Tuesday, January 4, 2022

Faxian and Xuanzang in the Kapilavastu Kingdom

Ven. Sangha of LBDFI Dhammayatra 2018, Eastern Gate, Kapilavastu. Pic Vikash Kumar

Buddhist pilgrims Faxian (Fa-hein, 5th CE) and Xuanzang (Hsüan-tsang, 7th CE) had visited the kingdom of Kapilavastu on their journey to the Buddhist sacred places in the Indian Subcontinent. Both the pilgrims have mentioned  many shrines associated with the Buddha in Kapilavastu Kingdom. There is some confusion about the ‘(Palace) City of Kapilavastu’. Some Indian archaeologists have proposed Piprāhwā and its surroundings to be the ‘City of Kapilavastu’ mentioned by Faxian. However, research and studies have confirmed that  Tilaurākot is the correct identification of ‘Palace City’.

You can read my story on this: Resolving the Puzzle of the ‘Palace City’ of Kapilavastu and Developing the ‘Kapilavastu Pilgrimage Trail’

Here is a review and status of the sites in Kapilavastu

Note:- The literary contributions of Xuanzang, namely a travel account called Ta Tang Hsi Yü Chi’  (Records of the Western Lands of the Great Tang Period) referred here as Travels and a biography written by Shaman Hwui Li (The Life of Xuanzang) referred to as Life. 

  • One Li is approximately 350mts

  • One Yojan is approximately 10-12kms

Early investigations/ efforts

In 1863, Alexander Cunningham, the newly appointed Archaeological Surveyor of India had identified Sāhet-Māhet as the remains of Śrāvasti. Cunningham made further exploration from Sāhet-Māhet (Śrāvasti) looking for other places between Śrāvasti and Kushinagar mentioned by Xuanzang. Based on his explorations, he identified Nagar with Kapilavastu, Kakuā with place of Krakuchanda, Subhay-pursa with place of Kanakmuni Buddha. A.C.L. Carlleyle, assistant to Cunningham, took the same path in 1870’s from Sāhet-Māhet and rectified the identifications made earlier by Cunningham. He proposed a new set of places for all the places identified by Cunningham. He proposed Bhuilādih for Kapilavastu, Nagara for the place of Krakuchanda, Khonpādih for the place of Kanakmuni Buddha. 

Xuanzang mentions seeing three Ashokan pillars in Kapilavastu kingdom at the birthplace of the Buddha (Lumbīnī), the place of Kanakmuni Buddha and at the place of Krakachunda Buddha. Pillars were never found at the places suggested by Alexander  Cunningham and Carllyle.

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1-Discovery of the three Pillars built by Emperor Ashoka in Kapilavastu Kingdom

For a long time scholars were not able to locate the places along the foothills of the Himalayas, which were associated with the Kingdom of Kapilavastu where the Buddha was born. In the 3rd century BCE, Emperor Ashoka installed many monolith pillars with imposing capitals to mark his Dharma pilgrimage to important places associated with the Buddha and the previous Buddha. Xuanzang mentioned about seven such pillars between Śrāvasti to Kushinagara — two of these at Śrāvasti, roughly 600 Li W of Kapilavastu, two at Kushinagara about 600 Li E of Kapilavastu, and three in close proximity mid-way between Śrāvasti and Kushinagara — to mark the places associated with the birthplace of Guatama Buddha and to mark the parinirvāṇa of Krakuchanda and Kanakmuni Buddha. A breakthrough occurred in 1885 when Duncan Ricketts, manager in Dulha Estate, reported the existence of a pillar near the village of Paderiyā (Rumindie). He sent a rubbing of inscription on it to Vincent A. Smith, Assistant Commissioner of the Basti District (India), who dismissed it as mediaeval scribblings.  Later, in 1893, an inscribed Ashokan pillar was discovered at Niglivā. When explorers found the Niglivā Pillar, they learnt that it was locally known as Bhimsen-Ki-Nigāli (smoking pipe of legendary Bhima from the epic Mahābhārata). General Khadga Shumsher Rana, Governor of Palpa (Nepal) sent rubbings from Niglivā to Dr. William Hoey, the Commissioner of the Gorakhpur Division.

