‘Buddhism thrived in Rajasthan also around the Ashokan era’

by Shoeb Khan, TNN, Jan 31, 2016

JAIPUR, India - Much before the forts and palaces came into existence here, Rajasthan ostensibly had well-defined Buddhist monasteries or complexes at four places - Bhairat in Alwar, Kholvi in Jhalawar, Bandarez in Dausa and Ramgoan in Tonk.

Discovered by the Archaeological Survey of India's (ASI) first director-general Alexander Cunningham in late 18th century, these historical sites today are crying for attention from the state.

Neekee Chaturvedi, a professor at Rajasthan University's History department, presented her research report on these sites at the national conference on 'Revisiting India's Past' held here on Saturday. Chaturvedi claimed that the Buddhist structures came up between 300 AD and 900 AD. This was around and after the period of emperor Ashoka. It signifies that the region that was initially considered to have remained untouched by the wave of Buddhism, was actually a pivotal seat of Buddhist activities, which gradually disappeared over the centuries.

Her study says that the Bairat site, which is 52 miles from Jaipur towards Delhi, has a circular temple, monastery and numerous remnants of pillars of the Ashokan era. The famous Chinese traveler Hiuen-Tsang visited this site and mentioned it in his travelogue.

"The temple is situated on a lower platform and has a circumambulatory path. It is made up of fire-baked bricks that were contemporary with the Ashokan era Pillars. It is among the earliest structures of Buddhist faith and is similar to the furnished modals for numerous rock-cut temples of western and eastern India. It has cells large enough to accommodate just a single monk or nun and are situated in the upper platform," said Chaturvedi.

She emphasised that the Bairat structures have the Bhabru edict, which is a high form of art from Ashokan era and, thus, point to a significant presence of Buddhist monks here in those times. The researcher studied the local folklore too but didn't find any trace of the Buddhism culture, which implied that these activities gradually vanished.

Other important structures are in Jhalawar and areas bordering Tonk spread over in 20-km. The area has a total of 50 caves in multistory structures dating back to 700-900AD. Broadly divided into four cave complexes—Kholvi, Hathyagaud, Binnayaga in Jhalawar and Ramgoan in Tonk—these sites have no mention in any historical textbook, said the researcher. Chaturvedi has studied Indian and Chinese history related to Buddhism.

At Kholvi, ruins of 64 monk cells are located in a big complex that has stupas or meditation halls with circumambulation path. This site has images of Bhudda, the tallest being a 12-feet standing Budda in a preaching posture. A large statue of Buddha and a carving ornate stupa similar to those of Buddhist structures in Cambodia and Laos are the main structures.

Five caves have been discovered at Hatya Guad, five-km from village Pagaria. This site is spread over two hills with a slightly deep valley between the two. Here structures have a vaulted roof and another solid stone pillars. At Binayaga hills, which are 16-km from Hatya Guad, is one cave in the shape of a stupa and the structure of its roof is in the form of a Chaitya similar to the caves at Ajanta. These structures came much after the Ashoka period.

The site at Bhandarez is situated 65-km from Jaipur at Lalsot in Dausa district. Here the ruins of a big complex are situated at a 50-ft height. This site indicates presence of a big Buddhist complex. However, dense human settlement around it has deterred chances of further excavation and exploration here.

"These structures are indicative of the fact that Rajasthan did not remain untouched with the wave of Buddhism. The presence of such elaborate sites reinstate that Buddhism existed here in a developed stage in its early form. The ignorance about these sites can be understood from the fact that it is nowhere listed on a tourist map," said Chaturvedi.

The researcher's interest in these sites developed when she first visited them as a school student. She underlined the need to study the impact on these structures on the cultural practices in the region. So far, she has failed to track any Buddhist family in these areas.