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Written by Suresh Bhatia   
Tuesday, 18 August 2009 12:21

The next place of my pilgrimage was Kesariya the place where once a magnificent Stupa now stands in ruins. Its history dates back to the final visit to of the Buddha to Vaishali just before his Mahaparinirvana at Kushinagar. As the Scriptures mention that as the Buddha left Vaishali on his ‘final journey’ the devotees from this kingdom followed him for quite a distance to a place know as Kessaputta. As evening set in, the Blessed One requested them to return home. The Vijjian people knew that they would not see the Buddha again. As such they asked the Lord for a mark or item by which they would remember him. So to oblige them the Compassionate One gave them his begging bowl and then preached to them the Kalama Sutta. The discourse can be found in the Buddha’s Charter of Free Inquiry: Kalama Sutta, Wheel No.8. After his demise, at some period of time, the Vijjian devotees built a Stupa at this site and buried the ‘begging bowl’ in it. For centuries it remained a vibrant site for pilgrimage and kings and rich merchants elaborated and expanded the size of the Stupa to what one can see it today. The Stupa was measured by Alexander Cunningham who to be 1400 feet in circumference, while its height was 51 feet and when seen from above, the Stupa gives one the impression of a mandala.

The village of Kesariya is situated in the south-western corner of the district and is about 30 miles north-west from Basarh. The first British Archaeologist, Colonel Mackenzie, in 1814 excavated a gallery from the east to the centre of the great mound. Unfortunately, the report of his excavation no longer exists. In 1835 Hodgson published a sketch of the ruins without any remarks or description; however Cunningham in 1861-62 compiled a more systematic account of his excavation with a sketch plan of the ruins. Later Bloch visited Kesariya but his account of the site is sketchy and very brief.

According to Cunningham who visited the site in 1861, the stupa was 62 feet high and 1400 feet in circumference at the base. On the top of the mound is a solid brick stupa, with its exterior entirely in ruins, measuring 68 feet and 5 inches in diameter at the base and about 51 feet and 6 inches high. At the top the cylindrical portion was 38 feet and 7 1/2 inches high, the remains of the dome proper being only 12 feet and 10 ½ inches high. According to Cunningham’s calculation, the total height of the stupa above the mound should have been (including the missing portion of the dome and its pinnacle would measure) between 80 to 90 feet; and since the mound below represents the basement of the stupa, the total height of the monument, in its original condition, would be not less than 150 feet above the level of the surrounding village.

Only at two points did Cunningham notice 10 to 15 courses of the brick work of the exterior of the stupa, existing in its original condition, which in no way gave any idea whatsoever about the form or ornamentation of exterior or the facing of the stupa. Whether or not any traces of surface ornamentation for the stupa, such as moulded or decorated bricks, fallen plaster etc., were seen amongst the ruins has been omitted by Cunningham; while Bloch only vaguely remarks that the “absence of any surface ornamentation the tower is remarkable.

Cunningham continues to state “that underneath the existing ruins are buried the remains of an earlier and perhaps a much larger stupa as can be inferred from the unusually large dimensions of the lower mound or basement as seen at present.” He calculated that the earlier stupa may have been about 160 feet in diameter at the base and about 100 feet in height, including its pinnacle, surrounded by a circumambulatory path all around. There is thus a reason to believe that this early monument was held in high esteem and was of considerable importance when Buddhism was a popular religion. The Chinese Pilgrim Hieun-Tsiang recorded its history and it as 200 li (about 30-33 miles) north of Vaisali.


An attempt was made on the part of the Archaeological Survey of India, Patna Circle under the supervision of Chief Superintending Archaeologist Muhammed K.K. from 1996 – 2000 over 4 seasons of excavation on the Kesariya Stupa. Brief records of the work undertaken by this team appeared as ‘news items’ in the INDIAN ARCHAEOLOGY of the subsequent years. According to their brief reports they mention to have completed the excavation of sixteen unfinished trenches of the previous year (1997-98), 18 new trenches measuring 10 x 10 m in grid pattern, were laid with an objective to expose the stupa further to know the nature and determine the chronology of different phases of the structure. The team also exposed the cylindrical drum of the stupa on top of the upper two terraces and cleared the debris all around. They also discovered a staircase 80 cm wide on the south-west corner connecting the upper two terraces. The staircase is concealed within the polygonal designs between the cells and is not prominently visible in the general view of the stupa.

Over a period of 4 years only 30% of the stupa was excavated and then the project was abandoned by the year 2000 not that the site did not hold potential for further exploration, but because of inter-office politics etc. However, on a recent visit to Kesariya, I found to my dismay that an outer wall around the stupa is being built as well as a Guest House for ‘visiting officers’ was being built by the Department. As the stupa site has begun to gain popularity and a number of bus load of pilgrims do visit the site, the next inevitable event will be to stipulate an ‘ENTRY FEE’ for the visitors to pay. This will amount to fraud on the part of the ASI who have failed to excavate the whole stupa and will be charging for a site that only 30% that has been exposed. So if pilgrims do visit the site and are compelled to pay to enter, they have the right to refuse and even complain to the higher authorities of the Department.


Ref; Hodgson, JASB, 1835, p. 121 and plate VII; Elliot, Op. cit., p.286 and plate XVII, figure 6 ; Cunningham, ASI, I, 64-67; XVI, 16-19; BDG, 159-60; Bloch, An. Rep., ASI, B.C., 1902, p.6; Indian Archaeology 1997-98, p.2-3; 1998-99 p.2-3; 2000-01 pp. 8-11. Research references made by the Author.



Last Updated on Wednesday, 16 September 2009 07:57