Both the mediaeval inscriptions on the Paderiā (Rumandie) and Niglivā pillars were found to be from 14th CE local King Ripu Malla. The inscriptions were on the upper exposed part of the pillars. Smith and Hoey didn’t realise there could be more inscriptions from Emperor Ashoka’s time on the buried part of the Paderiā and Niglivā Pillars. Hence, they didn’t take further interest in the pillars.

Inscriptions of King Ripu Malla on Ashokan Pillar, Lumbīnī.

Khadga Shumsher Rana and Dr Anton Alois Führer, Archaeological Surveyor of the NW Province and Oude in 1896 discovered the Ashokan inscription on the buried part of the Rumindie Pillar. First translations of the Niglivā Pillar and Rumindie pillars inscriptions were offered by Professor Johann Georg Bühler, University of Vienna in 1896. The Ashokan inscriptions engraved on the pillars are in Brāhmi script and Pali language. Inscriptions on the Rumindie mention the visit of Emperor Ashoka’s pilgrimage to the birthplace of the Buddha in his 20th year of his reign. Similarly, Niglivā pillar attests the fact that Emperor Ashoka enlarged the stūpa of Kanakamuni Buddha, worshiped it, and erected a stone pillar for Kanakamuni Buddha on the occasion of the twentieth year of his coronation.

Rumindie Inscription established Lumbīnī, the birthplace of the Buddha and Inscription of king Ripu Malla on Rumandie and Niglivā Pillars suggested that Buddhist pilgrimage sites in Nepal were not completely lost into oblivion till 14th CE.   

Map depicting Ancient Kapilavastu Kingdom.

2- Karakchunda and Kanakmuni Buddha

Based on local information, Dr. Führer discovered the Gothiāwā pillar in February 1898. The Gothiāwā Pillar was broken and the part that would bear the inscription was not found.  In 1899, Mukherjee saw broken fragments of an Ashokan Pillar including a broken bell-shaped base, typical Ashokan Capital in Gothiāwā. The locals, according to Mukherjee, referred to these broken pieces as gutis - the name Gothiāwā being derived from gutis.  Locals told Mukherjee about a legend of Lori Ahir who used to play  with these gutis, throwing them up and catching them with his hands.

Broken Ashokan Pillar, Gothiāwā.

Gothiāwā Broken Pillar and Stūpa mound.

With Bikram ji at Gothiāwā Pillar site.

It is generally believed that this pillar marks the place of Krakuchanda Buddha. According to Xuanzang, the pillars of Karakchunda Buddha and Kanakmuni Buddha were separated by 30Li NE (10-12 Km) and according to Faxian they were one Yojan North (10-12 Km) away. Gothiāwā Pillar (Karakchunda Buddha) and Niglivā Pillar (Kanakmuni Buddha) are separated by 14km (NE) as the crow flies which is in acceptable limits (as mentioned by Faxian and Xuanzang). 

Excavation at Gothiāwā in 1994-95 by Nepali-Italian team led by Giovanni Verardi has revealed the brick stūpa to be from 3rd BCE.  The stūpa is approximately 68ft in diameter placed adjacent to the broken Pillar. 

In spite of lack of conclusive proof, it is accepted that Gothiāwā Pillar is the correct identification  of the place of Karakchunda Buddha.  Stūpas at the places where Karakchunda Buddha met his father and birthplace of Karakchunda Buddha have not been identified yet. According to Xuanzang, an ‘old city’, the birthplace of the Karakchunda Buddha, was 50 Li South of ‘City’ (i.e. Tilaurākot) (projected location 1a in map). And, the place where the Karakchunda Buddha met his father was South of the ‘Old City’(projected location 1b in map) SE from the ‘old city’, the birthplace of the Karakchunda Buddha, was a stūpa enshrined with his body relics. Near the relic stūpa was a 30ft inscribed Ashoka Pillar (the broken Pillar of Gothiāwā).

