CHAUKHANDI STUPA WAS BUILT TO MARK THE SITE WHERE BUDDHA MET HIS FIRST FIVE DISCIPLES WHILE TRAVELLING FROM GAYA TO SARNATH.
DHARMA IS NOT THE RESULT OF THINKING. IT IS THE FRUIT OF DIRECT EXPERIENCE.
It was at this place that Buddha met his first five disciples and informed them all about his enlightenment and inspired them to follow the path of truth.
Later these five disciples of Buddha~1. Assaji 2. Bhaddiya 3.Kondanna 4. Mahanama 5,Vappa were called Panchvargiya.
Chaukhandi Stupa can be divided into two parts.
1.Ancient stupa (Chaukhandi stupa)
2. Humayun Burj
The stupa is square in shape. Because of its four-armed plan structure, it is called Chaukhandi Stupa. It is made of solid bricks placed on three floors.
Like other major Buddhist buildings in Sarnath, this stupa was also built during the reign of Emperor Ashoka (250 BC). Later this stupa was given a grand form during the Gupta period (500CE).
During the excavation, a statue of Buddhaand some other statues were found. The famous Chinese traveler XUANZANG also described this stupa. Xuanzang came to Sarnath in 637 AD.
The archaeological excavations conducted in 1835 and 1904-05 brought light to this 93 feet high, brick stupa laid in mud mortar having three diminishing square terraces each about 12feet High and 12ft broad, each terrace is supported by an outer and inner wall with a number of cross walls to strengthen the structure. The outer walls of the terraces are ornamented with a series of niches separated by pilasters.
There is a deep hole, about 5 feet in diameter on the topmost part of Chaukhandi Stupa (which is, also the floor of the Humayun Burj). The hole extends, vertically coming down to the ground. It looks like a tunnel when viewed from above. This hole was dug by the archaeologist JOHN MARSHAL (1835 AD) during the excavation of Chaukhandi Stupa to see it from inside.
A clear impression of the buildings of the Gupta period can be seen at the base of the stupa.
The top part of the Chaukhandi Stupa, known as Humayun Burj was built during the Mughal period. Information regarding the construction of this octagonal building is written on the square stone plate on it’s Northern Doorway. This stone plate can be seen at top in this picture.
There is an octagonal structure(Humayun Burj) on top of the Chaukhandi Stupa, its height is about 23 feet. It was built during the reign of the Mughal emperor Akbar. There is an inscription written in Persian language regarding the construction of Humayun Burj. Which says–
To commemorate the stay of Humayun at the Chaukhandi Stupa, Govardhan, son of Raja Todar Mall, built this octagonal building in 1588 CE during the reign of Akbar.
One such another octagonal building is located near Humayun’s Tomb in Delhi which is known as Sabz Burj.
When Humayun had conquered the fort of Chunar, he had camped in Banaras for a few days, perhaps then only he might have come here.
In the documents of Mughal era, this place has been mentioned as Humayun Burj.
A painting for Mr. Colin Mackenzie in 1814 by a painter named Sheikh Abdullah.
In this painting Humayun Burj, the top of Chaukhandi Stupa can be seen at some distance from Dhamekh Stupa. DHAMEKH STUPA: The larger stupa in the image is the Dhamekh Stupa. Dhamekh Stupa was built on the sacred spot where Buddha delivered his first sermon.
During that time there was no information regarding the history of Chaukhandi Stupa. The structure built in the Gupta period was completely buried under layers of soil for centuries and only the octagonal building built in the Mughal period was visible at its top.
In 1835, to understand the history related to this building, and to get some important articles related to Buddhism, John Marshall dug a vertical hole in this building as I had already mentioned above.
Mr. F.O.Oertel gets the credit for introducing the world to the grand form of the Chaukhandi Stupa hidden in the mud under the octagonal Mughal building. It is quite clear from the above painting that the actual Chaukhandi Stupa was completely hidden under the soil .
The memories related to Sarnath and Buddha’s teachings remained in the minds of the people of Banaras till the fourteenth century, but after that they were forgotten under Islamic rule. The pre-Islamic history of India was shrouded in ignorance and darkness for a long time.
