Magadha and Mahabharata : Archaeological indications from Rajgir Area - by B.R. Mani
Magadha and Mahabharata :Archaeological Indications from RajgirArea By B.R.Mani
Magadha in Early Days• In his map prepared for understanding the extent of Magadha, Cunningham has shown its northern and southern areas adjoining the land of the Kikatas who were non-Vedic ancient tribes of the region.• Tradition takes back the political excellence of Magadha to the time of the Mahabharata War, sometimes in the middle of the second millennium BC, if not earlier when it was under the rule of Jarasandha.• Archaeological evidence from many of the excavated sites of the region suggest the beginning of culture in the neo-chalcolithic times. Evidence from Chirand, Taradih, Sonpur, Chechar, Maner, Oriup, Manjhi, Senuar etc. suggest cultural developments in Anga-Magadha area at least in the second millennium BC.• Recent excavations in and around Rajgir have further confirmed existence of the earlier culture, making a bridge between tradition and archaeology.
Rajgir (Ancient Girivraja or Rajagriha)• Rajgir was known in ancient times with different names, such as Vasumat in Ramayana , Barhadrathapura in Mahabharata and Puranas and Girivraja in Mahabharata, besides Kusagrapura in some Jaina and Buddhist texts. Girivraja was the most popular name of the capital city in Mahabharata.• The names of the surrounding hills are also found in Mahabharata, Buddhist and Jaina texts.• Some structures in Rajgir such as Jarasandha–ki-Baithak and Jarasandha-ka Akhara are still connected with the name of Jarasandha, the king of Magadha in the time of Mahabharata War.• Buddhaghosha, a Pali commentator mentions two fortified parts of city – inner and outer ( antarnagara and bahirnagara ), having 32 large and 64 smaller gates. The fortifications are still visible.• The capital city lost its status in the time of Udayin (c. 459-443 BC) when the capital was shifted to Pataliputra.
Rajgir Jarasandh ki Baithak(Size at surface 25m x 23.5m, Top 24m x 21.50m, maximum height 8.25m), RajgirJarasandh ka Akhara (dual ground), Rajgir
The Tradition• A.D. Pusalkar, in his Book IV (Historical Traditions) in the R.C. Majumdar edited The Vedic Age (Bombay, 1971) has described The Krishna Period (c. 1950-1400 B.C.) and the Bharata War in C. 1400 B.C.• Barhadratha dynasty ruled over the kingdom of Magadha with its capital at Girivraja (Rajgir) at the time of the Bharata War and Mahabharata describes legends connected with the birth and also about the death of its ruler Jarasandha who was son of Brihadratha.
The Storey•• Jarasandha became an ardent worshipper of Lord Siva and prevailed over many kings and married two of his daughters with Kansa, the maternal uncle of Krishna. He attacked Krisna 18 times but was often defeated. He had many kings in captivity who were freed when Krishna went to his capital along with Bhima and Arjuna and got him killed by Bhima. The two wives of Brihadratha gave birth to two halves of a boy and horrified royal family threw them away. Afemale man-eating demon named Jara picked them up and put them together to carry them off. On theircoming in contact a boy was formed and the father gave him the name of Jarasandha, because he had beenput together by Jara.
The Tradition•• Somadhi became king of Girivraja, at the foot of which Rajagriha (modern Rajgir ) , the ancient capital of Magadha grew up. Ripunjaya, the 21st in descent from Somadhi was the last ruler of the dynasty, killed by his minister Pulika who installed his son Pradyota on the throne.• According to the Puranas, the dynasty of Pradyota ruled for five generations covering a period of 138 years and was supplanted by Sisunaga. Bimbisara (c. 543-491 BC)and his son Ajatasatru (c. 491-459 BC), the contemporaries of Buddha and Mahavira were 5th and 6th kings of the new dynasty.• It is possible that many historical facts and genealogical details have been wrongly jumbled together and placed in false sequence. In spite of this, it is quite evident that there must have been more than 25 generation of rule if not of 33 generations between the Mahabharata War and the time of Buddha and Mahavira which could be placed towards the second half of the second millennium BC.
Rajgir : The Cyclopean Wall • A. Ghosh says “ At a very early stage in the life of the city the natural defences were substantially re-inforced by a fortification consisting of a high rubble –wall running at the top of all the hills, with a circuit of about 25 miles and the natural gaps between the hills were utilised as gates in the fortification. Inside the valley were other defencive walls built in different periods…..” (AI, No.7). • Attributing constructions to Jarasandha, it has been opined “Such Cyclopean fortification walls have been found in ancient Greece (Mycenaean city and Tiryns) and placed in the later half of 2ndCyclopean wall near millennium B.C. (1400-1300 B.C.).”southern gateway(Old Rajgir) (S.C.Saran in Purabharati, Delhi, 2006, Vol.1, p.27).
