Friday, December 24, 2010

Maha Kassapa and the Buddha- The Exchange of Robes

Pali literature (SA.ii.128; ThagA.ii.145; AA.i.102; Mtu.iii.50) mentions that on the road between Nalanda and Rajgriha the Buddha sat down under a fig tree to await his future disciple. The moment Kassapa laid eyes on the Buddha he knew that he had found his Master. The Buddha stood in all his radiance, surrounded by an aura. Falling at the Buddha’s feet and saluting him respectfully, Kassapa asked permission to enter the Noble Order. There after the Buddha dispensed a discourse and then both of them walked back to Rajgriha. On the way the Buddha wanted to rest under the root of a tree. Kassapa then took his outer robe, folded it four-fold and asked the Buddha to sit on it. The Buddha accepted Kassapa’s robe and commented on its softness. Hearing this, Kassapa immediately offered his robe to the Buddha by saying, “May the Blessed One, out of compassion for me, accept this robe.” The Buddha then asked Kassapa if he would wear the worn-out, coarse rag-robe that he was wearing. Full of joy, Kassapa accepted the Buddha’s rag-robe and agreed to wear it. Kassapa was the only monk with whom the Buddha had exchanged robes.
These two events i.e. the meeting of the Buddha and Maha Kassapa and the exchange of the robes took place at two different places in between Rajgriha and Nalanda.  

In 1935, an 9th CE, inscription on a broken pedestal was found at some place in Silao (85°25’37”E,  25°5’16”N)
(Epigraphia Indica, Vol XXV PP-327). The sculpture found was broken and the inscription was incomplete, it mentioned about Maha Kassapa and Gurupāda (place where Maha Kassapa is waiting for the future Buddha).
the Sculpture with inscription found near Silao ( figure from Epigraphia Indica, Vol XXV)

The 9th CE inscription ( figure from Epigraphia Indica, Vol XXV)


Translation of the Inscription

Xuanzang in his descriptions has mentioned about a place on the route between Nalanda to Indrasaila Guha and Nalanda to Kalapinaka (birthplace of Sariputta). This place according to him was where Raja Bimbisara received the Buddha after the Buddha’s enlightenment. But the Pali literature suggests this event took place at Jethian (also Yasthivana, Latthivana, and Latthivanuyyāna) (Vin.i.35ff. DhA.i.88; AA.i.166; BuA.18)
  
also  Chief Minister's Visit to the Jethian Buddhist site


The first meeting place of the Buddha and Bimbisara as per Xuanzang ( around Nalanda) and pali sources (Jethain)

Xuanzang has mentioned about this event in “Travels” (Records of western Nations by S. Beal) and “Life” (Life of Hiuen-Tsiang by Hwui Lu- translated by S. Beal) . According to the "Life” this meeting place (marked in Red in the Fig below) was 30 Li West of Indrasaila Guha (Life-P-119) and as per the “travels” it was 4 Li East of Kulika and 20 Li NW of Kalapinaka (Travels-P-90, Book-II) as depicted in the figure below.


"Life" and "Travels" description of the meeting place (marked in red)of the Buddha and Bimbisara

The earliest Buddhist literature mentions that after the enlightenment , the first journey of the Buddha  to Rajgriha  to meet raja Bimbisara started at Gaya. Logically the place mentioned by  Xuanzang doesn't fit in the route of Gaya to Rajgriha. Jethian as mentioned by the Pali literature is the place of the first meeting between the two.The place (where raja Bimbisara received the Buddha) mentioned by Xuanzang lies in between Nalanda and Rajgriha, this place to be more likely to be the place of meeting between the Buddha and Maha Kassapa (as suggested by Pali literature- SA.ii.128; ThagA.ii.145; AA.i.102; Mtu.iii.50).
It is possible that Xuanzang made an error and instead of Maha Kassapa mentions  Raja Bimbisara. Village Kul (85°27’27”E, 25°6’52”N), 2 Km, south of remains of the ancient Nalanda university (Nalanda before the Mahavihara) is more suitable for the meeting place as suggested by the description with some concessions in distance as mentioned by Xuanzang.
If we take Kul to be the meeting place between the Buddha and Maha Kassapa then Silao fits to be the place where the exchange of Robes took place as aptly suggested by the broken inscription found here.

Meeting place (Kul) and the Exchange of Robes place (Silao)
Aerial View of the Mound in village Kul
The Mound of Kul
The Buddhist Remains of Kul

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