After reading the article “Tilaurakot Excavations (2023 – 2029 V.S.)” by Tara Nanda Mishra and the book “The Great Sons of the Tharus: Sakyamuni Buddha and Emperor Asoka the Great” by Subodh Kumar Singh, I was dying to visit Tilaurakot, the place where Lord Buddha spent his 29 years.
Tilaurakot – the citadel in shambles
Finally, I got the chance to visit Taulihawa. I was excited – the reason – Tilaurakot and Jagadishpur Lake being in the vicinity. As we crossed the Bhikchhu Chowk, the roundabout that leads the way to Tilaurakot, the sign board was misleading. While one showed the way to Tilaurakot, another had a two headed arrow which was pointing towards two opposite directions. However, the problem was solved within minutes as the locals told us to head northward.
On the way to the Tilaurakot complex is a museum that houses the archaeological findings that were excavated from the complex. We wanted to see the site of King Suddhodana’s palace first, so we skipped the visit to the museum.
Not a single visitor in the complex
Reaching the complex, I had thought that crowds of people will be competing for a glimpse of the ancient kingdom. However, the expectation was shattered within seconds. I could see not a single visitor in the surrounding.
Anybody can enter the complex and surprisingly you don’t need to pay for the entrance. Entering the citadel was like travelling back into the days of Buddha. I could sense the ambience – tranquil and heavenly.
Grand defence of ancient times
At the entrance of the Western Gate, the remnants of 10 feet wide defence wall were astonishing. You can imagine how well protected the citadel was – apart from the defence wall, there used to be a 22 feet wide moat with crocodiles. It was simply impossible for the enemies to enter the city.
The excavations carried out on the western end of the ruins at Tilaurakot, roughly in the central position of the western wall brought to light three different phases of defence walls. Among them, the first wall was made of clay, possibly digging the nearest outside area, and the ditch had been simultaneously converted into a moat. The first mud wall can be dated to 7th-6th Century BC. The second phase of defence wall had also been made of yellowish clay, and had been built during 200 BC. The third wall was erected just over the basement and outer toe of the second phase wall. It was made of bricks and brick-bats in yellowish mud mortar. It can be dated to 150 BC. The walls were surrounded by a deep moat, which was probably fed by water from the Banaganga River.
One of my colleagues tried to step on the wall out of curiosity but was admonished by a staffer wearing an orange tee shirt with the Lumbini Development Trust logo. However, he was himself sleeping on the wall!
The staffer explained that two layers of identical bricks were applied on top of all the walls and structures unearthed during the excavation, so as to save the archaeological assets from further deterioration.
Messing with the signs
As we moved to the “Western Gate”, I was disheartened to see the mischief of miscreants – they had scratched off the “not” from the display which now reads “PLEASE DO ... STEP ON THE STRUCTURE”. Likewise, the same was done with the Nepali notice. Seeing the brick structures makes you imagine the grandeur of the citadel. Brick-arms to support the massive wooden doors at the Western Gate were found during the excavations. The remains of wooden doors had been found in the shape of charred wood with large number of flat iron pieces and long iron nails.
As I moved further my disappointment turned deeper seeing the board in the main complex reading “ANCIENT STRUCTURAL COMELEX”. At least the authorities should have checked the accuracy before installing the board! The complex houses the remnants of King Suddhodana’s palace. You can see the compartments that once housed the chambers of King Suddhodana, Maya Devi and young Siddhartha. During the excavations, beads, bangles, potteries and other antiquities were unearthed from this complex. You can see them at the museum nearby.
Temple with elephant as offerings
In the north of the complex lies the famous Samai Mai temple. I was amazed to see Indian pilgrims worshipping at the temple (they had parked their car with Indian number plate near the Western Gateway). The temple looks dilapidated and it’s interesting to see elephant statues being offered to the goddess. The devotees offer elephants statues once their vows are fulfilled.
