Thursday, March 21, 2024

Xuanzang and shrines of Sāriputta, Moggallāna and Mahākassapa around Nālandā

An Aerial view of the excavated remains of ancient Nālandā Mahāvihāra.
Pic Yves Guichard, 2007.

Sāriputta (Śāriputra) and Mahāmoggallāna (Mahāmaudgalyāyana) were the chief disciples (aggasāvaka) of the Buddha.   Both of them were born on the same day in adjacent villages near Rājagṛiha (Rājagaha, now Rājgir). The two disciples were childhood friends who together decided to renounce the world and lead a holy life. Sāriputta and Mahāmoggallāna were ordained under the Buddha and became arahants (a being who has reached a state of perfection).  Sāriputta was considered the disciple who was foremost in wisdom (etadaggam mahāpaññānam) and Moggallāna was considered the disciple who was foremost in psychic powers (iddhi-pātihāriya). Buddhist literature has many references to the contributions of Sāriputta and Mahāmoggallāna to the Buddha, Dhamma and Saṅgha. 

Both Sāriputta and Moggallāna attained parinirvāṇa (final demise) before the Buddha. Sāriputta attained parinirvāṇa at his native village Nālagāmaka (also Nāla, Nālaka, Upatissagāma and Nālagāmaka) near Rājagṛiha on Kārtika Pūrṇimā (full moon day — October-November) (SA.iii.181; J.i.391, S.v.161). The Buddhist monk-scholar Faxian (Fahien, 5th CE) travelled One Yojan SW from Indraśailaguhā (also Indasālaguhā) to reach Nāla (Beal 2005: 111), the village of Sāriputta. Two centuries later another monk-scholar Xuanzang (Hsüan-Tsang, 7th CE) also paid a pilgrimage to the village of Sāriputta. According to Xuanzang, the village was then called Kālapināka (Rongxi 1996: 254). Xuanzang made a circuitous route from Nālandā Saṅgharāma (also Mahāvihāra) to the village of Sāriputta. Xuanzang first travelled to Kūlika, the village of Mahāmoggallāna. The Pali sources maintain that Koḷitagāma, the native village of Mahāmoggallāna was near Upatissagāma the native village of Sāriputta and not far from Rājagaha (SNA.i.326; DhA.i.73). Mahāmoggallāna attained parinirvāṇa two weeks after the parinirvāṇa of Sāriputta, on the Agahana Amāvásyā (new moon day- November-December) (SA.iii.181). Xuanzang paid pilgrimage to the two Ashokan stūpa marking the birth and death of Mahāmoggallāna at the village Kūlika which, according to him was 8-9 Li southwest of Nālandā Saṅgharāma (Rongxi 1996: 253). As per the biography of Xuanzang, Kūlika was a part of Nālandā Saṅgharāma and was 7 Yojan from the Bodhi Tree (Beal 1914:105-108). 

Map-1. Map depicting location of sites of interest.

An Aerial view of excavation of Juafardīh stūpa. Pic Yves Guichard, 2007.

A picture of  the excavation of Juafardīh stūpa. Pic Yves Guichard, 2007.

An aerial view of Jagdishpur Mound. Pic Yves Guichard, 2007.

Stūpas related to Mahāmoggallāna.

In 2007, based on the description provided by Xuanzang and other research studies, the Archaeological Survey of India excavated the 10mt high mound measuring 105mt x 100mt located at Juafardīh (25° 08' 06'' N. 85° 25' 54'' E). The excavation revealed the mound to be a stūpa site from the time of the Buddha (5th BCE) with successive reconstructions in later periods. Among the rich antiquities unearthed during excavation was a broken disc bearing two brāhmī letters ‘MUGA’ (Saran 2008: 59-73). All the findings suggest that Juafardīh stūpa is the stūpa related to Mahāmoggallāna as described by Xuanzang. This implies the village Juafardīh is settled on the remains of ancient Kūlika. Another unexcavated mound spread over one acre, one km southwest of Juafardīh and west of the village Jagdishpur (25° 07' 36'' N. 85° 25' 18'' E) may represent the second stūpa related to Mahāmoggallāna catalogued by Xuanzang. One of the two stūpas according to Xuanzang has the body relics of  Mahāmoggallāna enshrined in it.  Since no relics were discovered from the Juafardīh stūpa mound, the stūpa (mound) at Jagdishpur is potentially where the body relics of Mahāmoggallāna reside.   

