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Tuesday, 20 October 2009 12:04

Another Site Lost To History

Ghosrawan was another Monastic site that is said to be an extension of the Nalanda University. The site is only two miles south of Tetrawan and from the records and evidence available, it was also another place where student-monks went to perfect their understanding of the Dharma. Each of these two Schools, I do believe excelled in a particular form of discipline or theory. It is unfortunate that very little evidence in the form of manuscripts remains of the monasteries to give us a comprehensive story of the sites. Therefore, all we have are the excavation reports of the British Archaeologists, who, on their part made a sincere effort to unearth the past; however their knowledge of Buddhist sites were very limited. There have been stories where they were dependent on myths they were told by the local villagers, Hindu or Jain priests, who obviously wished to distort history for their own gains.
My visit to the site was a pilgrimage where I was able to see how over the centuries history could be lost forever just because of the Government's sheer dis-interest in preserving sites with which they do not associate their religious sentiments. Ghosrawan is one among many sites which should have been excavated decades ago. Due to this neglect, the people have taken advantage of it and build houses over sites, ploughed them into agricultural land…and if by chance artifacts happened to be unearthed they eventually ended up in the shops of smugglers in cities like Delhi and Mumbai. To them the Buddhist images are nothing more than a product that brings them a good price - though the Buddha advocated his teachings on this soil, yet today there are just a small group of people who value the philosophy he taught. I too had the unhappy experience of being mistaken as a 'Scout' for a gang of smugglers and thereby got to see some magnificent images of Buddhist images hidden in the homes of some people.
Anyway, the only histories we have of the site are the 'records' of the Englishmen who in the process of their duty - did what best they could do. The very first person to mention about this site was no other than Dr. Buchanan, during his survey of the area for the East India Company in the year 1811-12 and referred to the village as 'Gosraingya' where he mentions in his journal having noticed "a brick temple dedicated to Mahamaya with a stone image." Later, around 1848 Major Kittoe in a 'tour of duty' visited the place which he referrers to as Pesserawa where he discovered the well- known inscription which will be referred to below. He also mentions in his report having seen an extensive mound with numerous Buddhist images, some mutilated and others in perfect condition, and a solitary image of Durga lying in the ruins. Yet for some reason he omitted mentioning the geography of the place.

Cunningham visited the site on three occasions, which were in the year 1861, 1871-72 and 1878, respectively.  His contribution to exploring the site was quite significant. In his in-depth report for 1875-76 and 1877-78, he describes the remains at Ghosrawan with a sketch plan showing their locations (cf. ASI, XI. Plate XLIII). Apart from Cunningham, Mr. A. M. Broadley the Government Representative, stationed at Bihar Sharif made a thorough survey of the site in 1872 and wrote a detailed report of his observations of the ruins as well as a transcript of the inscription. Between these two dedicated Archaeologists the history of Ghosrawan was brought to light. In his report, Broadley highlighted some of the findings:
Fort: It is situated to the south of the village. It is a mud fort "with a tower at either corner" measuring 70 by 80 feet. Even though there is no mention of the site being a Buddhist site, yet I was curious as to what a Mud Fort would look like. On asking the local villagers, I drew blank looks, no one knew of the 'mud fort', till I boy from the village boy who was doing his graduation, specializing in Tourism. He led me to the site and to my dismay I found only a heap of mud - I guess the weather and time had taken its toll, nothing was left of the majestic fort.
If Ghosrawan has a place of pride, it is this site. Even today one can see a variety of images both Buddhist and Hindu at this site - all them nearly life size. The Management of the site has cemented the images into a thick wall to protect them against theft, which is quite common in the area. All the images, whether they are Buddhist or Hindu are worshipped as Hindu divinities, draped in rich red robes with vermillion painted on the forehead. This site in the past too was a repository of Buddhist images for both Broadley and Cunningham refer to the sculptures they found here some of which were removed by Broadley and can now be seen in the Patna Museum. One outstanding image among those removed to Patna Museum is an 8 foot high image of a four-armed Vajrapani.


What is left of this great monastery is nothing but some strewn rubble, partial remains of a mound which has been cut away by the local villagers to create land for agriculture. It's sad, as history has lost one of its majestic sites, just because the local people did not feel the need to preserve its heritage.
In his report Cunningham refers to' the great mound, close to the west of the village' with the site of the Vajrasana monastery or Vihara where the inscription was discovered by Kittoe amongst its ruins. What Cunningham saw in 1875 and had his subordinates to measure of the mound was, recorded by him as 350 by 200 feet and was 17 feet high. Even at that period of time, he observes that the remains 'had been considerably spoiled by the villagers who were seen quarrying it for bricks.' According to him, the building may have been a temple about 34 feet square, with a room 16 feet square inside. From the remains of the pillars found by him all around the structure, he concluded that it was surrounded by an arcade extending all around the temple, with rows of rooms at the back for the attendant monks. It appears the building was surrounded by an open court yard, paved with bricks, since he exposed a brick pavement on the west side of the temple. Cunningham deduced; "The whole building would have thus formed a square of about 120 feet each side, surrounding a temple 140 feet in height. Outside on the south there may have been a stupa and other buildings connected with a large monastic establishment." The bricks used in the walls measured 15X10 I/2X ¾ inches, many of them were carved with figures of men and animals on them and Cunningham compared the temple as such; "must have been built of bricks, like those of Bodh Gaya and Nalanda." The numerous Buddhist sculptures found here before Cunningham's excavations were finally deposited at the Patna Museum. In the course of the excavation Cunningham found a pot full of small coins of the Pala kings, Vighrahapala and Mahipala. The ruins can, therefore, be easily assigned to the 9th century CE.

Some of the other outstanding findings from the site were the one discovered by Kittoe around 1848. It recorded the erection of the Vajrasana Vihara (Vajrasana bhavanam) by the monk Viradeva, who was originally a resident of Nagarahara in Uttarapatha in the north-western frontier of the country (now in West Pakistan). The inscription states that Viradeva had spent many years of his life studying at the Vihara of Kanishka probably somewhere near modern Peshawar. He then found his way to Bihar and resided for a long time in the Vihara at Yasovarmmapura where he found the patronage by the Pala king Devapala and was subsequently appointed to govern the monastic establishment of Nalanda. The inscription was removed from the site by Broadley to the then Bihar Museum and is now in the Indian Museum, Kolkata.
There were several other mounds in the vicinity of the village which Broadley referred to as "the remains of a Buddhist temple situated about 1350 feet south of the great mound where he discovered a standing Buddha 6 feet high. Today, all one can see is some images of the Buddha preserved in the modern Asa Devi temple, which the 'Pujari' (priest) told me had been found by the villagers and donated to the temple. It is unfortunate that for lack of a far sighted approach, the people of Ghosrawan have lost a valuable opportunity to be part of the new 'Pilgrimage Circuit' - thereby depriving themselves of the opportunity to financially gain from such an enterprise, for no one will visit the site to see agricultural fields that were once famous Monasteries.

Image of a Mahayana Buddhist Deity

Broken Image of the Maitriya Buddha

Rare defaced image of female deity in Bhumisparsha Mudra

References: Kittoe, JASB, 1848 FF; Cunningham, ASI, I, 38-39; III, 120; XI, 171 ff; Broadley, JASB, 1872, p. 266 ff; Bengal List, 266; BDG, Patna, 209-10; Observations by Suresh Bhatia, the Author of this report.
Last Updated on Thursday, 22 October 2009 11:01