Demise of Buddhism in India

Buddhist Monks and Monasteries of India by Sukumar Dutta Motilal Banarasidas, reprinted 1988 (first published in UK in 1962)

Introduction (p. 31-32)

To this long and varied history of the Sangha in India, there was an end—swift and sudden, full of terror and pity, like the denouement of a tragic drama. The Sangha did not survive perhaps more than a decade the storm and violence of Muslim inroads and conquests in northern India. Lapsed into complete quiescence elsewhere in India, its last accents were still being whispered from the monastic towers of Bihar and Bengal, while round the north of the region, the Khiliji hordes were gathering as for a cloudburst. They were fast sweeping down south. These mid-Asian tribesmen had seen no edifices in their desert homeland and knew but little about architectural styles and distinctions. The tall towers of the monasteries, soaring above the circuit-walls, arrested attention; they easily caused the buildings to be mistaken for military fastnesses: so the monasteries became targets of fierce attack. After the razing of the Odantapura monastery in AD 1199 by Ikhtiyar Khiliji’s soldiers, it was discovered by the marauders that inside were only heaps of books and no hidden arms or treasures and that the place was merely a Madrassah (educational establishment) and not a fort. But all the monks had been killed and there was no one to explain to the victors what the books were about. Wholesale massacre was the order of the day; monks and monasteries perished together in a terrible holocaust. Yet a handful of survivors was left in the trail of the general destruction. They dispersed and fled with their cherished treasures— a few bundles of holy texts hugged in the bosom and concealed under the sanghati (monk’s outer robe). They wandered away to remote, secluded monasteries, far out of the invader’s track; or to the nearest seaports to take ship and sail away to Arakan or Burma. But most of them wended their way northwards towards the eastern Himalayas. Danger dogged their footsteps until, crossing the Himalayan foothills or stealing farther north along the high wind-swept mountain-passes, the hunted found security at last in the more hospitable countries of Nepal and Tibet. Thus came about the final dispersal of the Buddhist Sañgha in India. The Moving Finger wrote finis to its history round the turn of the thirteenth century and, having writ, moved on.

The Devastation (pages 206-210)

HISTORY holds record of two devastations on an extensive scale of the viharas of northern India—once by Mihirakula in the western sector in the early part of the sixth century, and again, severs centuries later, by Muslim invaders in the eastern sector round tb turn of the thirteenth. A branch of the Hunas, called Epthalite or White Hunas, ha entered India between AD 500 and 520 and seized ruling power over the border provinces of Gandhara and Kashmir. A Chinese pilgrim Sung-yun, sent on an official mission to India by an empress of th Wei dynasty, arrived in Gandhära in AD 520. He found the country devastated by the Hunas and a puppet of the Huna ruler cruelly exercising power.1 The Hunas gradually penetrated into the interior carved out a kingdom and over it the Huna king Mihirakula held sway in c. 518—529. The kingdom included Gandhara and Kashmir and perhaps extended farther east, embracing parts of the Wes Punjab even as far east as Kosambi.2 From all accounts, this Huna king was a Saiva by faith .and sworn enemy of Buddhism. Though he had adopted an Indian faith he had imbibed little of Indian culture. The barbarian lust for destruction and vandalism ran in his veins. (Ed.note - The facts about Mihirakula's faith needto be verified. There is no independent confirmation that he professed to be Saivite or a Hindu).

The Gupta kings fought off and on against the power of the Huna. but it was not till some time before AD 533 that Mihirakula was subjugated by Yasodharman of Mandasor.3 Nearly a hundred years later—in AD 630—631—Hsüan-tsang passing through Gandhara and Kashmir, heard about Mihirakula’s devastations. They were then traditional tales in these parts; these are reported by the Chinese pilgrim as he heard them. In Gãndhara alone Mihirakula, says Hsuan-tsang, ‘overthrew stupas and destroyed sañghatiramas, altogether one thousand and six hundred foundations’.’ Perhaps the work of destruction spread as far as Kosambi, though it affected especially Gandhara and Kashmir. But in that age Buddhism had enough vitality to bind up the wounds inflicted by