In 1899, Dr. Lawrence Austine Waddell of Indian Medical Services discovered on digging out the Kanakmuni Pillar stump that it was not the base of that pillar and was not set in foundations. Also, Xuanzang mentioned about a stūpa near the Ashokan Pillar, which was not found near the broken stump of the Ashokan Pillar at Niglivā Sāgar. As noted by P C Mukherjee in 1899, it was evident that Niglivā pillar did not belong to its find spot (i.e. Niglivā), and had been removed recently from some other nearby place. General Rana Khadga was of the opinion that Tauliāwā, situated 2km south of Niglivā, was the original site of Kanakamuni Pillar. According to him, the temple of Mahādeva was situated over a stūpa. He also noticed a few stone images of ancient times lying there. He was told by local people that formerly the mound was topped by a Shiva Linga which was without end. Lingam was called rakta murti meaning red statue. However, the Linga is now covered and nobody is allowed to investigate it.  Vincent Smith was of the opinion that the Niglivā pillar might have  been removed from Sisāniā or Paltā devi

According to Xuanzang, 30Li NE of  ‘Old City’ (i.e. 1a on map) was an ‘old large city’(probable location 1c on map), where Kanakmuni Buddha was born.  NE of ‘old large city’ was a stūpa to mark the place where Kanakmuni Buddha inducted his father in his religion. North of the ‘inducting stūpa’ was the  stūpa over body relics  of Kanakmuni Buddha along with a 20ft inscribed Ashoka Pillar. Since the exact place of installation of Niglivā pillar (Kanakmuni Buddha) has not been ascertained, rest of the identification relative to the Kanakmuni pillar cannot be investigated. 

3- Royal City and Palace City of Kapilavastu

In the Palace City, Kapilavastu, Tilaurākot.

With Bikram ji and team from  Lumbini Museum, Palace City Complex, Tilaurākot.

These discoveries of Ashokan Pillars led to the identification of the areas that comprised the kingdom of Kapilavastu and provided the much needed lead for further exploration and identification of places in that region.  According to Travels, Xuanzang says the ‘Royal City’ (i.e. the district of the Capital of Kapilavastu kingdom) was in ruins and its area could not be ascertained, but the solid brick foundation of the ‘Palace City’ (i.e. where the King lived) were above 15Li (5kms approx.) in circuit. In Life, ‘Royal City’ of Travels is mentioned as the ‘Capital’ and the ‘Palace city’ as the ‘Inner City’ or the ‘City’.

P C Mukherjee identified Tilaurākot as the possible site of ‘Palace City’/ ‘City’. Mukherjee noticed a complex 1600 ft by 1000 ft of high brick walls complete with an outer moat laid out in the form of a rectangle, on each side of which was a gate with guard house. There is enough circumstantial evidence to believe the identification of Tilaurākot as remains of ‘Palace City/ City’ of Kapilavastu. ( Read my story on the identification of Kapilavastu.) Archaeological investigation by Durham University and Department of Archaeology, Nepal between 2014-2016 has also confirmed Tilaurākot to be the site ‘Palace City’/‘City’ mentioned by Xuanzang.

4- Nigrodha Monastery 

According to Xuanzang, on his first visit to Kapilavastu, the Buddha was received by his father king Suddhodana. There was an Ashokan stūpa to mark this event. The place was called Nigrodha Monastery. According to Pali sources, Nigrodha Monastery was a grove situated outside Kapilavastu (MA.i.289). It belonged to a Śākyan named Nigrodha, hence its name was Nigrodhārāma.

Archaeological remains at Kudān are now believed to be the remains of  Nigrodha Monastery. Identification of Kudān as Nigrodha monastery needs to be investigated again. The three important translations of Travels are not in agreement about the situation of Nigrodha monastery. According to Thomas Watters, Nigrodha monastery was situated 3-4 Li (1-2 Kms) South of ‘Kapilavastu’. Vincent Smith, who has probably referred to Watters, is of the view that ‘Kapilavastu’ mentioned in Thomas Watters is the ‘Royal City’. ‘Royal City’ was a larger town around the ‘Palace City’/ ‘City’. ‘Royal City’ according to Xuanzang was in ruins and its boundary could not be ascertained.   Smith made a guesstimate that  the southern boundary of ‘Royal City’, probably extended to the neighbourhood of Kudān.   And hence according to him and Mukherjee are of the view that Kudān could be the remains of Nigrodha monastery.

But Samuel Beal and Li Rongxi in their translations of Travels have mentioned Nigrodha monastery to be 3-4Li (1-2kms) South of the ‘City’, i.e. ‘Palace City’ or the present Tilaurākot Kot complex.  ‘Palace City’/’City’ is where the King, his immediate and extended family and higher officials lived. Kudān is 5.5 kms as the crow flies from Tilaurākot complex, which is much more than 3-4 Li (approximately 1.5 kms).

