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Written by Administrator   
Thursday, 10 December 2009 20:17
-A Buddhist Site with an ancient history

Kispa is situated about 10 Kilometers north of Tekari or 20 Kilometers west of the Barabar hills and its ancient ruins were first noticed by Buchanan who, however, mentions the name of the place as Kaspa - bahiya. In 1872-73 Beglar also surveyed the village for its ancient ruins and probably Bloch later visited it in 1902; but he says nothing about the ruins.

In Buchanan's time the place had been (and still is even today) famous for its temple dedicated to goddess Tara and situated at the west end of the village. Buchanan gives a graphic description of his visit to the temple. He found that only recently a mud structure had been built on the ruins of an ancient brick and stone building. He continues to say, "Many images were built into the wall and many broken ones were lying near the door. The enshrined image, called and worshipped as Tara Devi, was of "human size" and being covered with cloth from the chin to the heels he could not identify it clearly; though he strongly suspected it to be of a male deity. Of the goddess the local people told him a legend that Tara Devi had been an oilman's wife of great sanctity, whom the tyrannical Raja Bali desired to seize in order to gratify his lust. It is said she prayed to her deity for protection and suddenly both she and the Raja were turned to stone. She is now worshipped as Tara Devi; while the Raja 'stood' neglected, in Buchanan's time at least, represented in a colossal image, more than life size, at a short distance away. The latter image was also found surrounded by ruins of carvings and broken images, thus obviously indicating a site of another temple. Buchanan was further told that there were scattered a number of bricks or mounds in the vicinity and 10 or 12 of them were already ransacked by the villagers for building material. Buchanan further comments: "This place has certainly been a city or situation of an extensive religious establishment…. The villagers say it was the residence of Kasyapa," one of the names of the Buddha himself, according to Buchanan; though it may possibly indicate the name of the famous disciple of the Buddha."

In 1872-3 Beglar noticed the temple of Tara Devi and discovered the enshrined image to be of a male deity with an inscription on its halo; but he could not actually see at close quarters, and thought it to be a Buddhist image. Inside the village he noticed several Hindu and Buddhist images, the latter including two life size statues of the Buddha, with the usual Buddhist creed formulae inscribed on them. Beglar, however, knew nothing of the legend of Tara and the traditional association of the site with Kasyapa, nor does he seem to have observed the numerous mounds mentioned earlier by Buchanan. It is not clear whether the image of 'Bali Raja' as seen by Buchanan is the same as one of the life-size statues of the Buddha mentioned decades later by Beglar. From the description of the place by Beglar there is no doubt that the place was one of importance having both Buddhist and Hindu temples in the early medieval period, i.e., in the 9th to 10th century CE. The site has not been explored after 1873, though Bloch seems to have only casually visited the place in 1902, and therefore the site deserves to be explored further.

Of the inscriptions, the contents of the one on the image of "Tara Devi" has not been properly recorded; while the other two inscriptions on the life size Buddha need to be transcribed. It may be that some valuable historical information is contained on them as none of them have been carefully examined and transcribed so far.   (This text has been taken from: Antiquarian Remains in Bihar, compiled by D.R. Patil; Published by K.P. Jayaswal Research Institute, Patna, 1963)

In July 2008, The Buddhist Heritage conducted a thorough survey of the site including the Tara Devi image in the temple. We too were told the myth about Tara and Bali Raja. Tara Devi image without doubt is an image of the Buddha dating to the Gupta period (4th-5th Century CE.) Due to insufficient light in the temple, we were unable to either read or photograph the inscription on the halo. However, the mud temple seen by Buchanan no longer exists. In place of it is a modern well decorated brick temple. Outside the temple, under a tree, pieces of broken images canstill be seen, these included innumerable heads of Buddha, Tara, and Avalokitesvara as well as floral designs from pieces of pillars that once adorned a Buddhist Temple. Close to the tree is a small temple portraying the image of Hindu Deity smeared with vermillion that it was difficult to accurately identify it? Hardly a few feet away from the temple is a low mound of which we were told that it could be the remains of a monastery. In the fields surrounding the mound, in the process of cultivating their fields, villagers have found Buddhist and Hindu images. However, they remained silent when we enquired as to what happened to these images. We do believe that the images that were intact were sold to the art dealers in Delhi.

Further in the village we found the Buddha image which is still referred to as Bali Raja. On the halo we discovered an inscription in Brahmini script and on reading it found it to contain the usual Buddhist creed formulae. The image has been cemented into a wall; hence if any inscription exists on the back, we were deprived of investigating it. The Buddha image is draped in a Dhoti; similar to the garment worn by the male villagers. The image now stands in the compound of a Brahmin Pujari who owns the image, performs pujas (religious rituals) twice a day and even organizes a special festival for the deity. Strangely, Bali Raja is no longer considered as the potential abductor of Tara Devi, but as a image with powers to answer the prayers of the devotees.

I was also told by the senior citizens of the village that there were at least 5 huge mounds in the village, out of which 4 were usurped by the villagers and flattened to agricultural fields or houses were built on them. Any images found in the course of digging the mounds were sold to touts working for underworld involved in smuggling images out of the Country.

According to Research conducted by us, we would presume that the importance of this site was that the Buddha spent the 11th  Rain Retreat here and at that time the village was known as 'Eka Nala' or Nala, a Brahmin Village where the Blessed One gave a 'profound teaching' to the Brahmin Land owner. The village is said to be close to Bodh Gaya. Further facts on the name Kasyapa, as per the Theravada Canon; claim that Ajatsatru built a Vihara for Devadutta [ who on challenging the Buddha over leading the Sangha, declared himself as the re-incarnation of Kasyapa-the previous Buddha]  and on being refused this privilege by the Blessed One, he started his own Sangha. The site of the Vihara was not at Vishnu pad the Hindu pilgrimage site, but in the vicinity of this village, where about 2 kilometers away, where an ancient ruins of a monastery, though the site has been excavated, its actual identification has yet to be clarified. Hence, there is a strong possibility that Kispa is the shortened name of the (Monastery of Kasyapa) of which Devadutta was the Chief Monk. Even though a lot of evidence of the site has been lost, yet a thorough survey and if possible excavation at potential places in the village may bring to light its glorious past.

Regarding Tara Devi (a Buddha image) and Bali Raja (also a Buddha image) will some Buddhist Monk please go to the village and tell the people that such a myth is unacceptable in the 21st century. There is also a need to make an inventory of sacred sites which have never been visited by Archaeologist for the last century, and form a Foundation for their restoration. The Buddhist Heritage would welcome suggestions from like minded Organizations.

A view of the modern Hindu Temple

The Buddha Image (Tara Devi) draped in a saree

The Buddha Image (Bali Raja) dressed in a traditional dhothi

Another image at Kispa village site

Last Updated on Sunday, 13 December 2009 13:36