About the Book
Sravasti (Pali; savatthi) was at time of the Buddha, capital of the Kosala Kingdom. It was also the most prosperous city and a great centre of trade and commerce. The prosperous city came to be associated with the Buddha under dramatic circumstances. Once when the Buddha was staying at Rajagaha, the capital of the Magadha, a wealthy merchant of Sravasti, sudatta, popularly known as Anathapindika, happened to visit Rajagaha. He met the Buddha there; became a lay devotee, and invited the Blessed One to visit his home –town, sravasti. On return to Sravasti, he built a magnificent monastery in Jetavana. He also undertook to provide food and other requisites to all the monks visiting sravasti. Thanks to his devotion and hospitality provided by him, the Buddha spent as many as 19 Retreats during the rainy season in Jetavana. The Buddha spent another 6 Retreats in Pubbarama, East Monastery, built by Lady Visakha, daughter-in-law, of another rich merchanda of Sravasti.
Since the Buddha spent here 25 Retreats, Out of 45 Retreats, Jetavana-Sravasti naturally became the most sacred Buddhist shrine. It also played a very significant role in the history of Buddhism as most of the sermons of the Buddha were delivered at Sravasti. Unfortunately, however, due to some natural calamity, Sravasti was in ruins by the 5th century A.D. The Jetavana shrines survived to some extent up to the 12th century A.D. but thereafter there shrines were also abandoned by the Buddhists, and in due course both Jetavana and Sravasti were engulfed by dense jungle. So much so that even their names were forgotten by the people living in the nearby areas. They called them Sahet-Mahet.
In this treatise, the author, based on all the available archaeological and literary evidence, presents in eight chapters, the origin, development, decline, destruction, re-discovery and restoration of the Jetavana shrines. The efforts of the modern Buddhists to revive the glory of the sacred Jetavana have been described in brief in the last chapter.
D.C. Ahir (born 1928, Punjab) is a reputed Buddhist scholar and has made a very notable contribution to the Buddhist studies. He retired as Director to the Government of India in February 1986, and since then is fully engaged in enriching Buddhist literature.
In appreciation of his noble and notable contribution as a distinguished scholar and Author, the Maha Bodhi Society of Indian, Sarnath Centre, conferred on him the Honorary Title of BUDDHA SAHITYA SHIROMANI on 30 November 2001. Similarly, the Government of Sri Lanka, Ministry of Buddha Sasana, Colombo, conferred on him the honour BUDDHA SASANAJYOTI on 19 January 2003. His bio-data also appears in the premier Edition of THE CONTEMPORARY WHO’S 2003, for Significant Contribution to Society, published by American Biographical Institute, USA.
SRAVASTI (Pali; SAVATTHI) was, at the time of the Buddha, in the sixth century BC, capital of the Kosala Kingdom, ruled by King Pasenadi, also known as Prasenajit. The city of Sravasti was noted for its prosperity and wealth. It is said to have been founded by King Sravasta in the distant part. Hence, its name Sravasti. Howere, the ancient pali Commentators say that it is called Savatthi; , the All-abundant, because ‘all that men needed for their nourishment and enjoyment could be had there in abundance ‘ , ‘Sabbam etha atthiti Savatthi ‘ . Apparently this was said to magnify the material prosperity of the city.
The Buddha came to be associated with prosperous city under dramatic circumstances. Once when the Buddha was staying at Rajagaha (Rajagaha), the capital of Magadha, a wealthy merchant of Sravasti, Sudatta popularly known as Anathapindika, happened to visit Rajagaha. He met the Buddha there; became a lay disciple, and invited the Blessed One to visit his Home-town, Sravasti On return to Sravasti he built a magnificent monastery in Jetavana for the reception of the Buddha. After some time, the Buddha visited Sravasti, consecrated the monastery and named it ‘’Jetavana Anathapindika Arama ‘’, or ‘’Monastery of Anathapindika in Jeta Gorve ‘‘. This was in 514 BC. Thereafter, from 507 BC onward, the Buddha came year after year, and spent continuously as many as 24 Retreats or Vassa periods at Sravasti. Such a long association with Sravasti naturally attracted the people from all walks of like towards the Buddha and they became adherents of the new faith. The most devoted lay. Disciples were from the merchanda class, among them the foremost being Anathapindika, the builder of Jetavana Vihara, and Lady Visakha, also known as Migaramata, who built ‘Pubbararama’ (East Monastery) for the use of the Buddha. Many rich and influential householders also became lay disciples and supporters of the Buddha. The Kosala King Pasenadi and Queen Mallika, also became convents to the new faith, and became firm supporters of the Buddha. Many young men and women of Sravasti also joined the Sangha.
The Jetavana Monastery in Sravasti being the first monastery built for the Buddha, and being the single place where the Buddha spent 25 rainy seasons has always been regarded by the Buddhists as the most shrine. It was also looked after well. Unfortunately, the city of Sravasti began to decline in the 4th century AD for political and natural reasons, and by the time the Chinese pilgrim, Hiuen Tsang, came there in 636 AD, Sravasti was utterly a ruined city. But the Jetavana Monastery flourished as a Buddhist shrine till atleast the 12th century AD. Thereafter, as Buddhism declined in India, the Jetavana shrines were also abandoned, and lay buried under the dust and debris for more than 700 years. The dark period was in fact the darkest as even the names of Jetanava and Sravasti were forgotten by people, and their ruins came to be called Sahet-Mahet.