Taulihāwā is also a very prominent archaeological site which is not extensively studied. Taulihāwā is situated 2-3 kms as the crow flies south of Tilaurākot and hence a potential candidate for the Nigrodha monastery. 

According to Pali sources, it was during this first visit he gave talks to hundreds of Śākyans and admitted many of them into Saṅgha. Also, it was here at Nigrodha monastery, after listening to the Buddha, Mahāprajāpatī Gautamī (Mahāpajāpatī Gotamī) the foster mother of the Buddha expressed her desire to join the Saṅgha and practice closely with the Buddha. But the Buddha declined the  request of Mahāprajāpatī Gautamī. Later, she offered robes to the Buddha which he accepted.  Xuanzang has  mentioned about a stūpa where the Buddha accepted robes from Mahāprajāpatī Gautamī and a stūpa where Buddha admitted into the brotherhood eight princes and 500 Śākyans. These two stūpas were near Nigrodha monastery and have no identifications yet. 

P. C. Mukherjee, who noticed this site of Kudān in 1899 consisting of many mounds, noted that this site was locally referred to as ‘Lori ki Kudān’ (jump of Lori). Local people here offered terracotta elephants and horses to the spirit of Lori Ahir, who the local legend says, was a great giant and used to leap from one mound to the others. 

Remains of Nigrodha Monastery, Kudān.

5- Ploughing Festival 

One day, king Suddhodana took Prince Siddhārtha to the ploughing festival, which took place every year. Instead of enjoying the ceremony, Siddhārtha started meditating in the shade of a tree (Jāmun, rose-apple tree).  When his attendants returned to him, they found him sitting cross-legged & in a deep trance. Xuanzang saw a stūpa to mark the event situated 40Li North East of Kapilavastu (i.e. Royal City) (Projected 5 on map).  This stūpa is still unidentified. 

6- Śākyan Massacre stūpa

King Pasenadi of Kosala kingdom wanted to marry a daughter of the Śākyan King Mahānamā. But the prideful Śākya clan considered the clan of Pasenadi not as purely and gave over a half slave girl instead. While still a boy, Prince Virūḍhaka (Vidūdabha) visited Kapilavastu his maternal grandparents in Kapilavastu and learned of his low birth. When he became King, Virūḍhaka brought his army and attacked the Śākya clan and had them all killed men, women and children. According to Xuanzang the place where the Śākyan were put to death was to the North East of ‘Capital’, i.e. ‘Royal City’ (Projected 6 on map).  Dr. Anton Alois Führer in 1898 ‘excavated’ a series of 17 small stūpas between Sagarwā and Bandhauli. According to him they were small square relic stūpa, 12 to 5 ft in height, made of well-burnt bricks varying in size from 19’ by 19’ to 7’ by 9’. Führer in the process of excavations destroyed all the stūpas. Identifications offered by Führer are also supported by Mukherjee and Vincent Smith  yet  identifications are not conclusive/ officially not confirmed.

7- Arrow Spring

Crown Prince Siddhārtha excelled in athletics competing with other princes.  During one such athletics competition he shot an arrow which hit the ground causing a spring of water shoot up. Arrow spring according to Xuanzang was 32Li south-east of ‘City’ (i.e. Tilaurākot) (Projected as 7 on map). Xuanzang saw a stūpa near the spring. He was told that spring had a healing power of great reputation. 

A little over  3 miles ESE of Gothiāwā, General Shumsher Rana Khadga noticed a village  called Kuwā, so named not only for its many wells, but specially for one particular well , the water of which is reputed for its healing properties. According to Rana the site was 6 miles/30Li SE of Tilaurākot and 12miles ENE is Rumindei. General Rana also noticed a solitary tenooa tree by the well. Well was silted and known by a dimple on the ground.  General Rana also saw a small mound strewn over with bricks near the silted well. The Well, according to General Rana, was worshiped by the local peasants.  Local peasants believed that diseases seemingly incurable or pronounced as such by professional healers, are cured if an offering is made to the presiding deity of the well Mahisāsur

Mukherjee has proposed Sisāniā  as the probable site for the Arrow Spring. 

