Excavations – Important – Bihar


Antichak (Vikrama Sila; 87°16′; 25°19′), district Bhagalpur, Bihar.
The remains at Antichak is identified to be site of the ancient Vikramasila-Mahavihara and was a center for advanced studies in Buddhism. This site was excavated by B.P. Sinha of the Patna University in the year 1960-69 and identified it with Vikramasila. The excavation revel three phases of structural activities; roughly covering the between the early 9th century and the early 13th AD

The antiquities of Vikramasila comprise terracotta objects including a large number of plaques representing Buddhist and Brahmanical deities, animal and bird figurines and some symbolic representations, as also a large number of stone images of gods and goddesses. A few small bronzes of Buddhist deities like Buddha, Maitreya, Vajrapani, Avalokitesvara and Manjusri have been found. The bulk of antiquities comprise stone, iron, copper, silver and bronze objects, including a few silver and copper coins. The pottery includes the vase, carinated handi, bowl, shallow dish and miniature pot in a fairly good number both in red and grey wares.

Lauriya-Nandangarh, Dt W. Champaran, Bihar
30 km n.w. of Dt headquarters Bettiah and is famous for two Asokan pillars standing at Lauriya and Nandangarh Ht e site was first excavated by A. Cunningham in 1862 who found a retaining wall of brick In 1905 T. Block excavated four mounds, and collected a gold leaf with a female figure standing in frontal pose and a small deposit of burnt human bones mixed with charcoal. The core of the mounds was, according to him, built of layers of ellow clay, a few cm in thickness, with grass leaves laid between. Further down in one of them he found the stump of a tree.

In 1935-6 N.G. Majumdar (ASI-AR 1935-6, p. 55; 1936- 7, p. 47) re-examined four mounds and found that all of them were earthen burial memorials with burnt-brick revetments, two being faced with a brick lining in a double tier

The core of the stupa consists of a filling of earth with a large number of terracotta animal and human figurines in the Sunga and Kushan idiom, a few punchmarked coins and cast copper coins, terracotta sealings of the 2nd and 1st centuries B.C. and iron objects.

In a shaft dug into the centre of the mound though an evidently disturbed filling was found at a depth of 4.3 m the remnants of a brick altar 1 m high and of 11 m from the surface of the mound was found the top of an intact miniature stupa, complete with a surmounting square umbrella. This stupa, is 3.6m in height and is polygonal on plan. An examination of its interior yielded nothing, but beside there lay a tiny copper vessel with a lid fastened to it by a wire. Inside the vessel was a long strip of thin birch-Ieaf manuscript, which having been squeezed into it was so fragile that it was impossible to spread it out thoroughly. The bits that could be extricated were sufficient to show that the manuscript was that of a Buddhist text (probably the Pratitya samutpada-sutra, as the word nirodha couid be read a few times) written in characters of the 4th century A.D. No excavation was undertaken at a further depth.

Nalanda, (23°8′; 85 27′), Dt Nalanda,Bihar
With extensive ruins of a great Buddhist establishment, 85 km s.-e. of Patna and 11 km n. of Rajgir, first reported on by F. Buchanan in the early years of the last century (Martin, 1838) and identified as such by A. Cunningham (ASI-AR, I, p. 28) on the basis of the bearings given by Chinese pilgrims.

The traditional history of Nalanda goes back to the times of Buddha and Mahavira and it is said to be the birth-place of Sariputra, a chief disciple of Buddha. Later Buddhist saints are also associated with it. But excavations have not revealed anything earlier than the Gupta period, the main focus of activity being during the time of the Palas (8th -12th centuries). Fa Hien, early- 5th century, does not mention any monastic establishment here except a stupa (Legge, 1886, p. 31). But by the 7th century Nalanda had established its reputation as a centre of learning as Hiuen Tsang spent here a few years studying Mahalanda Buddhism and mentions a few monasteries supposedly built by later Gupta rulers.

The structural remains of Nalanda as excavated generally belong to the Pala period, though in some cases those of the lowest levels may belong to earlier times. The portable antiquities also mostly belong to that period, the earlier ones having been found generally in dumps or hidden hoards. Of these early antiquities may be meqyoned seals of Gupta and Maukhari rulars, Harsavardhana, rulers or Assam and others of unknown lineage;admnistrative seals and coins of Gupta rulers and clay coin moulds.

The temples and monasteries are in two parallel rows, the temple facing e. and the monasteries w., the wide space in between sometimes occupied by stray shrines. Temple 3, the tallest of the monuments of Nalanda represen ts the result of seven accumulations, the earliest three of modest dimensions being buried deep under the later ones.

Temple 2, outside the row of main temples, has a dado of 211 sculptured panels of about the 7th century. Monasteries lA, lB, 5,6,8,9,10 and 11 have two levels each, while Monasteries 1, 4 and 7 have nine, six and three respectively. They are usually squarish and are separated from each other by a passage. They were double-storeyed with staircase perhaps originally of wood, burnt sleepers having been found in excavation, but later on of concrete or stone.

