Settlement in Early Historic Ganga Plain

by Chirantani Das | 143,447 words

This page relates “From Arama to Vihara” 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).

Principal Protestant faiths Buddhism and Jainism, rising on the fragments of the later vedic culture and based on democratic principles was never fully integrated into it despite their indebtedness and acquaintance. Their base was the new Magadhan kingdom still out of the pale of hard core Vedic culture. Rajagriha being the first capital of Magadha enjoyed royal attention and patronage. These new faiths depended largely on people’s sympathy and donation. Therefore for them there was no other better place to hover around. Nalanda, being located at the suburb of Rajagriha was often visited by them. So the Rajagriha-Nalanda region formed the base of these new cultural groups.

Initially they were attached to the idea of wandering asceticism and therefore had no fixed residence. They took shelter just anywhere. But the situation became different during the rains because the monks had to take shelter at that time. We learn from the Vinayas that the monks took shelter in a cattle pen, went on a journey with a caravan or a ship, in a hollow tree, in a house for keeping dead bodies, under a sunshade or anywhere in an individual basis. That seriously hampered the unity of the samgha.[1] Their travelling during the rains was seriously objected by the general public because it destroyed new green herbs, insects and other tiny creatures which are very active in this season. So on popular demand the Buddha decided to take a temporary retreat during the rains for one month-from the full moon of Asalha till a month. From then the vassavasa came into being.[2] This created the core of sangharama. The word is a compound of two words. Sangha means the association comprising the Buddha himself and his disciples. Arama means rest. Where the sangha took rest that could be called sangharama. So the term is applied loosely and means a temporary settlement. In the early days of Buddhism the Buddha had his favourite spots mainly in the major cities which can be called sangharamas.

Situation changed after the Buddha accepted to take a mandatory rain retreat. Due to lack of living spaces the monks started to stay in the woods, foot of trees, hill sides or caves in the rains. They had to go through a lot of trouble for that. On the suggestion of the Setthi of Rajagriha the Buddha allowed them to stay in viharas, addhayogas, storied dwellings, attics and caves. Apart from these five types of residences the Buddha also permitted the monks to accept some other unusual adjunct places like a store room, a refectory, a fire room, a warehouse, a privy, a place to walk in, a house to walk in, a well, a well-house, a gantaghara, a gantaghara-room, a lotus pond, a pavilion, a park or the site of park.[3] The suggestion appeared to be very attractive to the Buddhais apparent fromhis statement that viharas kept the monks safe from heat and cold, serpents and other crawling beings in the rains and from the attack of cold. Viharas are the places where the monks can stay in safety and peace, where they can meditate are the best gift to the samgha.[4] On the other hand monks were advised to stay in viharas only if they are gifted by some lay devotees. At a very early stage one such upasaka named Udena of Koshala built one such vihara for the monks.[5] The setthi of Rajagriha erected sixty dwelling places ready in a single day. After the Buddha’s permission people went on building viharas for the monks. It will be a mistake to think that these viharas were in nature of poor hermitage that only solved the problem of lodging. Rather pomp and grandeur can characterise these early monasteries. They were lofty and provided with minute architectural and building details for the purpose of utility and comfort. All amenities were made available in the form of a wide range of furniture and supporting staffs. The Vinayas informed that how people went on building viharas once the Buddha permitted that. Such viharas were furnished with doors with key holes and could be locked. Viharas had wooden windows with railings, blinds, shutters and had plastered walls and roofs. There were verandahs, covered terraces, inner verandahs, over hanging eaves and plastered roofs and walls.[6] The walls were painted with red chalk or were kept white washed. Imaginative paintings were done on them for decoration.The Buddha prescribed five types of roofing-brick, stone, cement, straw and leaves. Of them the first three are more durable and mostly found inthe remains of the Buddhist viharas. At Nalanda, therewas brick roofing. To guard against animals or intruders the Buddha suggested to enclose the vihara with bamboo or thorn fences or with ditches. Viharas had a storerooms, low basement, high basement, service hall, closets, cloisters, exercise halls, wells, bathrooms and attached halls with bathrooms, ponds and open roofed sheds for different purposes. These had a range of furniture to satisfy different needs. A range of furniture was also available for the inmates like bedstead, different types of chair, sofa, cushioned chairs, cupboards, bone hooks to hang clothes.[7] Arrangement and comfort did not end there. A number of staffs were engaged in non spiritual and managerial affairs so that the monks can devote their full energy and time for their spiritual and educational attainments. The apportioner or distributor of lodging places had the duty to allot sleeping places to bhikshus according to availability.[8] Probably the same office coupled with the responsibility of apportioning of rations. A monk named Dabba-the Mallian voluntarily accepted both duties.[9] Other officials mentioned are overseer of stores, receiver of robes, congey, fruits, distributor of fruits, distributor of dry foods, disposer of trifles (needle, pair of scissors, sandals and braces, girgle, filtering cloth, regulation, stainer etc.), receiver of under garments, receiver of bowls, Aramikas who kept the floor of the arama in order, superintendent of Aramikas, superintendent of Samaneras.[10]

