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of the Great Teacher was yet fresh. For how else
can we account for the strength that clung to the
bare rocks by the torrent-side with such perti-
nacity, decade after decade ? Were they some
band of wandering teachers, we wonder, those first
monks, appointed to preach in the countries on
the Southern Road, a mission sent to the powerful
empire of Ujjain, or an offshoot perhaps from the
mother-communities at Bhilsa and Sanchi ? In
any case, the caves were valuable to them as head-
quarters during the wet season, when all begging
friars are supposed to assemble for the time in
some fixed dwelling-place ; and during their
absences as a body, for eight or nine months at
a time, the work of excavation must have gone
forward. Little did they dream of how well-starred
were both the spot they had chosen and the day of
their advent ! We can see, what they could not,
close on twelve hundred years of development and
gathering fame, the learning they were to send out ;
the beauty they were to build up ; the kings who
would delight to honour them ; and roads from the
far ends of the earth, all meeting on their threshold.
Hiouen Tsang came here, in the middle of the
seventh century after Christ, and speaks of the
place as "a sangharama constructed in a dark
valley. Its lofty halls and deep side-aisles stretch
through the face of the rocks. Storey above storey,
they are backed by the crag and face the valley."



THE ANCIENT ABBEY OF AJANTA 65

It is evident here that the English translator not
having in his own mind the thing his author was
describing has rendered the text inaccurately. If
we read, (l its lofty chaityas and deep viharas at
their sides/' the statement immediately becomes
luminous. Similarly, when later we are told that
the great vihara is about 100 feet high, and the
stone figure of Buddha in the middle 70 feet high,
while above is a canopy of seven stages, towering
upwards, apparently without support, 1 it is evident
that the great Chinese traveller is speaking of no
vihara, but of the principal chaitya of his own day
(Nineteen or Twenty-six ?), and that the stone
figure he describes is really the dagoba it contains.
The first royal patronage extended to Ajanta
must have been given at or soon after the time of
Asoka, when the chaitya known as Cave Nine and
the vihara numbered Twelve were built. Every
one who takes up the study of ancient sites in
India finds his own indications of age. At Sanchi
the gradual modifications in the pictorial treatment
of the Asokan rail give us a chronological scale
which enables us to distinguish with absolute cer-
tainty no less than four different periods of building
and sculpture. Here at Ajanta the time-unit that
serves us from the first is the chaitya-fa^ade orna-
ment taken in conjunction with the Asokan rail.
It would appear that the domestic architecture of
the age was characterised by the rounded roof

1 Quoted by R. C. Dutt in Civilisation in Ancient India, ii.
pp. 156-7.





66 FOOTFALLS OF INDIAN HISTORY

which we still see in the rocky caves of Ajanta ;
by the Asokan rail, used as the front of a verandah ;
and by the horse-shoe window, breaking the line of
the roof, or mansard. Now the instinct of cave-
makers was to make their fronts as closely as
possible resemble the outsides of the buildings of
their period.

But a style creates a tradition, which persists
long after the original reason for it has dis-
appeared. Thus the horse-shoe ornament and the
Asokan rail become a mannerism at Ajanta, diverg-
ing constantly further and further from their true
intention ; and by these progressive changes we
can make a rough estimate of the ages of the caves.
In Nine and Twelve they are used with obvious
sincerity, reflecting the conceptions of their age,
in the same way that the early printers of Europe
laboured to make their machine-printed books look
as if they had been written by hand. On viharas
Eight and Thirteen they do not occur at all.
Evidently the founders were too early or too poor
to indulge in such elaboration. Chaitya Number
Ten had a timber front, which has fallen away
and leaves no trace of its image or likeness, save
in the panels sculptured in the rocks on either
side. But these horse-shoe ornaments do not
altogether cease till after Cave Nineteen. At first
they are frankly windows in house fronts. In Cave
Twelve they are to suggest used fan-lights over
the cell-doors and run round the walls connecting
one with another in simple dignity. In Caves




AJANTA: INTERIOR OF CAVE NINETEEN



THE ANCIENT ABBEY OF AJANTA 67

Six, Seven, and Fifteen we find the spaces filled
with lotus patterns, and the semicircular opening
no longer has a definite meaning. They are no
longer windows. They are now only decorative.
On the facade of Cave Nineteen foreign influences
are at work. A horrible vulgarity has come over
the workmen, strictly comparable to the degrading
effects of European taste on Indian crafts to-day.
Each of these once beautiful outlines is now filled
with a hideous grinning face, altogether meaning-
less. From the chequer-work which recurs here
again and again (an ornament common amongst
the Gandhara sculptures in the Calcutta collection),
it is clear that these influences have come from
the north-west. They are possibly Greek, as trans-
mitted through Persia. There had been a great
rapprochement between India and Persia in the
course of the fifth century, and nowhere is the
crude secularising effect of the West on Indian
taste better illustrated.

