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Kapilavastu India - Nepal battle of sites
 

KAPILAVASTU, the birth place of Prince Siddhartha (later the Buddha) is claimed by Indian authorities as the present site on Indian territory at Piphrawa, in Uttar Pradesh, the largest State of India.


The return to Kapilavastu. Sandstone, 1st Century B.C. Sanchi, India.

The Nepal historians and archaeologists claim Kapilavastu to be at Tilaurakot, in Nepal. Terai, about 26 kms to the North of Lumbini, which too is in Nepal Terai.

Prof. Tulsi Ram Baidya, the Chairman of the Nepal History Association says, "Tilaurakot is situated on the Banganga which is thought to have been called Bhagirathi by the Sakyas. There is no river near Piprahawa.

Dr. John Cunnigham of the Oxford University, who conducted a geographical survey of parts of Tilaurakot site says, "While no structures were visible on the surface, once the geographical survey data was processed, it was possible to identify the line of a major street running from the eastern gateway.

This street was some seven metres wide and it was possible that further sub-divisions has been made by smaller streets at right angles, definitely defining blocks of housing in between.


Vital find but not a clincher: A casket unearthed from Piprahawa.

As our survey was likely to have only recorded the final phase of occupation, it is most probable that we have identified the city layout of the first millennium AD".

Dr. Cunningham was again invited in 2000 to confirm the date of the Kapilavastu town's earliest occupation, he says.

"We were there to test whether the 19th century identification of Tilaurakot as Kapilavastu was correct and whether the Mitra findings of the 1960s were incorrect.

We worked for six weeks excavating the trench down to virgin soil at a depth of four metres in order to collect carbon samples for the first chronometric dates of the site. The measurements of the dates are still awaited from Oxford University, but it is clear that the lowest contexts contain shreds of the ceramic types, painted grey ware."

There is a consensus of opinions among the archaeologists that painted grey ware is of the Iron Age in the Gangetic plain and datable to beginning of first millennium and the 6th - 7th millennium BC. Dr. Cunnigham confirms this and said."

It is possible to state that there are no other major sites in close vicinity of Lumbini in Nepal Terai and that the relative sequence at Tilaurakot appears to confirm that the site's earliest occupation is contemporary with the life of the Buddha."

The logical question emanating is what was Piprahawa, present Kapilavastu site in Indian territory? Nepalese experts say that it could have been a part of the Sakya republic and the site of the monastery Nigrodharama, where the Buddha stayed en route on foot from Rajagaha to Kapilavastu to visit his father, on the request made to him by king Suddhodana through Kaludayi, a son of one of his ministers.

Kaludayi reached Rajagaha where the Buddha was spending his winter retreat, one year after enlightenment and Kaludayi on his own entering the Order and proceeding to Kapilavastu with the Buddha and the other disciples, a distance of nearly 450 miles on foot.

The Indian archaeologist K. M. Srivastava excavated Piprahawa and found a casket with the inscription 'Buddho' in which were enshrined the sacred relics of the Buddha, generally called Kapilavastu relics, which were even sent to Sri Lanka in 1947 for veneration.

To a visitor with an investigative mind, Piprahawa Kapilavastu is on ground about 8 feet above the surface and extending to a large area with a flat surface and on the opposite side at a lower level is a vast stretch of fields extending even beyond the horizon.

The excavated area has the remains of stupa and foundations of smaller rooms indicative of men's dwellings. In the centre there is a platform, perhaps to keep a statue of the Buddha. Further there is no river near Piprahawa.

The Rohini river which the Buddha crossed on his way to Kapilavastu is still in Nepal Terai, which down stream joins the Ganges, and Rohini river still continues under the same name in Nepal.

The area around Tilaurakot is replete with archaeological Buddhist sites, still awaiting the archaeologist's spade.

The first is Tilaurakot the site of Kapilavastu. The others are Gotihawa, Kudan, Niglihawa, Arourakot, Sagarhawa and Sisania, which have Buddhist archaeological remains.

Gotihawa, four miles from Tilaurakot, has a nine-foot tall brick stupa 68 ft in diameter. Close to it is a headless pillar of Asokan style. This is identified with names of the two Chinese pilgrim monks, the birth place of Kakusandha Buddha.

Kudan is a village near Tilaurakot, where four mounds were excavated in 1962. There are remains of a 30 foot tall brick stupa.

Another mound excavations yielded a compound wall and some terracotta elephants and horses. Still a third mound has walls of a room. The fourth mound too has remains of a brick structure, where a temple had been built later.

The archaeologists and historians believe this to be the site where the Buddha met with his father king Suddhodana. Niglihawa is a vital historical, archaeological and Buddhist site. This is the place where Konakama, the Buddha's predecessor was born.

Emperor Asoka on his pilgrimage enlarged the Konakamna Buddha stupa, as recorded in his edict. This pilgrimage is attested by the Asokan Pillar Edict at Rummindei (Lummini or Lumbini) in the Dithri district of Nepal and not very far from Basti district.

