Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Xuanzang's Description

As Xuanzang describes it, the site of Nalanda Mahavihara was originally a mango grove presented to Buddha. At its south was a pool where a Naga named “Nalanda” lived. Xuanzang also stayed with Buddhabhadra (Nephew of Shilabhadra), in the college of Baladitya-raja, which had 4 storeys.

We try to relate the Xuanzang’s detail with the existing remains. The data for the study are taken from the ASI annual report, the first hand observations of the archaeologist who conducted the excavations. Xuanzang has provided description of one “complex” that includes 6 monasteries in one boundary and he has referred to this unit as a convent or great college. Based on the subsequent travelogues we know, few monasteries were added after Xuanzang visit in terms of new infrastructure in the main complex.
As per the excavations report all the subsequent structures were raised either by encasing the old one or over the debris of the previous, following same original ground plan.
The entire major mound in the campus is now excavated. For lack of conclusive evidence a clear-cut demarcation of various layers and contribution of kings at different periods cannot be determined. However from the available information we have a broad division of the Gupta and the Pala period, and fortunately Xuanzang stay is in between the two.

There is some confusion pertaining to the dating of monastery no 1A and 1B. At first glance it appears to be among the first monasteries in the campus since it is not following the planned row of monasteries a later development. But the archaeological evidence suggests it to be much later development. The first layer of 1A is resting on the debris of 4th layer of monastery no 1 and 1st layer (earliest) of monastery no 1 is 7th century AD. But some observers have found the 2nd layer floor level of temple 1A and 5th layer of temple no 3 are on same level, hence the first layer should be one of the earliest structure.
We have been referring to the ‘Life and ‘Travel’ narratives of Xuanzang’s biography and we’ll revisit them in detail in upcoming posts but as mention “Monastery no 5”, has two different directions in “Life” and “Travels”. We will be examining the more suitable layout matching the excavated remains. The number of structures mentioned by Xuanzang is more than the ones which have been excavated. Sizes of the smaller structures is not mentioned by Xuanzang so it is very difficult to correlate them to exact structures but it is a possibility that the smaller structures are either lost in subsequent centuries or are the ones among many cluster of small structures spread throughout the campus.
On the basis of archaeological evidences the excavated monasteries no 1B, 4 (5), 6 & 7 are Pre-Devapala structures. Archaeologists have concluded that Monastery no 1and 1A are 7th century structures. On the basis of archaeological evidences Temple no 3, 12, 13, 14 and the “Sarai mound” Structure were there at the time of Xuanzang stay.
Before going further to match the Xuanzang description of Monasteries with the excavated remains we can infer some conclusions about the excavated temple row.
The description has 16 places with some sacredness involved, and a structure big or small built over it. The structures are in straight row. For convenience we group the structures in two groups the one which are lofty as per Xuanzang and the rest can be safely assumed to be smaller structures of different proportions.

After a few upcoming posts, we will continue to explore Xuanzang’s ‘Life’ and ‘Travel’ documents as listed in the ‘List of Travelogues and Translations’ to form a picture that coordinates with the existing remains…

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