Kushinagar

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Author:Laxman Burdak, IFS (Retd.)
Kushinagar District Map
Kushinagar Parinirwan Mandir as on 2.10.80 by Laxman Burdak
Ram Bhar Stupa Kushinagar as on 2.10.80 by Laxman Burdak

Kushinagar (कुशीनगर) or Kusinagar or Kusinara is a town and district in Uttar Pradesh near border of Nepal. It is an important Buddhist pilgrimage site, where Gautama Buddha attained nirvana.

Location

It is 51 kms from Gorakhpur (Uttar Pradesh) near Bihar Border.

Origin of name

It got its name from the Kusa grass (poa cynosuroides).[1]

History

In ancient times, Kushinagar was known as Kushavati (Jatakas). It finds mention in epic Ramayana as the city of Kusha the son of Rama, the famous king of Ayodhya. Kushinagar was a celebrated center of the Malla kingdom of ancient India. Later, it would be known as Kushinara, one of the most important four holy sites for Buddhists. At this location, near the Hiranyavati River, Gautama Buddha attained Parinirvana (or 'Final Nirvana') after falling ill from eating a meal of a species of mushroom.

Many of the ruined stupas and viharas here date back to 3rd century BCE - 5th century CE when prosperity was at its peak. The Mauryan emperor Ashoka is known to have contributed to significant construction at this site.

Prior to its rediscovery in the 19th century, there was a silence of more than half a millennium at Kasia. Due to violent invasions, Kushinagar lost its vitality and eventually was neglected.

मल्ल: ठाकुर देशराज

ठाकुर देशराज[2] ने लिखा है.... मल्ल - [पृ.100]: सिकंदर के साथियों ने इन्हें मल्लोई ही लिखा है। हिंदुस्तान के कई इतिहासकारों को उनके संबंध में बड़ा भ्रम हुआ है। वह इन्हें कहीं उज्जैन के आसपास मानते हैं। वास्तव में यह लोग पंजाब में रावी नदी के किनारे पर मुल्तान तक फैले हुए थे। फिरोजपुर और बठिंडा के बीच के लोग अपने प्रदेश को मालवा कहते हैं। बौद्ध काल में हम लोगों को चार स्थानों


[पृ.101]: पर राज्य करते पाते हैं-- पावा, कुशीनारा, काशी और मुल्तान। इनमें सिकंदर को मुल्तान के पास के मल्लों से पाला पड़ा था। इनके पास 90000 पैदल 10000 सवार और 900 हाथी थे। पाणिनी ने इन्हें आयुध जीवी क्षत्रिय माना है। हमें तो अयोधन और आयुध इन्हीं के साथी जान पड़ते हैं। जाटों में यह आज भी मल, माली और मालवन के नाम से मशहूर हैं। एक समय इनका इतना बड़ा प्रभाव हो गया था इन्हीं के नाम पर संवत चल निकला था। इनके कहीं सिक्के मिले जिन पर 'मालवानाम् जय' लिखा रहता है। ये गणवादी (जाति राष्ट्रवादी) थे। इस बात का सबूत इन के दूसरे प्रकार के उन सिक्कों से भी हो जाता है जिन पर 'मालव गणस्य जय' लिखा हुआ है। जयपुर के नागर नामक कस्बे के पास से एक पुराने स्थान से इनके बहुत से सिक्के मिले थे। जिनमें से कुछ पर मलय, मजुप और मगजस नाम भी लिखे मिले हैं। हमारे मन से यह उन महापुरुषों के नाम हैं जो इनके गण के सरदार रह चुके थे। इन लोगों की एक लड़ाई क्षत्रप नहपान के दामाद से हुई थी। दूसरी लड़ाई समुद्रगुप्त से हुई। इसी लड़ाई में इनका ज्ञाति राष्ट्र छिन्न-भिन्न हो गया और यह समुद्रगुप्त के साम्राज्य में मिला लिया गया इनके सिक्के ईसवी सन के 250 150 वर्ष पूर्व माने जाते हैं।

Jat History

Ram Swarup Joon[3] writes about Malha, Malo or Malli: The Malhi and Malo republics and clans have been mentioned in the accounts of Alexander's invasion.

The Rock inscription of Malha Jats of the period of Panini (6th century BCE) refers to their four kingdoms Kashnara, Pava, Multan and Varansi.

A rock inscription of Nagaragram in Jaipur speaks of Jaimalo.

The area of Malwa comes to be known as such after their name.