Yet nowhere is the sober, synthetising power of
the Indian intellect more visible. In spite of its
eclecticism of detail, and daring romanticism in
the treatment of sacred subjects, Nineteen at
Ajanta remains one of the architectural triumphs
of the world. It is the very flowering-point of
a great civic life. The strong porch, brought for-
ward on two solid pillars, suggests the presence
and words of the leaders of men ; the side-galleries,
their supporters and attendants ; while on the sill
of the great window behind we have room and



68 FOOTFALLS OF INDIAN HISTORY

background for the anointing of a king, or the
lying-in-state of the dead.

We are accustomed to think of the hotels de ville
of Belgium as the crown of the world's communal
architecture. But Belgium has nothing, for simple
unity and mastery, to compare with this. It
dominates a small court, from which a false step
would precipitate one down a steep khud. Obvi-
ously the style was not invented for such a position.
Here, as at a thousand other points, Ajanta merely
reflects the life of India during one of the greatest
periods of her history. Cave Nineteen remains,
carved in imperishable rock, when all the buildings
of its day have disappeared, a memorial of the
splendour and restraint of Indian cities during the
ages of the Gupta rule.



II

From the story of the first Council, held at Rajgir
in the year following the death of Buddha, we
learn that it was usual among the monks to apply
for royal aid for the construction and repair of the
viharas. It was not the business of the monks
themselves to build or to excavate with their own
hands ; though those amongst them who had in
the world been master-craftsmen would undoubt-
edly organise and direct the labour assigned to the
Abbey, as has been the case amongst monastic
orders in all lands and in all ages. It is indeed
their disinterested co-operation, their giving all



THE ANCIENT ABBEY OF AJANTA 69

and asking nothing in return, that enables an order
of monks to create so much that is permanent
within a short time. No other industrial unit can
be compared with them in their power of ac-
cumulating results. And the secret is that the
monk's whole purpose is his work itself. What-
ever his task, whether building, or education, or
manufacture, his ideal requires that he have no
motive outside. He subordinates himself to his
duty, instead of using it to serve some selfish end.
The gain derived from the deed, in means or skill,
is used only to make possible some vaster and
grander effort of the same kind.

This is why the old abbeys of Europe and their
associated churches are so beautiful. They cost
nothing like the wealth that went to the making
of cathedrals. Standing in remote places, they
were built almost entirely by peasant and village-
labourer. But every stone was laid under the
design and superintendence of the monks them-
selves. Years of dreaming found expression in
groined roofs, clustered pillars, radiating arches ;
in chantry-niche or holy well or casket-like shrine.
The monks themselves were recruited from all
classes of the population, but, on the face of it,
we might expect that a smith or a carpenter who
chose the religious life would be distinguished by
somewhat more of thought and organising powers,
more of idealism and more of dreams, than the
brothers he had left at the anvil or the bench.

This law, exemplified in Europe, is as true of



70 FOOTFALLS OF INDIAN HISTORY

India. It characterises all monastic orders every-
where. It is in the very nature of the monastic
idea, and nowhere have we a better opportunity
of watching its action than at Ajanta. For the
Buddhist orders, like those of Europe, were demo-
cratic. No stain or fetter of birth barred entrance
into them. The sramanas, unlike the Brahmanas,
testified Megasthenes three and a half centuries
before Christ, are not born to their condition, but
are taken from all classes of the population. Thus
they represented the whole national life of their
time, and we owe the beauty of their architecture
to the taste and imagination of the monks them-
selves.

