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Tuesday, 20 October 2009 11:29


Tetrawan, as historical texts state was very much part of the extension of Nalanda's advanced study centers. As I can understand from such a description is that when a Monk Student excelled in a particular stream of study, he was sent as an Assistant Monk to a particular Centre to excel in what he had studied. However, what particular field of study Tetrawan excelled in has till date has not been found either in traces of manuscripts, but the remains of monasteries that existed here and the images found here clearly indicates that it was a place where Vajrayana/ Tantrayana ceremonies were performed. I do believe that during its heydays it must have been a magnificent place with rich monasteries, serene environment and the very best Teachers to guide the students to perfection.

Today the village is forlorn with hardly any traces of the rich heritage it was famous for centuries ago. Situated about 15 kilometers south-east from Bihar Sharif. Unfortunately, the site has been neglected by the State Government Authorities to the extent that till very recently no proper road led to the site. When I visted the site a month ago, I observed that a proper tarred road has been constructed but that is not enough, the venue needs to be promoted and proper arrangements for pilgrims wishing to stay there should be seriously thought out.  To think of it, this is the only site in the whole of the District of Nalanda where a Colossal Black stone Buddha in Bhumisparsa Mudra  10 feet high exists on the banks of a pond famously known as Buddha Pokhra. The image can be dated to any time after the 7th Century CE and belongs to the Pala School of art and is inscribed with the usual Buddhist Creed. Yet in spite of being a place of importance, hardly any Buddhist sites are aware of the existence of the site.
The site was only discovered in 1847-8 by Kittoe who referred to it in a brief report to his Department. Later, in 1861-62 and again in 1871-72, Alexander Cunningham made an in-depth report where he mentions the ruins with some details; but a more descriptive account is to be found in the report written by Broadley in his article on the Buddhist ruins in Bihar published in 1872. In 1902 Bloch visited Tetrawan but his information is brief and sketchy. Both Broadley and Cunningham furnished comprehensive site-plans. Broadley's plan, however, was more accurate and intelligible. On the basis of this report, we give you the details mentioned below:


Close to the west of the village was an extensive low mound 750 feet by 450 feet, on the top of which a small castle or fortress, about 100 feet square was observed by Cunningham, which, it appears, Broadley mistakenly took to represent a Vihara. The mound, it seems had become the source of building material for the villagers who often quarried away material whenever they wished. The damage to the site was extensive and its actual identity could never be established. In fact while this rampage was still going on, Kittoe visited the site in 1847 and Cunningham some time later. Kittoe mentions in his report that during an excavation on the site, he removed a huge block of stone in which there were niches which had contained relics (or images) embedded in some ruinous substance that had been partly charred by a fire which had evidently destroyed the building, for upon removing the stone which was much splintered and found a chamber filled with ashes and burnt bones which indicated that fire had been the cause of the destruction of this place. From the large size of the bricks (the dimension of which were never mentioned), Cunningham came to a conclusion that the mound represented the remains of one or two Buddhist monasteries; and on its top the castle or fortress was erected in later times. I  did try finding the spot mentioned by these Archaeologists, but to my dismay found that houses of the villagers exist on top of it and there was nothing to show that monasteries or a fort existed there - nor was there anyone among the villagers who knew anything about it.


To the north of the village Cunningham noticed another mound which, he thought, may most probably represent the remains of another monastery. Inside the village itself, at a short distance to the south of the mound giving an appearance of a sort of platform 58 feet by 32 feet and 20 feet high, on which, he says, two stupas may have once stood. Outside the walls of this platform "there are several small rooms, from 8 to10 feet broad, which I take to have been chapels for statues of the Buddha, either standing or sitting." Further south, within the outskirts of the village, Broadley refers to "a small temple, around which are grouped upwards of two hundred purely Buddhist icons, many of them of exquisite beauty." The small temple is shown in Cunningham's site-plan; but he does not make any mention of it in his account, nor does he make any mention of the large collection of the Buddhist sculptures noticed by Broadley. One wonders if Cunningham did visit Tetrawan or did he send one of his Officers to make a survey for which he took all credit. It's worth pondering over! My search for the site proved totally a failure. There is nothing left here to resemble the past…not a stone, pillar or plinth - nothing to resemble its past. Whatever land does not have a hut or building on it are fields where wheat, paddy or vegetables grow. Of course in some of the houses I visited, I found images of the Buddha, Mahayana deities as well as some Hindu icons, and the only question I was asked by the owners was, "how much is this image worth in money?' I did hear stories of a number of the villagers having sold images to smugglers from Delhi. To most of them the Buddha or the Mahayana deities are nothing more than a product that can fetch them a lakhs of Rupees. I did not find any Indian Buddhist monk at the site.


Just outside the village, at a short distance south-west of the hamlet stands a colossal image of the Buddha in the Bhumisparsa Mudra, as far as I could gather, it belonged to the period of the Pala art with an inscription inscribed on the petals of the lotus flower on which the image sits. The image is placed on a brick platform and is 7 feet high and 6.6 feet broad and faces to the north. Just below the plinth where the Buddha image sits, a short step way leads to what is known as the Ballum pokhar,(Ballum pond) but now that the local people have become aware of the fact that the image is of the Buddha, they now refer to it as 'the Buddha pokhar' or Buddha pond. Surprisingly the older generation of villagers, aged over 60 years and above still refer to the Buddha image as 'Bhairava.' The image, as mentioned in Broadley's records, was broken into two and was set up again after joining the portions. He does not mention whether he had the restoration done or if it had been done before he discovered it.
On the other hand it seems that Cunningham had carried out a small excavation on both sides of the image and discovered the remains of a stupa on both the sides, each of 18 feet diameter, the space in between them, on which the image stands, being also 18 feet distant. As such, Cunningham came to the conclusion that the colossal image was originally flanked by a stupa on both sides and should thus be taken to occupy its original place. If this is true, then it makes Tetrawan a unique Buddhist sanctuary hardly found anywhere in Bihar.
The tank is irregular in shape, about 1160 feet by 750 feet. According to historical records which mention that it derived its name from the image mentioned in the paragraph above. According to the myth told to the British Archaeologists by the local people who attributed the image being created by Raja Bansura, the demon king, who consecrated the image of god Balam (ri-Balam as mentioned by Cunningham) is not clear.
From its name Titarwan or Tetrawan, Cunningham identified the ruins as those representing the famous Pigeon Monastery of the Buddhist tradition, as recorded by Huien Tsaing. Whatever the real name of the Monastery may have been, I do believe it was an important place for Monastic study. It is very unfortunate that after India attained Independence, no excavation has been undertaken to determine the reality of the site.


Image of the Buddha worshipped as Bhairava Baba

Local Hindu festival celebrated on the banks of the Buddha pond

Closer view of the Buddha Image

References: Kittoe, JASB, 1848, pp.538-9; Cunningham, ASI, I, pp.39-40; III, pp.124, 151; XI, 182-84; Broadley, JASB, 1892, pp. 377-83; Bengal List, p.270; Bloch, An. Rep.; ASI, BC., p.18; BODG, Patna, p.235. Personal contributions by the Author Suresh Bhatia who made an extensive survey of the area.

Last Updated on Thursday, 22 October 2009 11:00