Wednesday, January 24, 2024

A-yü-t'ê (Ayudha or Ayōdhyā) of Xuanzang

Kamdhenu Mātā Shrine in the precinct of Matgeda Temple.

After a brief hiatus, I resumed my foot journey Retracing Bodhisattva Xuanzang (RBX) from Ayōdhyā, Uttar Pradesh on October 11th 2023. The present section of the foot journey is approximately 200 km long starting from Ayōdhyā and ending at Kosambī (Kauśambī) touching Prayāga.

Xuanzang in his travel accounts has mentioned his visit to a country named   'O-yu-t’o (Julien 1857: 267)/ 'O-yu-to (Beal 1969: 85)/ ‘A-yü-t'ê’(Watters 1904: 354)/ Ayōdhyā (Rongxi 1996:132). All the translators, Stanislas Julien, Samuel Beal, Thomas Watters and Li Rongxi have unanimously restored the name of the place as Ayōdhyā.

Xuanzang travelled southeast of Navadevakula (Neval) for over six hundred Li to reach the country of Ayōdhyā in the domain of Central India. Ayōdhyā according to Xuanzang was situated by the river Gangā (Ganges).  There is a mention of a city named Ayojjhā in Pali sources. Pali sources recorded two visits of the Buddha in Ayojjhā when he delivered the Phena Sutta (S.iii.140ff) and the Dārukkhandha Sutta (S.iv.179f). Both the Sutta delivered by Buddha in Ayojjhā mentions the city to be situated on the banks of the river Gangā.  The description provided by Xuanzang and in the Pali sources raises the question: were there two Ayōdhyā?

Alexander Cunningham believed there were two Ayōdhyā. One Ayōdhyā on the banks of Sarayū the capital of Kosala, the city of the Sanskrit epic Rāmāyan and the second Ayōdhyā on the banks of Gangā as recounted by Xuanzang and also mentioned in Phena Sutta and the Dārukkhandha Sutta. Following the descriptions of Xuanzang, Cunningham identified Kākupur situated on the south of the Ganges  24 km South of Newal and 44 km SE of Kannauj as Ayōdhyā (Cunningham 2000: 295).  There is a compelling basis for why Cunningham was led to believe in the existence of two Ayōdhyā.

First: Xuanzang travelled 600 Li SE from Navadevakula ​​(Neval, 26° 54'  N. 80° 10'  E). The present-day Ayōdhyā is not SE as mentioned by Xuanzang but is exactly East of Neval (Navadevakula). 

Second: Ayōdhyā according to Xuanzang was situated on the south of Gangā. But the present Ayōdhyā, the place of pilgrimage for Hindus is situated on the banks of river Sarayū (also Ghāghrā).

Third: Xuanzang in his visit to Sthāneśvara (Kurukśetra)  documented the local legend of the wars of the Kauravas and Pāṇḍavas from the Epic Mahābhārata (Watters 1904: 315-316). Similarly, Ayōdhyā is traditionally identified as the place of Lord Rāma and it was here at Ayōdhyā that another ancient Indian Epic Rāmāyana is set up. However, Xuanzang in his description of Ayōdhyā did not mention any association of the place with the Epic Rāmāyana.

Fourth: From Ayōdhyā, Xuanzang travelled 300 Li east to Ayemukha and from Ayemukha he travelled 700 Li southeast to reach Prayāga. But we know that Prayāga is situated southwest of present-day Ayōdhyā and not southeast as alluded to by Xuanzang.

Thomas Watters, Stanislas Julien and M. St. Martin trusted the A-yü-t'ê of Xuanzang is the same as  Ayōdhyā of epic Rāmāyana (Watters 2004: 354). Rhys David believed that there was only one Ayōdhyā which was situated on the banks of Sarayū (Rhys David 1911: 34). The Jātaka Commentary (J.iv.82) mentions Ayojjhā, which here evidently refers to the city of the Sanskrit epics. According to Watters, Xuanzang may occasionally use the generic name of Gangā for a large affluent river, as Ghāghrā/Sarayū in this case. The Pali sources even mention five Gangās emerging from the Himālayās (Vyas 2013: 2025).  In ancient times, any large river emerging from the Himālayās was probably referred to as the Gangā. For example, Xuanzang on his way from Navadevakula mentions crossing the river Gangā to arrive at Ayōdhyā. This river Gangā can be identified with a stream of the river Sarayū that emanates from Sarayū, surrounds Ayōdhyā on its west and south, and then merges with Sarayū thus making Ayōdhyā an island. This river stream is called Tilodaki Gangā. Seems ‘Gangā’ was a generic name in ancient times and was used for many rivers and rivulets in the Gangetic plains.