1 See Beal’s Buddhist Records, Intro., pp. XV—XVI.

2 See Indian Archaeology for 1955—56 in which finds showing Huna penetration to Kosämbi are reported.

3 See Raj Chaudhurys Political History (6th Ed., 5953), p. 596.

4 Beal’s Buddhist Records, i, p. ‘7’.

The Huna depredations lasting just over a decade. Sañgha life picked up, at least partially, its broken threads; it went on in new monasteries that rose on the ruins of the demolished ones. Next, in the early part of the twelfth century there was a fore-gathering in the northern regions of the country of Muslim tribesmen from Afghanistan. They were fanatical Muslims, bent on conquest and predatory excursions, and their advance posed a tremendous threat to all monasteries and temples of northern India. Buddhism had slowly shifted eastwards in the intervening period and was flourishing once again in Magadha under the Pala kings. But its vital strength was at an ebb; it was becoming more and more regional, more and more dependant on outside protection, when the Moslem fanatics were descending southwards in short swift rushes. In spite of this perilous state of Buddhism in the twelfth century, there were efforts at revival; new monasteries were being built and old ones endowed afresh to keep up sangha life and the monks’ ministrations. The most noteworthy of these revivalist efforts is associated with King Govindachandra (AD 1114—1154) of the Gahadvala dynasty and his pious Buddhist queen Kumaradevi. Govindachandra had inherited the throne of Kanouj, shifting his capital to Banaras. Perhaps he wished to revive the tradition of patronage to Buddhism set by Harsavardhana, his illustrious predecessor on the Kanouj throne. The invaders moving down from the north, who were then known by the blanket name of Turaska or Turk,’ were already knocking at the gates of his kingdom and one of Govindachandra’s several grants, dated in AD 1120, mentions the levy of a special tax called ‘Turaska danda’ to meet the cost of warding off the invaders.2 He was not a Buddhist himself, but his queen Kumaradevi, who had some distant blood-relationship with Ramapäla, a Buddhist Baja king of Bengal, was a devout Buddhist. Both the king and the queen, even in those troubled fear-haunted years with crisis just ahead, were zealously trying to revive monastic life in the kingdom. In a village Saheth-Maheth (in eastern Uttar Pradesh), anciently Jetavana, a charter of Govindachandra has been found recording the gift of six villages to ‘the Sangha, of whom Buddha-Bhaftäraka is the chief and foremost, residing in the Mahavihara of Holy Jetavana. 3 1 They were in fact Khalijis of Turkish origin. ‘Khalj is the name given to the land lying on either side of the river Helmand in Afganistan. various nomadic tribes had settled in Khalj from very remote times, and under such circumstances it is impossible to assert with absolute certainty that the Khalijis belonged to a particular tribe or race.’—History of the Xhalijis by K. S. Lal (Allahabad: Indian Press, rg5o). P. 14. 2 See Smith’s Early History of India, 4th Ed., p. 400, footnote I. 3 Archaeological Survey Report for 1907—1908, p. 120. Its date, given according to the Saka era, is June 23, 1130. Another inscription found in the same locality records the establishment of a monastery by one Vidyadhara, counsellor of Madana, king of Gadhipura’, most probably a feudatory of Govindachandra. It dates in AD 1219—nearly two decades after the site had been devastated by Muhammad Ghori at the end of the twelfth century.’ Kumaradevi wanted to revive ancient Sarnath, near Banaras which was then the Gahadvala capital, and she added the very last monastery to the immense complex that had grown up there from age to age. But nearly all of them were then in almost complete ruin. Kumaradevi’s in fact was the biggest single construction in that monastic complex—an immense rectangular structure which was partly built over the ruins of, and partly encompassed, several preexisting Gupta monasteries and shrines. In this monastery, also in ruins now, a prasasti on a stone-slab has been discovered—a lengthy poem in Sanskrit in eulogy of the queen Kumãradevi, composed by a poet named Kunda of Bengal ‘versed in six languages’, and inscribed on stone by Vämana, an artist.’ It gives us a personal glimpse of the queen, though the description is couched in the conventional hyperbolic felicities: ‘Her mind was set on religion alone; her desire was bent on virtue; she had undertaken to lay in a store of merit; she found a noble satisfaction in bestowing gifts’ (verse 13). Nor is a reference to the attractive graces of her person omitted: ‘Her gait was that of an elephant; her appearance charming to the eye; she bowed down to the Buddha and people sang her praise.’ The vihara, built by her, is described as an ‘ornament to the earth’ and consisting of nine segments (Navakhanda-mandala-mahdvihara)’, expected to last ‘as long as the moon and the sun’. Her husband King Govindachandra is spoken of in the prasasti as descended from God Han—one who was ‘commissioned by Hara to protect Varanasi (i.e. the capital city, Banaras) from the wicked Turaska warriors’. Evidently the terror of Turaska invasion was looming ahead: its shadow lay heavy on the minds of all then dwelling in Banaras. The remains of Kumäradevis imposing monastery, which, as it appears from inscriptions, bore the name of Dharmacakrajinavihära, measure 760 feet from east to west (on the longer side of the rectangle) and has a central block of buildings. It encompasses several mined viharas. There is an open paved court on the west with rows of monks’ cells on three sides. There were two gateways to the 1 SeeJournal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal (r925—VoI. XXI, New Series). 2 See also Part III, Sec. 4, p. 217. 3 It is given in the Archaeological Survey Report for 1907.1908. monastery towards the east, 290 feet apart from each other. The basement of the monastery, eight feet in height, is built of neatly chiselled bricks, decorated with various elegant mouldings on both the outer and the inner faces. But all the halls and apartments have long since crumbled to dust. The efforts of Govindachandra and Kumäradevi to resurrect sangha life at Sarnath on the eve of Muslim conquest were most remarkable, but it seems that both before and after the event, other attempts were made with the same aim and object here arid there in Bihar (Magadha). Jayachandra (c. AD 1170), a king of the same Gahadvala dynasty, has left an inscription at Bodhgaya, ‘which opens with an invocation to the Buddha, the Bodhisattvas and the king’s own religious preceptor, a monk named Srimitra’ and records the construction at a place called Jayapura of a guha (cave-monastery).’ In a hill-region, anciently known as Saptadalaksa near Gaya, a later inscription was discovered, of the reign of a ‘king’ named Asokacalla, recording the erection of a vihara by Bhatta Dämodara at the request of a number of the king’s officers who evidently were Buddhists) Such sporadic and strictly localized attempts at revival were made for some years even after the Muslim invaders had overrun nearly the whole of northern India, Perhaps the strangest story of a monastic establishment outliving the Muslim depradations, is that of Nàlanda. Here, even in 1235. when the University was but a sprawling mass of ruins, a solitary nonogenarian monk-teacher with a class of seventy students ‘still rang the bell’, like President Ewell of the ill-fated College of William and Mary.3 The question, whether sangha life and its traditions of so many centuries were entirely uprooted after the establishment of Muslim rule, admits only of a speculative answer. History bears witness in many odd ways that an institution, religious or cultural in character, does not die off even when all its vital organs have been crushed. It retains yet a ghostly sort of life. After the annihilation of monasteries, the old sangha life, as some scholars are inclined to believe, persisted, 1 Cited in, R. C. Mitra’s Decline of Buddhism in India (Visva-Bharati, 1954), p. 42. 2 Ibid. p. 43. 3 This is from the eye-witness account of the Tibetan Jima, Dharmasvami who ,isited Nalanda in 5235. See Part V, Sec. 2, pp. 347—378. The story of President Ewell, preserved by the Yale University Corporation, is ~s follows, In ,SSr, this college had to close its doors for seven years during the civil War in America. The college was deserted and fell into ruins. It was finally overcome by financial catastrophe. ‘But every morning during these seven years, ‘resident Ewell used to ring the chapel bell. There were no students; the faculty ,had disappeared; and the rain seeped through the leaky roofs of the desolate buildings. But President Ewell still rang the bell. It was an act of faith: it was a gesture of defiance. It was a symbol of determination that the intellectual and cultural tradition must be kept alive even in a bankrupt world.’ only it went underground. But out of its seed sprouted new cults and new monastic orders, of which one, the Mahima-dharma, which sprang up in the eighteenth century at Mayurbhanj in Orissa, offers a most curious, most remarkable and significant instance.1 1 Mahima-dharma was a cult that grew up in Orissa and had a large following. Its adherents created a monastic order, the rules and regulations of which are formulated and set down in its Oriyan scripture. The discovery of this cult and itc monastic order was made by an eminent Bengali scholar, Nagendra Nath Vasu, in the opening years of this century, and an account of it is given in his monograph, Modern Buddhism and its Followers in Orissa (pub. in calcutta, igtx). ‘Of the twelve or thirteen ascetic rules.’ says Mr Vasu at pp. r74—I 75 of the monograph, ‘mentioned in the Buddhistic scriptures, the Mahimã-dharmin monk has even up till now been observing the rules of Pindapatika, Sapadãna-carika, Ekasanika, Pattapindika and khalu-pacchadbhaktika. But these are never found to be observed by Vai~ava monks or ascetics or those of any other sect.’ Some scholars hold the opinion that the Buddhist Sañgha tradition was followed by Sa.ñkaräcarva in the institution of ‘Maths’ and that the tradition survives to this day in the still vigorously functioning ashramas set up by Swami Vivekananda in India in the last century. These asramas function under a central asrama at Belur in Bengal and have many establishments all over India. Mahaviharas as Universities (p. 347-348) Taranatha’s generalized statement that ‘the Turaskas conquered the whole of Magadha and destroyed many monasteries; at Nalanda they did much damage and the monks fled abroad.” (Vi) The Last Days We know on historical evidence that Odantapura Mahavihara was sacked and razed to the ground round 1198. Round 1234, when Dharmasvami visited it, Odantapura was Muslim military headquarters.