The mounds of Sahet-Mahet were first of all identified with Jetavana-Sravasti by Alexander Cunningham in 1863. He again excavated the site in 1876, and exposed sixteen temples and stupas in the Jetavana complex. Thereafter, the site was further excavated by J.Ph. Vogel in 1907-08, and by John Marshal in 1910- 11. How difficult and laborious the excavation work at Jetavana was even in 1907, 44 years after Cunningham’s first excavation in 1863, can better be judged from what Vogel says about it. He says; ‘’After some preliminary work had been done under the supervision of Mr. Wilson and Pandit Daya Ram Sahni, the excavations were actually started with 640 labourers on the 3rd of February and carried on till the end of April. During the month of April excavation were continued by the Pandit and my head-draftsman. The number of labourers was gradually increased to 1600 men. Among those, only 325 were diggers, whereas 1000 were employed in carrying earth and 230 in clearing the jungle which completely covered the site.’’
I visited Sravasti for the first time on 3rd December 1982, i.e., 120 years after Cunningham identified the Sahet-Mahet ruins with ancient Jetavana-Sravasti, and 70 year after the last major excavation work by John Marshal in 1910. It happened like this. My wife (Swarn Lata) and I left for a pilgrimage of Buddhist shrines in Uttar Pradesh on 30 November 1982. We first headed for Kushinagar, the site of the Buddha;s Mahaparinirvana. We reached Kushinagar, via Gorakhpur, on the morning of 1st December 1982. We first went to the Burmese Buddha Vihara, where Ven. Gyaneshwar welcomed us, also advised us that after visiting the Mahaparinirvana Temple and other historic sites in Kushinagar, we may leave in the evening for Lumbini via Gorakhpur- Nautanwa. After worshipping at the Nirvana Temple and also visiting the other Sites, We returned to Gorakhpur by 5 p.m. and took a bus for Nautanwa-Sunoli on the Indo-Nepal border. We reached Sunoli at 10 p.m.; crossed the border and reached Bhairwa (Nepal) where we stayed in a hotel for the night. Next morning, we went by bus to Lumbini; visited all the historic sites in the birth-place of the Buddha. In the afternoon, we came by rickshaw to Kakrawaha, just 10 km from Lumbini, on the Indian side. From Kakrawaha, we hired a jeep for going to Nowgarh via Piprahwa (kapilavastu). We reached Nowgarh railway station at about 5 p.m. and found that the train going to Balrampur (Sravasti) was rather late. After purchasing second class tickets, I went to a Tea-stall for having some tea. While preparing tea, the vender on knowing our destination, advised us not to travel by second class, but travel by third class with the general public. The reason for this he gave was that the Gorakhpur- Gonda loop-line train journey was not safe at night in second class/first class compartments. The train came at 9p.m., and as advised, we boarded a very crowded 3rd class compartment and reached safely at Balrampur station at 3 a.m. on 3rd December. When we got down at Balrampur station, there was hardly any one the platform excepting the railway staff.
I enquired from the station master whether there was any vacant retiring room. Without looking at me, he said, there is no vacant retiring room. I followed him to his office and requested again for a retiring room saying that we have come from Delhi to visit Sravasti. On hearing the name of Sravasti, he became very polite, and gave us a very good retiring room (which was specially built for the British archaeologists excavating Sravasti). We stayed there for three days, visiting Jetavana-Sravasti, 21 km away, daily by bus. At that time, Ven. M.Sangharatana, whom I had known when he was at Sarnath, was at Sravasti looking after the Jetavana ruins, and also building a New Jetavana Vihara. He not only took us around the sacred Jetavana shrines but also provided the best of hospitality. Having seen and studied the Jetavana monuments on 3rd and 4th December, we left for Sarnath on 5th December 1982.
In this monograph, is presented in nine chapters the story of the rise, fall and revival of the most sacred Buddhist shrine at Jetavana, Sravasti. The first four chapters deal with the Lord Buddha’s stay at Sravasti; His stay at Sravasti; His benefactors, and the impact of the Dhamma on the people of Sravasti. The discourses delivered by the Buddha during His stay at Jetavana-Sravasti, have been listed in the 5th chapter. In the next chapter is discussed the decline and fall of the city as well as the Jetavana shrines. The story of the re-discovery of Jetavana-Sravasti, after more than 700 years, by Sir Alexander Cunningham in 1863, and, the exploration work undertaken thereafter by him and others is described in the 7th chapter. What we see today at Jetavana-Sravasti is described in the 8th chapter. And in the chapter, we have looked at the efforts being made by the modern Buddhists to take care of the Jetavana edifices.
The description of the Jetavana shrines in 7th and 8th chapters is based on the Annual Reports of the Archaeological Survey of India for the years 1871, 1876-77, 1877-78, 1907-008, 1908-09, 1910-11 and ‘Sravasti’ Guide by M. Venkataramayya, published by Archaeological Survey of India in 1956, 1981. I am thankful to the central Archaeological Library, Janpath, New Delhi for their co-operation and help during my visits to the Library on March 29 and April 4, 2007. I am also thankful to the Archaeological Survey of India for the illustration and maps. The other sources have been listed appropriate places.
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