The walls of the temples and votive stupas are not always plain. Sometimes they show carved bricks, kinnaras, amalakas, bead-and-reel decorations, tringles, vases-With-foliage, inverted flasks, etc.

Seals are common. The official monastic seals bear as usual the wheel-and-deer insignia and the legend Sri-Nalanda-maha-vihariyarya-bhikshu-saghasya. Secular seals belong to rulers, offices, officers, territorial units,etc.

Stone sculptures, large-and small, are not lacking, though Nalanda does not seem to have had a lapidary atelier. But it was certainly an important centre of bronze-casting. Over 500 bronzes of Buddha and Buddhist divinities of Tantrayana-Vajrayana, of which Nalanda became the focus in Pala times, have been recovered. They form a distinctive school, the influence of which spread, along with Buddhism itself, to s.-e. Asia (Barnet Kempers, 1933).

Pataliputra (250 37′; 85°10′), Patna, Bihar
Alternatively known as. Kusmnapura, Puspapura and Kusuma-dhvaja, on the.s. bank of the Ganga, where the Gandak and Punpun join the mainstream respectively from the n. and s. There is also evidence that the Son which now meets the Ganga a few km up Patna originally ran for a certain distance parallel to the Ganga to its s. before discharging itself into the latter. Pataliputra was thus situated on the strip of land between the Ganga and the Son, explaining its abnormal length: breadth ratio mentioned by Megasthenes. Being on the confluence of so many streams it was an important political and commercial centre but was also exposed to floods as Patna is even now

At the time of Buddha the place was only a village which was fortified by Ajatasatru, the ruler of Magadha (s. Bihar) in the first half of the 5th century B.C. His son Udayin transferred his capital to this: place from Rajagrha (Rajgir), and since then it remained for centuries the capital ofMagadha: under the Nandas and Mauryas became the virtual capital of India. The grammarian Panini is said to have lived in the court of the Nandas. The city never lost its importance till the 6th century A.D. At the time of Chandragupta Maurya (last quarter of the 4th century B.C.) its prosperity knew no bounds. The royal palace, i.e., that of Chandragupta, says Aelian, probably following Megasthenes, the Greek ambassador to the court of Chandragupta, could be vied-by ‘neither Memnonian Susa with all its costly, splendour, or Ekbatana with all its munificence’. Palibothra, as Pataliputra was known to the Greeks, is described by Strabo and Arrian,again quoting Megasthenes, as situated at the confluence of the Ganga and Erannaboas (Hiratlyabaha = Son); it was about 14.5 km in length and 2.4 km in breadth shaped like a parallelogram and was girded by a wooden wall with 570 towers and 64 gate 5 and with loop-holes for the discharge of arrows, and a ditch about 182 m in breadth and 14 m in depth. Asoka held the third Buddhist council here. The stone palace of Asoka excited the marvel of Fa-Hien, the Chinese traveller, in the 5th century. He also saw many Buddhist establishments. Under the Palas the district of Pataliputra was known as Srinagara-bhukti. The city was re-occupied in medieval times, notably under Sher Shah who built a fort here in 1541, and has retained its provincial importance ever since.

It was even concluded that Pataliputra had been washed away by the river. During 1892 to 1899 L.A. Waddell carried out excavations at several places in Patna (Waddell, 1892, 1903) and brought to light remains of wooden beams arranged in a double row and wooden drains. A colossal capital in the Hellenistic style was also discovered. In 1897-8 P .C. Mukherji came across a ditch extending e.-w. to 76 m and found punch-marked coins,coins of Candragupta II and fragments of polished pillars (MUkherji, 1898).

In 1912 and the following years D.B. Spooner of the ASI re-excavated Kumrahar and found all over the main site ruined brick walls which he ascribed to the Gupta period or the 8th century. Below was a layer of charcoal and ashes, about 30 cm thick, strewn amongst which were innumerable fragments of polished sand- stone pillars occurring at a distance of 4.57 m (15 ft) from each other. As at least eight rows with ten heaps in each of such fragments were found he surmised that there had existed here a Mauryan pillared hall resting on 80 or more pillars which in turn had been placed on “a wooden support.

Bulandibagh, already tapped by Spooner, was re-excavated in 1926-7 by J .A. Page and M. Ghosh resulting in the discovery of an e.-W. wooden structure running as excavated for a distance of about 137 m. It is a wall made of heavy wooden sleepers placed vertically in a double row, with similar sleepers joining them horizontally at the bottom and is thought to be a part of the wooden palisade seen by Megasthenes. In 1935 a similar structure was found at Gosainkhanda, 800 m to the e. of Bulandibagh but in a reversed fashion,vertical sleepers capped by horizontal ones . Remnants of the wooden structure have been found to have extended to other localities of Patna, though no coherent plan is available.

Spooner’s finds from Kumrahar and Bulandibagh consist of punch-marked coins, terracotta figurines including the head of a smiling boy and a dancing girl, stone and glass beads, finished and unfinished seals including a glass seal with a Mauryan inscription and a spoked cart: wheel of wood.