A large number of Malha Jats is in Malwa today.

Muslim and Sikh Malhi Jats is found in large numbers in Jhang, Multan and Sialkot. In Sialkot they have 25 villages in a compact area.


Visits by the Buddha to Kushinagar

At the time of the Buddha, Kushinagar was the capital of the Mallas, and the scene of the Buddha's death. It is said that the Buddha had three reasons for coming to Kusinárá to die:

  • 1. Because it was the proper venue for the preaching of the Mahá-Sudassana Sutta;
  • 2. Because Subhadda would visit him there and, after listening to his sermon, would develop meditation and become an arahant while the Buddha was still alive; and
  • 3. Because the brahman Doha would be there, after the Buddha's death, to solve the problem of the distribution of his relics

Kushinagar is a much-frequented pilgrimage site for Indian and foreign tourists, and temples have been constructed by Indian, Chinese, Sri Lankan, Thai, Burmese, South Korean, Tibetan and Japanese Buddhists, alongside the ruins of monasteries and stupas. Kushinagar is one of the main four Buddhist pilgrimage sites related to the life of Gautama Buddha. The other three are Lumbini, Bodh Gaya, and Sarnath.


Visit by Fahian

East from here four yojanas, there is the place where the heir-apparent sent back Chandaka, with his white horse;1 and there also a tope was erected.

Four yojanas to the east from this, (the travellers) came to the Charcoal tope,2 where there is also a monastery.

Going on twelve yojanas, still to the east, they came to the city of Kusanagara,3 on the north of which, between two trees,4 on the bank of the Nairanjana5 river, is the place where the World-honoured one, with his head to the north, attained to pari-nirvana (and died). There also are the places where Subhadra,6 the last (of his converts), attained to Wisdom (and became an Arhat); where in his coffin of gold they made offerings to the World-honoured one for seven days,7 where the Vajrapani laid aside his golden club,8 and where the eight kings9 divided the relics (of the burnt body):— at all these places were built topes and monasteries, all of which are now existing.

In the city the inhabitants are few and far between, comprising only the families belonging to the (different) societies of monks.

Going from this to the south-east for twelve yojanas, they came to the place where the Lichchhavis10 wished to follow Buddha to (the place of) his pari-nirvana, and where, when he would not listen to them and they kept cleaving to him, unwilling to go away, he made to appear a large and deep ditch which they could not cross over, and gave them his alms-bowl, as a pledge of his regard, (thus) sending them back to their families. There a stone pillar was erected with an account of this event engraved upon it.


1 This was on the night when Sakyamuni finally left his palace and family to fulfil the course to which he felt that he was called. Chandaka, in Pali Channa, was the prince’s charioteer, and in sympathy with him. So also was the white horse Kanthaka (Kanthakanam Asvaraja), which neighed his delight till the devas heard him. See M. B., pp. 158-161, and Davids’ Manual, pp. 32, 33. According to “Buddhist Birth Stories,” p. 87, the noble horse never returned to the city, but died of grief at being left by his master, to be reborn immediately in the Trayastrimsas heaven as the deva Kanthaka!

2 Beal and Giles call this the “Ashes” tope. I also would have preferred to call it so; but the Chinese character is {.}, not {.}. Remusat has “la tour des charbons.” It was over the place of Buddha’s cremation.

3 In Pali Kusinara. It got its name from the Kusa grass (the /poa cynosuroides/); and its ruins are still extant, near Kusiah, 180 N.W. from Patna; “about,” says Davids, “120 miles N.N.E. of Benares, and 80 miles due east of ]]Kapilavastu]].”

4 The Sala tree, the /Shorea robusta/, which yields the famous teak (?Saal) wood.

5 Confounded, according to Eitel, even by Hsuan-chwang, with the Hiranyavati, which flows past the city on the south.

6 A Brahman of Benares, said to have been 120 years old, who came to learn from Buddha the very night he died. Ananda would have repulsed him; but Buddha ordered him to be introduced; and then putting aside the ingenious but unimportant question which he propounded, preached to him the Law. The Brahman was converted and attained at once to Arhatship. Eitel says that he attained to nirvana a few moments before Sakyamuni; but see the full account of him and his conversion in “Buddhist Suttas,” p. 103-110.

7 Thus treating the dead Buddha as if he had been a Chakravartti king. Hardy’s M. B., p. 347, says:—“For the place of cremation, the princes (of Kusinara) offered their own coronation-hall, which was decorated with the utmost magnificence, and the body was deposited in a golden sarcophagus.” See the account of a cremation which Fa-hien witnessed in Ceylon, chap. xxxix.

