A relic of the Mauryan era

When Charles Fossey was excavating in the Tigris-Euphrates region, often called the cradle of civilization by historians, in the year 1913, he knew he was on the brink of discovering history. Soon, the site of the ancient city of Ectabana was in front of him. The capital of Medes, passing on to Cyrus the Great, Ectabana needed no introduction. Herodotus, way back in the 5th century BCE, wrote, "The Medes built the city of Ectabana, the walls of which are of great size and strength, rising in circles one within the other." Ancient cities of Amarna and Susa, too, were excavated at around the same time. 

Pataliputra (now Patna)  in northeastern India, was the capital city of the Mauryan Empire c.326–184 BCE [Credit: Web]
Rapid excavations were going on in India, too, by the British Archaeological Survey of India. When the only American in the British ASI, D B Spooner, armed with knowledge of Sanskrit, was called to excavate a site in and around Kumhrar in Patna in 1912, he was filled with thrill when the ancient capital of the Mauryans rolled before his wonderstruck eyes. He kept digging frantically for the next three years, rediscovering the grandeur, trials and tribulations, the joys and sorrows of the people who inhabited the land since 490 BCE. 

Shifting his capital from Rajgriha, the Magadhan capital, Ajatshatru and later, his son Udayin fortified Pataliputra in the year 490 BCE. Remaining the seat of power of the great Mauryas, the Sungas and the Guptas, Pataliputra, one of the oldest living cities of the world, continued to be India's capital for over one millennium. 

Alternately called Kusumpura, Palibothra, and Pushpapur, the ruins of the ancient capital of the Mauryans, Pataliputra, first came to light in 1912-15 after remaining buried for two millennia. The British Archaeological Survey of India, under whose head Spooner excavated Kumhrar, discovered 72 pillars. Further excavations under the direction of noted historian A S Altekar in 1951-55 under the aegis of K P Jayaswal Institute revealed 8 more pillars. Altekar described the site, after its excavation, as "probably the earliest huge stone-pillared structure to be built by Indian architects" was a relic of the Mauryan empire. 

Mauryan Hall pillar [Credit: Wiki Commons]
In the light of the excavations, the hall's 80 pillars were seen arranged in parallel rows of 10 from east to west and 8 from north to south with the entrance located on the south. All the pillars, made of sandstone quarried from Chunar in Mirzapur district of UP, and carried downstream to Pataliputra, were placed at regular intervals of about 4.57 metres. Huge monoliths, with each pillar about 9.75 metres in height of which nearly 2.74 metres being buried below, had a lustrous shine, very typical of Mauryan architectural style, and were fixed on square wooden basements. 

The hall's floor and roof were made of wood. Today, while historians continue to grope in the dark about the other Mauryan and Gupta ruins, the famed 80-pillared hall cannot be seen with the naked eye over two millennia down the line, as the entire structure is submerged under heaps of soil. Only one pillar is now on display at Kumhrar. However, the ASI made a model of the hall in 2004 and has placed it in a glass frame in the exhibition hall within the precincts, housing the other artefacts discovered during excavations. Spooner's finds from Kumhrar and adjoining Bulandibagh consisting of punch-marked coins, terracotta figurines, including the head of a smiling boy and a dancing girl, stone and glass beads, finished and unfinished seals, including a glass seal with a Mauryan inscription, and a spoked cart have been preserved for posterity. 

Bulandibagh, already tapped by Spooner, was re-excavated in 1926-27 by J A Page and M Ghosh resulting in the discovery of an eastern-western wooden structure running as excavated area for a distance of about 137 metres. It is a wall made of heavy wooden sleepers placed vertically in a double row, with similar sleepers joining them horizontally at the bottom and is thought to be a part of the wooden palisade seen by noted historian and ambassador of Seleucus Nicator, Megasthenes, who wrote in his 'Indica' that Pataliputra was long but narrow; it was 80 stadiums (nearly 9 miles) long and 15 stadiums (nearly 2 miles) broad and in the form of a parallelogram. The circumference of the well-planned city was nearly 23 miles. The Indica, written in 300 BCE, has the earliest literary evidences on the ancient city. 

Author: Gayatree Sharma | Source: The Times of India [June 12, 2012]

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