There are several Buddhist remains and monuments within about 20 km radius of Vidisha in Madhya Pradesh. Of these, Sanchi is the most famous and best known primarily because of the magnificence of the monuments, notwithstanding the fact that there are several other Buddhist monuments in the area which are no less important. Perhaps it could be due to their rather dilapidated condition and location in remote, out-of- the way spots. These monuments are located at Sonari, Satdhara, Murelkhurd and Bawalia-Hakeemkhedi, all in Raisen District of Madhya Pradesh. Alexander Cunningham has described these monuments in the present volume, The Bhilsa Topes, which was originally published in 1854.
This work is the first serious attempt V to trace Buddhist history through its architectural remains. It also provides a historical account of the rise, progress and decline of Buddhism; the life and faith of Sakya; the synods; Buddhist schisms; the reign of Asoka; the symbols of Buddha, Dharma and Sangha and many other important facets of Buddhism.
This reprint of The Bhilsu Topes is being presented in a new format while retaining the original text and illustrations. Another additional feature of the present volume are some recent photographs of monuments described by Cunningham. Long out of print, this seminal work remains most useful for researchers.
Sir Alexander Cunningham, KCIE, CSI (1814-1893), British army officer and archaeologist who excavated many sites in India, including Sarnath and Sanchi, served as the first Director General of the Archaeological Survey of India.
Cunningham joined the Bengal Engineers at the age of 19 and spent the next 28 years in the British service in India, retiring as Major General in 1861. Soon after arriving in India in June 1833, a meeting with James Prinsep sparked his lifelong interest in Indian archaeology and antiquity. In 1837 Cunningham excavated at Sarnath, outside Varanasi (Benares), one of the most sacred Buddhist shrines. In 1850 he excavated Sanchi, site of some of the oldest surviving monuments in India. In addition to a study of the temple architecture of Kashmir (1848) and a work on Ladakh (1854), he published The Bhilsa Topes (1854), the first serious attempt to trace Buddhist history through its architectural remains.
In 1861 he was appointed to head the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) and remained with it until it was dissolved (1865). He resumed his post when the Survey was restored (1870) and during the next 15 years carried out many archaeological explorations among the ruins of northern India. He published The Ancient Geography of Indio (1871), Inscriptions of Asoko (1877) and The Stupa of Bharhut (1879). Another major contribution of Cunningham are the 24 volumes of ASI Reports, better known as Cunningham Reports, containing accurate and objective description of various monuments and sites explored by Cunningham and his team.
An archaeologist of repute, B.M. Pande retired as Director from Archaeological Survey of India after 38 years of distinguished service.
There are several Buddhist remains and monuments within about 20 km radius of Vidisha. Of these, Sanchi is the most famous and best known primarily because of the magnificence of the monuments, notwithstanding the fact that there are several other Buddhist monuments in the area which are no less important. Perhaps it could be due to their rather dilapidated condition and location in remote, out-of-the way spots. These monuments are located at Sonari, Satdhara, Murelkhurd and Bawalia—Hakeemkhedi, all in Raisen District of Madhya Pradesh. Alexander Cunningham has described these monuments in the present volume, The Bhilsu Topes which was originally published in 1854. During the course of his survey, Cunningham had also opened some of the stupas in his search for relics. It is interesting to note that Cunningham mentions the site of Murelkhurd as Bhojpur and Bawalia-Hakeemkhedi as Andher. This writer had visited these sites between 1977 and 1980 quite a few times. During one of the visits, he was informed by the villagers that the name Andher — which means injustice or outrage in Hindi — being inauspicious, was changed about two or three generations ago to Hakeemkhedi after the name of the then headman, Hakeem. The hillock on which the Buddhist remains are located is mentioned as Bawalia and Hakeemkhedi.
