KAPILAVASTU, NOT IN INDIA
Posted by worldamity on March 22, 2010
By: Rohan L. Jayetilleke
From Nepal With the long drawn dispute over the location of Buddha’s birthplace end in favour of Nepal ? The area around Tilaurakot (Nepal) crowded with unexcavated or partly excavated Buddhist sites. About 65 archaeological sites have been identified and the authorities want to develop at least seven. The remains of the Eastern Gateway of Kapilavastu (At Tilaurakot) through which Gautama Buddha is believed to have walked out at night. A century-old dispute over the location of Kapilavastu, where Prince Siddartha (late Gauthama, the Buddha) grew up, is about to end in favour of Tilaurakot in Nepal, and not Piprahawa, India. “Tilaurakot is situated on the Banganga which is thought to have been called Bhagirathi by the Sakyans”, said Prof. Tulsi Ram Baidya, Chairman of the Nepal History Association. “There is no river near Piprahawa”.
Tilaurakot’s claim to Kapilavastu is based primarily on four areas of irrefutable evidence. The place is a derivative not of the name of Kapila, the sage, but an oil producing shrub in Nepalese called Kapila, which is used for medicinal and cooking purposes from time immemorial by the Nepalese, Tilaurakot too means ‘tell or oil and ‘kot’ fields of sesame (dil).
Firstly, according to Buddhist literature, Kapilavastu was situated on a river which was called Bhagirathi. It was a common term used to identify all rivers in the area as Bangirathis ( blessed rivers) that finally unite with the holy Ganges or Ganga.
Secondly, a capital city would have fortified as there were royal feuds among them then as now between the kingdoms or the people of the country. Prof. Baidya, reiterated, “We can still see remnants of a moat and walls at the site of Tilaurakot site. The walls are 10 feet wide. Unless it was a capital city, it could not have had walls. The area of Kapilavastu is around 1,700 feet by 1,300 ft. It was to huge for a monastic complex”.
Thirdly, Japanese and Nepalese archaeologists later found painted grey ware in a third century trench dug by Debala Mitra, the archaeologist. In the Indian subcontinent painted grey ware was in existence as far back as the eleventh century BC, suggestive of the fact this site was inhabited even earlier than that.
Fourthly, a huge collection of coins had been excavated at Tilaurakot, which too is direct evidence that there was a palace at site with a royal treasury, and not a monastic complex. As regards Piprahawa, the Nepalese archaeologists and others contend, it could have been an area under Sakyan rulers and the site of a monastery.
The Buddha speaking about Himself declared, “I am a Khattiya, warrior-noble stock. I was reborn into a Khattiya family. I am a Gotama by clan. My lifespan is of short length, is brief and soon over, one who lives long now completes the century or a little more. A king, Suddhodana by name, was my father. A queen, Maha Maya by name, was the mother that bore me. The royal capital was the city of Kapilavastu”. (Digha Nikaya 14. Condensed translation by late Ven. Bhikkhu Nanamoli’s ‘The Life of the Buddha’). On the Maha Parinirvana of the Buddha (passing away) at Kusinara, several kings and rulers of principalities claimed relics to be enshrined in their countries. The Sakyans of Kapilavastu to stake their claims saying, “The Blessed One was the greatest of our blood, we too are worthy of a share of the Blessed One’s bones. We too will build a monument and hold a ceremony” (Ibid page 331). In these times the present iprahawa too was in the kingdom of Kapilavastu, and the presently excavated site could be the place of the monastery and monument Sakyans built.
Presently Tilanrakot is a mass of excavated and unexcavated sites, coming under Nepal. Birendra K. Yadav, the Project Manager of Lumbini Development Trust says: “We want to develop at least seven sites. The first of course is Tilaurakot, the site of Kapilavastu and the others are Gotihawa, Kudan, Niglihawa, Arourakot, Sagarahawa and Sisania”.
The search for Kapilavastu emerged when James Princeps deciphered the Brahmi and Kharosnti scripts in the 18th century and learned of a plethora of rock and pillar edicts based on Buddhist scriptural writings. Prof. Lassen studied Buddhist literature and wrote in 1858 that the town of Kapilavastu should be on the banks of the Rohini which was identified as ancient river Rohini in Gorkhapur district of Uttar Pradesh. Archaeology proper started in India in 1861 with Sir Alexander Cunningham surveying North India.