This enlarged Konakama Buddha stupa through the ravages of elements had been broken down, with the bottom part still intact on the ground. Villagers call it Bhimsena-kinigali or Bhimsena's smoking pipe.

An inscription of a Malla king on the Asokan pillar dated to the 12th century AD, testifies it was a place of worship even as early as that.

This pillar had been shifted to elsewhere from the site. The present Piprahawa Kapilavastu has no remains of a fort. But excavations at Araurakot, some 1,500 feet south-east of Nigalihawa- a fort, protected by a ditch, to the south and east have been found indicative of a citadel.

Sagarawa is believed to be the place where Prince Vidhudhaba massacred the Sakyans, marking the end of the Sakya republic and the Sakyans fleeing to northern most parts of Nepal, Sankass of Uttara Pradesh India and Kajaragama (Kataragama) and Chandanagama of Lanka.

With consensus between India and Nepal to jointly develop the Buddhist pilgrim circuit, which means, far eastern pilgrims and tourists can land at Kolkata, travel to Buddha Gaya thence to Sarnath, Varanasi, Kusinagar, Sravasti (Sahet-Mahet), Piphrahawa and then to Lumbini and Tilaurakot in Nepal where Buddha was born.

A huge hoard of coins has been excavated at Tilaurakot, suggesting the archaeologists have struck the treasury of king Suddhodana.

Even today there are remnants of a moat and walls. The walls are 10 feet wide. The area of Tilaurakot Kapilavastu is around 1,700 ft by 1,300 ft and a living testimony to the city of Kapilavastu where Siddhartha Gautama.


Proposals for skilful dying

THERE is an age-old tradition in Sri Lanka that came about through the knowledge and awareness of the potency of neardeath kamma.

The story of Dhammika Upasaka who requested the Sangha to recite the Satipatthana Sutta when he was on his deathbed, and The story of the Venerable Thera who ingeniously changed his father's fearful sign of destiny by providing conducive circumstances for him to perform a good deed at the very last moment, are just two examples.

The salient principles of this tradition are:

* Reminding the dying person of the meritorious deeds he or she had performed earlier in life. One could keep a special notebook where the dates and nature of significant meritorious deeds one had performed are recorded. When one is dying, someone could read the list out to one.

* Providing the dying person with the opportunity to perform a good deed, e.g. listening to Pali chanting if one understands or appreciates it, listening to Dhamma talks, making flower puja [offering] on one's behalf as in the Venerable Thera's story, encouraging one to mentally recite the Three Refuges continuously as a mantra, or to engage undistractedly in any meditation practice one is most familiar with.

These are only a few examples. Perhaps you can think of more creative alternatives.

Persuading and helping the dying person to let go of all attachments to his or her beloved ones and possessions, and also to harbour no regrets or remorse over anything that has been done.

To this end, the dying person's beloved ones should be told not to wail and lament at his or her deathbed, for this may consolidate his or her attachments and/or grief.

We have already seen the fatal consequences of near-death attachment and remorse in the stories of Venerable Tissa who became a flea, the bhikkhu who was reborn as a dragon king, and Queen Mallika who was reborn in Avici Hell. There are many other ways of helping a dying person die in peace.

A great example

A commendable, practical application of the above principles can be seen in the intriguing account of Venerable Dr Rastrapal Mahathera's personal experience, first published in 1977, twenty years after it had occurred during his fifth year as a bhikkhu.

At that time, he had been requested to go to the bedside of a dying gentleman, Abinash Chandra Chowdury, age 56, who was renowned as a devout Buddhist. Here is an edited extract from the Venerable Mahathera's personal account:

When I reached his house, I found the place packed with his relatives and friends. It was then about 8.30 p.m. There was a hush of silence enveloping the house as the people around were all in suspense.

I started chanting a couple of suttas and when I finished, I heard Mr Chowdury uttering feebly and intermittently, but with much devotion, "Buddha... Dhamma... Sangha... Anicca... dukkha... anatta...... metta...... karuna...... mudita...... upekkha...... "

I observed that his condition was fast deteriorating. I placed my hand on his right forearm and asked, "How are you feeling?"

"My time has come for leaving this world," he replied. "There is no hope of life for me any longer, Bhante."

"But upasaka, you're only 56," I said, trying to console him, "and you can't possibly die so early in your life. A life devoted to virtue, which is a source of inspiration to your fellow villagers, cannot be cut short so early...Now would you like to take the five precepts and listen to some suttas?"

"Yes, Bhante," he replied.

I administered the five precepts and recited a few suttas, which he listened to with great devotion.

After pausing a while, I felt curious to know whether he had any vision appearing before him for his eyes were closed all the time I was by his bedside. I kept on asking him about it at short intervals. Each time he told me that he did not have any vision at all.

At about 11.30 p.m. he muttered something. We all could make out that he was relating a vision of the bodhi tree at Buddhagaya where Gotama had attained full enlightenment.

This was perhaps a memory of his visit there. Then I asked him, "Are there any objects there?"