But we must remember that for command of
means the monks depended upon neighbouring
kings and cities. It was an act of surpassing
merit to excavate caves or adorn chaitya-halls for
religious communities. Kings remitted the taxes
of whole villages, which thus became the monastery
glebe. Noblemen and great ministers devoted vast
sums to the making of images, cloisters, and shrines.
There is an inscription in the Kuda Caves * which
shows that a whole family of king's officers, in-
cluding the daughters-in-law, joined to contribute
the expenses of the various definite items necessary
for the making of a Buddha chapel. In the
karma thus accumulated not one of this loving
and obedient group must be left out. Here at
Ajanta itself Cave Sixteen is made by a minister

1 A place 45 miles south of Bombay. Very early caves.




AJANTA: SCULPTURE IX CAVli TWENTY



THE ANCIENT ABBEY OF AJANTA 71

of the Vakataka princes known as Varahadeva ;
Caves Seventeen, Eighteen, and Nineteen by a
minister of a tributary sovereign or great noble
called Aditya ; Cave Twenty by a man of evident
wealth and distinction, whose name is Upendra
Gupta ; and the chaitya hall, Cave Twenty-six, by
the abbot Buddha Bhadra with the special assist-
ance of his subordinate Dharmadatta and his own
disciple Bhadra Bandhu.

Throughout the west country it was long
fashionable, even for houses that were themselves
devoted to Shiva or to Vishnu, to make these
benefactions to the Buddha friars. And as time
went on it became customary to add an inscrip-
tion, with the prayer that the merit of the act
might redound to the benefit first of the father
and mother of the donor, and then of all living
beings a dedication that is still common amongst
certain Buddhist peoples.

From Caves Sixteen and Seventeen, then, it can
hardly be doubted that the great power within
whose territory Ajanta lay was that of the Vakataka
princes, whose sway is supposed on other grounds
to have covered a large part of Central India, from
the end of the third till the middle of the sixth
centuries, their dynasty having been powerful
enough to take a queen from the family of the
great Chandra Gupta of Pataliputra, between A.D.
420 and 490.!

1 It is absurd to suppose that " the great king of kings, Devagupta,"
has any other meaning.



72 FOOTFALLS OF INDIAN 7 HISTORY

Who were these Vakatakas ? Where did they
reign ? What was the nature of their kingdom
and their power ? The inscription on Cave Six-
teen claims that Harisena, the king under whom
both it and Seventeen were excavated (A.D. 500 to
520), had conquered amongst other places Ujjain,
Orissa, and Kosala. Are we to suppose from this
that they were Rajputs reigning in Malwa, that
country of which Hiouen Tsang said a century
later that it could only be compared with Magadha
as the home of learning ? And were the tributary
Asmakas whose minister Aditya made Seventeen,
Eighteen, and Nineteen a mere local power,
confined to the immediate neighbourhood ? How
urgently the history of India calls for students
who will search it out in the light of its geography !
An anxious antiquarianism has been very useful in
providing a few data and starting-points for real
work. But the day has come when we are able
to realise that, except as the great stream of the
Indian story carries it, even Ajanta has little value.
We must know how it stood related to the life of
its period ; what it did for the world ; who loved
and served it ; what joy they drew from it ; and a
thousand other truths about that living past which
surrounded its birth. No one has yet troubled to
depict the social conditions out of which it grew.
Yet this is the very thing that we must know.
The network of strong cities that must have sur-
rounded every focus of ecclesiastical power and
learning is non-existent as yet in the national



THE ANCIENT ABBEY OF AJANTA 73

imagination. Yet only a detailed study of the
whole countryside can give us the real clue to
the development of sites like Ajanta.

We forget that every age seems modern to itself,
and that warm throbbing human life once filled
these empty cells, that human love and conviction
inspired every line and curve of their contour, and
that human thought beat ceaselessly to and fro
against their walls and screens in its search to
determine for man the grounds of eternal certainty.
But even when we have answered these questions
we have yet to answer one other, as pressing, as
important. How did all this activity come to an
end ? The history of the death of Buddhism in
India has yet to be entered upon, in the true
spirit of critical inquiry; but when it is under-
taken, what vast areas will be found elucidated !

Here in the neighbourhood of Ajanta are many
features of interest and possible significance. The
railway is still forty miles away, and has not yet
had time to derange the commercial relations of
the grand old market town called Neri, encircled
by its battlemented walls. Some eight miles to
the north of the caves lies the postal town of
Vakod. Is there any connection here with the
word Vakataka P Four miles to the south on one
side, and again four to the north on the other,
are the towns of Ajanta and Fardapur. Both are
seats of Moghul fortification testifying to the
strong and independent character of the country
from early times. At Ajanta there is a palace



74 FOOTFALLS OF INDIAN HISTORY

and a bridge of some ten arches, with an enclosed
pool, below which lie the seven cascades that lead
to the monastic ravine.

