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Author:Laxman Burdak, IFS (Retd.)

Kusagarapura was a Buddhist site visited by Xuanzang in 637 AD. Kusagarapura was the original capital of Magadha, which was called Rajagriha, or the " Royal Residence." It was also named Girivraja.


Jat clan


Visit by Xuanzang in 637 AD

Alexander Cunningham[1] writes that From the " Cock's-foot Hill " (Kukkutapada=Kurkihar) the pilgrim proceeded to the north-east for 100 li, or 17 miles, to a mountain called Fo-tho-fa-na, or Buddhavana.[2] The bearing and distance point to the lofty hill now called Buddhain, which, on account of its commanding position, was made one of the stations of the great trigonometrical survey. Its distance in a direct line is not more than 10 miles, but as the whole route is hilly and winding, the actual length cannot be less than 15 or 16 miles. At 30 li, or 5 miles, to the east, he visited the famous Yashtivana, or " Bambu-forest."[3] This name is still well known as Jakhti-ban, which is only the Hindi form of the Sanskrit word. The place lies to the east of the Buddhain hill, on the route to the old ruined city of Kusagarapura, and is still frequented by the people for the purpose of cutting Bambus. About 10 li, or nearly 2 miles, to the south-west of the Bambu-forest, the pilgrim visited two hot springs, to the south of a high mountain, in which Buddha was said to have bathed. These springs still exist about two miles to the south of Jakhtiban, at a place called Tapoban, which name is a common contraction of Tapta-pani, or the " Hot "Water." To the south-east of the Bambu-forest, at 6 or 7 li, upwards of 1 mile, there was a high mountain, with a stone embankment, built by King Bimbisara. This mountain corresponds with the lofty hill of Handia, 1463 feet in height, which was one of the stations of the great trigonometrical

[p.462]: survey. At 3 or 4 li, or upwards of half a mile, to the north, there was an isolated hill, on which still existed the ruins of a house in which the holy sage Vyasa had formerly dwelt. At 4 or 5 li, or 3/4 of a mile, to the north-east, there was a small hill with a chamber hewn out of the rock, and beside it a stone on which the gods Indra and Brahma had pounded the sandal-wood called Gosiras for the rubbing of Buddha's body. These two places have not been identified, but a careful search would certainly discover the sandal-wood stone, as there was close to it a very large cave, which the people called the " Palace of the Asuras." About 60 li, or 10 miles, to the east of this place, the pilgrim reached Kiu-she-kie-lo-pu-lo, or Kusagarapura, that is the " town of the Kusa Grass."[4]

Kusagarapura was the original capital of Magadha, which was called Rajagriha, or the " Royal Residence." It was also named Girivraja, or the "hill-surrounded," which agrees with Hwen Thsang's description of it as a town " surrounded by mountains." Girivraja[5] is the name given in both the Ramayana and the Mahabharata to the old capital of Jarasandha, king of Magadha, who was one of the principal actors in the Great War, about 1426 B.C. The Chinese pilgrim Fa-Hian[6] describes the city as situated in a valley between five hills, at 4 li, or two-thirds of a mile, to the south of the new town of Rajagriha. The same position and about the same distance are given by Hwen Thsang, who also mentions some hot springs, which still exist. Fa-Hian

[p.463]: further states that the " five hills form a girdle like the walls of a town," which is an exact description of Old Rajagriha, or Purana Rajgir, as it is now called by the people. A similar description is given by Tumour from the Pali annals of Ceylon, where the five hills are named Gijjhakuto, Isigili, Webharo, Wepullo, and Pandawo[7] In the Mahabharata the five hills are named Vaihara, Varaha, Vrishabha, Rishi-giri, and Chaityaka;[8] but at present they are called Baibhar-giri, Vipula-giri, Ratna-giri, Udaya-giri, and Sona-giri.

In the inscriptions of the Jain temples on Mount Baibhar, the name is sometimes written Baibhara, and sometimes Vyavahara. It is beyond all doubt the Webharo Mountain of the Pali annals, on whose side was situated the far-famed Sattapanni Cave, in front of which was held the first Buddhist synod, in 543 B.C. This cave, I believe, still exists under the name of Son Bhandar, or " Treasury of gold," in the southern face of the mountain ; but following Hwen Thsang's description, it should rather be looked for in the northern face. In the Tibetan Dulva it is called the " Cave of the Nyagrodha" or Banian-tree.[9]

Ratnagiri is due east, one mile distant from the Son Bhandar Cave. This situation corresponds exactly with Fa-Hian's position of the " Pippal-tree Cave, in which Buddha after his meals was accustomed to meditate. It was situated at 5 or 6 li (about one mile) to the east of the cave of the first Synod. The hill of Ratna-giri is therefore identical with the

[p.464]: Pandao Mountain of the Pali annals, in which Buddha dwelt, and which in the Lalita-Vistara is always styled the "King of Mountains." A paved zigzag road now leads from the eastern side of old Rajagriha to a small Jain temple on the top of Ratna-giri, which is frequently visited by Jains. I would identify it with the Rishigiri of the Mahabharata.

Mount Vipula is clearly identical with the Wepullo of the Pali annals ; and as its summit is now crowned with the ruins of a lofty stupa or chaitya, which is noticed by Hwen Thsang, I would identify it with the Chaityaka of the Mahabharata. Regarding the offer, but I may mention that they are also crowned with small Jain temples.