Venerable Metteyya Sakyaputta, Vice-Chairman, Lumbīnī Development Authority who is very well acquainted with the surroundings of Lumbīnī Province is of view that village Ratanpurā situated south of Dohani and north of Sisāniā could be the site of Arrow Spring. 

8- ‘Palace City’- Where Siddhārtha spent his early days

Inside the ‘Palace City’, where Bodhisattva Siddhārtha spent his childhood. Xuanzang saw many shrines and representations to mark the events associated with Bodhisattva Siddhārtha as if the ‘Palace City’ was sort of  transformed into a shrine, with temples and stūpas to mark his footsteps in the  fortified ‘Palace City’.

Inside the ‘Palace City’ Xuanzang saw a shrine with representation of the father of the Buddha, King Suddhodana. Soon after the birth of Bodhisattva Siddhārtha, a great sage Asitā arrived in the court of King Suddhodana. He noticed the child (Siddhārtha) had every sign of greatness- Xuanzang saw a stūpa where sage Asitā announced the destiny of Siddhārtha. In his youth, Siddhārtha competed with fellow Śākyans in athletics and he threw an elephant over the city-moat. Xuanzang saw a stūpa from where Buddha threw the elephant over the city-moat and at the place where the elephant landed.  Bodhisattva Siddhārtha took a last glance at his son Rāhula before finally renouncing the worldly life. Xuanzang saw a shrine in ‘Palace City’ with representation of Yashodharā and Rāhula.

Excavations inside the Tilaurākot Complex. Pic@ LDA.

Area outside the Tilaurākot Complex.

Area east of Tilaurākot Complex. site of 'Eastern Stupa' and Monastery.

Geophysical surveys by Coningham of Durham University have revealed  that the ‘Palace City’ had a network of cardinal roads which are broadly aligned north-south and east-west, forming a slightly irregular grid pattern. The main east-west road is found to be quite broad.  Study has also revealed more than one phase of reconstruction.  A large  walled complex, probably a place of high significance, has been identified in the central part of the ‘Palace City’. This  complex measuring 132 metres north-south and perhaps 120 metres east-west had several buildings. 

9- Temple of Ishvara Deva

According to the Śākyan custom, the infant prince (Siddhārtha) on the way from Lumbīnī garden, the place of his birth to the Palace was  to be presented to the deity. According to Xuanzang, this temple of Ishvara deva containing a stone image of the God in the attitude of rising and bowing was outside the ‘East Gate of City’ (projected location 4 on map). 

According to Aśokavdāna, Emperor Ashoka and monk Upagupta visited thirty-two places which includes the temple of the Śākya clan where the  infant Buddha was presented to the gods. Lalitavistara  has also mentioned about this event of  infant Buddha being presented to the gods.

Mukherjee proposed the Tauliśvara temple at Taulivā (Taulihāwā), the temple of Iśvara. But, Taulihāwā is 2-3kms south of Tilaurākot  and not east of the gate of the ‘Palace City’ as documented by Xuanzang.

Excavation of the ‘Eastern stūpa’. Pic Vikas, 2018

Excavation of the ‘Eastern stūpa’. Pic @LDA

Excavation of the ‘Eastern stūpa’. Pic @LDA

There is a prominent mound on the eastern side of the ‘Eastern Gate’ of the ‘Palace City’. Coningham in his report has mentioned this mound as ‘Eastern stūpa' (refer map). Mukherjee proposed this ‘Eastern stūpa’ as Kaṇṭhaka’s ​​(Kannthaka) Nibarttana (return), as mentioned in Lalitavistara.  According to Buddhist literature, Bodhisattva Siddhārtha in his renunciation sent off the charioteer Chandaka and horse Kaṇṭhaka after reaching Anomā. According to Lalitavistara, a Stūpa was erected to mark their return to the Palace.  Faxian and Xuanzang have not mentioned about any stūpa (i.e. Nibarttana stūpa) to mark the return of Kaṇṭhaka horse.

As  mentioned in the Pali buddhist sources, just outside Kapilavatthu (Kapilavastu)  the prince stopped the horse, in order to take a last look at the city. A cetiya was later erected on this spot and called Kanthakanivatta-cetiya (J.i.62-5; Mtu.ii.159f., 165, 189, 190; VibhA.34, etc.).

