Champaran

The pilgrimage sites of Bhikhna Thori Pass, Rampurva, Lauriya Nandangarh, Lauriya Areraj and Kesariya (Kesaputta) along with numerous stupas (locally called dih) make Champaran the original celebrated Buddhist country of India.

Champaran is a region in north-west part of Bihar comprising East Champaran (Motihari) and West Champaran (Bettiah) districts. Nepal terai forms the northern border.

The area was once Champaka aranya, i.e., forest of Champa (Magnolia) trees where solitary ascetics wandered in spiritual pursuit. This probably gave the name of the region. Interestingly, Emperor Ashoka’s mother Subhadrangi belonged to Ajivika sect is said to be from Champa. The region had strong association with Buddha’s life. This probably made this region very special for Ashoka.

West Champaran

West Champaran has three Ashokan Pillars (two in Rampurva and one in Lauriya Nandangarh. One of the pillars in Rampurva had bull capital while the other two had lion capital.

BHIKHNA
THORI
PASS*
After leaving his native Lumbini (Kapilvastu), Siddhartha Gautama travelled the Someshwar Hill passing through Bhikhna Thori Pass to enter the plains of Champaran to reach Rampurva where at the bank of river Anoma he exchanged his royal robes and chopped of his hairs to become an ascetic.

Emperor Ashoka’s royal road from Patliputra to the nativity of the Master passed through Vaishali, Kesariya, Lauriya Areraj, Lauriya Nandangarh, Chankigarh and Rampurva to enter the hills by the Bhikhna Thori Pass.

Remarks:
* ”Bhikhna Thori” should not be confused with ”Bhikhna Pahari” (or, Mendicant Hill of Patliputra in modern Patna). In 1892, Waddell had identified mounds of Bhikhna Pahari with Prince Mahendra’s Hermitage Hill in Patna.

** Thori is a village on the Nepalese side of the Indo-Nepal border.

*** ”Thori Pass” is called ”Bhikhna Thori Pass” to commemorate its association with the mendicant Siddhartha Gautama.

RAMPURVA
  












This is the only pilgrimage site to have two Ashokan Pillars with Bull and Lion Capitals that the Emperor Ashok installed to commemorate inter alia ‘’Buddha embarking on the path of search of knowledge’’. This is where Buddha, upon reaching the bank of Anoma River after leaving behind his family had exchanged his royal robes for an ascetic’s dress and chopped off his elegant hair locks. 
In addition, Rampurwā is suggested to be the actual place where the death and parinirvana of Gautama Buddha took place (Waddell,1896). This possibly may have been the prime reason why Emperor Ashoka held this site to be uniquely sacred. 

Archaeological finds 
Twin Ashokan Pillars – both columns lie prostrate – North and South pillars removed from the original site of discovery to a nearby place under canopy.  The North Pillar (with Lion Capital) was discovered in 1876 by Carlleyle  bears Ashokan inscriptions (six edicts) in Brahmi or Dhamma script.  The South pillar (with Bull Capital) was discovered in 1907 by Daya Ram Sahni, bears no inscription, probably chiselled out.  The Bull Capital removed from the site and is currently housed in the forecourt at the entrance of President’s House in New Delhi. The Lion Capital and the Copper Bolt are kept in the Indian Museum Kolkata where the Lion Capital suffered damage recently.  

(Read more about Rampurva)
LAURIYA
NANDANGARH








  
The other three pilgrimage sites in Champaran (viz. Lauriya Nandangarh, Lauriya Areraj and Kesaria) are associated with early ascetic phase of Buddha’s life. His first teacher Alara Kalama  lived in Kesaputa (present Kesariya)/Areraj region of Champaran and taught in Vessali (Vaishali). Alara taught Gautama the dynamic state of meditation called the “sphere of nothingness” (ākiñcaññāyatana). Siddharth lived in his ashram for some time. Towards the end of his life, Buddha again passed through these places in Champaran towards Kushinara, the place of his parinirvana.

Archaeological finds  
An Ashokan Pillar (bearing six pillar edicts) with single Lion Capital plus several Stupas

(Read more about Lauriya Nandangarh)
  

East Champaran  

East Champaran has an Ashokan Pillar at Lauriya Areraj (the capital is missing). Kesariya has the largest stupa in the world.

LAURIYA ARERAJ




Possibly, Areraj is named after Buddha’s first teacher Alara Kalama in whose Ashram Gautama lived for some time. Ashoka commemorated the site with a pillar. 

Archaeological finds  
An Ashokan Pillar (bearing six pillar edicts); Capital is missing, thought to have Garuda Capital originally

(Read more about Lauriya Areraj)
KESARIYA (KESAPUTTIYA






Known originally as Kesaputa, associated with Buddha’s first teacher Alara Kalama; towards the end of his life, Buddha again passed through Kesariya towards Kushinara, the place of his parinirvana.  

