Dirty Controversy about Kapilvastu (Part 1)
Posted by worldamity on November 11, 2009
* H. L. Singh
Many great men, writers and distinguished people have expressed their concern about the sancity of Lumbini, being the birthplace of the Buddha. Edwin Arnold, the author of the poem ‘Light of Asia’, who was and is still regarded as a great Buddhist thinker, wrote: “One of the greatest of the epoch-making events in the spiritual history of mankind was marked when the “Light of Asia” was set out brightly in the central part of India, or, in other words, when the spring of Great Wisdom and Compassion gushed up there, which, in the course of time, has come to enrich the human mind through and over many centuries to follow up to the present day.”
There is a good deal of writings intended to establish connection of Kapilvastu with Koshala of India to the extent of saying that Kapilvastu was under Koshala. Sukumar Dutt, the author of ‘Buddhist Monks and Monasteries of India’, wrote: “We must not forget that the Sakiya country, at least, which Buddhism arose, stretched up in the lower slopes of the Himalayas. And in the seventh century B.C. the most powerful Kingdom was the Northern Kosala, whose capital lay under the hills, and whose power mainly depended on the mountaineers drawn from its vicinity”.
Sukumar Dutt also said that “He who brought Lumbini out of the mist of legends in the light of topography was no other than Emperor Asoka”.
Another Indian writer Dr. Nanda Kishore Devraj wrote: “The Buddha was born in 623 B.C. His father Shuddhodana, who was a king of solar dynasty under Koshala, was the chief administrator of the Shakya republic”.
In the same light the book “2500 years of Buddhism” mentioned, “It was the seventh century before the Christian era. The civilized part of India was divided into sixteen realms, eight of which were Kingdoms and the remaining republics. Among the kingdoms the most powerful were Magadha and Kosala. The little Shakya republic was ruled by the king of Kosala who received tribute from the former. The Shakyas were of the Kshatriya solar race and called themselves rajas. In the middle of the century, their chief Shuddhodana had his capital at Kapilvastu”.
Among the sacred places of Buddhism, Lumbini where the blessed one was born must inevitably come first. It has been identified with the site of Rummindei in the Nepalese Terai. As the birthplace of the Buddha, the site grew in sancity and importance….. of course, there still stands at the site a pillar engraved with an inscription commemorating the great Ashoka’s pilgrimage to this place in the twentieth year after his consecration. “Here the Buddha was born”, says the emperor, and this statement proves the identity of the sanctified spot beyond any doubt”.
The British writer John Snelling shared the above view in the following words: The man who was to become the Buddha was born about 563 BC of Kshatriya stock at a place called Lumbini. This is situated in the Terai region of what today is the republic of Nepal, immediately below the Himalayan foothills on the northern edge of the plain of the River Ganges, due north of the holy city of Baneres. He was given the name Siddharth and took the clan-name Gautama. His father, Shuddhodana, has been variously described as the King or leader of a local people known as the Shakyas or even just as prominent citizen of Kapilvasthu, the Shakyan capital. The Shakyas were in fact just of a number of more or less independent people then inhabiting this part of northern India who were politically organized into tribal republics ruled by elected aristocracies”.
John Snelling also cleverly noted that “Nepal can claim the supreme Buddhists accolade of being technically the Buddha’s birthplace, Lumbini, which lies just inside its southern frontiers, is one of the four great pilgrimage-places for Buddhists”.
Writing on the Chinese pilgrims’ view about Lumbini, Indian writer Avadesh Singh said that Chinese pilgrims have mentioned that Gautam Buddha was born in Lumbini forest close to Kapilvastu, the capital of Shakyas. It is worth mentioning that the Lumbini forest was 8 miles far south of the capital. Hiuen Tsang has written that Shuddhodana was the king of Kapilvastu, who was dependent on the king of Koshala.
The Japanese writer Nikkyo Niwano was misinformed when he said “The historical Buddha, the founder of Buddhism, was born in north-eastern India about twenty-five hundred years ago… Shuddondana was the ruler of the Shakya state which, as was the custom in India at that time, was known by the name of the rulling tribe, rather than by the name of the land it occupied. The state of the Shakyas was a small country extending from the northern border of India into what is now southern Nepal. The remains of its capital city, Kapilvastu, and the palace in which the Buddha grew up still survive to remind us of the days when the land of the Shakyas was a vital minor state in northern India”.
