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of them are still to be found, nevertheless, it is not improbable that portions of edifices erected previously to the Christian era, such as foundations, walls, and sculptured stones, in a more or less fragmentary state,are amongst the relics which have been preserved down to our own times.
Two Chinese pilgrims, Fa Hian and Hiouen Thsang, have thrown considerable light on the condition of Sárnáth during the later period of Buddhism. The former visited India in the beginning of the fifth century, A.D.; and the latter, towards the middle of the seventh. These keen and sagacious observers have left records of their travels in India, of the utmost importance to the historian and antiquarian. Their narratives are, for the most part, plain matter-of-fact productions, free from the haze and uncertainty of Hindu writings; and, wherever they have been tested by extraneous evidence, have been found to be, to a large extent, singularly correct. As great interest attaches to the accounts which they furnish respecting Sárnáth and Benares at those epochs, I have given them entire, in appendices to this work. That of Fa Hian I have extracted from “The Pilgrimage of Fa Hian,” translated by Mr. J. W. Laidlay, from the French edition of the “Foe Koue Ki” of MM. Remusat, Klaproth, and Landresse. This is very brief; but the narrative of Hiouen Thsang, on the contrary, is in detail. This I have myself translated from the “Mémoires de Hiouen Thsang,” the French version of the original Chinese work, executed by the celebrated Sinologist M. Stanislas Julien.
Before describing the Buddhist ruins at Sárnáth, I will give a short summary of the buildings existing at the two periods referred to, according to the representations of those distinguished travellers. Fa Hian says, that, “ to the north-west of the town (Benares), at the distance of ten li (less than two miles), you come to the temple situated in the Deer-park of the Immortal.” He also makes mention of a chapel, which, perhaps, was a small shrine; and of four towers, erected on spots celebrated in the life of Buddha, one being that where he delivered his first discourse on the new religion of Buddhism he was then founding. He states, in addition, that there were two seng kia lan, or monasteries, inhabited by ecclesiastics.
Hiouen Thsang, first of all, furnishes a brief account of the kingdom of Varáņasí, or Benares, as it existed in his day, which was, he says, four thousand li, or about six hundred and sixty-seven miles, in circum
ference. It possessed thirty Buddhist monasteries, to which three thousand religious persons, or monks, were attached; and a hundred Hindu temples, with ten thousand heretics, priests, devotees, and others connected with them. The greater portion of the population adhered to the Hindu doctrines. In the capital were twenty Hindu temples; so that the rest must have been scattered over the province: but what proportion of the Buddhist monasteries were there likewise, he does not mention. Towers, with many stories, and magnificent chapels, beautifully carved and richly painted, he saw in the city; and, also, a brazen statue of the
See Appendix A.
Hindu deity Maheswara, nearly a hundred feet high. To the north-east of Benares, and to the west of the Ganges,—but at what distance he neglects to say, — was a Stupa, or sacred tower, built by Aśoka, about a hundred feet in height; and, opposite to it, a stone column, “of blue colour, bright as a mirror.”
About ten li (or one-third less than two miles) to the north-east of the Ganges, was the monastery of the Deer Park (now called Sárnáth), divided into eight parts, and entirely surrounded by a wall, within which were balustrades and two-storied palaces, of splendid construction, and a Vihara, or temple-monastery, two hundred feet in height, surmounted by a huge An-molo (or mango), in embossed gold. The foundations and stairs were of stone. Surrounding the monument were a hundred rows of niches, made of brick, each containing a statue of Buddha, in embossed gold. In the midst of the Vihára was a statue of Buddha, in bronze. To the south-west of this Vihára was a Stupa, of stone, raised by Aśoka ; and, in front of it, a column, seventy feet in height, erected on the spot where Buddha delivered his first discourse. Near by were seven other Stupas, and, also, a number of ancient stone seats, fifty paces long, and seven feet high, placed there to commemorate the site where the four last Buddhas are said to have taken exercise. A statue of Buddha, in the attitude of walking, was likewise to be seen.
Within the walls of the monastery were a multitude of sacred monuments, including several hundred Viháras and Stupas. To the west of the walls was a sacred tank, in which Buddha formerly bathed; a little to the west of that was another, in which he washed his monk's waterpot; and, a short distance to the north, was a third, in which he washed his garments. On one side of this last tank was a large square stone, which exhibited, it was believed, the marks of the threads of the Kacháya, or brown vestment, worn by Buddha. Not far from the tanks was a Stupa ; and, near to that, another; and, further off still, but at no great distance, was one more, situated in the midst of a large forest.
Nearly half a mile to the south-west of the monastery was a large and lofty Stupa, about three hundred feet in height, resplendent with the most rare and precious objects, and surmounted by an arrow. By its side was another Stupa, but of small size. About half a mile to the east of the Deer Park was a Stupa; and, close by, a dry tank, respecting which Hiouen Thsang gives a singular legend. To the west of the tank was the Stupa of the Three Quadrupeds.
The narratives of Fa Hian and Hiouen Thsang strikingly agree in two respects. They both state, that, alike where Buddha delivered his first discourse, and where the five hermits came forward and paid him reverence, a Stupa or sacred tower has been erected. It is very probable that they saw the same towers. Indeed, in regard to the first, if any reliance can be placed on the assertion of Hiouen Thsang, that the tower which existed in his day was built by Asoka, the conjecture amounts to an established fact. This tower commemorated a most important circumstance in the history of Buddhism, and was spoken of as one
1 See Appendix B.
of the “eight divine towers ;" all of them having reference to certain leading events in the life of Buddha. It might be difficult to point decidedly to any further agreement in the two narratives ; although I am inclined to the belief, that “the temple of the Deer Park,” referred to in such a special manner by Fa Hian, was the Vihára, or temple-monastery, so particularly described and so prominently distinguished by Hiouen Thsang.
The mystery connected with these ruins, united with the indisputable fact that Buddhism once reigned paramount in India, and that Benares was long one of its principal seats, has excited the curiosity of multitudes of persons who have burned with desire to know the secrets which, it was supposed, were enshrined within them. It is no wonder, therefore, that the excavations which have been carried on at Sárnáth, at various times, have been viewed with great interest by the educated portion of Europeans in India. It is to be regretted that their superintendence has occasionally fallen into the hands of inexperienced persons — inexperienced, I mean, so far as the ability to decipher inscriptions and intelligently describe what has been from time to time discovered is concerned. The most extensive excavations which have been made were effected under the personal superintendence of MajorGeneral Cunningham and Major Kittoe, who dug out of the ruins an immense number of statues, bassreliefs, and other curious objects. The former alone, in 1835, found about a hundred statues and bass-reliefs, all which worth preserving were sent to the