Whenever Allahabad or Prayagraj is mentioned mostly all one can think of is the Sangam – the confluence of the Ganga, Yamuna and invisible Saraswati rivers. A place of pilgrimage for Hindus for millennia that comes alive during the annual ritual ‘melas’ where thousands take a dip at the confluence point. Not so well know is the historical city of Kaushambi, a mere 51 kms from Allahabad.
Kausambi was the capital of the ancient Vatsa mahajanapada. It finds mention in the Puranas. Gautam Buddha visited Kaushambi many times after attaining enlightenment to deliver sermons. During the time of Buddha’s visits the ruler of the janpada was Udayan. Both the famous Chinese travelors Fa-Hein and Hiuen Tsang visited Kaushambi in the 6th century A.D. It is also an important site for Jainism, and the Digambar Jain temple there was built in 1834 in the memory of the 6th Tirthankara, Lord Padma Prabhu.
As soon as the car drives towards the ruins of Kaushambi, in the undulating fields filled with yellow mustard flowers there appear mounds or small hillocks. On turning one can see ruins spread out over a large area.
The Ghositaram Vihar (monastery) ruins lie scattered amidst the fields. The walls made of large sized bricks provide a glimpse of structures make one gasp at the scale of the complex. Ghoshitaram, a local businessman of Kaushambi had built it for Buddha and his disciples. It is clear from the remains that at some point the river Yamuna would have flown next to the complex. The mounds that surround the site also seem to indicate that there is still a lot of excavation that needs to be done. Many artifacts from this complex can be seen in the Allahabad Museum, and in the museum in the Ancient History and Archaeology department of the University of Allahabad.
Not far from the Vihar ruins stand the remains of an Ashokan Pillar. Built in 232 BC, the monolith invokes a sense of awe at the ancient prowess in architecture. Excavation that remains partial around the pillar show that there was a Vihar around the pillar also.
A small drive and one reaches the ruins of the fort of King Udayan on the banks of the Yamuna. The fort was discovered in excavations in 1861. The ruins of the Fort, much like those of the monastery, seem to be awaiting further excavation and discovery. The fort layout is barrel shaped with thick walls which are made up of huge bricks. Today kids play gully cricket in the area between the ruins. The river Yamuna has a wide sweep and majestic flow nearby.
The ruins of Kaushambi lie in wait to be discovered further, the cold winds that swept the landscape in peak winter seemed to murmur and repeat their call.
A new entrant on the landscape of Kaushambi is a beautiful Buddhist temple built by the Cambodians. Built in East Asian style, the colorful temple has monks from Cambodia. The images of Buddha are from Cambodian stone, and the exquisite paintings on the roof and walls of the temple are done by Cambodian artistes. The main priest Chandan muni, speaks better English than Hindi, as of now!
Talking to him was interesting and a learning regarding the Buddhist tradition in Cambodia. As young monks they all learn Pali and Sanskrit. There are a total of 16 Cambodian Buddhist temples in India.
As we drove back in the darkening evening towards Allahabad, the past appeared to linger around like a companion. It seemed to say that there are many around the world who would come to Kaushambi in droves, if only they knew about it and there were facilities to host them.