Controversy over Kapilvastu
That Gautam Buddha was born at Lumbini of Kapilvastu is a historical fact. Kapilvastu named after saint Kapila (early 6th century B.C.) was known not only as the home city of the Buddha, but was also known for its rith cultural heritage and natural splendors.
The hermitage of saint Kapila was on the side of the Bhagirathi river (which is now called Banganga). When King Bimbisara of Magadha asked the Buddha his birthplace, the Buddha said that it was the place from where the Himalayas could be seen. This shows that Kapilvastu was full-fledged city gifted with natural beauties. Later it was destroyed and due to neglet and natural wear and tear, identification of it became difficult.
Against this historical background, there are some attempts to distort this fact claiming that Kapilvastu is Piprahawa located in Uttar Pradesh, India. Sometime ago, Indian newspaper Aaj published a news headlined “Piprahawa in India is Kapilvastu, the home of Gautam Buddha.” In the past, too, there were attempts by Indian scholars to establish that the Buddha was born in India and that the Buddha was an Indian. In books and other writings originating from India, there are numerous mentions of this claim. As a result of this claim, a vast population of the western world was misinformed that the Buddha was born in India. The buddha was also called the ninth incarnation of Lort Vishnu. Because of the largeness of size, India has a great advantage over Nepal. The government of Uttar Pradesh is making maximum use of this advantage.
It is true that Gautam Buddha attained Enlightenment at Bodhagaya, Bihar, did Dharmachakraparivartana(turning the wheel of the doctrine) at Sarnath, a site near Benares, and passed away at Kushinagara in the Kasia district of India. This fact provided enough strength to the Indian scholarship to push ahead their claim. Since India was and is still a window of oriental culture and civillisation to the western world, it is but natural that Indian writings and literature should make a tremendous influence all over the world.
The main attraction of the Indian claim is the popularity of Buddhism. Even great Indian scholars were tempted to call the Buddha an Indian. K.M.Munshi and R.R.Diwakar wrote: “….. in 543 B.C. in Lumbini in Nepal’s Western Terai, he was born of an ancient Indian prince five centuries before Jesus. His father ruled the tribe of Shakyas under the shadow of the Himalayas”.
D. Servepalli Radhakrishnan wrote: “The Buddha did not tell that he was announcing a new religion. He was born, grew up, and died a Hindu”.
Inspite of the above statements about Kapilvastu, the Shakya tribe to which the Buddha belonged to, the location of Kapilvastu was made a subject of controversy. There is no controversy about Lumbini, the pillar erected by Ashoka in 249 B.C., events of the Buddha’s birth, childhood, renunciation, attainment of Nirvana and finally Parivirvana. Kapilvastu was referred to as the city where King Shuddhodhan reigned. It is a historical fact that the Buddha came to Kapilvastu after the attainment of Enlightenment, met his father, wife Yashodhara and son Rahula. The visit of Emperor Ashoka, Chinese prlgrims Fa Hsein in 403 A.D. and Hiuen-tsang in 636 to Kapilvastu, all the three from the Indian territory, and the accounts available from both the Chinese prilgrims found Kapilvastu in complete ruins. Hiuen Tsang wrote that the palace of King Shuddhodana was “in utter ruins” with some of its parts conveted into monastries and occupied by the mons of the the Hinayana faith. The controversy that Piprahawa is ancient Kapilvastu was raised in 1971 by Director of the Piprahawa expedition and archaeologist K.M. Srivastava. He made this claim on the basis of the discovery of an ‘original’ casket with relics of the Buddha. The story of the destruction Kapilvastu by Prince Virudhaka also called Vidudabha, son of Prasenjit, around 545 B.C. is a genuine story recorded in history. After the destruction of Kapilvastu, the Shakyas of that place went to different places….. some to Rajgriha and Vaisali, some to Vedi….. and others fled to Piplival (Piprahawa) where the Sakyas were afterwards known as Maurya.
