Lord Vishnu at Navadevakula


Bhitargaon Ruins
Report of Tours in the Gangetic Provinces by Alexander Cunningham

Sep 23, 2014 — CANADA (SUN) — A study of the ancient Vaisnava ruins at Navadevakula (Newal), from 'Report of Tours in the Gangetic Provinces from Badaon to Bihar in 1875-76 and 1877-78' by Alexander Cunningham for the Archaeological Survey of India.

Alexander Cunningham, after his years as a British army engineer, became an intrepid traveler and writer on topics of India's history and anthropology. Thanks to his highly detailed journals, today we have an important historical record of temple ruins, shrines and holy places that may otherwise be lost to record, as so many have turned to rubble and dust.

Chapter 10 of his expedition record in Report of Tours in the Gangetic Provinces deals with a very interesting relic site known as Navadevakula, or Newal. Interesting, because it serves as an historical footprint of the transition between the Brahmanical period and the rise of Buddhism's popularity in northern India.

At the time of Lord Buddha's manifestation, Brahmanism was the prevalent religion in India, and it was the degraded Brahmanas who were exploiting Vedic religion that the Buddha came to overthrow. What is fascinating about Navadevakula, then, is the presence in a Buddhist stupa in which both the heads (busts) of Buddha as well as a four-armed standing deity of Lord Visnu were found. Following is Alexander Cunningham's description of the place.


On leaving Kanauj, the Chinese pilgrim Hwen Thsang travelled for 100 li, or about 17 miles, to the south-east to Na-po-ti-po-kiu-lo, or Navadevakula, which he places on the eastern bank of the Ganges, or on the opposite side of the river to Kanauj. [1]

The earlier pilgrim, Fa Hian, made the same journey, but he makes the distance and bearing 3 yojans, or 21 miles, to the south. This bearing, however, is certainly wrong, as he distinctly states that he crossed the Ganges. [2]

I formerly looked for this place along the present course of the river, but I was not satisfied with any of the proposed identifications between Kanauj and Prayag, or Allahabad. I therefore examined, very carefully, all the large maps of the Revenue Survey of Oudh, in which I found two places named Bihar, besides some very strongly marked traces of an old bed of the Ganges beginning in the neighbourhood of Nanamau Ghat, a little below Kanauj, and running the whole way down to Allahabad at some distance from the present course of the river. In a few places the two channels are as much as 20 miles apart, as between Dhondia Khera and Patan Bihar, but the general breadth of the intervening tract is not more than 8 or 10 miles. In the upper part between Nanamau and Bangar-mau, the whole breadth of 6 or 7 miles between the present course of the Ganges and the old bed, now called the Kalyani Nadi, is Khadar, or low-lying alluvial land, showing the extreme limits of the Ganges channel at different periods.

I had formerly supposed that all traces of Navadevakula must have been swept away by these changes of the Ganges; but on carefully reading all Hwen Thsang's statements over again, it struck me that by assuming that the Ganges had flowed down this old channel in his time, it might perhaps be possible to identify several of the places described by him between Kanauj and Allahabad which have hitherto baffled us. I determined therefore to explore the line of the Ganges between these places, and the result of my explorations, made early in 1878, will be found in the following pages.

The position of Bangar-mau, on the high bank of the old course of the Ganges, and just 20 miles to the south-west of Kanauj, struck me as a very likely representative of the old city of Navadevakula. On visiting the place I was much pleased to find my conjecture verified in the ruined mounds of Newal, just 2 miles to the north of Bangar-mau. According to the legends of the people, Newal was a large and flourishing city, under a raja named Nala, when the Mussalmans first invaded the country.

Sayid Ala-uddin bin Ghanaun came from Kanauj to Newal, and wished to settle at Bangarmau ; but the raja ordered him to go away, and sent his servants to drive him out. On this the saint cursed him, when the city was immediately turned upside down, leaving only the mounds which are seen at the present day. So firmly do the people believe this story, that they affirm that all relics of the old city, no matter of what kind, are always found upside down. Hence the old site is generally known as Aundha Khera, or "Topsy-turvy town."

The saint then took up his residence at Bangar-mau, and died there in A.H. 702, or A.D. 1302, as stated on his tomb. The date is recorded at the end of a long line of inscription over the entrance door of the tomb inside the verandah. He is better known as the Fati, or "celibate," because he remained unmarried. Some people say that the saint founded Bangar-mau, but all agree in referring the name of the place to a dhobi, or washerman, named Bangar, who is said to be buried in the tomb in front of the saint's own shrine. This second tomb has three inscriptions: two inside and one outside. One of the inside records is dated in A.H. 782, and the other in A.H. 784 [hafsad hashtad chaharam], which is also the date of the inscription outside. In the last record I was able to read the following words:

    ba ahad Daolat Shah Muazam Shah-in-shah
    * * * Firoz Shah Barbak, &c.

which agree with the date in assigning the tombs to the reign of Firoz Tughlak.

The court-yard of the saint's tomb is paved with large bricks, 15 by 10 inches, stamped with four finger-marks, and the verandah contains twelve Hindu pillars. In the tomb in front there are eight more Hindu pillars, and lying round about there are many blocks of kankar, of red sandstone from Sikri, and of a dirty yellow stone. There are also several capitals of pillars in red sandstone. The tombs are on a high mound, which was no doubt the site of some old Hindu building.