Rajgir• Construction of buildingsof new Rajagriha and itsfortification belong to thetime of Bimbisara andAjatasatru as also indicatedby literary texts.
RajgirChariots’wheelmark/impressionnear Banganga Pass, Rajgir Sankh Lipi (Shell Script) near the spot of Chariots’ wheel mark/impression near Banganga Pass , Rajgir
Rajgir Excavations : 1950• A small scale excavation was carried out at Rajgir by A. Ghosh in 1950 ( Rajgir1950, Ancient India, No.7, ASI,1951, pp.66-78).• The cultural sequence as mentioned by A. Ghosh is as below – Period I : earlier than the fifth century B.C. Period II : fifth century B.C. (or earlier) to second century B.C. Period III : first century B.C. Period IV : first century A.D.• Period I was characterised by about 1.20m deposit having rolled “rare sherds”,burnt earth and charcoal pieces. Period II with a deposit of about 2.40m havingthree phases is characterised by the presence of NBPW.• An interesting feature noticed in the limited excavation was the evidence of tenpost-cremation burials, previously unknown.• The conventional date of NBPW believed by the excavator, needs revision inview of the large number of scientifically determined dates from many recentexcavations and accordingly the chronological sequence could be pushed back toseveral centuries.
New Evidence of Early Cultures from Rajgir Area• Habitational deposits from two of the recent excavatios in the Rajgir area bythe Excavation Branch, Patna of the Archaeological Survey of India haveindicated the beginning of culture in the area in the middle of the secondmillennium BC.• Both of these sites have yielded some sherds of Painted Grey Ware (PGW),generally associated with the Mahabharata.• These sites are – 1) Juafardih, near Nalanda (2006-07) 2) Ghorakatora, near Giryak in Rajgir (2007-08)
JuafardihA potential Stupa Mound, with Pre-NBPW Remains in Nalanda excavated by ASI
Excavations at Juafardih •Juaffardih at 2 km south-west of Nalanda has been excavated during 2006-2007 by the Excavation Branch, Patna (ASI) under S.C.Saran. •The mound as identified by the author as a stupa in 2005-06 and after excavations has revealed remains of a mud stupa of Mauryan period(c.3rd century BCE) which was constructed in the last phase of the habitation of Period II of the site, marked with the presence of NBPW and other related ceramics lying over the layers of chalcolithic habitational deposits. • The excavator has identified it with Kulika, the place of birth and nirvana of Mahamoggalana, desciple of Lord Buddha. • A rich deposit of 10.61m belonging to the Period II (NBPW Period) having three phases has 4 C14 dates , as 857 BC,1002 BC, 1562 BC and 1259 BC, comparable to early dates of NBPW from Ayodhya, Agiabir, Rajdhani, Gotihwa and Jhusi. •The single C14 date from the cultural deposit of Pre- NBPW (Chalcolithic Period) is 1354 BC which has been found to be consistent.
Ghorakatora, Near Giriyak •Ghorakatora (Lat.25 01’57”N; Long85 31’31”E) is located near Giriyak on the bank of river Panchane in district Nalanda . •It is located about 19 Km south-east of Nalanda . It is further located 8 Km east of Rajgir.••It measures about 800 m X 500 m.•The approximate height of the mound is7 mtr.The mound- It is a massive one with an area of22.74 acres of land.
Recent findings from the excavations at Ghorakatora •The archaeology of Ghorakatora has pushed back thechronology of Rajgir and its neighborhood to the stage ofemergence of the early farming as was done for Nalanda by thefindings at Jufardih. •The site is located below the foothills of Giriyak, spreadbetween the flood plain of Panchane and Goithawan. •The location of the site provides natural resources for metaland minerals and stone, besides games of wild animals andsituation for agro-pastoral subsistence. •The excavation has reported following sequence: earlyfarming stage of neolithic/chalcolithic nature; Iron age; NBPW(Mauryan); Sung, Kushan; Gupta and Post Gupta denotingassemblage of Pala period. •From the post Gupta levels a number of storage jars havebeen reported in situ suggesting surplus production ofagricultural produce and their storage and marketing.
