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LAURIYA NANDANGADH : The Asokan Pillar and Stupa Site PDF Print E-mail
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Tuesday, 18 August 2009 11:16

My journey from Rampurva to Lauriya Nandangadh was in a round about fashion as no direct road exists and I had to come via Bettiah – a busy city and then travel another two hours by scooter rickshaw to arrive at the site where the intact Asoka pillar stands. Right through my journey only one thought kept striking me: “Why would Siddhartha have visited this place?” The only plausible answer I could think of was that the village must have been the hermitage of some famous philosopher or sage whom he would have liked to consult in his quest for answers to why death could not be conquered? I also began to wish that Asoka would have marked the event at each site along with his own edict on the pillars. Such an inscription would have made every site more meaningful and less confusing for pilgrims such as me. Unfortunately, he missed the opportunity as he may have been too busy with his Court and it’s never ending politics to be so far sighted. I arrived at the site at dusk and found to my dismay that there were no hotels or lodges where I could stay for the night. Anyway, I did meet an employ of the Archaeological Survey of India who offered to let me stay at the Guest house meant for their officers and also made provision for a meal that night.

In the morning I got up to find myself in the vicinity of what could have been a magnificent stupa that was at least 80 feet tall and it took me a good fifteen minutes to walk around it.


The British Archaeologists did notice the mound; Cunningham was the first to observe it in 1861 but did not conduct a thorough survey. In 1880 Garrick did conduct a superficial excavation on its top and discovered, at a depth of 5 feet, three lamps or chirags (earthen lamps), one of which was inscribed. The inscription was damaged, but the letters resembled Asokan characters in outline. Garrick also examined the mound on all its sides and came to the conclusion that it was too small to be a fortress. On the other hand Smith suggested that the mound represented “the ashes stupa” of the Buddhist tradition and erected by Asoka. Bloch had, however, thought that it represented a site of an ancient citadel; but he could not undertake the excavation of the mound. The actual excavation was taken up by N. G. Majumdar in 1935-6 which was continued till 1940 by A. Ghosh.

As a result of these excavations a huge brick-built edifice has been exposed, with stupendous dimension and with a height of more than 80 feet in its ruined state. The structure is built of bricks and consists of a series of terraces, raised one above the other, numbering five in all, as can be seen now. On three of the terraces there is a passage for circumambulation. The structure, as exposed in the excavation quite resembles the main temples of Paharpur, in Bangladesh, the
latter being constructed in terraces, though it belongs to a much later period. The original form of the building is “polygonal” or star- shaped in plan, measuring about 500 feet across the centre, the main four sides facing cardinal points, being 104 feet in length and at a distance of 266 feet from each other.” The space between the two sides in each of the four quadrants was covered by 23 smaller sides, showing 14 re-entrant angles and as many as 13 corners. Taking a walk up the structure had originally only two procession paths; but at a later stage the whole building was enclosed by a circular wall and the interspaces filled in, which thus provided the third procession path according to Majumdar. Strangely enough no stairway could be traced to provide access for those procession paths. The only decoration on the façade of the original structure is a horizontal band of a course of moulded brickwork with rounded edge running all along the faces of the wall. The masonry is otherwise quite plain and is not found adorned with decorative or ornamental plaques or sculptured panels as one can observe in later edifices as in sites such as Paharpur, Nalanda, and Ramnagar in U.P. or Pawaya in the territory of Gwalior. The numerous antiquities found in the excavations include many terracotta figures, pottery vessels of various types, stone beads, coins, metal objects like knives, Celts, daggers, arrow-heads, inscribed terracotta sealings, stone beads and other objects. The coins found here included a copper karshapana, a few copper cast coins one silver punch marked coins, a few round copper coins bearing legends in early Brahmi of about 1st century B.C., and a terracotta mould of a coin (or most probably a token) with a square lead piece exactly corresponding to the mould bearing a Brahmi legend of about 1st century B.C. In addition to these, two copper coins of the Kushan period were also discovered at the site. The terracotta sealings bear symbols such as ‘hill with crescent on top’, ‘tree in railing’ etc. usually found on punch –marked or cast coins. They also bear inscribed legends in early Brahmi of 1st or 2nd century B.C.


