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Sanchi, Madhya Pradesh
Shravasti, Uttar Pradesh - Buddhist Holy Sites in India
133    Dibyendu Banerjee    29/05/2024

Located near the Tapti River, around 175 km from Lucknow, the capital and the largest city of Uttar Pradesh, Shravasti is one of the most revered sites for the Buddhists. It is believed that after his enlightenment, Lord Buddha spent several years in Shravasti, where he taught many of his sermons to his disciples and performed his Shravasti miracles, when faced with a challenge from 6 non-believers, and levitated on a thousand petalled lotus with flames leaping from his shoulders and water running from his feet.

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Believed to be the birthplace of Sambhavanath, the third Jain Tirthankara, the pilgrim city of Shravasti is also an important religious site for the devotees of Jainism. However, the archaeological excavations of the site have unearthed numerous artworks and monuments related to Buddhism, Jainism and also Hinduism. Strangely, the name of the city is rooted in Sanskrit and the Hindu tradition, since according to the Bhagavata Purana, one of the eighteen Puranas of the Hindus, it was built by a king called Shravasti, one of the descendants of Vaivasvata Manu, while in the Buddhist literature, written in Pali language, it is called Savatthi, where the sage Savattha lived. Once the capital of Kosala, one of the sixteen Mahājanapadas of ancient India, and a preeminent centre of trade and religion, the archaeological site of Shravasti is now referred to as Saheth and Maheth, two villages separated by less than 2 km. While Maheth refers to the walled complex within a much damaged ancient mud fort, Saheth, the smaller part, contains the Jetavana monuments.

shravasti uttar pradesh
Angulimala Stupa in Shravasti

The ancient city of Shravasti was an active Buddhist site since the time of Buddha, which is evident from the inscribed slabs and statues excavated from the area, and it continued to flourish until it was destroyed and covered with mounds, marking the rule of the Delhi Sultanates in the northern India from the 13th to the 16th century.

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The Shravasti archaeological site, surrounded with ruined massive walls about 60 feet high, built about the 3rd-century BC, was first identified by the British archaeologist Alexander Cunningham in 1863, when the site comprised two significant mounds, along with other monuments, which were only partly visible, covered with earth and vegetation, all inside the massive ancient wall ruins. Cunningham led the first clean up and partial excavation of Shravasti in 1876, successfully revealing the stupas and some other small shrines. Subsequent excavations in the area confirmed that one of the stupas in the area was named Jetavana Vihara and yielded several other ancient stupas, temples, sculptures, inscriptions, coins, seals and terracottas, and also confirmed for the first time that the Sahet-Mahet site was indeed the ancient Shravasti, the much revered place as mentioned in the Buddhist texts.

shravasti uttar pradesh
Anathapindika Stupa

Later, during the excavation in 1959, it was revealed that the surrounding walls of Shravasti were built and repaired in three different periods, ranging from the 3rd-century BC to about the 1st century AD, and the deeper layers yielded terracotta figures of mother goddess, jewellery, wares with graffiti, short sections inscribed in Brahmi script, as well as a Naga and several plaques of Mithuna figures or figures of sexually loving couples.

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According to the report of the subsequent Japanese excavation in and around Shravasti during 1986-1996, the ancient city of Shravasti was surrounded by an earthen rampart in a crescent shape, with a circumference of about 5.2 km. Their efforts brought to light a previously unknown large scale bathing tank, four new stupas and other smaller monuments, and also found evidence which prove that many monuments of Shravasti were repeatedly damaged by floods between the 1st and 10th century, and the residents attempted to rebuild some of the monuments several times.

shravasti uttar pradesh
Gandhakuti or Buddha’s hut in Jetavana monastery

The site of the Shravasti contains several stupas, which include the Angulimala Stupa or Pakki Kuti, located in Mahet and excavated in the year 1863. The stupa is named after a ruthless robber, Angulimala or the necklace of fingers, which he wore, chopped off from the hands of his victims. However, his heart was changed by Lord Buddha and he became one of his generous disciples. There is another stupa, named Anathapindika Stupa or Kachchi Kuti, located near the Angulimala Stupa, built by Anathapindika, one of the leading disciples and the greatest patron of Lord Buddha. Apart from the stupas, Jetavana Monastery, an ancient Buddhist monastery, situated just outside the old city of Shravasti, is also among the prime tourist places in Shravasti. Legend says that, it is the place where Lord Buddha spent 25 monsoon seasons after his enlightenment, and preached his sermons to his disciples for the first time, and Gandhakuti is the place where Lord Buddha resided when at Jetavana The gateway of the monastery contains the Ananda Bodhi Tree, an offshoot of the Bodhi Tree in Bodhgaya. Another attraction of the site is the Jetavanapokkharan, a large pond, believed to be used by Buddha for taking his bath.

shravasti uttar pradesh
Shobnath Jain Temple

In addition to the above, Shravasti also contains the Shobnath Temple, an ancient Jain temple, situated at the entrance of Mahet and dedicated to Jain Tirthankara Sambhavanath, erected on a rectangular platform which includes different sections and containing the idol of Bhagwan Rishabhdev, in a seating posture with three umbrellas beautifully made over his head.

shravasti uttar pradesh
Statue of Lord Buddha, near Daen Mahamongkol Chai Temple

Today, Shravasti also contains several modern Buddhist monasteries, built by South Korea, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Tibet, and China, along with the Daen Mahamongkol Chai Temple and International Meditation Centre, the largest temple built by Maha Upasika Sitthipol Bongk of Thailand, which is also a centre of learning and meditation. The centre is served by around 200 committed women, for promoting non-formal education and other charitable activities and contains a freshwater reservoir, along with six large halls for the accommodation of approximately 3000 guests for prayers and meditation, apart from several solitary meditation huts and large dining halls.

shravasti uttar pradesh
Sanchi, Madhya Pradesh
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Author Details
Dibyendu Banerjee
Ex student of Scottish Church College. Served a Nationalised Bank for nearly 35 years. Authored novels in Bengali. Translated into Bengali novels/short stories of Leo Tolstoy, Eric Maria Remarque, D.H.Lawrence, Harold Robbins, Guy de Maupassant, Somerset Maugham and others. Also compiled collections of short stories from Africa and Third World. Interested in literature, history, music, sports and international films.
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