Which is the real birthplace of Lord Mahavir?
Religions across the world have always revered the birthplaces of their divine figures with great respect. These places were soon transformed into pilgrimages, in view of the holy aura preserved in the respective birthplaces. Similarly, Jains have also revered the places where the five divine events, i.e. the Panchkalyanaks of Tirthankars (Chyavan, Janma, Diksha, Kevalgyan and Nirvan) had taken place. The last Tirthankar of this cosmic cycle, Shri Vardhaman Mahavir, on whose teachings Jainism has survived, flourished and thrived till date, was born in 599 BC, i.e. nearly 2,618 years ago.
Being the last Tirthankar, it would be obvious to assume that all the original locations of Lord Mahavir’s Panchkalyanaks would have been well preserved by Jains; However, the case is not so. Although, it might be surprising, the locations of all the five Kalyanaks of Lord Mahavir are disputed – either between the Shwetambar-Digambar sects or by history scholars. The only Kalyanak location agreed by both the Shwetambar & Digambar sects, i.e. Pawapuri (in Bihar) is disputed by history scholars, who place the location of the Nirvan Kalyanak at Pava-Padrauna in Fazilnagar, Uttar Pradesh.
Unlike Buddhists, who have well preserved the sites, relics, stupas and other archaeological remains related to Gautam Buddha, Jains did not preserve the same with respect to Lord Mahavir, predominantly due to large-scale migration and differing sectarian views. While all the Kalyanak locations of Lord Mahavir are disputed, the objective of this post is to study only the evidences available with respect to the birthplace of Lord Mahavir, above any sectarian bias.
Generically, the Jain texts state that Lord Mahavir was born to King Siddharth and Kshatriyani Trishala in the kingdom known as Kundpur, which was situated in the northern part of Bharat Kshetra, which was situated in the middle of the vast Jambudwip. This kingdom was ruled by Siddharth and was divided into two parts – Brahmankundgram on the east (where the Brahmins used to reside) and Kshatriyakundgram, on the west (which was the capital of the kingdom). In the centre of Kshatriyakund stood a magnificent royal palace, nestled in a bed of splendid temples, gardens and lakes. The massive palace overlooked the Gnat-khand-van gardens on the east and Bahushal-van gardens on the west. On the thirteenth day of the bright half of Chaitra (month) in the year of 599 BC, Lord Mahavir was born to Trishala in this very palace situated in Kshatriyakund.
The major question arises on the current location of the erstwhile kingdom of ‘Kundpur’ along with its capital – Kshatriyakund. Currently, three locations within the Indian state of Bihar (which are at a significant distance from each other) are considered to be the birthplace of Lord Mahavir by respective sects –
|The three locations believed to be the birthplaces of Lord Mahavir|
Grand temples and dharamshalas were constructed by respective sects in all these three places with a view to establish them as the rightful birthplace of Lord Mahavir. While the temple at Kundghat was constructed in 10th century AD, the temple at Kundalpur was constructed after the 16th century and the temple at Basukund was constructed post-Independence.
|Digambar Jain temple at Basukund|
|Digambar Jain Temples at Kundalpur, Nalanda; Top: Nandyavart Mahal Temple, Bottom: Old temple post renovations. (Source: www.jambudweep.org)|
|The Shwetambar Jain Temple at Kundghat (Top: Old structure of the temple; Bottom left: Temple structure post renovation in last decade; Bottom right: Artist's impression post latest renovations which will be completed in Feb'20)|
After surveying the above-mentioned three places, with a view to understand the facts, I have collected various evidences and classified them into the following broad sections: (1) Literary & Cultural Evidences – Evidences collected from ancient Shwetambar, Digambar & contemporary Buddhist Scriptures alongwith cultural evidences; and (2) Archaeological Evidences - consisting of artifacts, architecture and unearthed historical evidences from all the three locations. All these evidences have been discussed in length below. Further, I have reserved my opinion so that the readers can make their own judgement based on the evidences available.