At the end of the seventeenth century a sense of interest and curiosity about the pre-Islamic history of India aroused within some Britishers . Soon many British intellectuals, including people of all kinds, orientalists, linguists, archaeologists, historians, engineers, started doing serious work on the pre-Islamic period of the Indian subcontinent.
Soon, by the end of the eighteenth century, the ancient history of India appeared before the world in a gleaming form. The discovery of this glorious past later became the backbone of India’s nationalist movement.
Whisper of History
In 2019, Chaukhandi Stupa was accorded the status of a monument of national importance.
Presently it is a well preserved building. Chaukhandi Stupa is situated in a very beautiful garden. At a distance of about 800 meters from the main Sarnath complex , tourists also rarely come here. The serene atmosphere here is made on sight. If you are interested in ancient Indian history, then this place is no less than a jewel for you.
Even if you do not want to look at Chaukhandi Stupa from the subtle point of view of history, you can sit here comfortably for some time, which is no less than a boon in today’s run-of-the-mill life. The Chaukhandi Stupa is flanked by rows of large trees where meditating is undoubtedly a supernatural experience. While meditating in this calm environment under the sunlight filtered through the leaves of trees,it seems that the old times want to tell their history to by whispering it in your ears.
Four lions standing back to back, with mouths wide open, their tongue sticking out, and their teeth seem to be as pointed as spears, the claws are protruding from their paws.
The well-formed veins and mane of these four lions look very beautiful. These lions roaring in all four directions are undoubtedly a symbol of strength, power, and royalty. To a large extent, it is possible that the warning of Emperor Ashoka in the context of people trying to divide Buddhism is inscribed on the top of the pillar and these four lions are an attempt to embody the warning and make the warning relatively more effective. From the structure of the eyes of the four lions, it appears that the circular structure of these eyes must have been studded with precious stones.
What is the meaning of Ashoka Pillar Sarnath?
The pillar in Sarnath on which the warning given by Emperor Ashoka to the divisive forces in Buddhism is inscribed is called the Ashoka Pillar of Sarnath.
Where is Sarnath situated and what is it famous for?
Sarnath is situated at a distance of about 12 km from the main city of Varanasi. Lord Buddha gave his first sermon here in Sarnath. DHAMMA CHAKRA PARIVARTAN (TURNING THE WHEEL OF DHARMA).
Buddhist monasteries, temples, pillars, and some stupas were built here by Emperor Ashoka during his reign. Afterward, Sarnath was completely destroyed by the Muslim invaders.
What is meant by Lion Capital?
LION CAPITAL:- The top (crown) of the Ashoka pillar found at Sarnath is known as the Lion Capital. This is a figure with four lions. After the independence, FOUR-FACED LION (LION CAPITAL) was adopted as THE EMBLEM OF INDIA.
THE LION CAPITAL was excavated from SARNATH, and this was a part of ASHOKAN PILLAR The emblem of India reflects India’s traditions, glorious history, and heritage. Undoubtedly, this statue of four lions is a unique example of ancient sculpture in India.
It can be seen as the emblem of the Government of India on all the major buildings, medals of honor,(Param Veer Chakra, Shaurya Chakra, Ashok Chakra), passports, etc. It can also be seen on the currencies issued by the Government of India, present slightly above the bottom right corner of each note beside its value.
As per our convenience, we can divide the Ashoka Pillar into three main parts.
2. LION CAPITAL
3. 32 SPOKE WHEEL
ASHOKAN PILLAR :- CONJECTURAL VIEW OF LION CAPITAL WITH PILLAR AND CHAKRA
ASHOKA PILLAR IN THE TWENTIETH CENTURY
During the archaeological excavations at Sarnath in 1905, Mr.F.O. Oertal found the remains of a square temple on the west side of the Dhamekh Stupa.
Broken pieces of the Ashoka pillar were found a few feet away from the main wall of this temple.
These square room-like structures were the ruins of the huge Mulagandha Kuti Vihara temple. The Mulgandha Kuti Vihar Temple was built at the place where Gautam Buddha used to meditate during his stay at Sarnath.
One part of the Pillar was embedded in its base. Other broken parts of the pillar were also found near it. The Ashoka Pillar is made of sandstone found in Chunar, some distance away from Varanasi.