Cunningham vs Coningham
Cunningham reading the accounts of the two Chinese pilgrim monks located Kapilavasti at 80 miles southeast of Sravasti, which again he located at the desolate Set Mahet near Balrampur in Gonda district. He learnt of a town called Nagar Khas, eight miles southeast in Basti district and surmised it to be Kapilanagara, a corruption of the name Kapilavastu. He was dead certain and never cared to excavate the place and lost no time in writing his ‘Ancient Geography of India’. His assistant Carlleyle followed him in 1876. Having not seen ruins at Set Mahet, Carlleyle proceeded a further 18 miles and reached Bhuilatal, with a plethora of brick mounds on the banks of the river Rawai. His senior concurred with him. Historically it is apparent that Hindu Rana rulers of Nepal did not permit foreigners to dig in Nepal. Only excavations that were done were in British India and what was concluded by them came to be accepted without a murmur as the total truth. However, in Nepal things changed for the better with the ruling Rana’s brother, General Khadga Sumsher J.B. Rana at the end of the 19th century, himself an amateur archaeologist, invited Dr. Alois Anton Fuhrer, a German archaeologist working for the British in India to conduct excavations in Nepal territory. Fuhrer knew for certain from the Buddhist literature that Kapilavastu was never as flat as the Indian Terai and he investigated further north and located the Asokan pillar, with its fallen horse capital as accounted for by the Chinese pilgrim duo in their travel notes and declared the place as Lumbini. Without depending much on the Chinese accounts Fuhrer, studied the Buddhist literature and suggested Kapilavastu should have been on the banks of Rohini. He identified Rohini with Jamur flowing past Tilaurakot. He located three Asokan pillars too there. The British Indian government despatched P. C. Mukherjee to Nepal to locate the exact place of Kapilavastu. He fixed it to be at Tilaurakot. Historian Vincent Smith too concurred with the identification. Tilaurakot remained the accepted Kapilavastu for six decades until Nepal invited Debala Mitra of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) in 1961 to excavate Tilaurakot. Her excavations revealed (northwestern trench), ‘the site does not go beyond the third century BC and the capital of Kapilavastu remains to be located’. Mukharjee’s findings were adjudged by her as of the seventh century A.C.
Mitra’s findings and conclusion were in collision with the views of other Indian archaeologists. K. M. Srivastava now dug up Piprahawa in Basti district and said that the sakyans capital was at Piprahawa. There was little love lost between India-Nepalese archaeologists and Nepal then invited Japanese archaeologists. In 1967 Japanese-trained Nepalese archaeologists excavated the Western gateway at the Tilaurakot site and found two stupas to the north of the mound. The Japanese dug up a part of a structure believed to be King Suddhodana’s palace. Terracotta with the legend Sa-ka-na-sya meaning ‘the token belonged to the Sakya’ and dated it to second – fifth century B.C. These excavations have now brought forth around 3,000 coins datable to the 5th century B.C. The Nepalese thereafter argued that Piprahawa was only an outpost of Kapilavastu and monastery complex and Kapilavastu city proper was and is Tilaurakot. These excavations resulted in tracing painted grey pottery of the 5th – 6th centuries the time of the Buddha.
On these irrefutable evidence Nepal approached UNESCO to get Tilaurakot – Kapilavastu to be declared a World Heritage Site. The UNESCO sent Dr. Robin Coningham of Bradford University in the UK. Coningham commenced work on the site in 1997, along with Dr. Armin Schmidt and Kosh Achrya.
“During our first season at Tilaurakot in 1997, we created a topographical survey of the city and also conducted geographical survey of parts of the site. While no structures were visible on the surface, once the geographical survey data was processed, it was possible to identify the line of a major street running from the eastern gateway. This street was some seven metres wide and it was possible that further sub-divisions had been made by smaller streets at right angles, defining blocks of housing in between. As our survey was likely to have only recorded the final phase of occupation, it is most probable that we have identified the city lay out of the first millennium A.C.”, said Coningham. Cuningham’s team had collected 15 carbon samples which are now being tested in Oxford University.
Coningham said: “We fully expect them to confirm our early dating of the site.” Tilaurakot, emergence to its natural fame of Kapilavastu, the city where Prince Siddartha grew up, means, India will lose heavily the Japanese yen and the dollars that come from tourists.
[Please see Reactive Monitoring Mission to Lumbini, Birthplace of Lord Buddha: Report and Recommendations of a UNESCO Mission to Nepal by Coningham R.A.E. & Milou J.-F. 2001.]