Previous Archaeological works Ghorakatora•F. Buchanan (1811-12) for the first time noticed the mound .•During the survey he had found a good number of Hindu andBuddhist sculptures.•He also referred to about a small square fort with bastions at thecorners , veneered with bricks.•Major Kittoe in 1847 visited the site and described this mound as acitadel which is parallelogram in shape.•Broadley in 1872 mentioned it ruins of a fort.• Alexander Cunningham in 1861-62 mentioned a small mud fort atthe centre of the mound. He further noticed several sculpture at thenorthern end of the mound. One of which may be assignable to 11thcentury A.D.• John Marshall along with his team carried out archaeologicalinvestigations in 1905-06 in some areas of Rajgir and A. Ghosh in1950, but Ghorakatora was not investigated by them.•K.K. Sharma in 1987 reported about NBPW, Grey ware, Black slippedware, Red ware, Glazed ware. He also observed the remains of thebrick structures having the brick jsize of 41x28x61 cms.
GhorakatoraRecent Work: Excavations in 2007-08Important finds are• Remains of burnt bricks structures• About a dozen of ring wells• Pottery– Black and Red Ware Black Slipped Ware NBPW Red wareShapes include – bowls , lipped bowls, vases with narrow mouth, spouted vases and basing.• Antiquities – Terracotta beads of Areca nut shape and barrel shape. Terracotta bangle pieces, sling balls, fragments of rattle. Terracotta plaque of Sunga period.The excavation was conducted by P. K. Mishra, Superintending Archaeologist, ASI, Patna Circle and Excavation Branch –I• Trenches were laid out by following the principles of Horizontal excavation.• The mound was divided into grids, each measuring 10x10m.• Altogether 24 numbers of trenches were excavated.Tentative Chronology of the sitePeriod I : Chalcolithic culture (c1500 B.C.-800 B.C.)Period II : NBPW Period (c800 B.C.-200 B.C.)Period III : Sunga – Kushana Period (c-200B.C.-300 AD)Period IV : Gupta & Post Gupta Period (300A.D. to 800A.D.)Period V : Pala Period (c800 A.D. to 1200 A.D.)
• Chalcolithic Ghorakatora Period I representing 1.4m cultural deposit exposes remains of chalcolithic period resting on the natural soil.• The structure are found from this level are wattle and daub structure. The people of that age were living in huts made of reeds, frame and mud plaster over it. Finding of some burnt daubs revealed from excavation substantiates the facts.PotteryPeriod I (1500B.C.to 800B.C.)-Ceramic assemblage of chalcolithic period in this sites classified as :Black and Red wareBlack wareBlack slipped wareRed wareBlack and Red ware pottery from excavations may be compared with that of Chirand (Dist. - Saran) and Sonpur (Dist- Gaya). The fabric of this ware varies form coarse to fine variety. The types include dish-on- stand vases, bowls, dish, basin, lipped basin, storage jar, handi with carination on the shoulder, long necked jar, suspended jars and perforated basins.The important shapes are vases, bowls, dish, lid cum bowls etc. Deep bowl, basin and dish are the common types in B& R ware which belong to the Pre NBPW phase. Paintings have been observed in Red ware and Grey ware. The painted motifs. Some of them are treated with Red slip. The fabric ranges from coarse to medium. The the types include vases with narrow mouth vases with wide mouth, carrinated handis, bowls, Ramps, lids, basins and storage Jars.Antiquities Polished stone celts. Fragments of stone Quern Pestle Sling ball Terracotta beads Hop scotches Wheel Bone points Fragments of copper Antimony rodStructure:
GhorakatoraSection facing east A4 x Brick wall with storage jars, B2 x I IV
To Sum up.....• The event of Mahabharata War could be placed in the second half ofthe second millennium BC as indicated by genealogical calculations aswell as archaeological evidence from Mahabharata related sites anddistribution of certain ceramics including Painted Grey Ware.• The event is tentatively put around 1400 BC although another viewtakes it back to about 3102 BC as per tradition of Yudhishthira era.• Girivraja or Rajagriha (modern Rajgir) is mentioned as capital ofMagadha and ruled by Jarasandha at the time of the great war.• Archaeological evidence from recent excavations in and aroundRajgir and other parts of Anga-Magadha region confirm culturalactivities in the middle of the second millennium BC and possiblyeven earlier.
And finally..... Detailed study in future at Rajgir is required to understand –• The period of Cyclopean Wall and other fortifications and structures• The period of chariots’ wheel marks• Tradition of female demons – Jara of Mahabharata and Hariti of the time of the Buddha• Tradition of naming of kings such as Brihadratha (the first of the Barhadratha and the last of the Maurya dynasty• Tradition of special archaeological evidence of perforated and curiously made multi-spouted ritualistic jars at Maniyarmath and post-cremation burials• Nature of earlier settlements etc.