8 The name Vajrapani is explained as “he who holds in his hand the diamond club (or pestle=sceptre),” which is one of the many names of Indra or Sakra. He therefore, that great protector of Buddhism, would seem to be intended here; but the difficulty with me is that neither in Hardy nor Rockhill, nor any other writer, have I met with any manifestation of himself made by Indra on this occasion. The princes of Kusanagara were called mallas, “strong or mighty heroes;” so also were those of Pava and Vaisali; and a question arises whether the language may not refer to some story which Fa-hien had heard — something which they did on this great occasion. Vajrapani is also explained as meaning “the diamond mighty hero;” but the epithet of “diamond” is not so applicable to them as to Indra. The clause may hereafter obtain more elucidation.

9 Of Kusanagara, Pava, Vaisali, and other kingdoms. Kings, princes, brahmans — each wanted the whole relic; but they agreed to an eightfold division at the suggestion of the brahman Drona.

10 These “strong heroes” were the chiefs of Vaisali, a kingdom and city, with an oligarchical constitution. They embraced Buddhism early, and were noted for their peculiar attachment to Buddha. The second synod was held at Vaisali, as related in the next chapter. The ruins of the city still exist at Bassahar, north of Patna, the same, I suppose, as Besarh, twenty miles north of Hajipur. See Beal’s Revised Version, p. lii.

Visit by Xuanzang in 637 AD

Alexander Cunningham[4] writes that Fa-Hian places Kusinagara at 12 yojanas, or 84 miles, to the eastward of the Charcoal Stupa, a distance which is quite impossible when compared with its other recorded distances from Vaisali and Banaras.[5] Unfortunately, Hwen Thsang, contrary to his usual custom, has omitted to note the distance, and simply states that he travelled in a north-east direction for a long time through a vast forest, full of wild bulls and wild elephants, and infested with brigands. A portion of this forest still exists to the north and east of Sahankat, and wild elephants still abound in the Tarai forests to the north of Gorakhpur. Wilson first pr posed Kasia as the site of Kusinagara, and the suggestion has since been generally adopted. The village is situated exactly 35 miles to the east of Gorakhpur, at the crossing of two great thoroughfares.[6]


[p.431]: It is 28 miles to the north-east of Sahankat in a direct line measured on the map, or about 35 miles by road. The distance is therefore only 5 yojanas, instead of 12, as noted by Fa-Hian. It cannot be placed further to the north-east without increasing its distance from Banaras, and lessening its distance from Vaisali. Now the former is limited by Hwen Thsang to 700 li, or 117 miles, and the latter is fixed by Fa-Hian himself at 25 yojanas, or 175 miles ; and as both estimates agree very closely with the actual position of Kasia, I am satisfied that Fa-Hian's 12 yojanas must be a mistake. Anrudhwa, near Kasia, is exactly 111 miles to the north-north-east of Banaras, measured in a direct line on the map, and cannot, therefore, be less than 120 miles by road. The distance between Kasia and Vaisali, by the route which I marched, is just 140 miles ; but this was along the new straight lines which have been laid out by the British authorities. By the old winding native tracks the distance would have been much greater, or certainly not less than 160 miles.

At the time of Hwen Thsang's visit the walls of Kusinagara were in ruins, and the place was almost deserted ; but the brick foundations of the old capital occupied a circuit of about 12 li, or 2 miles. The existing ruins between Anrudhwa and Kasia are scattered over a much larger space ; but some of these were certainly outside the city, and it is now quite impossible to ascertain its exact limits. It most probably occupied the site of the mound of ruins to the north-east of the village of Anrudhwa. The spot where Buddha obtained Nirvana would then correspond with the site of the stupa and ruins now called


[p.432]: Matha-kuar-ka-kot, or the "fort of the Dead Prince," and the spot -where his body was burned would correspond with the site of the great stupa now called Devisthan. The former lies to the north-west of Anrudhwa, and to the west of the old channel of the Chota Gandak, or Hiranyavati river, which is still occasionally filled after heavy rain. The latter lies to the north-east of Anrudhwa, and to the east of the old channel of the Hirana, or Chota Gandak.