In the grim old village of Fardapur there is
another fort of Aurungzeb, which is now in use
as a caravanserai. The whole aspect of the place
is ancient and fortress-like, and the mode of
building which obtains there throws a sudden
light on what must have been the aspect of Rajgir,
when Buddha entered it, in the days of Bimbisara
five and six centuries before Christ. Every wall
has a basis of pebbles and mortar ; and upon this
are reared blocks of baked earth, shaped like
masses of masonry. They are broad at the base,
considerably narrower at the top, and the slope
from one to the other is slightly concave. Even
the delicate brick battlements of the Moghuls are
built upon an older foundation of rubble wall.
A similar mode of shaping earth obtains even so
far east, it is said, as the western districts of
Bengal. Undoubtedly it is a method of unknown
antiquity. The curving slant gives to every cottage
the air of a fortification, which indeed it is, and
from a mediaeval point of view a fortification of
very admirable materials.

Even had the old walls of the fort not been
visible under the Moghul battlements, we should
have known that the place represented an ancient
camp of the people, rather than the mere strong-
hold of an army of occupation. This is shown,
in the first place, by its size. It is, in fact, a walled



THE ANCIENT ABBEY OF AJANTA 75

court or compound, containing a spring of water
and a place of worship. Around it are quarters
for hundreds of people, and at the gateways and
corner-towers residences for officers. A whole
population could take refuge here with their
women and their cows against the onset of an
army or the invasion of a tribe. The fact that it
could have been worth while for a powerful govern-
ment like that of Delhi to occupy so large a work
at the close of the Dekkan wars, in what seems to
us now an obscure village, is a wonderful testi-
mony to the strength and hostility of the Mahratta
country round it, a strength and hostility which
were the expression of thousands of years of
organised independence.

Outside the fort the city has been walled, and
the river, circling within the walls, has acted at
the gateway of the city as a moat, over which
even now stand the ruins of a grand old bridge
of three arches. At the end of the road that once
crossed this bridge, at what must have been the
outer gate of the city, there is a buttress-foundation,
now treated as a sacred mound, where both Hindus
and Mohammedans come to worship the Mother.
The trees that grow on it are the neem and the bo,
the old bodhi-trez, or asvattha. At their feet a
few stones are red with vermilion, and broken
glass bracelets tell of accepted vows.

So much for the mingling of historic and pre-
historic. All through this countryside we find
ourselves close to the remoter origins of Hinduism.



76 FOOTFALLS OF INDIAN HISTORY

It is a land of the worship of Miri-Amma, the
Earth-Mother, in her symbols of the neem and the
pointed stone. There are temples of Hanuman
too here and there. But though I found a Brah-
man chanting the worship of Satyanarayan in his
own house on the full-moon night I saw no
shrines to Shiva or Vishnu. This &?-tree on the
Ajanta road may have sheltered a friars' dharm-
sala in Buddhistic ages. Here at this gate
Hiouen Tsang and his train, in the middle of the
seventh century, may have stopped to pay toll or
to rest, on their way to or from the abbey, four
miles distant. And the &?-tree, growing here beside
the neem, may seem to the spirit of the place, with
the memories it recalls of the peopled cloisters of
twelve hundred years ago, a memento of what is a
comparatively recent incident in the long long
story of the land.

HlNAYANA AND MAHAYANA

Buddhism might well be divided historically by
the students into the Rajgir, the Pataliputra, and
the Takshasila periods. Or we might choose for
the names of our periods those monarchs who
were the central figures of each of these epochs.
At Rajgir these would be Bimbisara and his son
Ajatasatru, at Pataliputra Asoka, and at Takshasila
Kanishka, the second sovereign of the Kushan
empire. The epochs thus named would also be
coterminous with the dates of the three great



THE ANCIENT ABBEY OF A J ANT A 77

Buddhist Councils. No complete history of Bud-
dhism could leave out of account the influence of
the great Kanishka. For from his time, as we are
informed by the Chinese travellers, dates that great
schism of the Mahayana, or Northern School,
which has carried with it China, Japan, and Tibet,
while Burma, Ceylon, and Siam belong to Southern
Buddhism, or the Lesser Vehicle.