There are no joints or fixes anywhere in the pillar, so the pillar must have been cut from a huge piece of stone. combining all the broken pieces of the Ashoka Pillar received at present, its length is 17.5 feet. This shows that a large part of the column is missing.
KUSHAN AND GUPTA PERIOD INSCRIPTIONS ON THE ASHOKA PILLAR .
Kushan( second century A.D.) and Early Gupta period (300AD) inscriptions.
The Ashoka column also bears two other inscriptions of later dates.
One of them which continues, as it were, the last line of the Ashoka inscription is dated in the reign of a certain RajaAsvaghosha in the fortieth year of the era of Kanishka.
The other inscription which is assignable to theearly Gupta period, that is circa 300 A. D., was recorded by the teachers of the Sammitiya sect, to which a reference has been made above. Ashoka’s warning have been inscribed in Brahmi script.
THE ASHOKAN PERIOD INSCRIPTION
The Ashokan period inscription on the pillar shows that Emperor Ashoka was not very happy about the divisive forces arising within Buddhist Sanghas. And for this reason, in this very inscription, Emperor Ashoka has warned the monks, and nuns who try to divide Buddhism and the Buddhist Sangha.
Whoever creates a deity in the Sangha, whether a monk or nun, will be forcibly put on white clothes and thrown out of the Sangha.
Emperor Ashoka’s warning to those who tried to divide the union.
THE TEXT IS IN BRAMHI AND THE LANGUAGE IS PRAKRIT. Pali was the vernacular language in those days. And so the warning was provided in this language itself so that the maximum no. of people can understand it.
Even in this warning given by Emperor Ashoka, there is no glimpse of violence from anywhere, this warning shows the extent to which Ashoka had assimilated the Buddha’s teachings of non-violence.
According to the Chinese traveler XUANZANG there was a huge Buddhist monastery at this place, about 1500 Buddhist monks and nuns resided in this monastery, perhaps this is why Ashoka has written this inscription for this monastery at Sarnath mentioned by Xuanzang . Presently the remains of this ancient Buddhist monastery are spread over a wide area around the Ashokan Pillar.
Lion Capital can be mainly divided into three parts.
A. Bell-shaped vase covered with inverted lotus.
A STONE PILLAR MORE THAN SEVENTY FEET TALL , WHICH IS SMOOTH AS JADE AND AS REFLECTIVE AS A MIRROR . (XUANZANG)
During his visit to India, between 627 AD to 643 AD, XUANZANG came to Sarnath (also known as MRIGDAV, ISHIPATTAN) and was astonished by the grandeur of the Ashoka Pillar.
A. Bell-shaped vase covered with inverted lotus
Bell-shaped vase covered with inverted lotus:- Lotus flowers are found all over India. Since ancient times, the lotus flower has been given special importance in Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain religious texts.
The images of Gautam Buddha found at Sarnath and other places in India depict Lord Buddha sitting, standing, meditating, and preaching on a lotus flower as well as it is also a sign of the womb of Buddha’s mother Mayadevi. Seeing the importance of the lotus flower in Indian culture, it also has the distinction of being the national flowerof India.
The abacus structure bears living replicas of four animals and four wheels with 24 spokes. These animals are lion, Bull, Horse, and Elephant.
A wheel with 24 spokes is shown after each animal. There are different opinions among historians regarding the figures of animals built on the abacus.
If you look closer at the center of the Ashoka chakra (the 24-spoked wheel on the abacus, shown in the above image) you will find that it looks peculiarly rough and eroded relative to the surrounding regions which are extremely smooth and polished. Daya Ram Sahni believed that this was done intentionally. He believed that there probably would have been precious stones placed in the center of the four Ashoka chakras.
The centers were made rough so that the stone sticks better and more firmly at place.
MR BELL believed that the four animals built on the abacus are symbols of the animals living on the four corners of the ANOTATTA lake.
DAYARAM SAHNI also got a glimpse of the Anotatta lake in these animals.
ANOTATTA LAKE:- This lake is located in the Himalayas and according to Buddhist scriptures is the focal point of the world. Many historians consider that the present Mansarovar lake is the one that is referred to as the Anotatta lake in some places.
The rivers Ganges, Vankshu, Indus, and Sita are believed to be originating from this lake. This lake is considered one of the holiest places for Hindus, Buddhists, and Jains.
