1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Piprāwa

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PIPRĀWA, a village on the Birdpur estate in the Basti district, United Provinces, India. It lies on the Uska-Nepal road at mile 19.75; and about half a mile south of the boundary pillar numbered 44 on the frontier line between British and Nepalese territory. The village is celebrated as the site of the following discovery:—

In 1896 interest having been aroused by the discovery, only twelve miles away, of the Buddha's birthplace (see Lumbini), William Peppé, then resident manager of the Birdpur estate, opened a ruined tope or burial mound situate at Piprāwa, but nothing of importance was found. In January 1897 he carried the work of excavation farther. A well, 10 ft. sq., was dug down the centre of the mound. After digging through 18 ft. of solid brickwork set in clay a massive stone coffer was found lying due magnetic north and south. Its dimensions were, 4 ft. 4 in. by 2 ft. 8¼ in. and 2 ft. 2¼ in. high. The stone lid of the coffer was split into four pieces, but the coffer remained perfectly closed, so accurately was the lid fitted into flanges on the sides of the box. The pieces were thus firmly held in their place, and the contents of the coffer were found intact. These consisted of five vessels, two vases, a bowl and a casket being made of steatite, and the fifth, also a bowl, of crystal. All these vessels are beautifully worked, the crystal bowl especially, with its fish-shaped cover handle, being as a work of art of high merit.[1] The coffer is of fine hard sandstone of superior quality, and has been hollowed out, at the cost of vast labour and expense, from a solid block of rock. Peppé calculates its weight, lid included, at 1537 ℔. It is only the great solidity of this coffer which has preserved the contents. A cover of one of the vases was found dislodged and lying on the bottom of the stone coffer. As this cover fits very well it must have required a quite violent shock to remove it. This was almost certainly the shock of an earthquake, and the same shock probably caused the split in the stone lid of the coffer itself.

The vessels contained a dark dust, apparently disintegrated ashes, small pieces of bone, and a number of small pieces of jewelry in gold, silver, white and red carnelian, amethyst, topaz, garnet, coral and crystal. Most of these are perforated for mounting on threads or wires, and had been, no doubt, originally connected together to form one or more of the elaborate girdles, necklaces and breast ornaments then worn by the women.[2] On the bottom of the stone box there was similar dust, pieces of bone and jewelry, and also remains of what had been vessels of wood. The knob forming the handle of one of these wooden receptacles was still distinguishable. The total quantity of scraps of bone may have amounted to a wineglassful.

An inscription ran round one of the steatite vases just below the lid.[3] The words mean: This shrine for ashes of the Buddha, the Exalted One, is the pious work of the Sakiyas, his brethren, associated with their sisters, and their children, and their wives. The thirteen words, in a local dialect of Pali, are written in very ancient characters, and are the oldest inscription as yet discovered in India. Twelve out of the thirteen are well-known words, the interpretation of which is not open to doubt. One word, rendered above by “pious work,” has not been found elsewhere, and its derivation is open to discussion. The explanation here adopted as most probable was put forward by Professor Pischel of Berlin.[4] The phrase “pious work” probably had a precise technical connotation like the English “benefaction.”

The monument must have been of imposing appearance. The diameter (on the ground level) of the dome is 116 ft. For 8 ft. from the summit of the ruin it was not possible to trace the outline. At that point the outer wall, if one may so call it, of the solid dome could be traced, and had a diameter of 68 ft. The dome, therefore, sloped inwards 1 ft. for every 3 ft. in height, in other words, it was, like all the most ancient of these artificial burial domes in India, a shallow dome, and cannot have been more than about 35 ft. high exclusive of the ornament or “tee” on the summit. We have in bas-reliefs of the 3rd century representations of what these ornaments were like—small square erections, like a shrine or small temple, surmounted by a canopy called from its shape a T. They were then more than a third of the height of the dome itself. The total height of this Sākiya tope will therefore have been approximately a little under 50 ft. It was probably surrounded by a carved wooden railing, but this has long since disappeared.

All such monuments hitherto discovered in India were put up in honour of some religious teacher, not in memory of royal persons, generous benefactors, politicans, or soldiers or private persons however distinguished. And we need have no hesitation in accepting this as a monument put up over a portion of the ashes from the funeral pyre of Gotama the Buddha. The account of the death and cremation of the Buddha, preserved in the Buddhist canon, states that one-eighth portion of the ashes was presented to the Sākiya clan, and that they built a thūpa or memorial mound, over it.[5]

Mr Peppé presented the coffer and vases with specimens of the jewelry to the museum at Calcutta where they still are. He also gave specimens of the trinkets to the Asiatic Society in London.

Peppé's original article is in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society for 1898, pp. 573 sqq. Comments upon it, one or two of them sceptical, are in the same journal 1898, pp. 579, 588, 387, 868; 1899, p. 425; 1901, p. 398; 1905, p. 679; 1906, pp. 149 sqq. See also A. Barth, Comptes rendues de l'academie des inscriptions (1898), xxvi., 147, 233; Sylvain Levy, Journal des savants (1905) pp. 540 sqq.; and R. Pischel and Rhys Davids as quoted above.  (T. W. R. D.) 

  1. An illustration from a photograph is given in Rhys Davids' Buddhist India, p. 131.
  2. For figures of the jewelry found see the plate in Mr Peppé's article, reproduced in Rhys Davids' Buddhist India, p. 89. For the jewelry of the time, ibid., pp. 90, 91.
  3. See illustration ibid., p 129.
  4. Zeitschrift der deutschen morgenländischen Gesellschaft, lvi. 157.
  5. Translated in Rhys Davids' Buddhist Suttas (Oxford, 1881).

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