I believe Thomas Watters, Julien and Martin correctly identify Ayōdhyā situated on the banks of river Sarayū/Ghāghrā with  A-yü-t'ê of Xuanzang. Xuanzang travelled 1600 Li from Navadevakula to Prayāga ( Navadevakula to Ayōdhyā 600 Li, Ayōdhyā to Ayemukha 300 Li, Ayemukha to Prayāga 700 Li) which is approximately 500 km. Cunningham identified Kākupur and Daunḍikherā (Cunningham 2000: 295-296) as situated on the banks of the Gangā with Ayōdhyā and Ayemukha respectively. As the crow flies the distance between Navadevekula to Prayāga touching Kākupur and Daunḍikherā is approximately 250 km, which is certainly much less than the 500 km (1600 Li) mentioned by Xuanzang. Cunningham later proposed Tusāran Bihār in the Pratapgarh district and Singraur in the Allahabad (Prayāga) district as two other alternative identifications of Ayemukha (Cunningham 1880: 63-70). Still, even these identifications are just a conjecture and do not meet the specifications of distance provided by Xuanzang. Based on my study, I have proposed the ancient remains of Kopiyā (26°52' N, 83°4' E) in the Sant Kabir Nagar district of Uttar Pradesh as the capital city of Ayemukha (Anand 2024).  Kopiyā is 90 km east as the crow flies from Ayōdhyā.

There is likely an error in the direction of travel of Xuanzang from Ayemukha to Prayāga, probably a slip-up by Xuanzang himself or by the later copyist. If we allow a change in the direction of the travel of Xuanzang from Ayemukha to Prayāga from SE as mentioned by him to SW, the picture becomes clear. In that case, the identification of Ayōdhyā situated on the banks of river Ghāghrā as A-yü-t'ê of Xuanzang complies with the total distance i.e. 1600 Li (500 km) travelled by Xuanzang from Navadevakula (Newal) to Prayāga touching Ayōdhyā and Kopiā  (Ayemukha).

At the time of Xuanzang, Ayōdhyā Kingdom was a prominent Buddhist centre with above 100 Buddhist monasteries, and more than 3000 brethren who were students of both ‘Vehicles’ (Watters 1904: 355). The Buddhist shrines mentioned by Xuanzang can be broadly clubbed into four groups of shrines situated in and around the City (capital of Ayōdhyā) as illustrated in the map (See Fig. 2)

  1. Within the capital, was the old monastery in which Vāsubandhu composed various śāstras Mahāyānist and Hinayānist. Beside this monastery were the remains of the hall in which Vāsubandhu had expounded Buddhism to princes and illustrious monks and brahmins from other countries.

  1. King Aśoka built a stūpa over two hundred feet high to mark the place where the Buddha gave sermons for three months. The Aśokan stūpa was situated 4-5 Li  (1-2 km) North of the City (Rongxi 1996:133)/  NW of the City (Beal 1914: 85) on the bank of the river Gangā. The stūpa was situated close to a great monastery. There was another stūpa near it to mark where the four past Buddhas used to sit and walk up and down.

  1. 4-5 Li (1-2 Km) to the west of the monastery is a stūpa containing the Tathāgata’s hair and nail relics. To the north of the stūpa containing hair and nail relics are the ruins of a monastery in which the śāstra master Śrīlabdha of yore composed the Vibhāṣā-śāstra of the Sautrāntika school. 

  1. In a great mango grove 5-6 Li (1-2 Km) to the southwest of the city there is an old monastery where Asaṅga Bodhisattva received instructions and guided the common people. More than one hundred paces to the northwest of the mango grove is a stūpa containing hair and nail relics of the Tathāgata. The old foundations beside it mark where Vasubandhu Bodhisattva descended from Tuṣita Heaven to see Asaṅga Bodhisattva. 

Fig. 1. Map depicting travel of Xuanzang.

Fig. 2. Map depicting projection of description of Xuanzang.