BRIJ WASI LAL. :- According to B.B Lal, (Renowned archaeologist of India) the Rakshastal near Mansarovar Lake, also known as Ravantal, was known as Anotatta Sarovar in ancient times. The Sutlejriver originates from the Rakshastal or Ravanatal.
DR. BLOCKH:- He believed that these four animals are symbols of INDRA, SHIVA, SURYA, and DURGAFrom the depiction of these animals on the Ashokan pillar, he concluded that these three Gods and Goddesses had accepted the greatness of Gautam Buddha and had come under his shelter.
DR. FOGEL:- He believed that all these animals are just ornamentation, and they have been used on the abacus of Ashokan Pillar only from the point of view of art.
B. MAJUMDAR:- The most detailed, practical explanation of the animals carved on the Ashoka Pillar has been given by Majumdar, which also seems to be the most appropriate one. According to him, the lotus is not only a sacred flower described in Hindu, Jain, and Buddhist religions, as well as it is a sign of the womb of Buddha’s mother Mayadevi. Similarly, the four animals engraved on the abacus, and the 24 spoked wheels represent major events in the life of the Buddha.
ELEPHANT:- Elephant is a symbol of the dream of Mayadevi, (mother of Buddha).
From this dream, Mayadevi realized the arrival of Buddha in her womb. According to this story, Maya Devi, the mother of Buddha, had a dream before he was born. In the dream, Mayadevi saw a white elephant, which is entering her womb from the right side with a white lotusin her trunk.
The queen discussed the dream with the king. The king mentioned this incident to all the astrologers in his court, and wanted to know more about this dream, all the astrologers unanimously called this dream auspicious and something very special.
GALLOPING HORSE:- The horse is a symbol of the temporary royaltyof the Buddha.
LION(THE ONE ON ABACUS):- A lion with a twitching tail, Lion symbolizes Gautam Buddha being Shakya Simha. (Lion of a Shakya clan )
TAURUS:-It is the symbol of the birth sign of Buddha. Some historians associate it with ancient plowing and seed sowing. (Here it symbolizes the planting of new ideas by the Buddha).
TWENTY -FOUR SPOKED WHEEL
Twenty-four spoked wheel of the MORAL LAW. The twenty -four spokes on the spinning wheel symbolize the twenty four Pratyay(teachings) of Buddhism. The spinning wheel in the middle of the national flag of India is also taken from here.
It is known as ASHOKA CHAKRAbecause it was built on the Ashokan Pillar. Note that these four, twenty-four-spoked wheels are the ones that are made on the abacus facing the four directions and not the 32-spoked wheel at the top.
Also note that the 32-spoked wheel cannot be seen on the actual lion capital which is kept in the Sarnath archeological site museum because it was found broken, though its fragmented pieces might be seen which are kept in such a manner to illustrate how it might have looked and this is also the reason why the 32 spoked wheel might sometimes be seen in the replicas of the capital.
C.THE LION CAPITAL
The famous four addorsed lions. The figure of four lions is built on top of the abacus. These four lions are standing with their backs to their backs.
The jaws of these lions are open and the tongue is sticking out and their teeth seem to be as pointed as spears, the claws are protruding from their paws. The well-structured venison and mane of these lions are shown very beautifully.
From the structure of the eyes of the four lions, it appears that the circular structure of these eyes must have been studded with precious stones.
To a large extent, it is possible that the warning of Emperor Ashoka in the context of people trying to divide Buddhism is inscribed on the top of the pillar and these four lions are an attempt to embody and make the same warning effective. THE FOUR LIONS ARE SYMBOLS OF BUDDHIST MONKS PROCLAIMING BUDDHA’S TEACHINGS IN ALL FOUR DIRECTIONS.
Lion capital with 32 spokes wheel, only a few fragments of this wheel were found in the excavations at Sarnath which are preserved in the Sarnath Museum.
THE THIRTY-TWO SPOKED WHEEL
DETAILS OF THE TOP WHEEL OF THE LION CAPITAL
This wheel (The symbol of Buddhist law), originally adorned the ‘Lion Capital as a crowning member, supported on a short stone shaft. The stone shaft was not discovered from excavation but the thickness can be estimated from the mortice hole, 20.5 cm. In diameter, drilled into the stone between the heads of the four seated lions.
