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records tell us that it had a large public hall, or pavilion, in which religious and philosophical questions were discussed. Sherring, in his Sacred City of the Hindus (p. 291), maintains, on very insufficient grounds, that Benares was not then, as it is now, situated between the rivers Barna and Asi, but was placed to the north of the Barna. It is more reasonable to suppose that the traces of old buildings which extend from the north of Benares towards Sarnath are the remains of the old Buddhist city which sprung up round the spot made sacred by its associations with the first preaching of Buddha, and that the Hindu city, on a much more spacious plan than it has now (for the early Aryans, as we know from Megasthenes, loved air and space in · their cities), always occupied very nearly its present site.
Buddha soon found many converts, especially among the Kshatriya class, to which he belonged, and among the Bhiksus and other devotees who had not accepted the Brahminical teaching. A few members of the Sangha, or religious order which he founded, built the simple huts of recluses in the groves of the Deer-park and settled there. Many years after his death, when Asoka made Buddhism the state religion, the places hallowed by the Master's memory were marked with stone columns, and great monasteries and temples of brick and stone were built for the members of the Sangha.
The whole neighbourhood of the Deer-park became covered with votive stupas, or memorial mounds, large and small, some containing relics, others merely marking a place associated with events in the life of the Buddha, or with his numerous fabled pre-existences.
HISTORY OF BENARES
when in the form of a bird, or deer, or elephant, or human being, he was preparing, as a “ Bodhisatva", by many acts of mercy and self-sacrifice, for the attainment of the final Nirvana. The smaller ones were simply devotional shrines erected by his followers as an act of piety.
The first definite historical account of Benares and its neighbourhood is given by the Chinese pilgrim, Fa Hian, who visited India about the beginning of the 5th century A.D. for the purpose of getting exact information about the teaching of Buddha. Hiuen Thsang, another Chinese pilgrim, came about
MINIATURE VOTIVE SHRINE 250 vears later, and Excavated at Sarnath, 1905, showing the sikra
crowned by the amâlika ornament. has left a very interesting description of the principal stupas and monasteries as he saw them. At the north of Benares, and to the west of the Ganges, there was, he says, a stupa, or memorial tower, about 100 feet high, built by the Emperor Asoka. Near it was a stone column, highly
BEVARES, THE SACRED CITY polished and of blue colour (probably lapis lazuli), in which the reflection of Buddha might always be seen. At a distance of nearly two miles farther on, north-east from the river, he arrived at the Deer-park, where there was a monastery, built in eight sections, within a walled enclosure. There were pavilions of one and two stories for the accommodation of the monks, 1500 in number, who were studying the doctrine of the “Little Vehicle". In the midst of the enclosure was a temple-monastery, the lower part of stone, surmounted by a tower of brick faced with stone, or perhaps by the curvilinear sikra, or spire, similar to that of modern Jain and Hindu temples in northern India, which was crowned by the melon-shaped amâlika wrought in embossed gold. The amâlika formed the base of the finial.
Round about the tower, or spire, in tiers rising one over the other, were a hundred niches, each containing an image of Buddha, which Hiuen Thsang supposed to be of gold, but which were probably only of bronze or copper gilt, like those now found in Buddhist shrines and monasteries in Nepal, Sikkim, and Tibet. The temple contained a life-size statue of Buddha, made of brass, in the attitude of preaching. The illustration here given of a Nepalese Buddhist temple probably closely resembles the temple seen by Hiuen Thsang.
To the south-west of this temple was a stone stupa, built by Asoka, which had become partly buried, though it was still 100 feet in height. It was built to mark the very spot where Buddha, “having attained to perfect knowledge”, began to expound to his fellowseekers after truth the wisdom he had gained under the Bodhi tree at Gaya.
In front of it Asoka had placed a memorial column, about 70 feet high, polished like a mirror, “so that all those who pray fervently before it see from time to time, ac. cording to their petitions, figures with good or bad signs". Another stupa close by marked the place where the five disciples sat in meditation in the Isapattana Deer-park, when they reached it after their desertion of Buddha in the Vindhyan mountains. Hiuen Thsang adds that there was a multitude of sacred monuments within the enclosure of the Deer-park monastery, and describes many tanks and stupas round about it.
The systematic ex. plorations, commenced
MODEL OF A NEPALESE BUDDHIST last year at Sarnath by
TEMPLE the Archæological Department, have given a wonderful actuality to Hiuen Thsang's description. In 1794 some workmen, employed by Jagat Singh, Diwan of the Rajah of Benares, to quarry bricks from the ruins at Sarnath, hit upon a
BENARES, THE SACRED CITY large stupa with a relic chamber, the contents of which they rifled. Archäologists of the last century supposed this to be the stupa which Asoka built in the Deerpark, and in their eagerness to find positive proof they dug out the stupa until only a mere shell was left, without result. The more scientific excavation which is now being made has already laid bare the remains of the Asoka column mentioned by Hiuen Thsang.
The principal part of the inscription is, unfortunately, missing; but the splendid lion capital in the style of ancient Persepolis is almost intact, and just as Hiuen Thsang described it, “smooth as jade and shining like a mirror”. The capital probably supported the Buddhist symbols representing Buddha, the Dharma (Law), and the Sangha (congregation). At least the fragments of the wheel representing the Dharma have been discovered, and the design of the capital makes it probable that all three symbols, which correspond to the mystic syllable aum of the Hindu trinity, were placed above it.
. The wheel is generally taken to be a special Buddhistic symbol, though it was commonly used by pre-Buddhistic philosophers to typify Life, the Uni. verse, and also Brahman, the Universal Soul. The Upanishads say: “As the spokes of a wheel are attached to the nave, so are all things attached to Life, This Life ought to be approached with faith and reverence, and viewed as an immensity which abides in its own glory. That immensity extended from above, from below, from behind and before, from the south and from the north. It is the Soul of the Universe. It is God Himself.”
"Monier Williams: Indian Wisdom, p. 40.