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The remark of Major-General Cunningham, that the antiquity of the Buddhist tower may be judged of from its form, is worthy of great attention; for, if his observations be just, — and, it must be confessed, few men have had the same extensive experience in exploring Buddhist remains in India, -it would be an ascertained fact, that the large tower at Sárnáth could not date from earlier, but from later, Buddhist times. The oldest kind of tower, such as those existing at Sánchí and Satdhárá, was, he says, “a simple hemisphere.” The epoch of these two was, he conjectures, the middle of the sixth century
“The next, in point of antiquity, are the topes (towers) around Bhilsa, which contain the relics of Asoka's missionaries, and of the venerable Mogaliputra, who conducted the proceedings of the Third Synod. In these, which were built in the end of the third century B.C., the dome is raised a few feet above the basement, by a cylindrical plinth. The third class of topes are those represented in the Sánchí bass-reliefs, which date between 19 and 37, A.D. In these, the hemisphere is placed upon a plinth of equal height, so that the centre of the dome is the centre of the whole building. Six representations of this kind of tope occur among the Sánchí bass-reliefs. The topes in Afghanistan are, mostly, of this shape. In the latest topes,—of which Sárnáth, near Benares, is a magnificent specimen,—the plinth is equal, in height, to the diameter of the hemisphere. From these remarks it is evident that the age of almost every tope may be obtained, approximately, from its shape; the most ancient being a simple hemisphere,
and the latest, a tall round tower, surmounted by
a dome.” 1
To the west of the great tower, and very near to it, are the remains of an old Buddhist monastery, which retreat from it in both a northerly and southerly direction. The excavations here have established the singular fact, that this monastery was partly built upon the foundations of a former edifice. Very little is known respecting this more ancient building. The excavations have been suspended for several years, which is much to be regretted, as the interest attached to this earlier edifice is far greater than any which can possibly be attached to the later one. The excavations, though incomplete, have, nevertheless, been conducted on an extensive scale, and have brought to light some of the chambers, walls, doorways, and foundations of the later monastery, and, also, certain undeniable traces of an earlier edifice. Mr. E. Thomas, in a communication to the Bengal Asiatic Society, in the year 1854, observes, that “the excavations already completed, viewed with reference to the substance of which the covering bodies were severally composed, tends to show, that, previous to the erection of the comparatively modern building with which we are more immediately concerned, and without, at present, adverting to the lower walls, the general line of the original bank sloped from east to west; and that the later monastery was erected on the slope of the shelving bank, forming the westward face of the Kherah, or natural mound, to the extreme eastward of which is situated the celebrated
Bhilsa Topes, pp. 177, 178.
tope, which dates from a far earlier period. The outline profile, therefore, of that portion of the accumulations, which served to fill in the higher, but unequal, line of the broken walls now exposed, formed, by subsequent deposits, a mere continuation, to the westward, of that face of the original bank; taking, however, a more gradual slope than the sides of the clean earth mound appear to have done.” He also states, that, at the south-east corner of the clearings, “the modern half wall, erected upon the remains of the more ancient edifice, was evidently built into an already existing bank, consisting, at the point of contact, of a débris of broken bricks, etc.” In front of the chamber, to the east, he says, we see traces of a verandah; and, at the north-east corner, we again observe the ancient walls performing the part of foundations for their modern
There would seem to have been an outlet from the main square at this point, though, as far as the excavations have yet been extended in this direction, it is difficult to say where this passage led to, inasmuch as, on the east, we encounter a mere retaining wall, supporting a corner of the high bank; and, on the north, we meet with a singular elbow-shaped superficial continuation of the outer wall of the main building. What this strange angular affair may indicate, or how far it may extend into the bank, must, for the present, be allowed to pass.
These chambers constitute portions of a complete square of the monastery, the outline of which, Mr. Thomas states, has been “preserved, as far as the foundations go, to the outside of the doorway block; and the line
is further continued through the thick angular wall, at which point the deep foundations cease. Passing by three ordinary chambers on the northern face, we come to one of the image-houses. The entrance is from the inner square. The brick and the stone platform may both be supposed to have formed pedestals of erect statues of Buddha. The retreated wall in the corner, between these platforms, combined with the otherwise, apparently, isolated position of the second platform chamber adjoining towards the north, would have led to the idea that the wall had been pierced for the purpose of communication between one chamber and the other; but, as far as the standing walls admit of a decision on the point, there certainly was no doorway at this spot, whatever means of oral or ocular communication may have existed in the screen at a higher level. Such portion of the western face of the monastery as has yet been exposed seems to have consisted of cells. These bear less traces of fire than those on the opposite side of the square; but, on the other hand, a much smaller proportion of their walls remains standing, seeming as if this side of the building, situated, as it was, on the more exposed slope of the bank,—was less early inhumed. Indeed, as far as can
the south-west corner has been almost entirely swept away; its surviving portions having been covered in, at a much later period, by the gradual operation of the manufacture of pottery, etc., whose kilns, for the supply of successive generations, have been pushed on in this direction, to meet the prevailing wind. At this corner we again find traces of the verandah of the court;
and the centre chamber, on the southern aspect, brings us to the shrine. All that now remains is the square elaborately-corniced block in the centre of the chamber, which formed the Sinhásan, or throne, for the seated figure of Buddha. The wall to the rear of the statue has been completely destroyed; but the original opening in front of the Sinhásan is seen to have been enlarged beyond the breadth of the other doorways, probably to afford a free view of the object of worship, without necessitating too near an approach on the part of the ordinary votaries.” 1
It has been already remarked, that the excavations have brought to light a large number of statues and bass-reliefs: they amount, in fact, to some hundreds, many of which are representations of Buddha. These figures were, for the most part, discovered in two places, one of which, now that the mound containing them has been removed, is almost on a level with the surface of the ground, and exhibits several circular bases of brick, on which, probably, stone pillars formerly stood. Amongst them, occupying a central position, is one much larger and more elevated than the rest, which, it is supposed, constituted the foundation of the Sinhásan or throne of a gigantic statue of Buddha. The other place is an excavated chamber, in which a large number of images and other ancient remains were discovered. As it is, next to the great tower, perhaps the most remarkable and curious structure here, I shall proceed more particularly to describe it. The chamber is circular in form, and is depressed
Bengal Asiatic Journal, for 1854, p. 473.