Sunday, April 21, 2024

Uren - Way Forward for the Neglected Buddhacārikā Site

Isolated Hill of Uren where the Buddha did one of his Vassā.

Xuanzang during his visit to a kingdom called Īraṇaparvata mentioned a small isolated hill where the Buddha did one of his Vassā (rainy season retreat). The isolated hill was situated south of the river Gangā (Ganges) on the western border of Īraṇaparvata country. Present-day Munger has been identified as the capital city of Īraṇaparvata Country visited by Xuanzang (Cunningham 1882: 15-16). Lieutenant Colonel Laurence Austine Waddell (1854-1938) in 1892 identified village Uren (25° 10' 06'' N. 86° 13' 02'' E) situated 37 kilometres as the crow flies southwest of Munger as the isolated hill under discussion (Waddell 1893). 

It was here, in the course of observance of Vassā, that the Buddha subjugated a Yakṣa (Yakkha) called Bakula. Yakṣa is an appellative and could mean human, spirit, spook, diety etc. but in this case, the Yakṣa called Bakula was an ogre, a demon who ate human beings. The Buddha through his teachings transformed him into a good human being. Xuanzang recounts numerous sacred traces of the Buddha and Bakula on this isolated Hill.

Here is a summary of the sacred traces described by Xuanzang:

1. On a big rock below the cliff southeast of the Hill is the trace where the Buddha once sat. It is incised into the rock about one inch deep and is five feet two inches long and two feet one inch wide. A stūpa was built there.

2. On a rock further to the south is the trace where the Buddha placed his kuṇḍikā (bathing waterpot). The trace is about one inch deep, in the pattern of an eight-petaled flower.

3. Not far to the southeast of the trace of the Buddha’s seat is a footprint of the Yakṣa Bakula, one foot five or six inches long, seven or eight inches wide, and less than two inches deep.

4. Behind the footprint is a stone image of the seated Buddha, six or seven feet in height.

5. Next, not far to the west is a place where the Buddha once walked up and down.

6. At the top of the Hill is the old chamber where the Yakṣa once lived.

7. Next, to the south (Rongxi 1996: 262)/north (Watters 1905: 178-179) is a footprint of the Buddha, one foot eight inches long, more than six inches wide, and about half an inch deep. There is a stūpa built over the footprint.

The village of Uren sits on an archaeological mound, a view of the northeast part of the village.  

Uren Hill. A view from the SW side. 

Illegal encroachment of the sacred Uren Hill.
Quarrying marks on the granite rocks, Uren Hill.
Human settlements encroaching not only around the Hill but also on the Hill.

Human settlements encroaching not only around the Hill but also on the Hill.

Human settlements encroaching not only around the Hill but also on the Hill.

Human settlements encroaching not only around the Hill but also on the Hill.

Human settlements encroaching not only around the Hill but also on the Hill.

Human settlements encroaching not only around the Hill but also on the Hill.

Sculpture collective, Uren.

Ancient images of the Buddha and Bodhisattva, Sculpture collective, Uren.

Ancient images of the Buddha and Bodhisattva, Sculpture collective, Uren.

Shri Balram ji holding a broken image of the Buddha.

Chanḍīsthān Mound. Uren.

Ancient images plastered on the temple wall, Chanḍīsthān. Uren.

Marichi Image being worshipped at Chanḍīsthān. Uren.

Sculpture fragments are fixed on the wall of the temple.

Sculpture fragments are fixed on the wall of the temple.

I visited Uren on 3rd April 2024, Shri Balram Singh, a resident of Uren, who participated in two seasons of archaeological excavations conducted by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), Excavation Branch, Patna, from 2016 to 2018, received and guided me from Uren Railway Station, showing ancient remains in Uren as recommended by Dr Niraj Misra, Assistant Archaeologist, ASI, who was part of the excavation team.