|Folio from Kalpasutra depicting the birth of Lord Mahavir|
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A. LITERARY EVIDENCES
To begin with, let us examine the details available in ancient texts (chronologically), which throw some light on the distinctive names of Lord Mahavir’s Birthplace (similar names in different texts not repeated)-
Based on the above, we find eight distinctive names of the birthplace of Lord Mahavir as below-
The earliest reference of the name of Lord’s birthplace occurs in Acharang Sutra, which mentions the name of the birthplace as – Kshatriyakundpur-sannivesh. The Tika (commentary) of Acharang Sutra gives us the details of the word ‘Sannivesh’, which means a halting place for caravans, processions and travelers. Thus, it implies that the town was not a very significant place. Kalpasutra, which was composed around 150 years after the Acharang Sutra gives the name of the birthplace as “Kshatriyakund-gram-nagar”. The word 'gram' means a village whereas the word 'nagar' means a city; thus, the conjunction of both the words “gram-nagar” would mean that Kshatriyakund was not a large city but a small town or a suburb. Further, Trishala was titled as 'Kshatriyani' (क्षत्रियाणी) in the Agams (not as a queen). Based on this information, some scholars have assumed that Siddharth was an ordinary Kshatriya and not a king. However, there are evidences in the Kalpasutra and Bhagvati Sutra which disagree on the said assumption (as below)-
- Siddharth was titled 'Raja' and 'Narendra'; he was embellished with Mukut (crown), Alankar (jewelry) and Chatra (silver umbrella);he employed more than 20 categories of servants and had a large army at his disposal;
- Further, when Lord Mahavir was born, King Siddharth released all the prisoners of his state;
- Lord Mahavir gave away valuables worth 388 crores of gold coins in Varshidan;
- Jamali, Lord Mahavir’s son-in-law, took diksha with 500 other residents of Kshatriyakund (which shows that Kshatriyakund was a large city).
i. Most of the later Jain texts (Nirvanbhakti, Harivanshpuran, Uttarpuran, Virjinandchariu, Vardhamancharitra etc.) specifically locate the birthplace of Lord Mahavir in the Videha region. Adjectives to Lord Mahavir, with reference to the same were also given in the ancient Agams (as discussed below, along with different interpretations). The territory of Videha region is located north of the Ganga river, in the northeastern part of Bihar and eastern Terai of Nepal. Vaishali falls in this region, whereas Kundghat (near Lachhuar) was a part of Anga region and Kundalpur (near Nalanda) was a part of Magadha region.
Approximate locations of Videha, Magadha and Anga regions (Source: Wikipedia)
ii. The Buddhist text, Mahavagga (~5 BC) mentions that Kundpur was a suburb of Vaishali.
iii. The Buddhist text, Therigatha Atthakatha (~1 BC) , mentions that Lord Vardhaman belonged to the Licchavi Royal Family of Vaishali (वेसालियं लिच्छवि राजकुले निब्बत्ति वड्ढमानो तिस्स नामं अहोसि).
iv. Various scriptures mention the name of a river named ‘Gandaki’ near the birthplace of Lord Mahavir. This river is situated near Basukund, Vaishali.
v. A tribe in the Basukund (Vaishali) named ‘Jatharia’ claims to be the original descendants of Lord Mahavir. Since ages, the Jatharia’s had preserved a large part of land, which they believed to be the birthplace of Lord Mahavir. Post-Independence, the plot was handed over to the Government of India, which was used to construct the Janmasthan temple in Basukund.
|Idol of Lord Mahavir Swami at Basukund Digambar Jain Temple|
1. b. Literary evidences NOT in favor of VASOKUND/ BASUKUND in Vaishali District-
i. All historical and Buddhist sources state that Vaishali was a republic (a state in which supreme power is held by the people and their elected representatives, and which has an elected or nominated governor) and not a monarchy. On the other side, all the Jain sources indicate that Kundpur was an independent kingdom and not a part of any republic. Therefore, the birthplace of Lord Mahavir, i.e. Kundpur was not a suburb or a part of Vaishali (There could be an another place called Kundpur in Vaishali as identified by the Buddhists)
ii. As per Acharang Sutra and Kalpasutra, out of the 42 rainy seasons (Chaturmas), spent by Lord Mahavir during his lifetime 7 were at Vaishali. However, none of texts record that Lord Mahavir spent any of the 42 Chaturmas’ at his birthplace.
iii. As per Jain, Buddhist and other historical sources, King Ajatshatru of the Magadha dynasty fought a war in 468 BC to conquer Vaishali, which was governed by Chetak (Lord Mahavir’s maternal uncle). All the sources unanimously agree that Ajatshatru defeated Chetak, which implies that Vaishali was governed by Lord Mahavir’s maternal uncle and not his father.
The Jain texts also state that Lord Mahavir was born in King Siddharth’s palace and not at his maternal uncle’s residence. Jain texts also state that after the fall of Vaishali (post attack by Ajatshatru), Nandivardhan continued to rule over Kundpur (as per Trishashtishalakapurush Charitra, King Nandivardhan went to meet Lord Mahavir when he arrived in his birthplace post Kevalgyan).
iv. Lord Mahavir spoke in the Ardhamagadhi dialect, whereas the local dialect in Vaishali and Videha region was Vajji. The regions under Kundghat and Kundalpur fall in the Magadhi speaking zone.