Where did Bimbisāra welcome the Buddha?

Xuanzang travelled 3-4 Li to the east of the Moggallāna’s birthplace where stood a stūpa at the spot where King Bimbisāra welcomed the Buddha (Rongxi 1996: 253). According to Xuanzang, this was the maiden visit of the Buddha to Rājagṛiha after his great awakening. A thousand bhikṣus accompanied the Buddha. These bhikṣus as stated by Xuanzang were Brahmans who wore their hair in the shape of a conch on the top of their heads. Here, Xuanzang is most likely referring to the Kassapa brothers who were jatilas (matted hair/ conch on the top of their heads) ascetics who according to Buddhist sources accompanied the Buddha on his maiden visit to Rājagṛiha (Beal 1875: 310). However, as per the Pali sources, this event of the Buddha-Bimbisāra meeting took place in Supatiṭṭha Cetiya (Supratishṭha Chatiya) in Laṭṭhivanuyyāna and not in the vicinity of Nālandā Mahāvihāra as stated by Xuanzang. Mahāvastu (the great story), a Buddhist text from the 2nd BCE belonging to the Mahāsāṃghika school of early Buddhism has also mentioned the same story of the meeting between the Buddha and Bimbisāra in great length (Jones 1956: 441-449). According to Mahāvastu, the meeting took place in the park Yaṣṭīvana (bamboo grove) on the hill Antagiri in Rājagṛiha. 

As per the Buddhist literature, the Buddha after the great awakening under the Bodhi Tree at Uruvelā went to Isipatana (Rishipattana, now Sārnātha) Varānasī and gave the First Sermon (Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta). After staying at Isipatana for a couple of months the Buddha returned to Uruvelā and stayed at the hermitage of Uruvelā Kassapa. Uruvelā Kassapa and his two brothers Nadī Kassapa and Gayā Kassapa were Agnihotrī (fire-sacrificer) and all of them had their respective hermitages by the bank of river Nairañjanā.  Kassapa brothers, Uruvelā, Nadī and Gayā along with more than one thousand other jatilas in the presence of the Buddha took refuge in the Triple Gem. Leaving Uruvelā, the Buddha, along with the newly ordained jatilas reached Gayāsīsa hill (elephant's head hill) in Gayā about 10km north of Uruvelā (Vin.i.34f; S.iv.19f; J.i.82; AA.i.57, etc.; PvA.21; Ud.i.9; DhA.i.72). At Gayāsīsa Hill Buddha preached Ādittapariyāya Sutta to the Kassapa brothers and thousands of newly ordained jatilas (AA.i.166; ThagA.i.435). From Gayāsīsa the Buddha went to Supatiṭṭha Cetiya in Laṭṭhivanuyyāna (bamboo grove) with the Kassapas and their pupils, and in the presence of Bimbisāra and the assembled populace, Uruvelā Kassapa declared his allegiance to the Buddha (Vin.i.24ff and in AA.i.165f; also in ThagA.i.434ff.). During this visit, Bimbisāra gifted Veḷuvana in Rājagṛiha to the Buddha and Saṅgha (Vin.i.35ff.; DhA.i.88; AA.i.166; BuA.18, etc.).


Laṭṭhivanuyyāna, where the Buddha along with thousands of Jatilas met Bimbisāra according to Burmese sources was located three gāvuta (approximately 10-12 kms) from Rājagṛiha between Gayāsīsa and Rājagṛiha (Bigandet 1880: 150).  

Xuanzang visited a place called Yaṣṭhivana situated west of  Rājagṛiha. Village Jeṭhian (24° 55'  N. 85° 21' E) and its surroundings situated 15 km southwest of Rājagṛiha have been identified as the Yaṣṭhivana mentioned by Xuanzang (Stein 1901:62). Xuanzang saw many shrines related to the visit of the Buddha in the Yaṣṭhīvana which have been identified in Jeṭhian valley. Xuanzang mentioned an interesting legend where an unbelieving Brahman made a failed attempt to measure the height of the Buddha with a bamboo stick (laṭṭhi/yaṣṭī) and he threw the bamboo on the ground. His bamboo took root and the place became Yaṣṭhivana (bamboo forest).  