The distance and direction of the Buddhist shrines in Ayōdhyā mentioned by Xuanzang are with respect to the City. With so much construction and demolition work in recent years, establishing the boundary of the Ayōdhyā city of the Buddhist period is a difficult proposition. Cunningham in his survey of Ajudhya (Ayōdhyā) in 1861-62 noted the Ayōdhyā city was confined to the northeast corner of the old city (i.e. ruins of the old city). Cunningham saw several Brahmanical and Jaina temples of modern date but no ancient structures in Ayōdhyā.  According to him, the existing Brahmanical temples at Ayōdhyā were of relatively modern origin. Cunningham thought that the modern Brahmanical temples were rebuilt at the sites of the ancient Brahmanical temples that were destroyed by the Musulmans. Cunningham noted there were no high mounds of ruins, covered with broken statues and sculptured pillars, such as mark the sites of other ancient cities, but only a low irregular mass of rubbish heaps, from which all the bricks have been excavated for the houses of the neighbouring city of Faizābād. The Department of Ancient Indian History, Culture and Archaeology, Banaras Hindu University did excavations in 1969-70 and the Archaeological Survey of India did excavations in Ayōdhyā in 1976-77 and 2002-03. The two later excavations by ASI were carried out under the ‘Archaeology of Rāmāyana Sites’ project. These excavations focused mainly on finding material evidence for the epic Rāmāyana. The excavations have established the occupation of the site (i.e. Ayōdhyā) starting from 1000 BCE (NBPW culture) and continued up to 12th CE (Dikshit 2003: 114-117). Excavations in Ayōdhyā have confirmed that Ayōdhyā was continuously inhabited from the 1st millennium  BCE to the 2nd millennium CE (Dikshit 2003: 116).

All the archaeological studies in Ayōdhyā post-independence by the Government institutions have conveniently avoided any mention of the visit of Xuanzang to Ayōdhyā. The only explanation I can think of for this omission is the silence of Xuanzang about any reference to Rāmāyana at Ayōdhyā.

With Vineet Maurya ji and Poonam ji at Tathāgata Bauddha Vihāra, Ayōdhyā.

The Mani Parwat temple rests on an ancient mound.

Vineet Ji showed me ancient bricks on the surface of Mani Parwat.

A view of Ayōdhyā city from the Mani Parwat.

Ancient bricks used in the floor of Mani Parwat temple.

Muslim shrines near the Mani Parwat are also situated on the ancient mounds. 

In Ayōdhyā, I was very warmly received by Shri Vineet Maurya Ji. Maurya Ji is a student of history and a heritage activist born and brought up in Ayōdhyā.  Maurya Ji is well acquainted with the ancient mounds in Ayōdhyā. I requested Vineet Ji to help locate the remains of the two Ashokan stūpas which, according to Xuanzang, were situated a little away from the city.   Vineet Ji and I, both of us started the exploration of the Ayōdhyā city from Mani-Parbat (26°46' 56''N, 82°12' 01''E). Mani-Parbat, Kuber-Parbat, and Sugrib-Parbat,  these three shrines situated south of the ancient city which Cunningham believed were of Buddhist origin. Mani Parbat means mountain made of gems. Mani Parbat is a huge mound, like a hill made up of bricks. There is a temple complex on the top of the Mani Parbat mound. It was early morning, the temple complex had only a few visitors.  I noticed the temple priests were busy with morning ablutions and cleaning the premises.  The Mani Parbat shrine is an important part of the Rāmāyan Pilgrimage circuit in Ayōdhyā.  Vineet Ji shared with me the two popular Rāmāyan legends associated with the Mani Parwat. One related to Sitā, the wife of Lord Rāma and another to the monkey god Hanumān.  The mound is more than 60 feet tall and spread over two acres.  There were big-sized ancient bricks probably from the 1st-2nd CE spread all over the surface of the mound. A small patch of the brick flooring in the temple situated on the top of the mound was made of ancient tiled brick probably from the early centuries.

Vineet ji believed Mani Parbat to be an Ashoka stūpa.  I am confident Mani Parbat is the stūpa containing hair and nail relics of the Buddha mentioned by Xuanzang. Xuanzang in his accounts of Ayōdhyā described about two stūpas containing hair and nail relics of the Buddha. One of the hair and nail relic stūpas was 4-5 Li SW of the City. Mani Parbat is situated S/SW of the present Ayōdhyā and fits the descriptions of Xuanzang (See Fig. 2).  Immediate surroundings of Mani Parbat have mounds with a few of them having Muslim shrines over them.  These mounds, I think represent the old monastery which according to Xuanzang was associated with Vāsubandhu and Asaṅga. 