The village of Uren sits on an archaeological mound, with the northeast part standing 7-8ft higher than the surrounding agricultural fields. Balram ji led me through the narrow lanes of the Village pointing out spots where ASI conducted trial trenches for archaeological studies. Two seasons of excavation of Uren have confirmed it to be in continuous habitation from the mid-second millennium BCE to the early 2nd millennium CE (Bhattacharya, Chattopadhyay, Kumar & Misra 2017: 203). Uren is fairly a large village, of about 2200 bigha acreage (approximately 1400 acres) with more than 2500 voters as informed by Balram ji.

Waddell, who first noticed the antiquities of the place saw ‘numerous fragments of Buddhist statues scattered everywhere around’ (Waddell 1893: 1). I was expecting sculpture collectives at every nook and corner but I didn't see any. Balaram Ji informed me there were many sculpture collectives in the village but now only a handful have remained. The revelation of the Buddhist origin of India in the 19th century led to an increase in the number of cursory diggings and vandalisation of Buddhist sites in India. It was also the time when public museums had come into vogue in Europe and America. The officials of the British Government in India went on a spree to collect the best sculptures and ship them to England. Sites like Uren became the obvious targets of British pillage for expanding museums at home. Waddell noted how inscribed sculptures were removed from Uren by contractors and overseers engaged in building railway lines. Waddell particularly mentioned a British official who removed one cart-load of sculptures in the 1850s from Uren. Demand for ancient Buddhist images in the International market has led to the emergence of a massive international market for the illegal trade of artefacts. International syndicates in collaboration with their local counterparts are plundering heritage sites such as Uren. Balram ji hinted at the role of a few villagers in the thefts of sculptures from the village. Balram ji took me to a few surviving sculpture collectives at Chanḍīsthān, Mahādeosthān, Durgāsthān and one near the Middle School which has broken sculptures of Buddha and Bodhisattvas kept under the open sky. To protect these sculptures some mindful villagers have even plastered or fixed the sculptures on the walls of temples. Balram Ji informed me that these collectives are also disappearing rapidly. 

The sacred hill (locally known as Baḍkī Pahādī), with its two peaks, stands 60- 70 ft high to the south of Uren village. Waddell discovered the people of Uren lacked awareness of the historical significance of their village, which is linked to the Buddhacārikā and Buddha-related artefacts. Surprisingly, the legend of Bakula survived in the form of the folklore of the demon, a deified giant called Lorika. Lorika is a traditional folk hero, worshipped by the Ahir community in the Gangetic plains. Waddell noted the footprint, waterpot mark and rock shelter on the Hill related to Bakula and Buddha, were now attributed to Lorika. Waddell using the information given by Xuanzang identified the residence of Yakṣa, the walking place of the Buddha and one footprint of the Buddha situated on the southern half of the Hill. Waddell also noticed that many of the Chaityas (stūpas) chiselled on the surface were positioned around the sacred traces and pointing towards them. The granite boulders have been processed to smoothen the surface for engraving the votive stūpas, inscriptions and symbols. ASI counted 20 such stupa engravings the largest being 430X155cms (Bhattacharya, Chattopadhyay, Kumar & Misra 2017: 199). Waddell also noticed a small brick stūpa, 3ft high, on the southern peak. This stūpa is still existing. I noticed at least two more such small mounds that may represent some shrine of the past. 

Unfortunately, many shrines mentioned by Xuanzang are now lost to unmindful quarrying activity done in 2nd half of the 19th century. Waddell noted the rock that had the water-pot marks, the Yakṣa footprint, and the sitting place of the Buddha were all lost thirty years before his visit. The colossal image of the Buddha was nowhere to be found. Waddell felt that these stones with sacred markings were purposely demolished (Waddell 1893:10). The quarrying of granite stones at Uren continued even after Waddell reported the significance of Uren to the Asiatic Society of Bengal.  

Plan of Uren published by Waddell in the Journal of Asiatic Society of Bengal, Vol LXI.

Stūpa engraved on Hill published by Waddell in the Journal of Asiatic Society of Bengal.

Sacred 'Footprint' of the Buddha? Uren.