The most important event in the history of Kapilvastu was the massacre of its citizens and the sack of the city by King Virudhaka of Kosala in B.C. 545. Virudhaka entered the town at the time of a truce and began killing the inhabitants washing the stone slabs of the Assembly Hall (Santhagara), where he was humiliated. When Lord Buddha visited Kapilvastu, after its destruction, he was ill wia a headache. Ananda, the disciple of the Buddha, was also greatly shocked seeing the city like a cemetery. When Ajatasatru of Magadha heard this, the same year he attacked over Kosala, burnt Virudhaka and his minister Ambarisha alive and annexed both Kosala and Kapilvastu in his dominion.
It is said that after the revival of Hinduism and after the emergence of Gupta rulers, Shakyas, Kapilvastu and Buddhism suffered a setback and the importance of Kapilvastu declined. The once prosperous and shining Kapilvastu was neglected. And, in course of time, due to this negligence, Kapilvastu was nearly forgotten. But this argument is less convincing. The destruction of Kapilvastu by Virudhaka is a concrete evidence of the disappearance of Kapilvastu.
According to scholar Bhuwan Lal Pradhan, the Indian government’s motive in identifying Piprahawa as ancient Kapilvastu is worth suspicions as well as baseless. It is Tilaurakot which is ancient Kapilvastu. There are still the remains of ancient monuments, structures like stupas, monasteries, etc. The remains of the palace of Kingh Shuddhodana, old coins found there and the presence of the Banganga river known in the past by the name of Bhagirathi are living proofs of the authenticity of Tilaurakot as ancient Kapilvastu.
The claim made by the Uttar Pradesh government based on the discovery of a casket with the relic of the Buddha and the terracotta seals and structural remains is motivated by factors other than the cultural and archaeilogical ones. Besides this propaganda, the government of Uttar Pradesh has undertaken construction works to give a face-lift to Piprahawa and to win recognitin for Piprahawa as ancient Kapilvastu. Naugadh district of Uttar Pradesh was renamed Kapilvastu district some years ago. Besides this, some places of Uttar Pradesh have been renamed Siddhartha Janapath. Thus, it is evident that the Uttar Pradesh government’s move, has been calculated towards seeking recognition of Piprahawa as ancient Kapilvastu.
Even before the discovery of the Lumbini pillar by Dr. A. Fuhrer, efforts had been made to study about the archaelogical treasures in Nepal and India. Charles Allen writes: “Vincent Smith, a Trinity College Dublin man, son of a well-known Anglo-Irish numismatist and archaeologist, … read many times over the latest translations of the Indian travels of Fa Hian, Huan Tsang and others. While serving as magistrate of the town of Basti, about a hundred and twenty-five miles north of Benares, he thoroughly explored the surrounding countryside – and came to the conclusion that many of Cunningham’s identifications of Buddhist sites in the plains country south of the Himalayan hills of Nepal were wrong. In 1885 Mr. Duncan Ricketts, manager of an estate whose lands extended to the Nepalese border, came to him with news of a stone pillar sticking up out of the ground about five miles north of his bungalow, well inside Nepalese territory. It was inadvisable for a British official to tresspass across the frontier, so Simith asked for a rubbing to be made of the inscriptions on the pillar. They were identified as ‘medieval scribbling’, so Vincent Smith left the matter there. It was probably the greatest mistake he ever made.
Like Vincent Smith, Dr. Lawrence Austine Waddell pored over Cunni gham’s Archaelogical Survey Reports and came to the conclusion that Cunnigham had got a lot wrong, particularly in his siting of the places associated with Gautam Buddha’s birth and death.
For many years past, Waddell later wrote, “I had been devoting a portion of holidays to a search for this celebrated ancient site- Kapilvastu as well as for that of the Buddha’s death – Kusinagara ever since I had realised that General Cunningham’s identification of the villages of Bhuila and Kesia with those sites was clearly altogether false.
Against this historical background, there are some attempts to distort the fact that the Buddha was born in India claiming that Kapilvastu is Piprahawa which is located in Uttar Pradesh, India. There were attempts by Indian scholars to establish that the Buddha was born in India. In books and other writings originating from India, this claim has been made.