Jeṭhian Valley is the meeting place of Bimbisāra and Buddha.

As per the Pali sources, the Latthivanuyyāna was situated southwest of Rājagṛiha (Malalshekhar 1938:772). Circumstantial evidence suggests that the Jeṭhian Valley identified as the Yaṣṭhivana of Xuanzang represents the ancient Latthivanuyyāna of the times of the Buddha. It was here at the Jeṭhian Valley where the Buddha on his maiden journey to Rājagṛiha after his great awakening met Bimbisāra, the King of Magadha. The vicinity of Nālandā suggested by Xuanzang as the ‘Bimbisāra-Buddha’ meeting place is located further north of Rājagṛiha. Palpably, why would such a large entourage of more than one thousand monks make a detour to Nālandā when the shortest road between Uruvelā and Rājagṛiha via Jeṭhian (Latthivanuyyāna) already exists?  Was there some misplacement, corruption or alteration of tradition? 

What is intriguing is that Xuanzang stayed and practised with Upāsaka Jayaseṅa at Yaṣṭhivana Monastery (Jeṭhian) for two years. Yet, Xuanzang is oblivious to this fact of the Buddha-Bimbisāra meeting related to Yaṣṭhivana documented in early Buddhist literature. Also, in his descriptions of the Buddha along with Brahmans with conch shape hairs on their heads meeting the king Bimbisāra, Xuanzang should have connected the dots- these were the same matted hair ascetics whose shrines he had visited in Uruvelā and Gayā Mountain. 

The Buddha-Bimbisāra meeting place should be the Buddha-Mahākassapa meeting place.

I think the shrine that Xuanzang mentioned as the ‘Buddha-Bimbisāra’ meeting place (henceforth mentioned as the ‘meeting place’) near Nālandā was originally the place where the Buddha met Mahākassapa.  Mahākassapa was one of the most eminent disciples of the Buddha, chief among those who upheld minute observances of form (dhutavādānam) (A.i.23). As per the Pali sources there were two events related to the first meeting between the Buddha and Mahākassapa. The first event was the meeting between the two which took place at Bahuputtaka Nigrodha. The second event was the ‘exchange of robes’ between Buddha and Kassapa.  On their way from Bahuputtaka Nigrodha to Veḷuvana, the Buddha desired to sit at the foot of a tree by the roadside, and Kassapa folded his outer robe (pilotikasaṅghati) as a seat for him. The Buddha sat on it and praised its softness, feeling it with his hand. Kassapa requested the Buddha to accept it. Hence both of them exchanged their robes. ‘Exchange of Robes’ happened between Veḷuvana and Bahuputtaka Nigrodha. A broken sculpture from the medieval period (8th-12th CE) with an inscription mentioning the historic event of the ‘Exchange of Robes’ between the Buddha and Mahākasappa was discovered at Silāo (25° 05' 09'' N. 85° 25' 42'' E) on the road from Rājgir to Nālandā suggesting it to be the place of the historic event of ‘Exchange of Robes’  between the two (Chhabra 1985: 327-333). 

From my perspective, the Buddha-Bimbisāra meeting place mentioned by Xuanzang is Bahuputtaka Nigrodha, the place where the Buddha met Mahākassapa. Bahuputtaka Nigrodha was situated between Rājagaha and Nālandā three gāvutas from Veḷuvana (MA.i.347, 357). Though we have identified the ancient Nālandā Mahāvihāra based on the descriptions of Xuanzang yet, there are no identifications of the Nālandā town of Pali literature. The suburb of Nālandā according to Pali sources was frequented by the Buddha and it was situated one Yojan from Rājagaha (DA.i.35). I think that the suburb of Nālandā and the Bahuputtaka Nigrodha should be somewhere near the ancient remains of the Nālandā Mahāvihāra. 

Does village Kūl represent the Bahuputtaka Nigrodha?