To the south and west of the pillar are three rows of mounds, about five in each row, two of the rows running north to south, almost parallel to each other, while the third row runs east to west close to the pillar. In their configuration they are almost alike, somewhat conical in shape, though differing in size and height, the highest being about 50 feet in height. Cunningham was the first to notice their antiquity and archaeological significance. He called them earthen barrows, representing the sepulchral mounds, belonging to some royal personage of primitive times, since he was told by the local the people that they were “the fortified residences of the local ministers and nobles of Raja Uttanpat,” one of the primeval kings of the Puranic tradition. He did a trial excavation on the top of the mound, south-east of the pillar and discovered traces of a circular foundation wall formed of single bricks 20 ½ inches long and 4 inches thick. He could not however, ascertain the nature of the building. The mounds had already attracted attention before Cunningham; for, in an earlier excavation at one of them, a Deputy Magistrate, Mr. Lynch had discovered an inscribed seal, while one Major Pearse of Madras Artillery had discovered a silver punch marked coin indicating a high antiquity for the ruins. On the recommendation of Cunningham another excavation was made in 1868-69 which, as reported in the Bengal Administration Report for that year, yielded “some laden coffins containing unusually long human skeletons.” It further adds information on another discovery of “two iron coins” and “an iron coffin 9 feet or so in length – in which were human bones. The coffin was greatly corroded and fell to pieces. Garrick also conducted two excavations, one on a smaller mound and another larger one close to the south of the pillar. He discovered nothing of significance. Carlleyle also excavated three of the mounds of which one yielded nothing, while in another he exposed an earthen stupa with an outer casing of battered brick walls surrounded by two terraces or pavements one above the other. He calculated the height of the stupa at about 60 feet. Further digging into the mounds exposed him to a variety of items including pieces of bone, charcoal ashes and bits of crude pottery etc. He finally came to the conclusion that the stupa here may represent a family or community funerary monument and was quite interesting for tracing the origin and development of the conception of the creation of the stupa.


During his survey of the area, Cunningham published along with his report a sketch plan of the ruins along with the pillar in prominence. The main shaft of the pillar is a monolith of highly polished sandstone 32 feet 9 inches high, surmounted by the lion capital 6 feet 10 inches in height. The total height of the pillar is approximately 39 feet and 7 inches above the masonry plinth. In about 1880 Carlleyle excavated around the pillar, which revealed that the pillar continues to a depth of 10 feet below ground level and rests on a stone pillar 7 feet and 4 inches square, reinforced by long pieces of sal timber which were found embedded against the platform. The total height of the pillar is about nearly 50 feet of which about 10 feet is without any polish and concealed below the earth the rest is adorned with the famous ‘Mauryan’ polish. Two feet below the surface Carlleyle noticed a narrow rounded edged protection etched with a figure of a peacock engraved on the stone, the figure being 4 inches in length, which Carlleyle associated with the Mauryas as their family emblem (?). At the base, the diameter of the shaft is 35.5 feet and at the top it is 26.2 feet. The capital as described by Cunningham is bell-shaped with a circular abacus supporting a life-size figure of a lion facing north. The abacus is ornamented with a row of about a dozen Brahmani geese “all walking to left with lowered heads as if in procession round the lion above. The lion is represented with mouth wide open and the tongue protruding.” As compared to other Asokan pillars, this one is much more slender and elegant in appearance. It is much lighter in weight than the Araraj and Kolhua pillars, the polished portion weighing only about 18 tons as calculated by Cunningham. The pillar is an object of worship as a phallus or lingum.

The following inscriptions have been observed to exist on the pillar:

The first six pillar edicts of Asoka, corresponding letter for letter to those on the Araraj pillar.

A Persian inscription dated A.H. 1071 (A.D. 1660-61) engraved on the south face of the pillar. It refers to Emperor Aurangzeb and seems to have been engraved by some zealous follower of Mir Jumla’s army, who could have perhaps been responsible for the canon shot mark on the top of the shaft.

A Nagari inscription dated Vikrama Sena 1566 (A.D. 1509)

A Nagari inscription without date, but referring to King Amar Simha, son of King Narayana of Ujjain and to Maha Simha, son of Chhatiapati of Ujjain.

An English inscription recording the name of Rn. Barrow and dated 1792.



For any further details about the site, please email your request to: pilgrims.buddhistheritage [at]


Ref: Hodgson, JASB, 1835, p.126; Cunningham, ASI, I, p. 68ff; Garrick, CASI, XVI, p. 104ff; Carlleyle, CASI, XXII, p.35ff; Hunter, Statistical Account, XXIII, pp. 254-5; Smith, JRAS, 1902, p. 153 ff; Bloch, An. Rep., ASI, B.C., 1904-5, pp. II-I5; An. Rep., ASI, 1904-5, pp. 38-40; and 1906-7 pp. 119 ff; BDG, Champaran, pp. 161-62; Majumdar, An. Rep., ASI, 1935-6, pp. 55-66; 1936-37, pp. 47-50; A. Ghosh, Archaeology in India, pp. 60-61. Modern references made by the Author.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 16 September 2009 07:59