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Ancient stupa in a shambles

- Neglect agony for 5th century Buddha relic in Vaishali

Buddha relic stupa, enshrining one of the eight parts of the mortal remains of Lord Buddha after he attained Mahaparinirvana, is facing utter neglect in Vaishali.

Despite being one of the most revered sites for Buddhists and a protected one for Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), several security and management issues are posing threat to this stupa, located around 55km northwest of Patna in Vaishali district.

There is no security guard deputed here. Waste material, including plastic bags, can be seen spilled around the ancient stupa. Lack of drainage leads to waterlogging, posing threat of structural damage.

According to historical texts, the Buddha relic stupa was built by Lichhavis as a mud-stupa in the 5th century BC. The stupa was later discovered in an archaeological excavation carried out under the aegis of Patna-based K.P. Jayaswal Research Institute during 1958-1962.

The relic casket excavated from the core of the stupa contained the holy ashes of Lord Buddha mixed with earth, a piece of conch, pieces of beads, a thin golden leaf and a copper punch-marked coin. The casket was brought to Patna Museum in 1972.

Though the relic casket has been kept at Patna Museum to ensure its security and conservation, the upkeep of the relic stupa site at Vaishali is being neglected.

Sources in the ASI said there is no rainwater drainage system at the site. A senior ASI official at Vaishali said there was no permanent security guard deputed at the stupa. “Two guards were earlier deputed here for the security of the monument but they retired recently. We are facing a dearth of guards, as there has been no recruitment in the past few years. Consequently, we appoint local security guards on contract basis,” said the ASI official.

Residents claimed the stupa, famous here as Buddha Asthi-Kalash Asthal, is visited by Buddhist pilgrims from across the globe.

“Buddhists treat the stupa with utmost reverence and devotion. Every year, thousands of tourists from Korea, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Vietnam and Taiwan among others, visit the site, especially during the peak season between August and March. However, issues like scattered garbage and waterlogging leave a bad impression on them,” said Amitabh Keshav, an entrepreneur at Vaishali.

Director of K.P. Jayaswal Research Institute Bijoy Kumar Chaudhary said the excavations carried out by the institute had revealed that the relic stupa was enlarged thrice between the 4th century BC and the 1st century AD, during the reigns of Mauryan, Shung and Kushan dynasties.

“After the Mahaparinirvana of Buddha, his corporeal remains were kept in the parliament house of the Republic of Mallas. However, several other republics and states also desired to possess portions of the holy relics on the basis of their association with Buddha,” said Bijoy.

He added that according to the Mahaparinibban-Sutta of Digha Nikaya, finally it was decided to distribute the mortal remains of Lord Buddha among eight republics — King Ajatshatru of Magadh (Rajgir, Nalanda), The Mallas of Kushinagar (UP), the Mallas of Pava (Saran, Bihar), the Brahman of Vetha Dipa (Bettiah, Bihar), the Bulis of Alakappa (Saran), the Sakyas of Kapilvastu (UP), the Koliyas of Ramagram (Nepal) and the Republic of the Licchavi of Vaishali.

According to Buddhist literature, king Asoka collected three-fourth mortal remains of Lord Buddha from the seven stupas enshrined with Buddha’s relics — except the Koliyas of Ramagram — and divided the mortal remains into 84,000 parts.

Asoka then built Asokan stupa and Asokan pillars on the nirvana — path of Lord Buddha from Lumbini to Kushinagar.

Most of the Asoka stupas vanished in the 2,500 years’ time but four such stupas can still be seen in Bihar.