From the very beginning the aramas or temporary rests grew out in the most elaborate manner. Every architectural and logistical detail was taken care of to provide utmost comfort and convenience to the monks to minimise their concern for mundane needs. So, within the lifetime of the Buddha, from the loose and floating state the Buddhist samgha emerged as a tightly regulated organisation with its own protocols and followers.

Location of these aramas reveals a pattern. Since the monks had to depend on people for their alms and other mundane needs, they could not afford to go far from them. Also the question of winning the support and affiliation from them was important. So the Buddha suggested a very strategic position for such monasteries. They should be located not too far from the town and not toonear, convenient for going and coming,easily accessible for all who wished to visit him, by day not too crowded, by night not too exposed to toomuch noise and alarm, protected from the wind, hidden from men, well fitted fro religious life.[11] Following this pattern all the aramas sprang up in the suburbs of important early historical cities. The most famous of them was the Jetavana of Sravasti donated by Setthi Anathapindika. This arama had many dwelling rooms, store rooms, service halls and other necessities. Other early viharas were Yasthivana, Venuvana, Sitavana monasteries of Rajagriha, Purbarama at Sravasti, Mahavana and Kutagara hall and mango grove at Vaishali and Nigrodharama at Kapilavastu. Ghositarama at Kaushambi and the mango-grove of Chunda-the smith at Pava.[12]

Footnotes and references:


Friedrich Maxmüller ed. & translated from Pali by T.W. Rhys Davids and Hermann Oldenberg, Mahavagga, 3.12, Vinaya Text, Part l, Sacred Book of the East, Vol 13, Oxford, 1881,pp.317-18.


Ibid, Mahavagga 3. 1, 2, 3, pp.298- 301.


Ibid, Mahavagga, 3.5 pp.302-03.


Friedrich Maxmüller ed. & translated from Pali by T.W. Rhys Davids and Hermann Oldenberg, Kullavagga, Sixth Khandaka, VinayaText, part. lll, Sacred Book of the East, vol. 20, Oxford, 1885, pp.158-60.


Mahavagga, 3.5, Vinaya text, part I, op.cit. p.302.


Kullavagga, 6.2,3, Vinaya Text, part III, SBE 20, op. cit. pp. 163-64,174-75.


Kullavagga, Sixth khandaka,2,3,4 SBE 20,op.cit.,pp.164-189


Kullavagga,Sixth Khandaka, 11,SBE 20, op.cit. p.202


Kullavagga, Fourth khandaka, 2,3, SBE 20, op.cit. pp.5,6


Kullavagga, Sixth Khandaka, 21,SBE 20,op.cit.pp.221-22


Radha kumud Mookerji, Ancient Indian Education, Bramanical and Buddhist, Delhi, Motilal Banarasidass Publishers Pvt. Ltd. 1989, pp.442-43.


Ibid pp.442- 43.

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