Kesariya Buddha Stupa

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    Recently, the world-famous Kesariya Buddha stupa in east Champaran district of Bihar has been waterlogged following floods after heavy rainfall in Gandak river’s catchment areas.

    About Kesariya Buddha Stupa

    • The stupa is located about 110 km from the State capital Patna.
    • It has a circumference of almost 400 feet and stands at a height of about 104 feet.
    • It is regarded as the largest Buddhist stupa in the world and has been drawing tourists from across several Buddhist countries.
    • The locals call the stupa “devalaya” meaning “house of gods”.
    • The first construction of the stupa is dated to the 3rd century BCE.
      • The original Kesariya stupa is believed to date back to the time of emperor Ashoka (circa 250 BCE) as the remains of an Ashokan pillar was discovered there. 
    • Literary References
      • Faxian (or Fah sien), a 5th century CE Chinese Buddhist monk, in his travels, mentioned a stupa which was built over Buddha’s alms bowl by Licchavis of Vaishali. It is now believed the stupa that was referred to was none other than Kesariya stupa.
      • Another important Buddhist monk, Hsuan-tsang, also mentioned the stupa in his travels, but gave no details.
    • Exploration
      • Its exploration started in the early 19th century after its discovery led by Colonel Mackenzie in 1814.
      • Later, it was excavated by General Cunningham in 1861-62 and in 1998 an Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) team led by archaeologist K.K. Muhammad had excavated the site properly.
      • However, a larger part of the stupa is yet to be discovered and developed as it remains under thick vegetation.
    • Significance
      • According to historians, Buddha himself is supposed to have stayed at this site, before he moved to Kushinagar.
      • It is also believed that it was at this spot that he foretold his disciples that the time of his passing was near, and he would soon achieve nirvana.
      • This is also the place where Buddha presented “Kalama Sutta.
        • It is arguably his most revered discourse and revolves around the acceptance of his teachings only after observation, reflection and careful scrutiny.
    • The ASI has declared it a protected monument of national importance.
    • It is feared that the monument may suffer damage due to the floods. The tourist inflow too has been hit because of water around the structure. 
    • Restoration work along with better drainage facilities is needed in order to save the monument.

    (Image Courtesy: BT)

    Stupas in Buddhism

    • Construction of stupas and viharas as part of monastic establishments was an integral part of the Buddhist tradition.
      • Apart from stupas and viharas, stone pillars, rock-cut caves and monumental figure sculptures were also carved at several places.
      • However, there are also examples of a few Brahmanical gods in the sculptural representations.
    • It is important to note that the stupas were constructed over the relics of the Buddha at Rajagriha, Vaishali, Kapilavastu, Allakappa, Ramagrama, Vethadipa, Pava, Kushinagar and Pippalvina.
      • The textual tradition also mentions construction of various other stupas on the relics of the Buddha at several places including Avanti and Gandhara which are outside the Gangetic valley.
    • The larger number of stupa, vihara and chaitya belongs to Buddhism.
      • One of the best examples of the structure of a stupa in the third century BCE is at Bairat in Rajasthan. It is a very grand stupa having a circular mound with a circumambulatory path.
      • The great stupa at Sanchi was built with bricks during the time of Ashoka and later it was covered with stone and many new additions were made. 
    • Contributions and Patronage
      • From the second century BCE onwards, there is much inscriptional evidence mentioning donors and, at times, their profession.
        • The pattern of patronage has been a very collective one and there are very few examples of royal patronage.
        • Patrons range from lay devotees to gahapatis and kings. Donations by the guilds are also mentioned at several sites.
      • However, there are very few inscriptions mentioning the names of artisans such as Kanha at Pitalkhora and his disciple Balaka at Kondane caves.
      • The method of working was collective in nature and at times only a specific portion of the monument is said to have been patronised by a particular patron.
    • Evolution
      • In the subsequent century, stupas were elaborately built with certain additions like the enclosing of the circumambulatory path with railings and sculptural decoration.
      • There were numerous stupas constructed earlier but expansions or new additions were made in the second century BCE.
      • The stupa consists of a cylindrical drum and a circular anda with a harmika and chhatra on the top which remain consistent throughout with minor variations and changes in shape and size.
      • Apart from the circumambulatory path, gateways were also added.
    • Depictions
      • With the elaborations in stupa architecture, there was ample space for the architects and sculptors to plan elaborations and to carve out images.
      • During the early phase of Buddhism, Buddha is depicted symbolically through footprints, stupas, lotus throne, chakra, etc.
        • This indicates either simple worship or paying respect or at times depicts historisisation of life events.
      • Gradually, narrative became a part of the Buddhist tradition.
        • Thus events from the life of the Buddha, the Jataka stories, were depicted on the railings and torans of the stupas.
        • The main events associated with the Buddha’s life which were frequently depicted were events related to the birth, renunciation, enlightenment, dhammachakrapravartana (setting in motion of the wheel of the dharma) and mahaparinibbana (death).

    (Image Courtesy: Pinterest)

    Archaeological Survey of India

    • It is the premier organization for the archaeological research and protection of the cultural heritage of the nation.
    • It is an attached office under the Department of Culture, Ministry of Culture.
    • Functions
      • Maintenance of ancient monuments and archaeological sites and remains of national importance.
      • Regulate all archaeological activities in the country as per the provisions of the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, 1958.
      • Regulate Antiquities and Art Treasure Act, 1972.
    • For the maintenance of ancient monuments and archaeological sites and remains of national importance the entire country is divided into 24 circles.

    Source: TH