In the three centuries before the Christian era, Buddhism spread to eastern Malwa, then called Akara of which Vidisha was the capital. In those days and even later, Vidisha was a prosperous and important town. The inhabitants of Vidisha contributed not only towards the establishment of Sanchi as a Buddhist establishment, but also Sonari, Satdhara, Murelkhurd and Bawalia-Hakeemkhedi. It is quite likely that there might have been quite a few other establishments as well, which may come to light some day. These sites were evidently chosen not only because of their contiguity to the town of Vidisha but also keeping in view the solitude these locations provided. Sanchi is about 10 km south—west of Vidisha on the Kanakheda hill; about 10 km south-west of Sanchi is Sonari and about 5 km from Sonari is Satdhara. The Buddhist stupas and other remains at Bawalia-Hakeemkhedi are about 17 km south-west of Vidisha and 8km west of Murelkhurd, which is about 9 km south-south-east of Vidisha and 12 km east—south-east of Sanchi. The maximum distance from east to west is thus about 27 km. During the course of his investigations, Cunningham placed the stupas at these sites in the category of commemorative stupas.
Perhaps due to its close contiguity to Vidisha, only Sanchi could continue to retain its importance up to about the thirteenth century AD while the other sites went into oblivion by the beginning of the Christian era. Elsewhere too in the region, similar situation prevailed in Buddhist stupa sites like Talpura and Panguraria — from where a Minor Rock Edict of Asoka was found in 1975-76 or even Kharvai, Bhimbetka, etc.
The semi-circular anda of the stupas at Sonari, Satdhara, Murelkhurd and Bawalia—Hakeemkhedi is similar in shape and form to Stupa no. 1 (as it was enlarged in second century Bc) and Stupa nos. 2 and 3 at Sanchi and are also contemporaneous. There is not only an architectural similarity and contemporarily between these sites, but some of these stupas also, like Sanchi, yielded relics of Buddhist monks. During the course of his investigations, Cunningham had excavated most of these stupas and exhumed some of these relics. Relic—caskets from Sanchi Stupa no. 2 were of Kasapagota, Majhima, Haritiputa, Vachchhaya Savijayata, Mahavanaya, Kodiniputa, Kosikiputa, Gotiputa and Mogaliputa while relics of Sariputra and Mahamogalana were found in Stupa no. 3. Relics of Sariputra and Mahamogalana were also found at Satdhara from the Stupa no. 2. Sonari Stupa no. 2 yielded relics of Gotiputa, Majhima, Kasapagota, Kosikiputa and Alabigira. From Murelkhurd Stupa no. 7 only a single relic casket was found containing the relics of Upahita. Hakeemkhedi-Bawalia yielded relics of Kakanava Prabhasana, Vachhiputa and Mogaliputa from Stupa no. 2 and those of Haritiputa from Stupa no. 3. That these were prominent Buddhist bhikshus is already well—known and is mentioned in Buddhist literature too. According to Dipavamsa, Mogaliputa Tissa had deputed Kasapagota and Majhima along with Dudubhisara, Sahadeva and Mulakadeva to Himavat or the Himalayan region after the third Mahasamgiti or the Great Council held during the reign of the Mauryan emperor Asoka. NC. Majumdar, however, on the basis of detailed study of inscriptions and relic-caskets from Sanchi identified Himavata with one of the sub- sects of the Theravadins.
It is apparent from the evidence unearthed from these sites, Sonari, Bawalia—Hakeemkhedi, Satdhara, Murelkhurd and Sanchi that by the second century sc, the tradition of worshipping not only the Buddha’s relics but also those of his principal disciples and other prominent Buddhists had been well-established. The discovery of relic caskets from sites in other parts of the country amply attest to this fact. The tradition started by Asoka of worshipping the relics of the two principal disciples of the Buddha also, namely Sariputra and Mahamogalana had become fully established in the following centuries when the relics of prominent personages associated with the proselytization and spread of Buddhism were brought from their original places and kept in different stupas in the country.
Of the sites described in the present work, the remains at Sanchi were taken up for conservation for the first time in 1881 by Major Cole. Large- scale conservation of Sanchi monuments was carried out by Sir John Marshall between 1912 and 1919, during the course of which he also unearthed some of the structures which were buried. As a result of these and conservation measures taken by the Archaeological Survey of India, the monuments at Sanchi are in a very good condition. In fact, Sanchi has also been enlisted as a World Heritage Monument.
