births, vol. I, no.95, Mahasudassana Jataka, Delhi, Motilal Banarasidass Publishers Pvt. Ltd., 1990, pp.230-31.


N.L. Dey, The Geographical Dictionary of Ancient and Medieval India, Delhi, Low Price Publications, 1927, reprint 1990,’94, p.136.

Like what you read? Consider supporting this website: