As per the Buddhist traditions saptaparni guha is the site where the 1st Buddhist council took place under the leadership of Mahakashyap. All the arrangement for the council was met by Ajatsatru the then king of Magadha. Oral tradition of Pali cannon began here when more than 500 Bhikkhus for more than 6 months recited the sutta delivered by Buddha in his lifetime and recollected by Ananda and Upali.
Xuanzang went to Saptaparni from Venuwan while Fahien went from Pippala stone house. There are at least three identification of Saptaparni stone house. While Major Kittoe and later general Cunningham and Broadley were definite that the Sonbhandar cave was the site of 1st council.
The first identification of Sonbhandar was found a wrong interpretation of the directions given by the pilgrims. The 2nd identification of a natural cave at the northern face of Vaibhara hill by Beglar was also put under question mark by Marshall.
1- According to Xuanzang as mentioned in his accounts “Life” and “Travel”
There existed In the middle of great bamboo forest similar to Venuwan…is a great stone house….before it is an old foundation wall…. Ajaatsatru made this hall….
Xuanzang speaks about a great stone house, an old foundation wall and a hall. Xuanzang has used word “stone house” for Indrasaila guha a natural mountain cave and also for Pippala cave that is a small dwelling in a man-made stone house. Hence the dilemma of whether the Saptaparni was a natural cave or a man made stone house continues. But it is clear that a big stone house existed and also an old foundation wall by which Ajaatsatru made a hall for the 999 Bhikkhus.
2- Fahien has not given a great detail about the Saptaparni, he says Saptaparni a cavern, while for Pippala he says cave dwelling among the rocks and Indrasaila cave an apartment of stone. He mentions about 500 Bhikkhus attending the council.
Fahien mention nothing about any construction by Ajaatsatru, according to him it was a big natural cave.
We need to consider the logistic support required to facilitate any such gathering of 500+ Bhikkhus for 6 months at the place such as the site identified by Beglar. Further there is no evidence of any hall or old foundation wall at the site, neither is any evidence of destruction of any such structure in earthquake.
Xuanzang says the place was in middle of a Bamboo grove, this is an important point and needs to be studied if a thick forest of bamboo trees existed (can exist) at the place.
Instead the site mentioned by Marshall and also supported by Ferguson needs to be carefully investigated. The site is at the foot of Vaibhara hill exactly at the same distance and direction mentioned by Xuanzang. There is a man made platform with evidence of some wall structure beneath. And at the backdrop are remains of fallen rocks from the hill. Quite possibly there existed a natural cave behind the hall which got destroyed in earth quake.
Saptaparni- Beglar- 25º00' 33" N 85º 24' 47" E
Saptaparni- Marshal-25º00' 28" N 85º 24' 04" E