« PreviousContinue »
By the Buddhists the wheel came to be regarded as a symbol of their teacher's mission, and of his universal sovereignty. Under the four lions, which probably signify the four quarters, is a band panelled into four by wheels. The panels are filled with very spirited sculptures in relief of a lion, horse, bull, and elephant.
The base of the column goes deep down into the ground, and above the ancient Moor-level are successive strata, on which for seventeen hundred years the devout followers of Buddha piled memorials one over the other, about the hallowed spot, until the fierce Muhammadan invaders came, bringing havoc, fire, and sword to the place where he preached gentleness, love,
The archæologists, who in the last two centuries made somewhat desultory attempts to explore the Deer-park, found everywhere traces of the great catastrophe which destroyed in one holocaust the monks, monasteries, and temples of Sarnath. Charred bones and wood, lumps of melted brass, half-fused bricks, and calcined stone testified to the fury of the invaders.
In the neighbourhood of the column there are now being unearthed the remains of important buildings, numerous votive stupas, and many beautiful Buddhist sculptures representing events in the life of the Master, or various stages in his spiritual development-portraying him as a wandering Bhiksu, sitting in meditation and in divine ecstasy, or preaching the wisdom of his enlightenment. The splendid sculpture in Chunar stone, illustrated on page 51, represents him as the preacher, expounding the truth to his fellow-Bhiksus in the Deer-park.
Among the discoveries are numbers of miniature stone shrines of non-Buddhist origin, like that figured on p. 43
Until the followers of Buddha marked. the Deer - park as specially devoted to members of their order, it was a common retreat for all religious devotees, perhaps one of the ancient sacred groves left in a clearing of the virgin forest. Hiuen Thsang graphically describes what he saw in one of these forest retreats. There were Buddhists from various provinces lying in the thickets, dwelling in caves, or in huts made of leaves and branches, or under the shade of the trees. Jainas in white robes, the wandering Bhiksus, followers of Krishna, Brahmin students, ascetics undergoing various forms of self-torture, philosophers and adepts in sacrifices, and many others—all disputing, discussing, and explaining, with the tolerance · of each other's views, which, at least in early times, was characteristic of Indian religious sects.
Among the Buddhist “gatakas", or birth-stories, is a pretty one, told by Hiuen Thsang, to account for this retreat of Isapattana having been specially dedicated for the protection of deer. In one of their preexistences, Buddha and Devadatta, his cousin, were both kings of the deer, roaming a large forest near Benares. Each of them had under him a herd of a hundred head. The Raja of Benares hunted in the country round, and was destroying Devadatta's herd, so the Bodhisatva (Buddha) in pity begged of the raja that his herd might also take its turn in supplying meat for the royal kitchen. The existence of both herds would thus be prolonged.
The raja agreed, and thereafter every day a deer was drawn by lot from each herd alternately, and