2. a. Literary / anthropological evidences IN favor of KUNDALPUR in Badgaon, Nalanda District-
i. As per Tiloya Pannati, Lord Mahavir was born to King Siddharth and Queen Priyakarini at Kundalpur (सिद्धत्थरायपियकारिणीहिं णयरम्मि कुंडले वीरो). The name of the village near Badgaon, Nalanda was known as Kundalpur since very ancient ages; thus, the birthplace was identified based on the above fact.
ii. The Dhavala Tika of Shatkhandagam, also states that Lord Mahavir was born at Kundalpur- ‘‘आषाढ़ जोण्ण पक्ख छट्ठीए कुण्डलपुर णगराहिव णाहवंश सिद्धत्थ णरिंदस्स तिसिला देवीए गब्भमागंतणेसु तत्थ अट्ठदिवसाहिय णवमासे अच्छिय चइत्त सुक्क पक्ख तेरसीए उत्तराफग्गुणी गब्भादो णिक्खंतो।’’
iii. Acharya Muniprabh Suri in his Tirthmala (9th Century AD) stated that that distance between Brahmankundgram-Kshatriyakundgram to Rajgriha and Pawapuri were not much. (महाणखत्तियकुंडग्रामाही राजगृही पावापुरी थमाही). However, the exact distance was not specified in the Tirthmala, making it open to interpretations. Following are the walking distances of the identified birthplaces from Rajgir & Pawapuri-
- Rajgir to Kundalpur (near Nalanda) – 17 kilometers;
- Pawapuri to Kundalpur (near Nalanda) – 15 kilometers
- Rajgir to Kundghat (Jamui hill range) – 79 kilometers
- Pawapuri to Kundghat (Jamui hill range) – 70 kilometers
- Rajgir to Basukund (Vaishali) – 128 kilometers
- Pawapuri to Basukund (Vaishali) – 106 kilometers
Idol of Shri Mahavir Swami at Digambar Jain temple, Kundalpur (Source: www.jambudweep.org)
2. b. Literary evidences NOT in favor of KUNDALPUR in Nalanda District-
i. Jain texts locate the birthplace of Lord Mahavir in the Videha region. Kundalpur (near Nalanda) was a part of Magadha region and not Videha region.
ii. As per Acharang Sutra and Kalpasutra, out of the 42 rainy seasons (Chaturmas), spent by Lord Mahavir during his lifetime - three were at Nalanda. However, none of texts record that Lord Mahavir spent any of the 42 Chaturmas’ at his birthplace. Even the Buddhist records, which are replete with details of Nalanda and its suburbs, do not record that Lord Mahavir was born in Nalanda or any of its suburbs.
iii. In the “Yugpradhan Acharya Gurvavali” (14th century AD), it is mentioned that on the behest of Acharya Jinchandrasuri, his disciples Upadhyay Rajshekhar, Ganivarya Hemtilak, Ganivarya Punyakirti and Muni Ratnamandir visited the birthplace of Gautam swami in Kundalpur (Badgaon), Nalanda. Later, they visited Pawapuri, Kshatriyakund and Kakandi in a sequence. This implies that Kundalpur, Nalanda was not the birthplace of Lord Mahavir.
3. a. Literary/ anthropological evidences IN favor of KUNDGHAT in Jamui Hill Range, (near Lachhuar) –
i. The Jamui hill range, despite being a hilly region houses seven villages (as on date) on flat surfaces. Oral tradition states that these villages were halting places for caravans and travelers matching the description of the term 'Sannivesh' mentioned in the Acharang Sutra.
ii. As discussed earlier, King Siddharth’s kingdom, Kundpur was divided into 2 parts – Brahmankundgram & Kshatriyakundgram. The Jamui hill range is divided by the Bahuvara river; One part is known as Brahmankund (on the eastern side) and the other as Kshatriyakund (on the western side) as per local traditions since hundreds of years. There is also a place known in the lower part of the hill, where Lord Mahavir took Diksha, which was known as Gnantkhandvan as per the scriptures.
|Ancient Diksha Kalyanak temple (now under renovations) at Gnatkhandvan - Kundghat|
iii. Agam literature (Acharang Sutra, Avashyak Churni Kalpasutra, Bhagwati sutra) and Trishahstishalakapurush-charitra states that after taking Diksha, Lord Mahavir Swami meditated for 48 minutes and then immediately started his Vihar journey to reach Kurmargram by evening (where he faced his first upsarg- prevented by Shakrendra). Post that he visited Kollag (where he broke his fast of 2 days) and Morak Sannivesh (where Lord Mahavir spent 15 days of his first chaturmas). All these places have been identified in the vicinity of Kundghat (within the radius of 30 kilometers). Kurmargram is now known as Kumar (13 kilometers from Kundghat); Kollag is now known as Konag (18 kilometers from Kumar; 21 kilometers from Kundghat) and Morak Sannivesh is now known as Maura (28 kilometers from Kundghat).