While the monuments at Sanchi received adequate attention by way of conservation measures and excavation, those at Sonari, Satdhara, Bawalia-Hakeemkhedi and Murelkhurd were left uncared for. In 1978- 79, the Archaeological Survey of India took up the work of clearance and conservation of the monuments at Sonari. According to Cunningham, Sonari is the corrupt form of Suvarnagiri or Suvarnachakra. During the course of conservation, the fallen stones of the two Stupas, nos. 1 and 2 were reset as per the original. The rectangular structure at Sonari which perhaps represents remain of a monastery, was also repaired.
Subsequently, large-scale conservation works were taken up at Satdhara, Sonari and Sanchi by the Archaeological Survey of India as a UNESCO project from 1993-9-l to 1998-99. Apart from strengthening the structures, several new features have been found including interesting evidence of water harvesting. It becomes imperative that the other sites included m The Bhilsa Tories are properly studied and preserved for posterity and exploratory work is carried out in the area which may result in the discovery of more sites bearing similarity with the ones described in this volume.
This reprint of The Bhilsa Topes is being presented in a new format while retaining the original text and illustrations. Another additional feature of the present volume are some recent photographs of monuments described by Cunningham. Long out of print, this seminal work remains most useful for researchers.
The discoveries made by Lieutenant Maisey and myself, amongst the numerous Buddhist monuments that still exist around Bhilsa, in Central India, are described — imperfectly, I fear — by myself in the present work. To the Indian antiquary and historian, these discoveries will be, I am willing to think, of very high importance; while to the mere English reader they may not be uninteresting, as the massive mounds are surrounded by mysterious circles of stone pillars, recalling attention at every turn to the early earth works, or barrows, and the Druidical colonnades of Britain.
In the Buddhist worship of trees displayed in the Sanchi bas—reliefs, others, I hope, will see (as well as myself) the counterpart of the Druidical and adopted English reverence for the Oak. In the horse—shoe temples of Ajanta and Sanchi many will recognise the form of the inner colonnade at Stonehenge} More, l suspect, will learn that there are Cromlechs in India as well as in Britain;2 that the Brahmans, Buddhists, and Druids all believed in the transmigration of the soul; that the Celtic language was undoubtedly derived from the Sanskrit;3 and that Buddha (or Wisdom), the Supreme Being worshipped by the Buddhists is probably (most probably) the same as the great god Buddwas, considered by the Welsh as the dispenser of good. These coincidences are too numerous and too striking to be accidental. Indeed, the Eastern origin of the Druids was suspected by the younger Pliny,4 who says, "Even to this day Britain celebrates the magic rites with so many similar ceremonies, that one might suppose they had been taken from the Persians". The same coincidence is even more distinctly stated by Dionysius Periegesis, who says that the women of the British Amnitae celebrated the rites of Dionysos, V. 375: -
As the Bistonians on Apsinthus banks Shout to the clamorous Eiraphiates, Or, as the Indians on dark—rolling Ganges Hold revels to Dionysos the noisy So do the British women shout Evoe!
I have confined my observations chiefly to the religious belief taught by Sakya Muni, the last mortal Buddha, who died in 543 sc. There was, however, a more ancient Buddhism, which prevailed not only in India, but in all the countries populated by the Arian race. The belief in Krakucha11da, Kanaka and Kasyapa, the three mortal Buddhas who preceded Sakya Mimi, was in India contemporaneous with the worship of the elements inculcated in the Vedas. The difference between Vedantism and primitive Buddhism, was not very great; and the gradual evolution of the worship of concrete Nature (called Pradhan by the Brahmans, and Dharma or Prajnai by the Buddhists), from the more ancient adoration of the simple elements, was but the natural consequence of the growth and progressive development of the human mind. In Europe, the traces of this older Buddhism are found in the Caduccus, or wand of Hermes, which is only the symbol of Dharma, or deified nature, and in the Welsh Buddwas, and the Saxon Woden — but slightly altered forms of Buddha. The fourth day of the week, Wednesday, or W0derz’s-day, was named Dies Mercurii by the Romans, and is still called Buddhwar by the Hindus. Maia was the mother of the Greek Hermeias or Hermes; and Maya was the mother of the Indian Buddha. The connection between Hermes, Buddwas, Woden, and Buddha is evident; although it may be difficult, and perhaps nearly impossible, to make it apparent to the general reader.
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