It is to be seen if  the ‘Eastern Stūpa’ currently being investigated by Coningham and his team is the  shrine of Ishvara deva mentioned by Xuanzang, Kanthakanivatta-cetiya  of Pali sources or Kantaka's Nibarttana stūpa mentioned in Lalitavistara as proposed by P C Mukherjee. 

10- Monastery with 30 monks

Xuanzang has mentioned about a monastery near/beside the ‘Palace City’ with 30 monks (some accounts 3000 monks). Xuanzang has not given the exact direction where the monastery is situated with respect to the ‘Palace City’. Excavation by Durham University led by Coningham has discovered remains of a  substantial monastic complex from 350 BCE. The remains of the monastery are situated South of ‘Eastern stūpa’. Coningham has mentioned the monastery to be associated with the ‘Eastern stūpa’.  The Geophysical survey indicates that the ‘Eastern stūpa’ may at one time have stood within a brick-walled enclosure, measuring approximately 50 metres square  or this could be circumambulatory path around the stūpa.

11- Two important finds in Lumbīnī

I wish to  discuss two significant excavations in recent times inside the Mayādevi Temple  that have reshaped our understanding about Lumbīnī and about the Buddhist pilgrimage in general. First, the excavations by the Japanese Buddhist Foundation in collaboration with Nepal government in 1994 led to discovery of a ‘Marker Stone’. The excavation team concluded that the stone was put to mark where the Buddha was born. The discovery of ‘Marker Stone’ has led to reinterpretation of the Ashokan inscription on the pillar. The phrase ‘silavigada bhīca’, that was earlier interpreted possibly as the Horse Capital of the Pillar mentioned by Xuanzang is now being reinterpreted as an enclosure of bricks (bhīca), around the ‘Marker Stone’ (silavigada). So, this would mean that Emperor Ashoka constructed a platform to place the ‘Marker Stone’ upon and erected a Stone Pillar to mark the birthplace of the Buddha.

Marker Stone, Mayādevi Temple, Lumbīnī.
Ashokan Inscriptions, Lumbīnī Pillar.

Inside Mayādevi Temple, Lumbīnī.
Naitivity Image inside the Mayadevi Temple, Lumbīnī.

Similarly, the second important find made by excavation by the Department of Archaeology, Lumbīnī Development Trust and Durham University (UK) during 2010-2013 has revealed the existence of a series of post holes in the center of the Mayādevi Temple. It is now believed that these post holes mark the beginning of the ritual activities at the birthplace of the Buddha. i.e. the Ashoka Tree that mother Mahāmayā held as the Bodhisattva emerged from her right side. Archaeologists, who revealed the Post Holes are of view that at first this was a tree shrine- a cardinally oriented timber structure delimiting the sacred area i.e. the Ashoka Tree. The ritualistic activities began here immediately after the Buddha attained Mahāparinirvāṇa. Excavations also revealed the existence of a pavement and kerb developed later around the shrine; this was followed by installation of ‘Marker Stone’ on a cardinally oriented platform by Ashoka in 3rd BCE. 


The Geophysical study and limited excavations of Tilaurākot Complex by the team Coningham has confirmed the earliest date demonstrates a foundation in the eighth century BCE. The study has also revealed that the interior layout of the ‘Palace City’ has an urban grid plan with the uppermost layer of the grid plan from Kushān Period (1-2nd CE). The excavation has confirmed that  the cardinal-oriented layout of the ‘Palace City’ was first laid out in timber in around 6th BCE (i.e. contemporary of the Buddha). Excavation has also demonstrated  that there was construction  inside the ‘Palace City’ in Mauryan (3rd BCE) and Kushān (1st-2nd CE) period and cultural activities between 5-10th CE.   Some more study is awaited for a complete chronological sequencing of the site and its development.

Ongoing archaeological surveys, mapping and documenting near Tilaurākot Complex. Pic Vikash Kumar, 2018.

Unlike the Travels, where Xuanzang has given detailed descriptions of shrines like Arrow Spring, Nigrodha Monastery, places of Karakchunda and Kanakmuni Buddha and other shrines related to the Buddha including Lumbīnī, the Birthplace of the Buddha, the Biography i.e. the Life has just mentioned about him visiting only the shrines inside the ‘Palace City’ and then from there directly going 500Li East to Rāmagrāma.