As per the travelogues of Xuanzang, this ‘meeting place’ was 1-2 km (3-4 Li ) to the east of the Mahāmoggallāna’s village (i.e. Jagdishpur-Juafardīh) (Rongxi 1996: 253). The first potential archaeological site eastward of Jagdishpur that may represent the ‘meeting place’ is village Kūl (25° 06' 49'' N. 85° 27' 32'' E). Kūl is approximately 4km as the crow flies southeast of Jagdishpur. The biography of Xuanzang places the location of the ‘meeting place’ to be ‘eastward several Li’ from the Nālandā Monastery (Beal 1914: 119). Kūl is almost 2.5 km south of the remains of the ancient Nālandā Monastery. It is evident, that Kūl does not match the distance and direction descriptions of the ‘meeting place’ mentioned in the biography (Beal 1914) or the travelogues (Rongxi 1996) of Xuanzang. Even so, Kūl is the only potential ancient site we have for the ‘meeting place’ in the neighbourhood of Jagdhispur and ancient Nālandā Mahāvihāra. As per the Pali sources Veḷuvana and Bahuputtaka Nigrodha were three gāvutas away. Kūl is 12 km as the crow flies northeast of Veḷuvana which is a little more than three gāvutas (one gāvuta is 3-4 km). Equally, Silāo, established as the place where the Buddha exchanged robes with Mahākassapa is situated halfway between Veḷuvana and Kūl as indicated in the Pali sources. I think Kūl is the most likely place where Buddha met Mahākassapa. It is confounding, that Xuanzang must have crisscrossed present-day Silāo during his long stay at  Nālandā Mahāvihāra. Still, he did not mention the event of the ‘exchange of robes’ between the Buddha and Mahākassapa that happened at  Silāo. 

An ancient image of Buddha, Jeṭhian. Pic Jashoda Chetri.

The Jeṭhian valley. Pic@ Yves Guichard, 2012.
Asura Cave, Jeṭhian. Pic@ Douglas Mason, 2014.
Ancient mound, Kūl. Pic@ Yves Guichard, 2005.

An ancient image of Buddha, Kūl. Pic@ Yves Guichard, 2005.

The 'Exchange of Robes' shrine, Silāo.

Broken image of Mahākassapa with inscription, the 'Exchange of Robes' shrine, Silāo.
Indraśailaguhā, Parwati Hill. Pic@Yves Guichard, 2012.

An aerial view of excavated mound of Chaṇdimau. Pic@Yves Guichard, 2005.

Some aancient images removed from Chaṇdimau and now kept in Indian Museum, Kolkotta.

An ancient image of Buddha, Chaṇdimau. Pic@ Yves Guichard, 2005.

Some ancient images and votive stūpa in Naṇand. Pic@ Yves Guichard, 2005.

Ancient mound in Naṇand. Pic@ Yves Guichard, 2008.

Exposed bricks of an ancient mound in Naṇand. Pic@ Yves Guichard, 2008.

Latest picture of the ancient mound in Naṇand. March 2024.

Shobhāpur Mound

Potshards on the Shobhāpur Mound.

Shobhāpur Mound is situated on the banks of Panchāne river.

Village of Sāriputta.

Next, from the ‘meeting place’, Xuanzang travelled to the Kālapināka, the village of Sāriputta. At Kālpināka, Xuanzang saw two stūpas to mark the birth and nirvāṇa of Sāriputta.  The nirvāṇa stūpa had the body relics of Sāriputta enshrined inside it. Kālpināka was more than 20Li southeast of the ‘meeting place’. From Kālpināka, Xuanzang went 4-5 Li southeast to the site where the disciples of Sāriputta entered nirvāṇa. From the place of the disciple of Sāriputta, Xuanzang travelled 30Li east to Indraśailaguhā. Therefore, Xuanzang travelled 35 Li roughly east from Kālpināka to Indraśailaguhā. The village of Sāriputta according to Faxian was 1 yojan southwest of Indraśailaguhā and 1 yojan east of Rājagṛiha. That is, it was equidistance from  Indraśailaguhā and Rājagṛiha. The isolated hill of village Pārbati (25° 05' 06'' N. 85° 39' 05'' E) has been identified as the site of Indraśailaguhā (Chaudhari 1936: 302). Indraśailaguhā is a celebrated place in Buddhist art and literature, it was here at the Indraśailaguhā that the Buddha delivered Sakkapañha Sutta (D.ii.263 89). 