2 Nalanda, only about six miles off, may have been ,after the sack of Odantapura, a target of attack by roving bands of Muslim soldiery. But this mahâvihara was not demolished like Odantapura and Vikramasila, though, as Tãranatha says, much damage was done with the result that many monks deserted it. But the very last report about its condition after the worst had been done by the ravagers, coming from an eye-witness, the Tibetan monk Dharmasvami, shows that Nalanda, though doomed to death, was fated not to die, for teaching and learning was going on here over at least four decades after the raids. But what a Nâlanda it was!—like the strange nightmare of Hsuan-tsang six centuries back when Nãlanda was in all its glory brought up by the whirligig of time. Yet even then the ghost of past magnificence loomed darkly over the desolation. There were still to be seen ‘seven great lofty pinnacles (Sikharas)’ and out to the north, fourteen. Eighty small viharas, damaged by the Turaskas and deserted by monks, were still there and, beyond, as many as eight hundred. The guess could not, however, have been numerically precise. It is impossible to say when this crop of small vihãras had gone up; Dharmasvami says only that a Raja. and his queen had built them’—probably not very long before the Turaska threat descended. Archaeologists have discovered no trace of them: they were probably of flimsy construction. But somewhere in this melancholy mass of decayed and deserted buildings, a lingering pulse of life feebly went on. Somewhere here a nonagenarian monk-teacher, named Rahula Sribhadra, had made his dwelling and taught Sanskrit grammar to