This seems highly likely that sites in the neighbourhood of ‘Palace City’ (Tilaurākot) like Nigrodha monastery, Arrow spring, Lumbīnī and others may be all consumed by forest and non negotiable in some particular seasons when Xuanzang was there. He might have collected information  about these sites mentioned in Travels from the inmates of the monastery  adjacent to ‘Palace City’. This is why distances  of the place of the Karakchunda Buddha  and the Nigrodha monastery mentioned by Xuanzang are  inconsistent with actual distance. Xuanzang  has described the Ashokan Pillar to mark the Karakchunda Buddha place to be 50Li South (i.e. 15kms) but actually, it  is only 5kms south as the crow flies. Similarly, Kudān, the presumed  site  of  Nigrodha  monastery, should be 1-2 kms from Tilaurākot which is actually 5kms as the crow flies from  Tilaurākot.

Good news is that Lumbīnī Development Authority (LDA) in collaboration with Nepal Archaeology and foreign institutions like Durham University are doing archaeological surveys discovering, mapping and documenting Buddhist sites in Tarai region of Nepal. In the coming years we hope that all the sacred sites in Kapilavastu mentioned by Xuanzang are identified and developed.

Story chronicled by Dr. Aparajita Goswami

Thanks to Lumbini Development Authority, Shri Bikram Pande Kaaji Nuwakott, Radio Tourism and Chandra Pathak, LDA.


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-------------------------- Archaeological Survey of India Report for the Year 1875-76 and 1876-77, Vol XVIII Published by ASI, GOI, 2000, (First Published in1883).

-------------------------- Archaeological Survey of India Report for the Year 1877-78-79 and 80,  Vol XXII,  Published by ASI, GOI, 2000, (First Published in1885).

Darnal, P; 2002, Archaeological Activities In Nepal Since 1893 A.D. To 2002 A.D, Ancient Nepal, Number 150. http://himalaya.socanth.cam.ac.uk/collections/journals/ancientnepal/pdf/ancient_nepal_150_03.pdf

Dharmachakra Translation Committee (tans.).; 2013. Lalitavistara. Published by 84000. www.84000.co

Führer, A.; 1897, Monograph on Buddha Śākyamuni’s Birth-Place in the Nepalese Terai, Archaeological Survey of Northern India, Vol. VI. Allahabad: The Government Press, N.W.P. and Oudh.

Misra, T. N, 1996, The Archaeological Activities In Lumbīnī, Ancient Nepal, Number 139. http://himalaya.socanth.cam.ac.uk/collections/journals/ancientnepal/pdf/ancient_nepal_139_04.pdf

Mukherji, B. P. C., 1901, A Report on a Tour of Exploration of the Antiquities in the Tarai, Nepal, The Region of Kapilavastu; During February and March, 1899, Part 1. Volume 26, Part 1 of Archaeological Survey of India. Imperial Series. 

Rongxi, Li; 1996, The Great Tang Dynasty Record of the Western Regions, BDK America, Inc. 

Tuladhar, D. S; 2002, The Ancient City of Kapilavastu-Revisted, Ancient Nepal, Number 151. http://www.digitalhimalaya.com/collections/journals/ancientnepal/index.php?selection=140

Verardi, G, 1998, Excavations at Gothiāwā: A note on the results obtained during the first excavation campaign in winter 1994-95. Ancient Nepal, Number 140. http://himalaya.socanth.cam.ac.uk/collections/journals/ancientnepal/pdf/ancient_nepal_140_07.pdf

Watters, Thomas; 2004, On Yuan Chwang’s Travels in India, (Edited by T. W. Rhys Davids and  S.W. Bushell), Reprinted in LPP 2004, Low Price Publications, Delhi. (First published by  Royal Asiatic Society, London, 1904-05).

Abbreviations of Bibliography:

Source of Pali references: http://www.palikanon.com/english/pali_names/dic_idx.html

·   P.T.S. means published by the Pali Text Society.

·   VibhA.=Sammoha-Vinodanī, Vibhanga Commentary (P.T.S.).

·   J.=Jātaka, ed. Fausboll, 5 vols.

. MA.= Papañca Sūdanī, Majjhima Commentary, 2 vols. (Aluvihāa Series, Colombo).

·   Mtu.=Mahāvastu, ed. Senart, 3 vols.



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