|Author:Laxman Burdak, IFS (Retd.)|
Mention by Panini
It is believed to be the place where Buddha, came to preach people along with his followers. There is a big Asana made of pakki bricks. This Asana was used by Buddha. People forgot the importance of the place. They made a very small temple. put some unidentifiable statues of stones and called it the temple of Bisari Devi. An excavated Ashokan elephant pillar is also present there. There is also colossal Shiva Linga here. In the respect of Holy Birthday of Lord Buddha a large fair is held at Sankisa in the month of Vaisakha (May) every year. Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Myanmar etc. have established big temples of Lord Buddha. This place has become very important to Buddhist tourists.
Visit by Fahian
From Mathura Fahian proceeded south-east for eighteen yojanas, and found themselves in a kingdom called Sankasya, at the place where Buddha came down, after ascending to the Trayastrimsas heaven, and there preaching for three months his Law for the benefit of his mother (Buddha’s mother, Maya and Mahamaya).
Fahian writes about a bhikshuni Utpala thought in her heart, “To-day the kings, with their ministers and people, will all be meeting (and welcoming) Buddha. I am (but) a woman; how shall I succeed in being the first to see him?” Buddha immediately, by his spirit-like power, changed her into the appearance of a holy Chakravartti king, and she was the foremost of all in doing reverence to him. At the place where the bhikshuni Utpala was the first to do reverence to Buddha, a tope has now been built. Eitel gives the name Utpala with the same Chinese phonetisation as in the text, but not as the name of any bhikshuni. The Sanskrit word, however, is explained by “blue lotus flowers;” and Hsuan-chwang calls her the nun “Lotus-flower colour”— the same as Hardy’s Upulwan and Uppalawarna.
Behind the vihara Ashoka erected a stone pillar, about fifty cubits high, with a lion on the top of it. Let into the pillar, on each of its four sides, there is an image of Buddha, inside and out shining and transparent, and pure as it were of /lapis lazuli/.
At the places where Buddha, when he was in the world, cut his hair and nails, topes are erected; and where the three Buddhas that preceded Sakyamuni Buddha and he himself sat; where they walked, and where images of their persons were made. At all these places topes were made, and are still existing. At the place where Sakra, Ruler of the Devas, and the king of the Brahma-loka followed Buddha down (from the Trayastrimsas heaven) they have also raised a tope.
Fa-hien spent his retreat at the Dragon-Shrine and when it was over he travelled seven yojanas to the south-east, which brought him to Kannauj. Sankisa was one of the greatest Buddhist pilgrims centre at the time of Fa-hien's visit. Fa-hien remarks
- "This country is very productive and the people are flourishing and happy beyond compare. When man of other nations come, care is taken of all of them and they are provided with what they require".
At this place there is also a tope to Buddha and there are a hundred small topes.There is a monastery, containing perhaps 600 or 700 monks.
Visit by Xuanzang 636 AD
Alexander Cunningham writes that The position of Sankisa, which stood midway between Piloshana and Kanoj, has already been discussed. The name of the place is written Seng-kia-she by the Chinese pilgrims, a spelling which is well preserved in the Sankisa of the present day, and which represents with considerable faithfulness the Sanghasya of Sanskrit. Hwen Thsang calls it also by the name of Kia-pi-tha or Kapitha, of which I was unable to discover any trace. Sankisa was one of the most famous places of Buddhist pilgrimage, as it was the scene of Buddha's descent from the Trayastrinsa heaven by a ladder of gold or gems, accompanied by the gods Indra and Brahma. According to this curious legend, Maya the mother of Buddha, died seven days after his birth, and ascended at once to the Trayastrinsa heaven, the abode of the 33 gods, of whom Indra was the chief. But as she had no opportunity in this abode of the gods of hearing the law of Buddha, her
[p.370]:pious son ascended to the Trayastrinsa heaven, and preached for three months in her behalf. He then descended to the earth with the gods Brahma and Indra by three staircases, one of which was formed either of crystal or precious stones, another of gold, and the third of silver. According to Fa-Hian, Buddha descended by a staircase formed of the " seven precious things," that is the precious metals and precious gems, whilst Brahma accompanied him on his right side by a silver ladder, and Indra on his left by a golden ladder. But Hwen Thsang assigns the golden staircase to Buddha himself, the silver staircase on the right to Brahma, and the crystal staircase on the left to Indra. The descent was accompanied by a multitude of Devas, who scattered flowers on all sides as they sang the praises of Buddha. Such are the main points of this curious legend, which is believed as firmly in Barma at the present day, as it was by Asoka 2100 years ago, or by the Chinese pilgrims of the fifth, sixth, and seventh centuries of our era.