Location of villages visited by Lord Mahavir post Diksha from Kundghat
Note: Attempts were also made by historians and scholars to identify similar places near Basukund (Vaishali) which resulted in identification of Kaman Chapra as Kurmargram (43 kilometers from Basukund) and Kolhua as Kollag (49 kilometres from Kaman Chapra and 5 kilometers from Basukund). While the location of Morak Sannivesh could not be identified, it is also not possible that Lord Mahavir could have covered a distance of 43 kilometers from Kundgram (Basukund) to Kurmargam (Kaman Chapra) within a span of few hours (as Lord Mahavir had reached Kurmargram in the evening of the day of diksha itself).
Further, Kalpasutra states that there were 4 towns which were known as Kollag during the ancient ages. They were (1) Kollag near Kshatriyakund (2) Kollag near Vanijyagram, Vaishali (3) Kollag near Rajgruhi and (4) Kollag near Champa. (The Kollag towns near Rajgruhi and Champa have not yet been identified) Therefore, the location of Kolhua identified as Kollag by the historians was the town Kollag near Vanijyagram, Vaishali and not the one near Kshatriyakund.
Location of villages visited by Lord Mahavir post Diksha from Basukund
iv. Lord Mahavir’s mother, Queen Trishala belonged to the Licchavi clan, which governed the Vaishali region. King Siddharth established a new town for her entourage of Licchavis (bridesmaids, servants etc.) near Kshatriyakundgram. In due course, the town came to be known as Lacchuar, which is 6 kilometers away from the birthplace considered by the Shwetambar Sect.
|Shwetambar Jain temple at Lachhuar|
v. Bhagvati Sutra and Trishashtishalakapurush charitra state that post Kevalgyan, Lord Mahavir arrived at the kingdom of his birthplace, i.e. Kundpur thrice. At Brahmankundgram he gave diksha to his Brahman parents, Rishabhdatt & Devananda and at Kshatriyakundgram he gave diksha to his son in law, Jamali and daughter, Priyadarshana. In all the three visits, Samavasarans were created at three different places in Brahmankundgram and Kshatriyakundgram. Today, three mountain valleys in the Kundghat village are jointly known by the name of 'चक्कणाणि' (Chakkanani). The word 'चक्कणाणि', is derived from Ardhamagadhi language which can be explained as - चक्क (chakra; i.e. Dharmachakra) + णाणि (gyani); This gives an assumption that the name of the hills was based on the fact that a ‘gyani’ (knowledgeable person, i.e. Lord Mahavir) who had established the Dharmachakra (establishment of Dharma-Sangh) had visited this place.
vi. Acharya Hansasomsuri in his Tirthmala composed in 15th century AD stated that the distance between Janmasthan of Lord Mahavir and Kakandi Tirth (birthplace of Suvidhinath Bhagwan) was 5 Kosa (i.e. 17 kilometers). The current walking distance between the Janmabhumi (as believed by the Shwetambars) and Kakandi is nearly 16 kilometers.
vii. Muni Saubhagyavijayji in his Tirthmala composed in 17th century AD stated that Brahmankundgram and Kshatriyakundgram were situated in middle of hills.
3. b. Literary evidences NOT in favor of KUNDGHAT in Jamui Hill Range, (near Lachhuar)-
i. There are no references in the scriptures that the birthplace of Lord Mahavir was situated in a hilly region; The birthplace of Lord Mahavir, identified by the Shwetambar sect, i.e. Kundghat is located within the Jamui hill range.
ii. Most of the Jain texts locate the birthplace of Lord Mahavir in the Videha region. Kundghat was a part of Anga region and not Videha region.