The old city between the hills is described by Fa-Hian to be 5 or 6 li from east to west, and 7 or 8 li from north to south, that is, from 24 to 28 li or 4-1/3 miles, in circuit. Hwen Thsang makes it 30 li, or 5 miles, in circuit, with its greatest length from east to west. My survey of the ancient ramparts gives a circuit of 24,500 feet, or 4-5/8 miles, which is between the two statements of the Chinese pilgrims. The greatest length is from north-west to south-east, so that there is no real discrepancy between the two statements as to the direction of the greatest length of the old city. Each of them must have taken his measurement from the Nekpai embankment on the east (which has been described by Major Kittoe) to some point on the north-west. If token to the Panch-Pandu angle of the ramparts, the direction would be west-north-west, and the length upwards of 8000 feet ; but if taken to the temple of Torha Devi, the direction would

[p.465]: be north-north-west, and the distance upwards of 9000 feet.

I have already quoted Fa-Hian's statement that the " five hills form a girdle like the walls of a town." This agrees with Hwen Thsang's description, who says that " high mountains surround it on four sides, and form its exterior walls, which have a circuit of 150 li or 25 miles." For this number I propose to read 50 li or 8-1/3 miles, a correction which is absolutely necessary to make the statement tally with the measurements of my survey. The following are the direct distances between the hills : —

1. From Baibhar to Vipula . . . 12,000 feet.

2. ,, Vipula to Ratna . . . 4,500 ,,

3. ,, Ratna to Udaya .... 8,600 ,,

4. „ Udaya to Sona .... 7,000 ,,

5. ,, Sona to Baibhar .... 9,000 ,,

Total . . 41,000 feet.

This is somewhat less than 8 miles, but if the as-cents and descents are taken into account, the actual length will correspond very closely with the statement of Hwen Thsang when corrected to 50 li. The old walls forming this exterior line of rampart are still to be seen in many places. " I traced them from Vipulagiri over Ratna-giri to the Nekpai embankment, and thence onwards over Udaya-giri, and across the southern outlet of the valley to Sona-giri. Across this outlet, the walls, which are still in good order, are 13 feet thick. To obtain a circuit of 25 miles, as given in Hwen Thsang's text, it would be necessary to carry these ramparts as far as Giryek on the east. As similar ramparts exist on the Giryek Hill,

[p.466]: it is perhaps possible that Hwen Thsang intended to include it in the circuit of his outer walls. But this immense circuit would not at all agree with his statement that "high mountains surround the city on four sides," for the distant hill of Giryek cannot in any way be said to form one of the sides of old Raja-griha.

The hot springs of Rajagriha are found on both banks of the Sarsuti rivulet ; one-half of them at the eastern foot of Mount Baibhar, and the other half at the western foot of Mount Vipula. The former are named as follows: — 1. Ganga-Jumna; 2. Anant Eikhi; 3. Sapt Rikhi ; 4. Brahm-kund ; 5. Kasyapa Rikhi ; 6. Byas-kund ; and 7. Markand-kund.

The hottest of these are the springs of the Sapt Rikhi. The hot springs of Mount Vipula are named as follows: — 1. Sita-kund; 2. Suraj-kund; 3. Ganes-kund; 4. Chandrama-kund ; 5. Ram-kund ; and 6. Sringgi-Rikhi-kund.

The last spring has been appropriated by the Musalmans, by whom it is called Makhdum-kund, after a celebrated saint named Chillali Shah, whose tomb is close to the spring. It is said that Chilla was originally called Chilwa, and that he was an Ahir. He must therefore have been a converted Hindu.

To the north-east of the old town, at a distance of 15 li or 2½ miles, Hwen Thsang places the celebrated hill of Gridhra-kuta, or the "Vulture's Peak." According to Fa-Hian[10] it was 15 li, or 2½ miles, to the south-east of the new town. Both of our authorities, there-fore, agree in fixing the Vulture's Peak on the lofty hill now called Saila-giri, or the " Rocky-Mountain ;"

[p.467]: but I could not hear of the existence of any cave in this hill. Fa-Hian calls it "Hill of the Vulture's Cave," and notes that there were also several hundreds of caves of the Arhans in which they sat to meditate. I presume that these were small rooms built against the cliff, and that the walls having fallen down, the names have been forgotten. The joint authority of the two pilgrims is too strong to be doubted; and future research will perhaps discover some remains of these once holy cave-dwellings.


  1. The Ancient Geography of India/Magadha, p.461-467
  2. Julien's ' Hiouen Thsang,' iii. 10.
  3. f Ibid., iii. 11.
  4. Julien's ' Hiouen Thsang,' iii. 15.
  5. Lassen, Ind. Alterthum, i. 604.
  6. Beal's 'Fah-Hian,' c. xxviii. 112.
  7. Journ. Asiat. Soc. Bengal 1838, p. 996.
  8. Lassen, Ind. Alterthum, ii. 79. The five hills are all shown in Map No. XII.
  9. Csoma de Koros in Bengal ' Asiatic Researches,' xx. 91.
  10. Beal's 'Fah-Hian,' c. xxix.

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