Footprint of the Yakṣa Bakula? Uren Hill.

Shri Balram Ji standing in front of the Stūpa.

Stūpa engraved on the rock.

Sacred marks engraved on rock. Uren.

Stūpa engraved on the rock.

Granite boulders have been processed to smoothen the surface for engraving the votive stūpas, inscriptions and symbols.

Votive stūpas engraved on granite boulders.

Pali sources mention the interaction of the Buddha with a man-eating Yakkha (Yakṣa) called Ālavaka at a place called Ālavī (SnA.i.239-40).  The Buddha did his sixteenth Vassā at ālavī and preached the doctrine to 84,000 listeners (BuA.3). Waddell suggested that Uren was the place of the 16th Vassā of Buddha (Waddell 1893:1) hence Uren is ancient Ālavī. I am of the opinion that Uren may not be the ancient Ālavī from Buddhist literature. Firstly, Xuanzang mentions the Yakkha was called Bakula and not Ālavaka. Secondly, unlike Bakula who lived in a rock shelter on Uren Hill, Ālavaka dwelt in a banyan tree near the town Ālavi (SnA.i.222). Ālavi was thirty yojanas (300-400km) from Sāvatthi (SnA.i.220), probably twelve yojan (120-180 km) from Benares (Watters 1905: 61), also Ālavi is laid between Sāvatthi (Śrāvasti) and Rājagaha (Rājgir) (PED).  This means Ālavi was west of Rājagaha.  But Uren is approximately 100 km as the crow flies from east of Rājgir. Furthermore, Xuanzang in his travel from Sārnātha (Migadāya) to Vaiśālī mentioned an inscription on the Ashokan Pillar reading, ‘demons of the wilderness’ (Watters 1905: 60-61).  As per Thomas Watters, ‘Demons of the Wilderness’ in Chinese rendering represents ‘Kuang-ye-kuei’ which is used to denote the Indian word Āḷavi / Āṭavi as the name of the city (Watters 1905: 60-61). The location of this undiscovered Ashokan Pillar in question should be north of the river Gangā, somewhere between the present-day Baliyā and Chaprā.  Ālavī according to Pali sources lay between Śrāvasti and Rājgir and the location of this Ashokan Pillar fulfils this criteria. Citing all the above references we may conclude Uren may not be the Ālavi of the Buddhist literature. 

A lot has changed in more than 125 years since Waddell visited Uren. The villagers are no longer aware of the tradition of Lorika and its relationship with the Hill, that Waddell previously described. The places marked as mounds on the survey map developed by Waddell now have dwellings over them. At peak noon, the humidity was low, clouds thin and the heat of the sun unobstructed, when Balram ji took me around for circumambulation of the sacred Hill. The surroundings of the Hill which is uninhabited on the Waddell map is now densely populated, with human settlements along with their activities like cow sheds encroaching not only around the Hill but also on the Hill. It is mostly 'on the Hill' where we find traces of Buddhist creed. The vulnerable state of this Hill concerned Balram ji. Both of us watched the Hill and its current state with helplessness.

Xuanzang noted the presence of stūpas and the image of the Buddha at Uren meaning there was a monk community living here in the early 7th century. The limited excavations here have revealed that the Buddhist community of Uren received royal patronage from Pala kings in the late 11th CE to early 12th CE  (Bhattacharya, Chattopadhyay, Kumar & Misra 2017: 203). Buddhist activities at Uren flourished during the Pala kings is also confirmed by the presence of numerous sculptures at Uren belonging to the 11th-13th century (Bautze-Picron 1991-92: 242).

Uren Village.

Uren Village.

Summer sleep by the dog to escape the heat.

A Sweet Shop. Uren.

Munger Hills 3kms south of Uren.

L to. R. Balram Ji, Birendra Singh, Pritam Pande, Deepak Anand, Sarpanch shri Devendra Prasad and Ramayan Singh.

Uren Railway Station.