B. ARCHAEOLOGICAL EVIDENCES
While the literary evidences can at the most, guide us towards the facts; it is the archaeological evidences that show us the tangible proofs. Therefore, on my survey of all the three designated birthplaces, I collected the following archaeological evidences:
1. Archaeological evidences in favor of VASOKUND/ BASUKUND in Vaishali District -
i. During the excavations by David Spooner undertaken between 1903-14, a seal was excavated from Vaishali which had an inscription – 'Vaishalinaamkunde' (वैशालीनामकुण्डे) engraved over it. This suggests, that Kundgram was a part of Vaishali. The excavations also revealed the ruins of governor Chetak’s palace in Vaishali. These ruins are situated nearly 5 kilometers from Basukund and the Buddhist stupa of Licchavi’s in Vaishali is also situated around 6 kilometers from Basukund. Both these evidences suggest that Vaishali was governed by Chetak of Licchavi clan and raises a probability that Kundpur was a suburb, situated 5 kilometers from Vaishali.
Seal excavated from Vaishali bearing the inscription - "Vaishalinaamkunde" (Source: Wikipedia)
ii. In a village named Bauna Pokhar, situated around 6 kilometers from Basukund, an idol of Lord Mahavir was found from a local pond. Although the local populace dates it back to 2,500 years, historians have dated it to 12th century AD
|Idol of Lord Mahavir swami extracted from a pond in Bauna Pokhar, Vaishali|
2. Archaeological evidences IN favor of KUNDALPUR in Badgaon, Nalanda District-
i. From the excavations within and near the ruins of Nalanda University, many Jain artefacts and idols were excavated. Some of these have been installed in Jain temples in Nalanda, while some of them are housed in Nalanda and Rajgir museums.
3. Archaeological evidences IN favor of KUNDGHAT in Jamui Hill Range, (near Lachhuar) -
i. Among the seven villages situated atop the Jamui hill range, one of them is known as Londhapani. This village houses the ruins of a large palatial structure, believed to be the palace of King Siddharth. Fragment’s of a Jain idols were also excavated from the ruins. Recently, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has also ordered fresh set of excavations for extensive study of the region.
ii. The Janma Kalyanak temple of the Shwetambar sect houses an ancient idol of Lord Mahavir Swami known as “Jivit Swami”, believed to be installed by his brother, Nandivardhan. However, historians have dated it to Pala era, i.e. around 10th century AD. During the renovation of the temple, dating of the bricks in the foundation have revealed that these were more than 2,500 years old. Interestingly, the Parikar of the idol has carvings of King Siddharth and Nandivardhan (on the left) and Trishala (in sleeping posture - depicting the time of birth of the Lord) on the right.
|Ancient idol of Mahavir Swami worshipped as "Jivit Swami" in Kundghat by the Shwetambar Sect|
|Left: Carvings of King Siddharth and Nandivardhan on an elephant; Right: Queen Trishala (in sleeping posture) along with her maidservants|
iii. Other idols, preserved in the Chyawan Kalyanak and the Diksha Kalyanak temples in the base of the Kundghat hill and in the temple of Lachhuar also date back to 10th century AD.
As stated above, I have reserved my opinion on the abovementioned evidences & facts; Therefore, I would hope the readers would have identified the birthplace of Lord Mahavir based on the evidences provided. In case of any errors / omissions in this writeup or if some further information is available on this subject, the readers are requested to mail their feedback to email@example.com.
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1. Acharang Sutra – Translation by Muni Deepratnasagar
2. Acharang Sutra (mool sahit anuvad)– Translation by Prof. Ravjibhai Devraj
3. Kalpasutra – Translation by Mahopadhyay Vinaysagar & Dr. Mukund Lath
4. Bhagvati Sutra – Translation by Acharya Mahapragna
5. Bhagvati Saar by Gopaldas Jivabhai Patel
6. Sutrakrutang Sutra - Translation by Muni Deepratnasagar
7. Tiloya Pannatti (Trilok Pragnapti) by Jadivasha – Translation by Prof. A.N. Upadhye and Prof. Hiralal Jain
8. Trishashtishalakapurushcharitra by Acharya Hemchandra – Translation by Sadhvi Dr. Surekhashriji
9. The Sacred Books of the East (Jain Sutras, Part 1 - Acharanga Sutra & Kalpasutra) – By Hermann Jacobi
10. Lord Mahavira & his times by Dr. Kailash Chand Jain
11. Tirthmala by Sheth Anandji Kalyanji Pedhi
12. Shraman Bhagwan Mahavir ka Janma Sthan Kshatriyakund by Pandit Hirala Duggad Jain
13. Kshatriyakund by Muni Darshanvijayji (Triputi)
14. Fresh light on Bhagavan Mahavira’s Birthplace by Dr. Ajay Kumar Sinha – Jain Journal (1984)
15. Bhagwan Mahavir ka Janma Sthal – Ek punarvichar by Dr. Sagarmal Jain