As a result of this claim, a vast population of the western world was misinformed that the Buddha was born in India. An effort in this direction had already been made in the past. Because of the largeness of the size of territory, the vast academic settlements and the numerous communication networks existing in India, India has a great advantage over Nepal as far as publicising India as the birthplace of the Buddha is concerned.
The fact that Gautam Buddha attained enlightenment at Bodhgaya in Bihar, delivered the first sermons at Sarnath, a site near Benares and passed away at Kushinagar in India Provided enough strength to the Indian scholarship to push their claim ahead.
Prof. A.T.D.E Perara of Sri Lanka who made a study of Kapilvastu wrote, Kapilvastu, according to Hsuan Tsang had the circuit of 4.000 li (equivalent to 664 miles). Hence, the argument put forward in favour of the tiny village of Piprahawa as representing the whole territory of the Shakya republic by an official in the service of the Department of Archaeological Survey of India carries little sense. As a matter of fact, it was the same department itself which after an intensive study of concerned areas declared at the close of the last century that Kapilvastu of Buddha’s days is represented as today’s Tilaurakot region of Nepal.
Mr. Perara said further: “The search for the lost site of Kapilvastu, as mentioned above, was intensified only after the discovery in 1898 of Peppe’s relic-casket from the stupa at Piprahawa. The case of Piprahawa was then under full consideration, but it has to be rejected in the light of newer buildings. Then was focused scholars’ attention on Tilaurakot. It was extensively explored and parts of it were even excavated. An exhaustive study of Buddhist texts, travel accounts of the Chinese travellers, new find from Tilaurakot and all other relevant materials was made. Only thereafter experts working under the Department of Archaelogical Survey of India jointly arrived at the conclusion that Tilaurakot was Kapilvastu. Thus scientifically was this fact established, and it came to be unversally recognized with no ground for controversy”.
Therefore, Perara says that the official of Indian Department of Archaeology K.M. Srivastava who said that Piprahawa was Tilaurakot was baseless.
This claim was covered by Indian newspaper ‘The Indian Express’ on April 13, 1973. On Jan 24, 1976, the ‘Times of India’ wrote, “Scholars held for a long time that Tilaurakot was Kapilvastu even though there was no solid archaelogical evidence to do so. The basis for this erroneous belief (i.e. Tilaurakot is Kapilvastu) was the account given by the Chinese pilgrims…
In 300 A.D. Fa Hien went from Kapilvastu to Lumbini… in 629 Hien(Hisuan) Tsang also went from Kapilvastu to Lumbini.
K.M. Srivastava once again wrote in the ‘Illustrated Weekly of Indi’ on May 16, 1979, “The … indication of Piprahawa being the site of ancient Kapilvastu was furnished by the Chinese traveller Fa Hsien. According to his record Lumbini should be nine miles east of Kapilvastu… The difference supported by the scholars between the distance recorded by Fa Hsien and Hsuan Tsang was unwarranted.
The news item also carried a photograph displaying the structural remains traced around the stupa at Piprahawa under the title “A scene of Vihara found in the excavation in Piprahawa.” Similarly, the Indian Hindi periodical ‘Dharmayug’ also printed a photograph showing the remains of the palace of Shuddhodana, the father of Gautam Buddha in May 1973.
The above claims sadly expose that the archaelogist K.M. Srivastava was quite ignorant of the distance between Lumbini and Piprahawa. The actual distance between the two places is nearly ten miles. Also, the dates given by him about the visits of Fa Hsien and Hsuang Tsang to the region of Kapilvastu are hopelessly wrong. As noted above, the conclusion that Tilaurakot was Kapilvastu was based on the archaelogical and other evidences and on a joint decision of a group of experts. It is ridiculous that one single individual should challenge the views of a group of experts and denounce the entire previous work without any concrete evidence.
Harischandra Lal Singh (H.L. Singh) is a well known Buddhist scholar and has written many books on Buddhism. This article was published in “Anandabhoomi” monthly in Aswin issue.