1 Schiefners Translation of Taranatha’s History of Buddhism, p. 94.
2 Dharmasvami mentions Odantapura in his travel-record twice as the residence of a Turaska military commander (see Biography of Dharmasvami, Intro., p. xlii.)
3 Roerich's Biography of .Dharmasvamin (pub. by K. P. Jayaswal Research Institute, Patna, 1959), p. 91.
4 Dharmasvãmi’s reference may be to ‘Räja Buddhasena of Magadha who is said by him to have fled from Gaya into a jungle at the time of Turaska raid on Gaya and returned when the raid was over. He is said to have been a patron of the Nãlanda teacher and his pupils (see Biography of .Dharmasvamin, p. 90).
5 Rähula _Sribhadra’s name was probably known in Tibet through Dharmasvämi's narrative, for Taranatha gives precisely the same information about Sribhadra and states the number of his pupils as seventy, as told by Dharmasvami (see Biography of Dharmasvamin, Altekar’s Intro., p. vi).

 He was in the last stage of poverty and decrepitude. He lived on a small allowance for food given by a Bràhmana lay disciple named Jayadeva who lived at Odantapura. Time and again came threats of an impending raid from the military headquarters there. Jayadeva himself became a suspect. In the midst of these alarms, he was suddenly arrested and thrown into a military prison at Odantapura. While in captivity, he came to learn that a fresh raid on Nalanda was brewing and managed to transmit a message of warning to his master advising him to flee post-haste. By then everyone had left Nalanda except the old man and his Tibetan disciple. Not caring for the little remainder of his own life, the master urged his pupil to save himself by quick flight from the approaching danger. Eventually, however—the pupil’s entreaties prevailing— both decided to quit. They went—the pupil carrying the master on his back along with a small supply of rice, sugar and a few books—to the Temple of Jnananatha at some distance and hid themselves. While they remained in hiding, 300 Muslim soldiers arrived, armed and ready for the assault. The mid came and passed over. Then the two refugees stole out of their hiding place back again to Nalanda. Dharmasvãmi says that the Tibetan pupil could after all complete his studies and, after a brief stay, left the place with the teacher’s permission. The libraries had perished long, long ago; Dharmasvami could not get a scrap of manuscript to copy, though some of the monks there possessed a few manuscripts.1 This is the last glimpse vouchsafed to us of Nalanda before its lapse into utter darkness. 1 This thrilling account of the last days of Nalanda is taken from a Tibetan text kept in a monastery of central Tibet of which a photo static copy was brought by Rahula Sankrityayana and left to be edited and translated with the K. P. Jayaswal Research Institute of Patna. The text is entitled Biography of Chag lo-tsa-ba Chos-rje-dpal’—the Tibetan name of Dharmasvãmi. It was evidently written by a disciple under his dictation. This Tibetan monk-pilgrim visited some districts of eastern India and was in Bihar in 1234—36. He records in the work his experiences in the country. The work has been edited with an accompanying English translation by Dr G. Roerich (Moscow) and published by the Institute. Dharmasvämi’s account of Nalanda is contained in Chapter X (pp. 90 ff.).

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