Four fragments of the rim portion of the wheel and spoke remains were found. The total number of spokes was presumably 32. These 32 spokes perhaps indicate the 32 chief signs of a Great Man(Mahapurusha Lakshana) as described in the Buddhist text Lakkhan sutta of Dighnikaya.
I personally believe that the Ashokan Pillar found in Sarnath is not only the national symbol of India, but the it is the embodiment of the entire heritage of India. Ashokan Pillar is a symbol of Buddha’s teachings, Ashoka’s welfare state, and a symbol of India’s civilization and its gradual development. Even from the point of view of ancient Indian sculpture, the Ashokan Pillar is incomparable among all the ancient artworks.
WHEN I LOOKED AT THE KINGS OF TREES,” I KNEW THAT EVEN NOW I WAS LOOKING AT THE SELF – EXISTENT MASTER”. (ASHOKA )
Bodhi Tree Complex at Sarnath has been developed in Moolgandha Kuti Vihar courtyard. Inaugurating the Bodhi Tree Complex, Shri Dalai Lama said that the complex is dedicated to the service of humanity.
Why is the Bodhi tree considered the most sacred tree in Buddhism?
Bodhi Tree – Bodhi tree is the peepal tree located in the Mahabodhi temple in Bodh Gaya (Uruvela) in Gaya district of Bihar, under which Lord Buddha attained enlightenment in 623 BC.
Buddha also developed many new methods of meditation during the attainment of enlightenment under this peepal tree.
What do the words Budh,Bodhi mean?
According to the Buddhacharita,
The word “Awaken” in Magadhi language is known & pronounced as “BUDDH”. Thus the person who awakes (i.e attains knowledge) is called Buddha. For this reason Prince Siddhartha was called Buddha after attaining enlightenment. The word BODHI shares the same root as the word buddha and also means awakening. Magadhi language is the main language spoken in the Middle East of India.
Some symbols have great importance in Buddhism.
LION ,STUPA , BODHI TREE , ELEPHANT , CHAKRA ,etc. Are all symbols that are associated with the life of Buddha. in some or the other way
LION :- LION REPRESENT SHAKYASIMHA, LION OF SHAKYA CLAN.
STUPA :- AFTER THE ADOPTION OF BUDDHISM BY EMPEROR ASHOKA , 84000 STUPAS (Buddhist prayer places) WERE BUILT BY HIM .
BODHI TREE :- PEEPAL TREE UNDER WHICH BUDDHA ATTAINED ENLIGHTENMENT .
ELEPHANT :- RELATES TO SHAKYAMUNI BUDDHA ENTERING THE WOMB OF HER MOTHER MAYADEVI IN HER DREAM .
CHAKRA :- (WHEEL OF THE MORAL LAW). DHARMA IN THE FORM OF THE CHAKRA (WHEEL) .
LOTUS :- SACRED FLOWER DESCRIBED IN HINDUISM AND BUDDHISM.
THE GREAT PEEPAL TREE
WHEN I LOOKED AT THE KINGS OF TREES,” I KNEW THAT EVEN NOW I WAS LOOKING AT THE SELF – EXISTENT MASTER”. (ASHOKA )
JOURNEY OF THE BODHI TREE THROUGH SRI LANKA
Anuradhapuraඅනුරාධපුරය, r அனுராதபுரம்
ANURADHAPURA :- Anuradhapura is one of the oldest cities of Sri Lanka. It has been the capital of Sri Lanka in ancient times.
Emperor Ashoka, after adopting Buddhism, sent his son Mahendra and daughter Sanghamitra to Sri Lanka for the propagation of Buddhism. Sanghamitra took with her a branch of the Bodhi tree, and this branch of the sacred tree was planted in Anuradhapura. The new Bodhi tree which emerged from the branch of the original Bodhi tree is still present in Anuradhapura.
BODHI TREE IS PLANTED IN KASHI (VARANASI).
Why Bodhi Tree was Replanted in Sarnath ?
There is a wonderful story regarding the reason why the Bodhi tree was planted in Sarnath, and it’s as amazing as it’s unbound importance.