The only name now associated with the ruins near Kasia is that of Matha Kuar, or the " Dead Prince." Mr. Listen gives the name as Mata, but a Brahman of the neighbouring village of Bishanpur, who wrote the name for me, spelt it as I have given it, Matha. As this spelling points to the derivation of the word from Matha or Matha, " to kill," I have translated Matha Kuar as the " Dead Prince," which I refer to Buddha himself after his death, or, in the language of the Buddhists, after his obtainment of Nirvana. Hwen Thsang, when speaking of Sakya's assumption of the mendicant's dress, calls him Kumara 'Raja, or the " Royal Prince ; " but although this title was never, I believe, applied to him by the learned after his assumption of Buddhahood, it does not seem at all improbable that it may have remained in common use amongst the people. We know from Hwen Thsang that on the spot where Buddha died there was a brick vihar, or temple monastery, in which was enshrined a recumbent statue of Buddha on his death-bed, with his head towards the north. Now this statue would naturally have been the principal object of veneration at Kusinagara, and although amongst the learned it might have been called the " statue of the Nirvana".


[p.433]: yet I can readily believe that its more popular name amongst all classes would have been the " statue of the Dead Prince." I am therefore of opinion that the name of Matha Kuar, which still clings to the ruins of Kasia, has a direct reference to the death of Buddha, which, according to his followers, took place at Kusinagara, on the full moon of the Vaisakh, 543 B.C. The continuance of this name down to the present day is a strong argument in favour of the identification of Kasia as the " death-place " of Buddha.

Discovery

The remains of the Parinirvana Stupa and Parinirvana Temple, when rediscovered, were covered in a 40 foot high mound of bricks surrounded by a dense thorny forest. After E. Buchanan, an officer of the East India Company, arrived in Kasia in the course of his survey-work, H. H. Wilson, in 1854, made the suggestion that ancient Kushinagar and Kasia were the same.

Work resumed around 1861–1862 when Alexander Cunningham, the founder of the Archaeological Survey of India suggested the site to be that of Gautama Buddha's decease. A British officer named Mr. A. C. L. Carlleyle followed suit. Excavations began in the early twentieth century under J. Ph. Vogel.[7] He conducted archaeological campaigns in 1904-5, 1905-6 and 1906-7, uncovering a wealth of Buddhist materials. Although no decisive evidence was found to prove Cunningham’s supposition that the site known at Māthā kūār kā Koṭ was Kushinārā, a series of monastic seals with the Sanskrit legend mahāparinirvāne cāturdiśo bhikṣusaṃghaḥ were taken to show that by the late Gupta period the site was understood to be that of the Buddha's final passing.

Recent works

1.In 2012 the "Buddha Relic Distribution Site" has been added as a new pilgrim spot on the Kushinagar Tourist Map. The site is located in Village Anirudhawa, at a walking distance from the main Mahaparinirvana Temple and 50 meters, right behind the Thai Temple.

2. The same year the"Buddha Ghat" was constructed on the banks of the river Hiranyavati,( Buddha was cremated on its bank ) right behind the Ramabhar Stupa .

3. The same year work also started on "The Buddha's Last Meal site" at Pavanagar,village Satheeau, Fazilnagar, about 20 km before Kushinagar while approaching from Bihar. This is the spot where as per the Mahaparinirvana Suttra, Chunda the goldsmith offered Sukar-maddava, eating which the lord became sick.

4. In 2012 work also started at the "Kakuttha River",. Buddha took his last bath in this river. This is on the Main National Highway 28 at a bridge while approaching Kushinagar from Bihar after the Buddha's Last Meal site.

5. "Pampor Stupa". In April 2013 a new Buddhist site was excavated at Village Pampor. The excavation revealed the remains of an old Buddhist Stupa. Rahul Sanskrityan the legendary Buddhist scholar from India is said to have identified Pampor as the famed Pava Kingdom of ancient India. Some decorated bricks were discovered from the site which has been handed over to the local museum at Kushinagar.

References

  1. James Legge: A Record of Buddhistic Kingdoms/Chapter 24,f.n.3
  2. Thakur Desjraj: Jat Itihas (Utpatti Aur Gaurav Khand)/Pancham Parichhed,p.100-101
  3. Ram Swarup Joon: History of the Jats/Chapter V,p. 94
  4. The Ancient Geography of India/Kusinagara, p.430-433
  5. Beal's ' Fah-Hian,' xxiy. 93.
  6. See Map No. XI. for its position.
  7. J. Ph. Vogel, “Some Buddhist Monasteries in Ancient India,” Journal of the Ceylon branch of the Royal Asiatic Society 1 (1950): pp. 27-32