It is generally accepted that either of the villages Naṇand (Prasad 1988:175) or Chaṇdimau (Broadley 1979: 51) may represent the village of Sāriputta mentioned by Faxian and Xuanzang. Both villages are very ancient and confirm the distance and direction specifications of Faxian and Xuanzang. The village of Sāriputta according to Xuanzang and Faxian was 11-13 km (35 Li) west and 10-12 km (1 Yojan) southwest of Indraśailaguhā (i.e. Pārbati) respectively. Naṇand (25° 05' 27'' N. 85° 30' 11'' E) is 3km north of Chaṇdimau  (25° 03' 26'' N. 85° 30' 05'' E) and both the villages are 15km west (roughly) of Pārbati. 

Naṇand is most likely the village of Sāriputta.

According to my observations, village Naṇand is most likely the village of Sāriputta.  The reason behind this identification is, from Kālpināka, Xuanzang went to the location where the disciples of Sāriputta attained nirvāṇa. It was 4-5 Li SE from the village of Sāriputta. This means, we should find an archaeological site 1-2km southeast of the village of Sāriputta i.e. Naṇand and Chaṇdimau. In my explorations of potential villages 1-2.5kms south, east or southeast of Naṇand and Chaṇdimau, I found a huge mound in village Shobhāpur (25° 05' 12'' N. 85° 31' 15'' E) situated 1.8km as the crow flies east of Naṇand. The mound is situated a little northwest of Shobhāpur on the eastern bank of river Panchane. I didn't find any potential mound within the specified distance of 1-2 km SE of Chaṇdimau.

Naṇand is a large village settled on ancient remains but unfortunately, there is no prominent sign of any mound surviving in Naṇand as of today. Naṇand and Shobhāpur need immediate attention from competent archaeologists for thorough inspection further.

The story is chronicled by Deepa Nandi.


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Beal, Samuel.;1875, The romantic legend of Sâkya Buddha: from the Chinese-Sanscrit, A translation of the Chinese version of the 'Abhinishkramana sûtra', done into that language by Djnanakuta. London: Trübner & Co.

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Broadley, A. M.; 1979, The Buddhistic Remains of Bihar. Varanasi: Bharti Prakashan.

Chhabra, B. C.; 1985, Kasyapa Image Inscription from Silao, Epigraphica Indica-XXV. New Delhi: Archaeological Survey of India. pp. 327-334.

Chaudhari, P. C.; 1936, The Cult of Tārā and an Image from Parbati. Journal of the Bihar and Orissa Research Society Vol XXII, Part IV. Patna: Published by the Bihar and Orissa Research Society.

Jones, J.J. (trans.); 1956, The Mahāvastu Vol.III, London: Luzac & Co.

Malalasekera, G. P.; 1938, Dictionary Of Pāli Proper Names, Vol. ii. London: Published for the Government of India.


Prasad, Chandra Shekhar.; 1988, Nalanda vis-à-vis the Birthplace of Śāriputra. East And  West, Vol. 38, no. 1-4, Published by The Istituto Italiano Per Il Medio Ed Estremo Oriente, Rome, pp. 175-188.

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

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Abbreviations of Bibliography:

Source of Pāli references:

P.T.S. Means published by the Pāli Text Society.

SHB. Means published in the Simon Hewavitarne Bequest Series (Colombo).

AA.  Manorathapūranī, Anguttara Commentary, 2 vols. (S.H.B.).

BuA       Buddhavamsa Commentary (S.H.B.).

D.      Digha Nikāya, 3 vols. (P.T.S.).

DA.     Sumangala Vilāsinī, 3 vols. (P.T.S.).

DhA.     Dhammapadatthakathā, 5 vols. (P.T.S.).

J.           Jātaka, ed. Fausboll, 5 vols.

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

PvA.     Petavatthu Commentary (P.T.S.).

S.          Samyutta Nikaya, 5 vols. (P.T.S.).

SA.       Sāratthappakāsinī, Samyutta Commentary.

SNA.    Sutta Nipāta Commentary, 2 vols. (P.T.S.).

ThagA. Theragāthā Commentary, 2 vols. (S.H.B.).

Ud.       Udāna (P.T.S.).

Vin.      Vinaya Pitaka, 5 vols., ed. Oldenberg (Williams and Norgate).

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