"Yes, Bhante!" he exclaimed. "My [deceased] parents are there. They're offering flowers to the Vajr...sana [Diamond Seat on which Gotama sat when he attained enlightenment] under the bodhi tree." This he repeated twice.

"Upasaka, ask them whether they would like to take the five precepts."

"Yes, Bhante. They're already waiting with their hands in a Ojala [palms placed together with fingers pointing upwards]."

After administering the five precepts, I again asked him whether his parents would like to listen to some suttas and on getting an affirmative reply, I recited the Karaneeya Metta Sutta.

I felt thrilled at the turn of events, and so too, I think, were the others present who were watching the scene with great excitement, as this was something quite unprecedented for them.

It was then clear to me that the vision he had of his parents indicated that he was going to take birth in the human world-and that also on a higher strata because the bodhi tree appeared in the vision too.

But I felt that a man of his devotion deserved a still higher plane of existence for his next birth; so I went on asking him whether he was having any other visions.

A little while later, I found a change coming over him. He seemed to have turned worldly-minded and asked his relatives to free him from his debts. It was then 1.40 a.m. At that moment I asked him whether he was perceiving any other vision.

"I see long hair!" he exclaimed feebly.

"Do you see eyes?" I asked.

"No, I don't," he replied, "because it is covered from head to foot with dark hair."

I could not make out what this apparition signified, but I beg to disagree with Ven Dr Rastrapal here. I think this vision signifies an impending rebirth in the world of spirits where his departed parents had probably been reborn.

I felt that if death came to the gentleman at that moment, he would be reborn in some lowly plane of existence. (On a later date when I asked for clarification of this vision from Venerable Gnanissara Mahathera and another learned monk, Venerable Silalankara Mahathera [then Sangharaja of the Bangladesh Sangharaja Bhikkhu Mahasabha], both were of the opinion that the dying man might have gone to the world of petas [ghosts] if he had died then.)

So in order to drive out the apparition, I started chanting the suttas, which had the desired result, for the dying man exclaimed that it had vanished when I asked him about it.

Nevertheless his worldly attachments seemed to persist. He next asked his relatives to remove from under his bed a new mattress that he wanted to be kept for his only son who was then staying at a distant place-in Calcutta, India.

He did not want the mattress to be burnt together with his dead body, as was the custom among some Buddhists at Chittagong in Bangladesh. Then he again lapsed into a state of extreme exhaustion.

"Upasaka, what are you experiencing now?" I asked.

"I see two black pigeons, Bhante," he replied.

At once I realised that it was a vision of the animal world where he might be reborn after death. The time was then 2.00 a.m. Since I didn't want him to pass away into the lowly animal realm, I again started to recite the suttas.

When I had finished reciting, I asked him, "Are you seeing any more visions?"

"No, Bhante," he replied.

I then resumed discourses on the Dhamma and after a while, I asked him several times whether he was seeing any other visions. At last he exclaimed, "I see a heavenly chariot coming towards me!"

Although I knew that no barrier could stand in the way of the heavenly chariot, still, in honour of the devas, I asked his relatives around his bed to make way for its approach.

Then I asked him, "How far is the chariot away from you?"

He made a gesture with his hand to indicate that it was by his bedside.

"Do you see any one in the chariot?" I asked.

"Yes," he nodded, "celestial men and women."

"Ask them whether they want to take the five precepts," I told him, for I had read in the scriptures that devas obey and respect not only monks but also pious devotees. On his conveying their assent, I administered the five precepts.

After that I again asked, through him, whether they would like to listen to the Karaniya Metta Sutta, and with their consent, I recited the sutta. Then I asked whether they would like to listen to the Mangala Sutta which I recited when they gave their consent.

However, when I again asked whether they would like to listen to the Ratana Sutta, the dying man waved his hand to signify that the devas did not wish to listen to this sutta.

"They want you to go back to your vih...ra [monastery]," he told me. I then realised that the devas were getting impatient to take him away to heaven, but I wanted to intercede and prolong his life on earth.

Perhaps the devas were afraid that they might have to make way for other more powerful devas who might come to listen to the sutta.

So I told Mr Chowdury, "Listen, upasaka. Tell them to go back because it is not time for you to die yet. You're only 56. They've come to take you to heaven by mistake. I myself and all others present here will transfer our merits to them. In exchange, we beg them to spare your life."

After this there was a pause for about ten minutes and the dying man's posture seemed to indicate that the devas were in a thoughtful mood; but in the end he said, "They don't agree to your suggestion. They want you to go back to your vihara."

His relatives at that moment became disconsolate and wanted me to stay on till his end came, fearing that some bad apparitions might appear in my absence to take him to the lower realms.

The devas, however, insisted that I should go. When his relatives realised that they could not retain me any longer, one of them beckoned me to another room. I pretended that I was leaving the house, but slipped into the other room and waited to see from there his passing away into devaloka.

After a while he exclaimed, "Bhante is sitting in the other room. The devas want him to leave that room also and go to his vihara!"

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