In the east of the temple is a pond which needs restoration. The staffer told us that King Suddhodana and the royal family members used to take bath in the same pond.
The door to enlightenment
As you walk eastwards, you would come across the Eastern Gateway called “Mahabhinishkraman Dwar”. It is the gate from which Prince Siddartha left this worldly life in search of enlightenment. The gate complex contains 19 feet wide roadway flanked on both sides by brick bastions. During the excavations terracotta, human and animal figurines, coins, beads, seal with Brahmi inscription etc. were found here.
Then if you walk further twelve hundred feet north of Tilaurakot, at a place called Dhamnahawa, you will find twin stupas. The diameter of the big stupa is 52 feet and is 7.5 feet high from the working surface. The stupa was made in four phases with the first phase starting during 4th century BC. The second stupa, located at a distance of nearly 15 feet north of the big stupa has a diameter of 26 feet and was built in a single phase during 2nd – 1st century BC. These are probably the two of the four stupas mentioned by Huen-Tsang as existing before the city gates. The four stupas may represent those commemoration stupas near the city gates, erected in the memory of the four events (the sight of the old man, the sick man, the dead body and the sage), which led Prince Siddhartha to desert the worldly life.
Kanakmuni Buddha’s birthplace
I also visited Niglihawa which lies on the north east of Tilaurakot, at a distance of about three kilometres. Reaching the site, I just found a board that states that it was the place of Kanakmuni Buddha’s birthplace. The pillar laid by Ashoka is lying on the floor. Thanks to the authorities, they have at least built a shade and locked the premises to preserve it. Nearby is the pond from which the pillar was recovered.
The Chinese traveller Fa-Hian visited the Buddhist sites between 399-414 AD. Whereas Huen-Tsang visited the area in between 629-645 AD. Both have reported about the place where Kanakmuni Buddha met his father and found nirvana. Huen-Tsang has mentioned that close to the Nirvana Stupa, there was a stone pillar erected by Ashoka with inscriptions describing the events of his Nirvana.
Many archaeologists have tried to locate the ancient Kapilvastu Kingdom based on the travelogues of Fa-Hian and Huen-Tsang but it was Dr Fuhrer who located the Ashoka Pillars at Niglihawa and Lumbini, and tried to trace the ruins of Kapilvastu. According to him, the villages of Amauli, Baidauli, Haranampur, Bikuli, Sivagarha, Srinagara, Jagadishpur and Sagrahawa etc., were all included within the ancient township of Kapilvastu.
After Fuhrer, PC Mukherji was deputed to find the site in 1889. He identified Tilaurakot as the ancient city of Kapilvastu. He excavated a 16 sided stupa inside the Kot (complex), traced the defence walls in the north-east corner and located the Eastern Gateway.
Rendezvous after enlightenment
After visiting Niglihawa, I headed to Kudan. It is in the south of Tilaurakot and is regarded as the place where Lord Buddha met his family after getting enlightenment. Prajapati Gautami offered yellow robe to Buddha during the meeting at this site. It is identified with Nigrodharam (Banyan Grove), the site of monastery build by King Suddhodana. It is believed that Buddha’s son Rahul entered into monkhood in this monastery. Meanwhile some scholars identify this place with Kshemavati or Navik, the natal town of Krakuchhanda Buddha. I was astonished at the grandeur of the place and it reminded me of the Machu Picchu of Peru. The place and ruins need further restoration and extensive marketing efforts to attract visitors.
Due to time constraints I could not visit other places nearby like Gothihawa, Araurakot and Sagarahawa. The Nirvana and Ashoka Pillar found at the Gothihawa village is identified as the Nirvana Stupa of Krakuchhanda Buddha. The old Araurakot, close to the Niglisagar on the east, most probably represents the old township belonging to Kanakmuni Buddha. Sagarahawa represents the site of old Mahavan and the memorial of war heroes.
You must surely visit all these sites to get the feeling of the golden era of Buddha!