A small group of village youth whom I met were apathetic towards the rich heritage they owned. I was not surprised to learn that they had never seen a Buddhist pilgrim visit this site. Two major reasons - first, Buddhist pilgrims are unaware of this site due to a lack of promotion which explains its vulnerable state and second, its poor connectivity from major pilgrim footfalls like Bodhgayā, Rājgir and Patnā both via road and rail routes. As of now, the rail route is the only convenient means to reach Uren. Being a small town, Uren allows halts for slow trains only and not the express, superfast trains, unlike big cities. Some time back, there was a piece of optimistic news that a new expressway road connecting Patnā, the state capital, to Munger and farther east would pass through Uren. This will resolve the connectivity issue.

The Hill of Uren is where the Buddha stayed for three long months, leaving his footprints on the Hill and in the village as he collected daily alms. The sanctity of the whole Hill is also accentuated by numerous life-sized Chaityas, inscriptions and Buddhist symbols engraved by the devouts on the Hill on all sides. Considering all these factors, Uren as a whole emerges as a notable Buddhacārikā site. Here, not only are the sacred markers mentioned by Xuanzang significant but the entire Hill is sacred. We have lost a lot of heritage to vandalisation, quarrying and theft. Therefore, a long-term revitalisation plan for Uren and the sacred Hill is the need of the hour which is inconceivable without the enthusiastic participation from villagers.

The immediate first step towards this long-term plan of the revitalisation of Hill in Uren is to free the Hill of encroachment and develop a Parikramā or Pradakshinā Path (circumambulation pathway) along the one km-long perimeter of the Hill and the rest shall unfold on its own.

My sincere appreciation to Dr Niraj Kumar Misra and Shri Balaram ji for their guidance.

The story is chronicled by  Deepa Nandi. 


Bautze-Picron, Claudine.; 1991-92,  Lakhisarai, An Indian Site of Late Buddhist iconography and its position within the Asian Buddhist World. Silk Road Art and Archaeology, Vol II. Kamakura: Journal of the Institute of Silk Road Studies.

Beal, Samuel.; 1914, The life of Hiuen-Tsiang by Shaman Hwui Li.  London: Kegan Paul, Trench Trubner & Co. Ltd,. (New Edition 1911).

Bhattacharya, G.;  Chattopadhyay, R.K.; Kumar, A.; Misra N.K.; 2017, Archaeological Investigation at Uren (Urain), District Lakhisarai, Bihar. Puratattva, Number 47. New Delhi: Indian Archaeological Society. 

Bhattacharya, G.; Misra N.K.; Kumar, V.; Kumar, A.; 2019, Excavations at Uren, District Lakhisarai (2016-18). Puratattva, Number 49. New Delhi: Indian Archaeological Society.

Bloch, T.;1903, Annual Report of Archaeological Survey, Bengal Circle. Calcutta: Printed at the Bengal Secretariat press.

Cunningham, A.; 1882, Archaeological Survey of India. Report of a tour in Bihar and Bengal in 1879-80, Vol. XV. Calcutta: Office of the Superintendent of  Government Printing.

O'Malley, L. S. S.; 1909, Bengal District Gazetteers: Monghyr. Calcutta: The Bengal Secretariat Book Depot.

Patil, D. R.; 1963, The Antiquarian Remains in Bihar. Patna: K. P. Jayaswal Research Institute. 

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

Waddell, L. A.; 1893, Discovery of Buddhist Remains at Mount Uren in Mungir (Monghyr) district and Identification of the site with a celebrated Hermitage of Buddha.  Journal of Asiatic Society of Bengal,  Vol LXI, Part I.  Calcutta: Asiatic Society, 57 Park Street. 

Watters, Thomas.; 1905, On Yuan Chwang’s Travels in India. Edited by T. W. Rhys Davids and S.W. Bushell. Vol. II. London: Royal Asiatic Society.

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). 

BuA. Buddhavaṃsa Aṭṭhakathā Commentary (S.H.B.). 

PED  Pāli English Dictionary. 

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


1 comment:

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