In the following pages an attempt has been made to present a picture of the holy site of Sravasti from ancient Indian literature. The literary materials which lie scattered in Brahmanical, Buddhist and Jaina texts and commentaries, as also in the itineraries of the two celebrated Chinese pilgrims, Fa-Hien and Hiuen Tsang, have been brought together I a handy form so as to render them useful to the archeologist and the student of history.
Saheth-Maheth is the modern equivalent of the site of Sravasti of ancient fame. Saheth, the first member of the twin name, is applied to the site of Jetavana, while Maheth, the second name, denotes the much larger site of the walled city of Sravasti. The name Saheth-Maheth thus denotes not only the site of the city proper with that of Jetavana but also the adjoining areas of archeological importance.
The entire site lies on the borders of Gonda and Bahraich districts of Oudh in the United Provinces, and can best be reached from Balarampur, a station on the Gonda-Gorakhpur branch of the B.N.W. Railway. It is situated ten miles from Balarampur, with which it is connected by a good motor road. It can also be reached from Bahraich, which is at a distance of about 26 miles. Just to the right of the road from Balarampur to Bajraocj and not more than eight hundred feet away from the road lies Saheth, while Maheth is about one-third of a mile still farther.
The ruins at Saheth consist of the plinths and foundations of different monastic establishment and a few stupas, which are more or less in a well-preserved state. The remains of the surrounding walls and intervening spaces are covered over with weeds and small trees thinly distributed over the entire site. The site of Maheth with its high rampart walls all round is densely covered with undergrowth of shrubs making it almost inaccessible in certain parts. No ruins either of the royal palace or of any residential houses have yet been traced. The present remains consist of a few Brahmanical and Jain temples, and medieval tombs, all built apparently on the remains of older Buddhist religious edifices. A number of gates give access to the site through the walled enclosure, of which only four appear to have been the original gates. The outlying areas show brick remains and unimportant mounds. Excavations at the mounds of Saheth and Maheth were first started by General Cunningham in January 1863. He discovered the famous Bodhisattva image set up by Bhukshu Bala in one of the ruined shrines of Saheth, the dedicatory inscription of which went to confirm his identification of Saheth with Jetavana and Maheth with the city of Sravasti. His first operations were followed up Mr. W. C. Benet, C.S., who apparently did some digging at the Pakki Kuti mound. Cunningham resumed his explorations at Saheth in 1876, in course of which he exposed some sixteen distinct buildings, mostly stupas and small shrines of a comparatively late date. He identified the small shrine in which the colossal Bodhisattva image was discovered with the Kosamba Kuti mentioned in the inscription on the pedestal of the image, and the similar shrine to the north of this with the Gandha Kuti.
Almost simultaneously with Cunningham's operations at Saheth Dr. W. Hoey conducted excavations at Maheth, when he recovered some images from the ruins of Sobhnath , the Jain temple in the western area of Maheth. In course of the more extensive explorations conducted by Hoey from 15th December 1884 to 15th May 1885, a number of monuments both at Saheth and in and around Maheth were brought to light. He too, identified some of the buildings with monuments referred to by Fa-Hien and Hiuen Tsang, but failed in most cases to give any convincing reasons. One of the important discoveries made by Hoey was a well preserved stone inscription dated Samvat 1176 and recording the foundation of a monastery by one Vidyadhara, a counselor of Madanapala, the Gahadaval king of Kanauj. The inscription was picked up from the courtyard of a monastery occupying the south-western corner of Saheth.
Twenty-three years later, on the 3rd of February 1908, Dr. J. Ph. Vogel stared excavations at the site with the assistance of Mr. (now Rai Bahadur) Daya Ram Sahni and carried on the work till the end of April of that year. A detailed account of excavations carried out by them is contained in the Annual Report of the Archeological Survey of India, Vogel describing the operations at Maheth and Sahni those at Saheth.
Vogel laid bare the rampart walls of Maheth and its different gates, and gave in his report a clear account of the extent and configuration of the site. Of the important mounds in Maheth, he explored the Pakki Kuti, the Kachchi Kuti a stupa to the east of the Pakki Kuti and east of north from the Kachchi Kui (stupa. A), the Naushara Gate, and the Jain temple of Sobhnath. The most important finds made in the ruins of the Kachchi Kuti consisted of terracottas of special interest from both artistic and historical points of view. A good number of Join sculptures were recovered from the ruins of the Sobhnath temple.
At Saheth exploration work was restricted to the more important structures which had been left unifinshed by Cunningham and Hoey. Vogel laid bare the remains of a number of monastic buildings and several stupas and temples. Among the finds were a number of important Buddha and Bodhisattva images in stone, datable from the 5th to the 12th century, a number of terracottas, clay tablets and sealings, and a few silver coins. But the most important find was that of an inscribed copperplate of Govindachandra of Kanauj which was found at the northwest corner of cell No. 23 of Monastery No. 19 under the floor. It furnished the most valuable date regarding the identification of Saheth with Jetavana and consequently of Maheth with Sravasta.
Excavations were resumed in 1910-11 under the direct supervision of Sir John Marshall who 'had the advantage of uninterrupted help from his Excavation Assistant, Pandit Daya Ram Sahni. He examined several outlying monuments, namely, the Panahiya Jhar, the Kharahua Jhar, the Ora Jhar and the stupa at Bhitti; but his main objective was the area of the Jetavana garden. His efforts were directed to continuing the work of Vogel and penetrating at the same time to the earlier levels, where he hoped to find some tangible evidence as to the topography of the site during the earlier centuries of the Christian era. The valuable finds at the site consist of a few inscriptions and sculptures, a good number of coins, a fairly large number of inscribed seals and sealings, some terracottas with reliefs and interesting specimens of potteries and bricks.
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