Settlement in Early Historic Ganga Plain

by Chirantani Das | 143,447 words

This page relates “Earliest archaeological evidence 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).

Part 3 - Earliest archaeological evidence of Nalanda

Though the literary sources amply reflect very early antiquity of Nalanda we have little archaeological data to support it. Moreover such antiquity is related to the place and not to the vihara. The growth of the vihara is generally held from the Gupta period around 5th century CE because of lack of data of earlier times. However a little hint of the early phase can be found from the ruins at monastery site 3. Seven distinct levels were found here. Of them three upper layers are of a much later date at least 6th century CE as evident from their style. The first layers are older. A tiny piece of a “Black Glazed Pot” retrieved from the earth filling of a later chamber belonging to the third layer seems to fall in the NBPW or BSW phases roughly matching with the Buddha’s time. More such finding s can only confirm an earlier date for the monastery.

Very recently a fresh wave of excavations in the second week of February 2006, have brought to notice some useful facts. In the surroundings of the monastic complex three archaeological mounds of much potential were explored. To the south-west of the main monastic area, around Jagdishpur village sherds of NBPW, BSW, BRW and RW phases have been found from a place Jaffaridih. The site has a mound with a diameter of 50 metres and represents a stupa with stone figures of seated Buddha. About 500 metres to its west the mound of Garh or Garhpur of early historical periodhas yielded ceramics of BSW, BRW, RW and other associated wares. A carnelian bead was found here. The third site called Rukmini sthana, located 1 km South east of the last site had a colossal statue of the Buddha of Pala style in a recently built temple. Ceramics found in this site fall in RW and BW category of 9th–10th centuries.[1]

Findings of the first two sites belong to a remote period and provide the missing link between the literary documents which attribute quite an early beginning of history i.e. from the time of the Buddha and his contemporary stalwarts and a total absence of corroborative archaeological evidence. Fragment of “Black Glazed Pot” found in monastery 3 was a specimen of NBPW phase contemporaneous with the Buddha thus pointed to the possibility pushing back the date of Nalanda monastery a few centuries earlier instead of the Gupta times as popularly believed. They suggested beginning of settlement in this zone at least from the Maurya period or even before. Nevertheless the evidences are scanty and isolated to come to any definite conclusion. Fresh and extensive excavation in the neighbourhood can add some more evidence in this regard.

Right from the time of the Buddha Nalanda was a stronghold of Buddhism has been amply discussed in the Buddhist texts. Even after the death of the Buddha it continued to be a seat of the Buddhist culture. The Ceylonese text “Nikaya Sangraha” (14th century) reported that after the great schism that took place in the third Buddhist council presided by Elder Moggaliputta Tissa who were known as Tirthikas were expelled from the fraternity on account of their bad conduct(crafty, dishonest, deceitful, avaricious and artful). They formed the clique “Mahasanghikas” and modified the doctrines of Sthaviravada to suit their purpose. This group settled down at Nalanda. Within 250 years of the Buddha’s deaththey further got divided into six separate groups. Nalanda which already earned a reputation for being a sacred Buddhist spot emerged as a great centre of Sarvastivadins or later Mahayanists. The nearby Uddantapuri (Bihar sharif) also became a stronghold of tantric Buddhism i.e. Vajrayana and Sahajayana.[2]

Footnotes and references:


B.R. Mani, Excavations of Stupa Site no 3 at Nalanda and early Chronological evidence in C. Mani ed. The Heritage of Nalanda, New Delhi, Aryan Books International, New Delhi, 2008, pp.18-19


Hiranand Shastri, op. cit. p.13

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