The little village which still preserves the name of Sankisa is perched upon a lofty mound of ruins 41 feet in height above the fields. This mound, which is called the Kilah, or fort, is 1600 feet in length from cast to west, and 1000 feet in breadth. On the north and west faces the sides are steep, but on the other faces the slope is much more easy. Due south from the centre of the fort, at a distance of 1600 feet, there is a mound of solid brickwork which is crowned by a modern temple dedicated to Bisari Devi. The " fort " and the different mounds of all sizes around the temple form a mass of ruin 3000 feet in length by 2000 feet in breadth, or nearly 2 miles in circuit. But this was
[p.371]:only the central portion of the ancient city of Sankisa, comprising the citadel and the religious buildings that were clustered round the three holy staircases. The city itself, which would appear to have surrounded this central mound on all sides, was enclosed with an earthen rampart 18,900 feet, or upwards of 3½ miles in circuit. The greater part of this rampart still remains, the shape being a tolerably regular dodecagon. On three sides, to the east, north-east, and south-east, there are breaks or openings in the line of rampart which are traditionally said to be the positions of the three gates of the city. In proof of the tradition, the people refer to the village of Paor-Kheria, or " Gate-village" which is just outside the south-east gap in the ramparts. But the name is pronounced Paor, पौर, and not Paur, पोर, and may therefore refer to the staircases or steps (Paori), and not to the gate. The Kali, or Kalindri Nadi flows past the south-west corner of the ramparts from the Rajjghat, which is half a mile distant to the Kakra Ghat, which is rather more than one mile to the south of the line of ramparts.
To the north-west, three-quarters of a mile distant, stands the large mound of Agahat, which is 40 feet in height, and rather more than half a mile in diameter at base. The name of the old town is said to have been Agahat, but the place is now called Agahat Sarai (Aghat of the maps) from a modern Sarai, which was built in A.H. 1080, or A.D. 1670, on the north-east corner of the mound, by the ancestor of the present Pathan Zamindar. The people say that before this, the place had been deserted for several centuries ; but as I obtained a tolerably complete series of the copper
[p.372]:coins of the Muhammadan kings of Delhi and Jonpur, I presume that it could not have been deserted for any very long time. The mound is covered with broken bricks of large size, which alone is a sure test of antiquity : and as it is of the same height as that of Sankisa, the people are most probably right in their assertion that the two places are of the same age. In both mounds are found the same old coins without any inscriptions, the more ancient being square pieces of silver covered with various punch-marks, and the others, square pieces of copper that have been cast in a mould, — all of which are, in my opinion, anterior to the invasion of Alexander the Great.
In identifying Sankisa with the Sangasya of the Ramayana and the Seng-kia-she of the Chinese, we are supported, not only by its absolute identity of name, but likewise by its relative position with regard to three such well-known places as Mathura, Kanoj and Ahi-chhatra. In size, also, it agrees very closely with the measurement given by Hwen Thsang ; his circuit of 20 li, or 3½ imiles, being only a little less than my measurement of 18,900 feet, or 3½ miles. There can be no doubt, therefore, that the place is actually the same. In his description of Sankisa, Hwen Thsang mentions a curious fact, that the Brahmans who dwelt near the great monastery were " many tens of thousands " in number. As an illustration of this statement I may mention that the people have a tradition that Sankisa was deserted from 1800 to 1900 years ago; and that 1300 years ago, or about A.D. 560, the site was given by the Kayath proprietor to a body of Brahmans. They add also that the population of the village of Paor-kheria is known to have been wholly Brahman until a very recent period.
[p.373]:Sankisa is said to have been 2000 li, or 333 miles, in circuit ; but with reference to the surrounding districts, this estimate must be too high. Its actual limits, as determined by the Ganges and Jumna on the north and south, and by the districts of Atranji and Kanoj on the west and east, could not have been more than 220 miles in circuit.