Renewed excavation was undertaken at Kumrahar by the K.P. Jayaswal Res. Inst. from 1951 to 1955 (Altekar and Mishra, 1959). The pillared hall of Spooner has now been seen not to have extended farther w. Besides the 72. pillar spots located earlier, eight more spots belonging to the hall proper and four belonging to the entrance have been traced. No boundary walls or railings or any wooden floors of the hall have been brought to light; nor is there any other structure contemporaneous with the hall. The hall was destroyed by fire in the Suilga period and their shattered fragments are found all over the

The excavation has revealed that the habitation at Kumrahar continued from the Mauryan times to A.D. 600, when the site was abandoned to be re-occupied in the 17th century. Apart from the pillared hall, the earliest occupation, Period I, is ascribable to before 150 B.C. characterized by coarse grey ware mixed with red ware, some of them inscribed, along with cast and punch-marked coins. Period II, c. 150 B.C. to A.D. 100, is represented by Sunga terracottas and coins of the ‘lanky bull’ type of Kausambi and by a wall of brick, 30 cm square, and remnants of an apsidal structure. Period III, c. A.D. 100 to 300, has yielded Kushan coins and terracotta human figurines with peaked head-dress as well as brick structures and remains of a monastic complex, including an apsidal shrine with astilpa. A unique sealing bears the plan of a monastery. Period IV, 300 to 450, has copper coins of Chandragupta II along with typical Gupta terracottas. The discovery of a monastery-cum-sanatorium, identified by a seal with the legend Sri-Arogya-vihare bhikshu-sanghasya, is an important discovery. Period V, 450 to 600,is represented by late Gupta and post-Gupta antiquities as suggested by the palaeography of the sealing legends and inscribed potsherds.

Rajgir (25°1′; 85°30′), Dt Nalanda, Bihar
21 km s.-w. of Biharsharif, the Dt headquarters, a valley completely enclosed by hills which form the n. limits of the Gaya range flanking the s. of the Ganga plains, with two natural passes serving as gates between hills on the n. and s. Its physical position makes it a naturally fortified area and it was understandably the capital of Magadha, s. Bihar, from traditional days to about the 5th century B.C., when the capital was shifted to Patliputra

In 1950 A.Ghosh undertook excavations on behalf of the ASI the scraping of a part of the 6 m high section cut by a stream at the foot of the Vaibhara hill at the outskirts of the inner defences of Old Rajagir. Above the natural conglomerate are two deposits of riverine clay with occasional shapeless sherds overlain by a thick pebble bed. Real occupation starts at the site with the appearce of the NBPW and black and grey wares of the same shapes as those of the NBPW. The earlier phase of the NBPW-bearing deposits has revealed a previously unknown type of burials. Half-oval pits with elliptical bottoms and short funnels still below have been found dug into the earth. The funnels are filled with clay (in two cases stone blocks are also placed), and the unbaked ‘jars’ thus improvised are filled with bone bits and ashes collected after cremation.

Occupation at this particular spot can be regarded to have started in the 5th century B.C. or somewhat earlier and continued till the 1st century A.D. But the results of this minor operation need not be taken to be the index of what can be expected all over the vast site.

Vaisali, Basarh (25°58′; 80°11′), District Vaisali, Bihar
Supposedly founded by Visala of the Ikshvaku lineage, the capital of the Republic of the Licchavis, a branch of the Vrji clan at the time of Buddha who visited the place more than once. It was annexed by Ajatasatru of Magadha after the death of Buddha.

The fort was excavated by T. Bloch in 1903-4 (ASI-AR 1903-4, p. 81) and D.B. Spooner in 1913-4 (ibid.1913-4, p. 98). Controlled excavation was undertaken here in 1950 by the Vaisali Sangha under the direction of Krishna Deva assisted by Misra (Krishna and Mishra, 1961) and between 1958 and 1962. by A. S. Altekar on behalf of the K.P. Jayaswal Res. Inst. (Sinha and Roy, 1969). The excavations included the areas of Kharauna Pokhar, Raja-Bisal-ka-Garh, Chakramdas, Lalpura, Kolhua and Virpur. Kharauna Pokhar has been identified with the ancient Abhisheka-puskarini with whose waters all the rajas of the republic were consecrated. It had a surrounding wall with concrete platforms, with as many as six occupational levels. It has been suggested that in Period III (150 B.C. to A.D. 100) there were rooms for guards with places for quivers in specially made holes.

The area shows that it was under occupation W from at least 5OO B.C., as in the lowest layers black-and- red ware is found with the NBPW. The discovery of a few sherds of degenerate grey ware with painting associated with the mud rampart has no chronological significance. The earliest traces of structural remains belong to 350-150 B.C., corresponding roughly to the Maurya period, when the mud rampart was erected; in the Sunga period it was strengthened with courses of mud brick. Afterwards a massive rampart about 21 m in width at the base and 6.4 m in width at the extant top and about 4 m in extant height was made of rammed earth. Later in the pre-Gupta period a brick rampart, 2.4 m wide, was constructed with, military barracks made of brick 37.2 x 23.3 x 5 cm in dimensions.

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