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BARABAR HILLS PDF Print E-mail
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Thursday, 10 December 2009 20:13
King Asoka's gift to the Multi-Religious Orders

King Asoka in spite of being a firm believer of the Buddhist Dhamma, yet he also patronized the other religions existing at that time. The caves, as I can deduce, were probably created by this Monarch as places where a recluse could meditate and attain greater knowledge in the serenity of the surrounding forests. He also probably intended to have the Buddhist Monks, Ajivikas, Jains and Brahmins to interact, discuss and learn of each other's religious philosophies and thereby find a path to end whatever differences existed between them. It was a noble gesture on the part of King Asoka. What did come as a surprise to me was that the entrances to the caves were designed to Egyptian Architecture. Some questions do arise from this discovery     (1) was such an art in style during the reign of Asoka? (2) Did he employ an Egyptian mason or Architect to design the caves? (3) Cutting the caves and giving them the smooth finish with primitive tools could have taken years to complete, and definitely employed an army of workers whose expertise in this form of art. (4) As none of the Palaces or Monasteries built by Asoka still exists, hence we have no way of knowing the Architecture used to build them.

As mentioned in the history of other sites, the British Archaeologists were very dependent on their Munshis (Clerks) for collecting information about sites. These Munshis were very often Brahmins who had absolutely no interest in Buddhism and for that reason distorted historical evidences to their convenience - which their British 'Lord & Master' gladly noted in his Journal, without giving it a second thought that his employ was nothing more than a 'confidence trickster' who was very sure that his fraud would never be detected. I am surprised that even today eminent Historians and Archaeologists happily quote the blunders of the 'English Sahib' without taking the trouble to visit the site and conducting a thorough survey of the accuracy of their findings.

To a large extent the survey conducted at the Barabar Caves leaks like a sieve with gross inaccuracies. In the following paragraphs, while narrating the history, we will bring forward the views of the Buddhist Heritage on this site.

The Barabar and Nagurjuni hills are situated about 50 Kilometers north-west from Gaya and contain in all, seven rock-cut caves of which four are in the Barabar hills. Since the four caves in Barabar hills have seven chambers or rooms in all, they are often referred to Satgharva or Haft Khan. The hills have been identified with the Gorathagiri as mentioned in the Mahabharata (a mythological epic) by Jackson who discovered two inscriptions mentioning this name in the hill itself. The other inscriptions in the caves here also refer it as Khalatika and Pravaragiri

THE KARAN CHAUPAR CAVE:- Of the four caves at Barabar, the one facing north is known as Karan Chaupar. It consists of a single chamber 33 x 61/2 x 14 feet with a vaulted roof 6 x 1 ½ feet high at the sides and 11 feet high in the centre. Inside the chamber at the western end is a low platform which may have served as a seat for a religious teacher to have used while preaching/ holding discourses with his students or the laity. The entire interior of the cave, excluding the platform, bears a high polish. The entrance is in "Egyptian art form," i.e., sloping jambs. To its right above is a damaged inscription of 5 lines of the 19th regnal year of Asoka (245 BC.) referring to the name as Supiya cave and of the hill as Khalatika. Outside the cave, to the west, on a fairly large rock are two rudely carved human figures and a linga - all creations of a much later date?

THE SUDAMA CAVE:-  The second cave, locally known as Sudama (Saad Dharma) cave, faces south, it being on the opposite side of the hill. Like the earlier cave, this one too has the identical "Egyptian form" and has a sunken rock-cut recess 6 ½ feet square and 2 feet deep. The cave consists of two chambers, the inner one being roughly circular in plan, about 19 feet in diameter, and having a hemispherical vaulted roof. The second outer room is 32 ft .9inches x 19 feet and 6 inches with a vaulted roof and with a shallow recess at its eastern end, left rough and unfinished. It appears to be a niche or another inner chamber left unfinished. An inscription on the eastern wall of the entrance recess refers to the building of the cave in the 12th regnal year of Asoka (252 BC.) for the Ajivikas mentioning the name of the cave as 'Nigoha-kubha' or "banyan tree cave." While digging in the front of the cave, pieces of carved pillars were found indicating the possibility of the existence of a built-up pillared porch covering the entrance.
While explaining the name "Sudama" with reference to the cave, Beglar (who was briefed by his Brahmin Clerk) quotes a local legend of Sudama who once lived in the cave and had a fellow student of lord Siva. If the cave was built for the Ajivikas - there was no way that such concepts could have been introduced at the time Asoka built this cave, as the Ajivikas were Anti-Brahaminical

THE LOMAS RISHI CAVE:-Only a few feet from the Sudama Cave is the Lomas Rshi cave, as it is locally referred to.  Like the Sudama cave, it faces south and consists of two chambers, the outer one being 32feet 4 inches x 19feet and 4inches and the inner chamber measures roughly 14 feet 3 inches x 17 feet. Only the outer room walls are polished, the rest of the cave having been left rough and unfinished. The doorway as usual is in the "Egyptian art form" and has in its front a large recessed entrance representing an ornamental arched entrance of a wooden building with its gable supported on wooden beams. The decoration further shows a finial crowning the arch. Within the recessed portion, below this, along the arch, is carved in relief, a beautiful frieze of elephants with a similar decorative frieze above it. In the semi-circular space above the door are two inscriptions of later Gupta period (7th-8th century CE.), both referring to Kings Sarddulavarman and his son Anantavarman of the Maukhari dynasty, the former also stating that in this cave of the Pravaragiri hill the king Anantavarman installed an image of Lord Krishna. In 1914 Jackson discovered another Brahmi inscription about 20 feet high above the level of the lintel which refers to the hill being known as Gorathagiri.

Apart from these caves there are a few more places in the surrounding hill of lesser importance, they include: The Visva Zopri Cave, remnants of Ancient Dam, Saiva Temples at the top of the hill where ancient Buddhist and Hindu images are enshrined and Fort and Town site as surveyed by Alexander Cunningham in about 1865. About 2 kilometers to the North are the Nagarjuni Caves, which in many ways are quite similar to the Barabar Caves.

The Barabar Caves have been selected as one of the 10 sites in Bihar for World Heritage Status. During my stay in the place I heard stories of the hills being the hide-out of Maoist insurgents, but this idle gossip was soon proven false as the site is protected by a strong contingent of a large police force armed with sophisticated weapons. Barabar Hills are a very safe site to visit. To popularize the Site, the State Government of Bihar should invite Buddhist Monasteries to build Monasteries and Meditation Centers and offer them land at a very concessional rate as an incentive. I did spend a night at Barabar and found it very suitable for meditation. I am sure that the Buddha too must have noticed the hill or even spent a night there meditating.


Brahmini inscription on the wall of cave


The Cave at Barabar Hill


Close up of Cave entrance at Barabar caves


A full view of the Barabar Hill


References:-Asiatic Researches, 1, p.276ff; and II, p.167ff; Buchanan, Patna-Gaya, I, p.244ff; JASB, 1837, 677; JASB, 1847, p. 408 ff; CASI, 1, p.45ff; and VIII, p.36; Bengal List, p,316 ff; Buhler, IA,XX, p.315 ff; Kuraishi, p. 33 ff; Jackson, JBORS, 1, p.162 ff and XII, p.49 ff and BDG, Gaya, pp.201-5; Personal Observations and comments by Suresh Bhatia for the Buddhist Heritage Web Journal.
Last Updated on Sunday, 13 December 2009 13:34