During my stay at Youth Buddhist Society of India (YBS) centre, Sankisa in the period of the COVID19 Lockdown, two local media persons, Deepak and Sonu Rajpoot, who were friends of Suresh Ji (Founder-President of YBS), informed me about some ancient bricks being found near the northern bank of Kali Nadi.
|A square brick from Rajghat with potter's mark.
Reporters were informed about these exposed bricks by local farmers who noticed it only recently. Venerable Upananda, Sureshji, Anshul and I visited the site for three days repeatedly - 16th 17th and 18th of May. The first thing that I noticed was that this exposition did not appear to be from a recent event. These bricks must have been exposed for a few years now.
Kali Nadi or Black River is called so because its water is muddy imparting a very dark colour to it. At Sankisa, Kali Nadi flows from the West to the East in a serpentine manner. The river is narrow at Sankisa with an average width of 25 to 35 metres . Because of its erosive effect, the river has exposed archaeological structures consisting of two clusters of layered bricks with a gap of about 15ft between them. From end to end, the structure is 25ft long. The eastern cluster has two layers of brick while the western cluster has three layers. The layer of bricks that are exposed stand about 6 ft below the surrounding agriculture fields. The bricks have a dimension of 8.5In X 8.5 In X 3In so they are square in shape. The bricks that I took a look at, all had the finger marks of the potter.
One can clearly see in Google Earth images that the river is changing its course northwards at Sankisa and in this process is slowly eroding the northern bank. Due to the erosion, many bricks have become exposed as well as many have been away and can be seen lying on the bed of the river.
|Myself with Ven. Upananda and Shri Suresh ji.
This find is extremely important because the spot where the find was made is locally called Rajghat meaning “a flight of steps leading down to a river meant for use by royals.” According to local belief, Sankisa was an ancient capital city. The ruler ruled the region from Sankisa. The royalty of the city came to bathe in the river at Rajghat. The local Buddhists believe Rajghat may be the spot which the Buddhist clergy living in Sankisa (also Sankasya, Sankisa) used for purposes of bathing and ceremonial ablution. According to Buddhist literature, Sankisa is where the Buddha descended from heaven after preaching (Dhamma) to his mother, Mahamaya. Sankisa is one of the Eight Great Places of Buddhist pilgrimage. Buddhist monk-scholars Faxian and Xuanzang who visited Sankisa in the 5th CE and 7th CE respectively have mentioned the presence of a large community of monastics and lay followers who lived in the walled campus of Sankisa. Rajghat, which is about 1.2 kms away from the Sankisa village, is the point of the river closest to the village.
|Google image depicting Rajghat, Kali Nadi, Outer and Inner Boundary.
The name of Rajghat is not new - it was called so even as early as 1842 when Alexander Cunningham when identified Sankisa as the Sankasya (Sankassa) of Buddhist literature. Cunningham has marked the Rajghat in the map of Sankisa prepared by him. Cunningham has not mentioned having made any exploration or archaeological finds at Rajghat.
|Map of Sankisa prepared by Alexander Cunningham.
All the bricks that have come to light recently bear the potter's mark of three fingers running on the surface of the brick (see picture).
I shared about the brick find with my friends from Archaeology - Dr Aadil Zafar, Dr Elora Tribedy and Dr. Harsh Ranjan Kumar - to get their opinions on the time period of the bricks. Dr Aadil thinks the bricks belong to the period between the Gupta rule and the medieval era i.e between 6th and 9th CE. Harsha Ranjan thinks the brick belongs to Late Maurya/Sunga Period i.e around 2nd BCE. Neither of them could offer an explanation of how the bricks might have been used. Sankisa is a very ancient place. Like other ancient fortified cities in Uttar Pradesh, Sankisa has a double-layered fortification. Many times, bricks were reused in later periods. But a commonsensical guess would be that since the bricks have been found on the banks of the river, the spot could be a ritual place or a cell.
|Anshul washing the ancient bricks.
|Anshul assisting me in taking measurements of the ancient wall that has been recently exposed.
|Few of the ancient bricks recovered from the river bed.
|Bricks measure 8.5 inch in width and length.
|Bricks measure 3inch in height.
|Bricks can be seen lying on the river bed.
|Exploration in and around Sankisa - making the best use of my long stay in Sankisa due to the lockdown.
Story chronicled by Aparajita Goswami
Cunningham, A.1871. Archaeological Survey of India. Four Reports Made During the Years 1862-63-64-65, Vol. I. Shimla: The Government Central Press.
Cunningham, A.1880. Archaeological Survey of India. Report of Tours in the Gangetic Provinces from Badaon to Bihar in 1875-76-77-78, Vol. XI. Calcutta: Office of the Superintendent of Government Printing.