Xuanzang saw a 200 ft Aśoka stūpa to mark the place where the Buddha gave sermons for three months. This 200 ft Aśokan stūpa was situated 1-2 km North/North West of the City on the banks of river Gangā (i.e. Saryū). Alois Anton Führer based on the information from locals has mentioned a mound known as, ‘Shāh-jūrān-kā-tīlā’(Führer 1891: 297).  Shāh-jūrān-kā-tīlāh (26°48' 22'' N, 82°12' 12'' E) is situated on the north side of the city by the bank of the river Saryū and fits the descriptions of Xuanzang (See Fig. 2). Jūrān-kā-tīlā is a huge mound like Mani Parbat. But unlike Mani Parbat, Jūrān-kā-tīlā was encroached upon by residences on all the sides. I climbed up to a Mazār (mausoleum) situated on its top.  There were tall structures here and there I could still get a panoramic view of the modern Ayōdhyā city. Vineet Ji told me until a few decades ago, Mani Parbat and Jūrān-kā-tīlāh were the ‘city viewpoints’. On a clear day, one could see Mani Parbat situated more than 2 km as the crow flies from Jūrān-kā-tīlāh. Jūrān-kā-tīlāh is now known as Aroujā tīlāh. The Tīlāh was strewn with big-sized ancient bricks which I think were from 1-2nd CE. My guesstimate is Jūrān-kā-tīlāh is the remains of the 200ft Aśokan stūpa in question. 

Mazār, temples and houses on the Jūrān-kā-tīlāh.

Ancient remains, Jūrān-kā-tīlāh.

A view of Ayōdhyā city from the Jūrān-kā-tīlāh.

Some ongoing construction on the  Jūrān-kā-tīlāh.

‘Ashokan Stūpa’ (Jūrān-kā-tīlāh) encroached from all the sides.

With a local scribe Askandh ji and Vineet Maurya Ji.

Xuanzang talks about yet another Buddhist complex consisting of a ruined monastery. It was here at this ruined monastery that the śāstra master Śrīlabdha composed the Vibhāṣā-śāstra of the Sautrāntika school.  There was a stūpa containing hair and nail relics of the Buddha beside this monastery. This Buddhist complex was situated 4-5 Li (1-2 km) west of the monastery near the 200 ft Aśokan stūpa (i.e. probably the Jūrān-kā-tīlāh). The ancient mounds of Rāmakot and Kuber tīlāh situated 1.5 km as the crow flies from Jūrān-kā-tīlāh are the probable sites that fit the description of Xuanzang (See Fig. 2). Rāmakot and Kuber tīlāh are situated SW and not exactly west as specified by Xuanzang, nevertheless, both sites are potential sites for the ruined monastery of Śrīlabdha and the second stūpa in Ayōdhyā containing hair and nail relics of the Buddha. 

Rāmakot and Kuber tīlāh are now part of the Rāma Mandir Complex (See Fig. 2). It is believed that Lord Rāma of Epic Rāmāyana was born here. A delinquent mosque (Bābri Masjid) that existed at Rāmakot until 1992 was believed to have been built by Mogul king Bābur in the 16th century. It is believed that Bābur built the mosque after demolishing the Temple that existed at this place in honour of the birthplace of Lord Rāma. The Bābri Masjid was pulled down by a mob of the devotees of Lord Rāma in 1992. Vineet Ji who lives beside the boundary wall of the Rāma Janambhoomi Temple premises is a witness to the demolishing of the Bābri Masjid in 1992. Allahabad High Court in 2002 ordered the Archaeological Survey of India to determine whether a temple existed previously at the site of Bābri Masjid and whether the mosque had been constructed after the demolition of the former. Based on the findings of excavations of ASI the Supreme Court of India in 2019 allowed to building of the Rāma temple at the Rāmakot site. 

Unfortunately, we could not visit the Rāmakot and Kuber tīlāh as the Rāma  Janambhoomi Temple Complex was fortified and under high security. The construction of the new Rāma  Temple to be inaugurated on  January 22nd 2024 was in full swing.  Vineet Ji asked me not to take pictures as it was prohibited and everything is under surveillance. Despite tall barricades, I could see an array of giant cranes touching the sky and the tip of a big earthen mound.  The earthen mound was Kuber tīlāh, Vineet Ji told me. Vineet Ji believes that Rāmakot and Kuber tīlāh mounds are remains of Buddhist shrines. He strongly feels that the structure beneath the Bābri Masjid was not Rāma Mandir but a Buddhist monument. Vineet Ji in 2018 filed a petition in the Supreme Court asking for recognition of the disputed land (i.e. Rāmakot) as Ayōdhyā Buddha Vihāra under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, 1958.  His petition was accepted by the Supreme Court to be heard along with the main arguments in the decades-old Ayōdhyā title suit. Unfortunately, on the 2nd Feb 23, his petition was cancelled by the Court and he was asked to file a fresh petition. Vineet Ji did not have enough resources to pursue the case on his own anymore.  He told me he was looking for somebody who may be interested in financially investing to fill the fresh petition. 