A great haughtiness divides to this day the ad-
herents of these different schools. To the Northern
School belongs the new recension of the scriptures
published by the Council of Kanishka. To the
Southern belong the simpler and more ancient
works, amongst which are included the three
Tripitakas.

The characteristic doctrine of the Mahayana,
according to the disciples of Hiouen Tsang in the
early eighth century, lies in the veneration of the
Bodhisattvas, along with the one earthly and
supreme Buddha. The Southern School, or Hina-
yana, does not profess to invoke the Bodhisattvas.
But it is easy to see that under this brief definition
there is indicated a wide divergence of attitudes
and teaching. Anyone who studies a religious
movement which has its origin in an Indian
and Hindtiistic teacher, is bound to notice two
opposite influences which come into play almost
simultaneously. First there is the highly abstract
and nihilistic character of the personal realisation
of the Master himself. No gods, no forms, no
rites, and the unreal and phenomenal nature of the



7 8 FOOTFALLS OF INDIAN HISTORY

world about him, all this is the immediate and
strongest impression made on the mind. Heaven
must not be thought of, perfection is the only
possible goal for the sQul. And so on. But at the
selfsame moment, by creating a profound sympathy
for India, and the Indian way of looking at the
world, the door is opened to all sorts of complexi-
ties, and the disciple may well end by accepting
a thousand things, each as unthinkable as the one
or two he originally abandoned at the call of a
higher truth. Such must always be the twofold
effect of an Indian teacher of religion on a foreign
mind.

This very phenomenon we may watch on a
geographical scale in the history of Buddhism.
Here the Southern countries, served by the early
missions, received a stricter and more personal
impress of the deposit of faith actually left to his
church by the Master. This system was atheistic,
nihilistic, and philosophic in the highest and
severest sense. Even in the reign of Asoka we see
the erection of rails, pillars, and stupas, the glori-
fication of holy places, and the worship of the
sacred relics, but never a trace of the multitudinous
extraneous elements which were later to be ac-
cepted.

Many of the great chaitya halls were built
between the time of Asoka and the Christian era,
but the stupas which they contain are simple re-
liquaries. The dagoba bears no image, though it
is often ornamented with an Asokan rail. Sculpture



THE ANCIENT ABBEY OF A J ANT A 79

was in existence at this early date, but it seems to
have been used always as a medium of secular
commemoration, as at Karli and Bharhut. The
religious symbolism of Buddhistic devotion seems
to have been at this period the tree, the stupa, the
rail, the horse-shoe ornament, and sometimes a
footprint. Nor can we adequately realise the thrill
of sympathy and reverence which these austere
and simple forms were at that time capable of
producing in a susceptible mind.

The recognition of the Bodhisattvas, however,
which came in with Kanishka, is a phrase which
covers a great deal. It really connoted sooner or
later the acceptance more or less entire of what
may be called the Asiatic synthesis. And it too
seems to go hand in hand with the worship of
the personality of Buddha himself. It was in fact
the emergence of a doctrine for which India has
ever since been famous. It was an outbreak of the
tendency known in Christianity as the religion of
the Incarnation, a form of adoration by which
Protestant England herself has wellnigh been
torn in twain during the last fifty years. Whether
or not Buddhism had before this inculcated the
adoration of the Buddha's personality, no one who
has read any of the early scriptures can doubt
that she was always very ready for such a doctrine.
There is a fine sentiment about every mention of
the Teacher's name. One can feel the intense
sacredness of each of his movements to the early
recorder. And the worship of relics, so early as



8o FOOTFALLS OF INDIAN HISTORY

the moment of the Mahanirvana itself, is an
evidence not to be set aside. The doctrine of the
divinity of Buddha and his miraculous birth into
a world long preparing for his advent must in the
year A.D. 150 have been only the keystone of an
arch already built. Here we have the picture of
the self-projection into the sphere of maya of a
soul immeasurably higher and sweeter than those
dragged there by their own deeds. It is the theory
which reappears in widely separate times and
places under the names of Christ, Rama, Krishna,
and Chaitanya. Even the Persian Bab would seem
to owe the idea that makes him possible to this


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