After the discovery of many relics of the Buddha period in Sarnath, the attention of the Mahabodhi Society established in Sri Lanka was drawn towards it. This organization was striving for the renewal of all the holy places associated with Buddha and Buddhism.
The construction work of the new grand Mulgandha-Kuti Vihar temple at Sarnath was completed in 1931 by the Mahabodhi Society. Meanwhile, Angarika Dharmapala, the founder of the Mahabodhi Society, replanted a branch of the Bodhi tree from Anuradhapura Sri Lanka(remember that this tree was itself a replantation of the original Bodhi tree!!!) in the courtyard of the Mulgandha Kuti Vihara temple. Presently it has grown into a huge tree which is technically the same tree under which Lord Buddha attained enlightenment.
BODHI TREE AND THE COMPLEX
IN 1999, THE BODHI TREE COMPLEX WAS WIDENED BY MAKING SPACE FOR MEDITATION AND DHAMMA SERMONS WITH TWENTY EIGHT IMAGES OF PREVIOUS BUDDHAS’ AROUND THE BODHI TREE BEGINNING FROM TARANANKARA BUDDHA TO GAUTAMA BUDDHA, ALL SAID TO HAVE BEING ATTAINED ENLIGHTENMENT UNDER THE SRI MAHA BODHI TREE AT BUDDHAGAYA AND PREACHED THEIR FIRST SERMONS AT ISIPATANA-DEER PARK, SARNATH.A GRANITE PLATE INSCRIBED WITH THE DHAMMA CHAKKA PAVATTANA SUTTA,THE FIRST SERMON OF THE SAKYAMUNI BUDDHA WAS ALSO ERECTED. THE ENTIRE BODHI COMPLEX CONSTRUCTED FOR THE BENEFIT OF THE HUMANITY AND TO GENERATIONS TO COME IN NEXT MILLENNIUM WAS DECLARED OPEN ON 17TH DECEMBER,1999 BY THE XIV TH HIS HOLINESSTHE DALAI LAMA WITH A MESSAGE TO THE WORLD TO RESTORE AND PROMOTE PEACE AND HARMONY IN THE NEXT MILLENNIUM IN LINE WITH BUDDHISM.
Bodhi Tree Complex images
KASHI, FOR IN HER EYES YOU CAN SEE THE PAST OF INDIA , AND IN THE MURMUR OF HER WATERS YOU CAN HEAR THE VOICES OF AGES LONG GONE BY .
If you are in Sarnath then do your best to stay here in the evening.
I reached the courtyard of the sacred tree around 6 o’clock in the evening. Almost all the tourists had left as it was slowly turning dark. I must say, there was, a seriously calm atmosphere. The birds were also returning to their nests, I could hear their voice as they were on their way towards home. I also heard some peacocks from time to time, the voices of birds were not creating any sort disturbance in the atmosphere of peace.
I was sitting on the stone steps of Mulgandha Kuti Vihar temple thinking something when a temple employee came towards me and said softly “Sir now it is time to close the temple so please vacate this campus.”
I agreed and was preparing to leave when I saw some people carrying candles towards the holy tree, I asked the staff and came to know that it is time for the evening worship of the holy tree.
I asked the employee can I watch this program? He smiled and said ” Of course”.Just take permission from the monks who organised this program. I moved towards those monks and expressed my wish, they happily granted me the permission I seeked.
After a few moments these monks started the circumambulation of the sacred tree, while doing the circumambulation, they also started lighting diyas on the small statues of Buddha around the tree. Now the monks started reciting religious mantras while doing the circumambulation.
I could not understand even a single word of this religious mantra, (I understood that the language was something special it didn’t sound like Sanskrit at all, but I was not able to figure out the language itself on my own) later I came to know that the monks were using the Pali language.
The original teachings of Buddha are in the Pali language. Pali language was commonly used at the time of Buddha and Sanskrit was the language of the elite people and Brahmanas. Today Pali language is taught in the universities of Varanasi but common people never use it, Pali language is not used even in the surrounding areas of Sarnath.
It was a wonderful experience to listen to Buddha’s teachings in the original language after thousands of years, at the same place where Buddha gave his first sermon.
I must say that it was a transcendental experience. For a moment I felt as if Buddha was giving his first sermon to his disciples, and I am witnessing that moment too.