Around 600 mt south of Jūrān-kā-tīlāh is another big mound. On the northeast corner of this big mound, there is a shrine called Matgeda Temple (Matagajendra Temple). I saw a reclining image of Buddha made of marble stone in Matgeda temple. As per Vineet Ji, this marble image of the Buddha was discovered a couple of decades ago from the mound on which Matgeda temple is situated. Around 2 acres of the mound is still free of encroachment but a road is being constructed over this mound. The construction of the path has exposed ancient bricks inside the mound. Next, Vineet Ji took me to Nageshwarnath Temple situated on the northeast corner of the city. Shivalinga in this temple according to Vineet Ji is the capital of an Ashoka Pillar. The temple was very crowded and the linga was covered with flower offerings. 

Matgeda Temple is situated on an ancient mound.

An image of the reclining Buddha in marble stone, Matgeda Temple.

A road is being created over the mound behind Matgeda Temple. Maurya ji holding ancient bricks.

The Linga (Ashokan Capital) at Nageshwar Nath temple.

Very Popular Maurya Jalebi shop of Ayōdhyā.

Dahi-Jalebi and Chat for the breakfast. Maurya Jalebi Shop. 

Giant cranes touching the sky, Rāma Janambhoomi Temple Complex.

Vineet ji in front of his house, fencing of the Rāma  Janambhoomi Temple Complex in the background.

Ayōdhyā at the time of Xuanzang was primarily a Buddhist centre with very few non-Buddhists (Watters 1904: 355).  What happened to the Buddhist shrines of Ayōdhyā visited by Xuanzang? 

We are aware that the Buddha Dhamma, which originated in India in the 6th BCE after flourishing for over one thousand years, started dwindling in the 2nd half of the 1st millennium. Change in the political climate in the Indian subcontinent at the turn of the 2nd millennium led to a precipitative decline of the Buddhist institutions.  Buddhist monasteries and shrines in the Indian Subcontinent were abandoned and they gradually became ruins. Usually, these ancient ruins/mounds laden with bricks became easy prey for the brick robbers and the new settlers. But, very frequently, these Buddhist shrines which despite getting abandoned continued to be a place of worship among the locals. Abandoned Buddhist shrines popular among the locals were conveniently absorbed into the Brahmanical faith and later into the Islam faith during the Musalman conquest.   This can be very demonstrably seen at the Brahmanical shrine of Mani Parbat and the Muslim shrine of Jūrān-kā-tīlāh. Both these shrines do not have organic growth from the ground but are settled over hemispherical solid brick structures i.e. stūpas constituted of bricks from the 1-2nd CE.  As far as the Rāmakot mound is concerned, the final ASI report of 2003, stated that there was evidence of a large 10th-century Hindu temple having pre‐existed the Bābri mosque (Bharat 2010). Beneath the 10th CE temple remains of a Kushāna Period (1-2nd CE) structure have been found. Probably, the limited excavation of the Rāmakot mound has not revealed the nature of the Kushāna period structure but it may likely represent one of the Buddhist monuments discussed by Xuanzang.  Most importantly, Sugriva tīlāh and Kuber tīlāh, the potential stūpa mounds have not been studied yet. Many ancient structures have been razed inside the Rāma  Mandir Complex to create the new Rām Mandir. Probably, the Kuber tīlāh will also meet a similar fate, Vineet ji cast his apprehensions. The whole of Ayōdhyā is in sort of a makeover. Dust clouds surrounded the city due to demolition and construction work in Ayōdhyā City. The development of Shri Rāma Janmabhoomi Teerth Kshetra since 2020 has led to the rebuilding of the Ayōdhyā City. I noticed, that almost all roads are getting widened. Many structures have been demolished and many more are in the queue for demolition. Unfortunately, this development has led to the levelling and clearing of many ancient mounds. 

The story chronicled by Deepa Nandi.


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1 comment:

Shrinked Immaculate said...

An important and timely post.