The mounds of Newal are situated about 2 miles to the north of Bangar-mau, on the bank of the Pachnai Nala, and on the high bank of the old course of the Ganges, which is now called the Kalyani Nadi. The Kalyani however no longer flows under Newal, its present course being 3 miles to the south; but the whole of the intervening space is lowlying khadar land, the alluvion of the old Ganges. The village itself stands on a mound, and is undoubtedly an old place. It is just 19 miles from Kanauj, and therefore suits exactly the mean between the 21 miles of Fa Hian and the 1 7 miles of Hwen Thsang.

I believe also that the name of Newal is only an abbreviated form of Navadevakula, as it retains the first and last syllables unchanged. Hwen Thsang derives it from the conversion of five hundred demons, who, after having heard the dharma explained by Buddha, changed their nature and were re-born amongst the gods. Hence the name of Navadevakula, or "new god race." The ancient remains at Newal consist of the following mounds, with traces of walls, carved bricks, broken statues, and terra-cottas, including also coins and beads. Deora-dih is a high mound immediately to the west of the village, out of which the people were digging large bricks, 15 by 9 and 14 by 9 inches, at the time of my visit. I traced two lines of wall at right angles. Close by under some bushes there was a heap of fragments of carved bricks and terra-cotta figures.

Sitalah-dih is a small mound to the north-west of the last. Under it I found another collection of fragments of stone and brick. Amongst the former there was a four-armed, figure of Vishnu standing, and several heads of Buddha. Dano-thero is a large and lofty mound 3,500 feet west-north- west of the village. This is still occupied by a Brahmanical temple, and there are several Brahmanical figures collected outside. Close by to the eastward there is another large mound, but of little height, on which there are also traces of buildings, but no figures.

Mahadeva and Phulwari are two sites of Brahmanical temples, at which several figures in stone and terra-cotta are collected. They are both to the north of the village. To the east of the last and to the north-east of the village on the bank of the Pachnai Nala, there are two other mounds covered with broken bricks. They have no names, and there are no figures or other signs of antiquity about them.

In comparing Hwen Thsang's account of the buildings at Navadevakula with the remains now existing at Newal and Bangar-mau, it is necessary to remember that although the extreme points of the two places are about 2 miles apart, yet the distance between the village of Newal and the high mounds of Bangar-mau is only 1mile. I have no doubt therefore that the old buildings, which once stood on the mounds of Bangar-mau, must have belonged to the larger town of Navadevakula, or Newal, which Hwen Thsang describes as being 20 li, or upwards of 3 miles in circuit.

The following is a list of buildings seen by Hwen Thsang, whose detailed account is corroborated by the meagre account of Fa Hian, who simply says that "Here also Buddha preached the law," and that stupas had been erected in this spot, and also where he sat down and walked for exercise. [3] ….

The third stupa, F, which contained the hair and nail parings of Buddha, I would locate on the site of the second tomb, which is ascribed to the dhobi named Bangar. I am induced to do this for the following reason : In Csoma de Korosi's Analysis of the Tibetan Books, there is an account of a Sakya named Shampaka, who being banished from Kapila retired to Bagud, carrying with him some of Buddha's .hair and nail-parings, over which he built a Chaitya. He was made king of Bagud, and the monument was named after himself. [5] The name of Bagud is a very uncommon one, and it seems to me quite possible that it may be the same place as Badngar. Both stupas contained the hair and nail-parings of Buddha, and as the two names are absolutely the same, I can see no possible objection to the identification. In the accompanying plate I have given several specimens of the terra-cotta figures and carved bricks which I found at Newal. As all of these that can be recognised belong to the Brahmanical worship, I have no doubt that most of them were brought from the ruins of the great Brahmanical temple of Dano-thero, whose beautiful workmanship excited the admiration of Hwen Thsang. I have added a single terracotta from Mathura (No. 1), for comparison with one of these Newal specimens. [6]

No. I is a boldly-carved specimen from Mathura. I found it placed upside down in the pavement of the ruined Jain temple, now called Kankali-tila, or the " Kankali mound." The design is very spirited. I cannot even guess as to what animal the head may belong to. There are no legs, but only very deeply-cut floriated limbs and tail. From the small flowered baluster on the left, I recognise this sculpture as one of the panels of a continuous band of ornament that once adorned some building at Mathura. It is 14 inches long by 8 inches high.

No. 2, from Newal, is 14 inches long by 7-1/2 inches high, and from the flowered baluster on the left I conclude that it once formed part of a continuous band of ornament on the Newal temple like the larger specimens which I have given from the great brick temple at Bhitargoan. The subject is the head and trunk of a man with floriated limbs and tail, instead of arms and legs.

No. 3 is unfortunately imperfect, but enough remains to show that the subject was a cart drawn by bullocks, with a man seated above. As the height of the fragment is exactly the same as that of No. 2, or 7-1/2 inches, I think that the original was most probably a second panel of the same continuous band of ornament. If so, it would have been 14 inches in length, or considerably more than twice the length of the present fragment.

No. 4 is the head of a male figure 4-1/2 inches in height, or about half the size of life. Its discovery is important, as it shows that there must have been sculptures in terra-cotta, attached to the Newal temple, from 2-1/2 to 3 feet in height. The pouting lower lip is precisely the same as that of several large stone heads which I found in the ruins of the great temple at Kho, near Uchahara. If I am right in supposing that these figures may have belonged to the great Brahmanical temple which was seen by Hwen Thsang in 636 A.D., then the date of the temple cannot be placed later than A.D. 600."


[1] Julien's Hwen Thsang;, 11, 265
[2] Beal's Fa Hian, Chap. Will, p. 71
[3] Beal's Fa Hian, Chap. XVIII, p. 71
[4] Julien's Hwen Thsang, II, 266
[5] Asiatic Researches of Bengal, XX, p, 88
[6] See Plate XVIII


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