It is here Buddha is said to have given his begging bowl to Lichchawis to dissaude them from following him further. 
Ashoka comemorated the spot by building stupa.

Archaeological finds  
World’s tallest stupa built originally by Emperor Ashoka; discovered in 1814 by Mackenzie and excavated properly by Cunningham in 1861-62, large part still under vegetation.

(Read more about Kesariya)

***


DIHs or MOUNDS OF CHAMPARAN

There are several earthen mounds (locally called Dih) strewn around in Champaran.

These mounds are most likely, Buddhist stupas. Few such as Sagar dih which was excavated by Cunningham are conclusively proven to be Buddhist stupas. Possibly, these stupas are relic stupas commemorating relics of monks of ancient times (though Kesariya stupa is a memorial stupa).

These numerous stupas alongwith the above mentioned pilgrimage sites of Bhikhna Thori Pass, Rampurva, Lauriya Nandangarh, Lauriya Areraj and Kesariya make Champaran the original celebrated Buddhist country of India.

Unfortunately, the Dihs of Champaran now are in a state of utter neglect and are in extremely bad shape.

District
East Champaran
Ramgarhwa BlockUnchi or Uchi Dih: A large mound in Singhasani village situated 7 miles north of Sugauli in Ramgarhwa block (pp 186 Uchi Dih Gazetteers of Champaran).
Chakia (Pipra) block
Sagar dih: Village Sagar dih in Sagar Panchayat in Chakia (Pipra) block has a mound (ruin of a Buddhist Stupa) on the eastern bank of an old tank (called Gaya-Pokhar) near the village . The Stupa measured 500 x 300 feet and was about 37 feet high in 1880 when Gen Cunningham conducted excavation. About 300 yards south-east of the Stupa, there is a large tank called Buddha Pokhar.
Patahi blockKasturia Dih: A large mound of brick ruins on the west side of Saraiya Gopal village situated at 26 kms east of Motihari. The mound is of 160 ft. length and 100 ft. in width which is believed to cover the remains of an ancient town. The mound is yet to be excavated.
Adapur block Juafar has old ruins
Kudarkat block ruin of stone temple discovered about 125 years ago; a stone tablet with inscription exits
Sugauli block Muswa village has an ancient mound of bricks now overgrown with bushes and grass.
Kalyanpur block Siswa Kharar village has an old mound known as the ‘Unchi-Dih’.
Raxaul BlockNoneya Dih
Raxaul BlockMasna Dih
Adapur TehsilTola Uchi Dih
Chiraia tehsilDih Mahuahi
Motihari tehsilRup Dih
Harsidih blockHarsi dih (Pakaria Harsidhi)
District
West Champaran
Gaunaha block Mahajogin: a small village in Gaunaha block, the village has a 50 feet high mound which is believed to contain remains of the Buddhist monastery of Mauryan period. There is Shiva temple on the top of the mound now.
Jogapatti block Nankar: There is an old mound surrounded by mud-walls.
Sidhaw block Paikaulia: There is a mound known as Guruj.
Narkatiaganj blockChanki: Situated at a distance of 6 miles east of Ramnagar Railway station, Chanki village (also known as Jankigadh) has a 90 feet high mound in the east side of village. Cunningham had favoured an excavation wayback but apparently no excavation has been done so far.
Gaunaha block Dewarh village has a mound from which image of Lord Buddha was found in excavation.
Chanpatia tehsilBettiah Dih or Betia Dih
Gaunaha blockDih Jagarnathpur
RamnagarBarwa Dih
Piprasi blockMura Dih
Kehunia Dih
Parsa Dih
Belwa Dih
Pakri Dih

***

Sources:  

  1. Government of Bihar 2021. West Champaran.
  2. Government of Bihar 2021. East Champaran.
  3. Archaeological Survey of India, Patna Circle, 2012. Monuments of Bihar.
  4. Report of Tours in North and South Bihar in 1880-81 by Sir Alexander CunninghamH. B. W. Garrick | pdf file
  5. Bengal District Gazetteers: Champaran 1907 by L. 8. S. O’MALLEY | pdf file
  6. Bihar And Orissa District Gazetteers Champaran 1932 by L. 8. S. O’MALLEY, Revised by R.E. Swanzy | pdf file
  7. District Census Handbook Purba Champaran. Census of India 2011 BIHAR  
  8. District Census Handbook Paschim Champaran. Census of India 2011 BIHAR  
  9. District Census Handbook – Pashchim Champaran – Village And Town Directory 
  10. District Census Handbook – Purba Champaran – Village and Town Directory 
  11. DISTRICT CENSUS HANDBOOK CHAMPARAN 1961 by S. D. PRASAD
  12. Archaeological Geography of the Ganga Plain by Dilip K chakravarti
  13. City Development Plan – Bettiah Municipal Council
  14. Performance Audit of Preservation and Conservation of Monuments and Antiquities 

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Umesh Prasad
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