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Yuan-chwang's Record

Description of Patliputra

Contains the First Part of the Account of the Country of Magadha (Mo-kie-t’o).

THE country of Magadha (Mo-kie-t’o) 1 is about 5000 li in circuit. The walled cities have but few inhabitants, but the towns 2 are thickly populated. The soil is rich and fertile and the grain cultivation abundant. There is an unusual sort of rice grown here, the grains of which are large and scented and of an exquisite taste. It is especially remarkable for its shining colour. It is commonly called “the rice for the use of the great.” As the ground is low and damp, the inhabited towns are built on the high uplands. After the first month of summer and before the second month of autumn, the level country is flooded, and communication can be kept up by boats. The manners of the people are simple and honest. The temperature is pleasantly hot; they esteem very much the pursuit of learning and profoundly respect the religion of Buddha.

Fifty Sangharamas

There are some fifty sangharamas, with about 10,000 priests, of whom the greater number study the teaching of the Great Vehicle.

Ten Deva temples

There are ten Deva temples, occupied by sectaries of different persuasions, which are very numerous.


To the south of the river Ganges there is an old city about 70 li round. Although it has been long deserted, its foundation walls still survive. Formerly, when men’s lives were incalculably long, it was called Kusumapura (K’u-su-nio-pu-lo),  so called because the palace of the king had many flowers. Afterwards, when men’s age reached several thousands of years, then its name was changed to Pataliputra (Po-ch’a-li-tsu-ch’ing).

At the beginning there was a Brahman of high talent and singular learning. Many thousands flocked to him to receive instruction. One day all the students went out on a tour of observation; one of them betrayed a feeling of unquiet and distress. His fellow-students addressed him and said,
“What troubles you, friend?”
He said, “ I am in my full maturity (beauty] with perfect strength, and yet I go on wandering about here like a lonely shadow till years and months have passed, and my duties (manly duties) not performed. Thinking of this, my words are sad and my heart is afflicted.”

On this his companions in sport replied, “We must seek then for your good a bride and her friends.”
Then they supposed two persons to represent the father and mother of. the bridegroom, and two persons the father and mother of the bride, and as they were sitting under a Patali (Po-ch’a-li) tree, they called it the tree of the son- in-law. Then they gathered seasonable fruits and pure water, and followed all the nuptial customs, and requested a time to be fixed. Then the father of the supposed bride, gathering a twig with flowers on it, gave it to the student and said, “This is your excellent partner; be graciously pleased to accept her.” The student’s heart was rejoiced as he took her to himself. And now, as the sun was setting, they proposed to return home; but the young student, affected by love, preferred to remain.
Then the other said,
“All this was fun; pray come back with us; there are wild beasts in this forest ; we are afraid they will kill you.”
But the student preferred to remain walking up and down by the side of the tree.
After sunset a strange light lit up the plain, the sound of pipes and lutes with their soft music (was heard), and the ground was covered with a sumptuous carpet. Suddenly an old man of gentle mien was seen coming, supporting himself by his staff, and there was also an old mother leading a young maiden. They were accompanied by a procession along the way, dressed in holiday attire and attended with music. The old man then pointed to the maiden and said,
“This is your worship’s wife (lady)”
Seven days then passed in carousing and music, when the companions of the student, in doubt whether he had been destroyed by wild beasts, went forth and came to the place. They found him alone in the shade of the tree, sitting as if facing a superior guest. They asked him to return with them, but he respectfully declined.
After this he entered of his own accord the city, to pay respect to his relatives, and told them of this adventure from beginning to end. Having heard it with wonder, he
returned with all his relatives and friends to the middle of the forest, and there they saw the flowering tree become a great mansion; servants of all kinds were hurrying to and fro on every side, and the old man came forward and received them with politeness, and entertained them with all kinds of dainties served up amidst the sound of music.
After the usual compliments, the guests returned to the city and told to all, far and near, what had happened.
After the year was accomplished the wife gave birth to a son, when the husband said to his spouse, “I wish now to return, but yet I cannot bear to be separated from you (your bridal residence); but if I rest here I fear the exposure to wind and weather.”
The wife having heard this, told her father. The old man then addressed the student and said,
“Whilst living conented and happy why must you go back? I will build you a house; let there be no thought of desertion.”
On this his servants applied themselves to the work, and in less than a day it was finished.
When the old capital of Kusumapura was changed, this town was chosen, and from the circumstance of the genii building the mansion of the youth the name henceforth of the country was Pataliputra pura (the city of the sou of the Patali tree).
To the north of the old palace of the king is a stone pillar several tens of feet high; this is the place where Ashoka (Wu-yau) raja made “a hell.” In the hundredth year after the Nirvana of Tathagata, there was a king called Asoka (‘0-shu-kia), who was the great-grandson of Bimbisara-raja.  He changed his capital from Rajagriha to Patali (pura), and built an outside rampart to surround the old city. Since then many generations have passed, and now there only remain the old foundation walls (of the city). The sangharamas, Deva temples, and stupas which lie in ruins may be counted by hundreds.
There are only two or three remaining (entire). To the north of the old palace, and bordering on the Ganges River, there is a little town which contains about 1000 houses.

A Hell Chamber made by Ashoka

At first when Ashoka (Wu-yau) raja ascended the throne, he exercised a most cruel tyranny; he constituted a hell for the purpose of torturing living creatures. He surrounded it with high walls with lofty towers. He placed there especially vast furnaces of molten metal, sharp scythes and every kind of instrument of torture like those in the infernal regions. He selected an impious man whom he appointed lord of the hell. At first every criminal in the empire, whatever his fault, was consigned to this place of calamity and outrage; afterwards all those who passed by the place were seized and destroyed.
All who came to the place were killed without any chance of self defence.

At this time a Sramana, just entered the religious order was passing through the suburbs begging food, when he came to hell-gate. The impious keeper of the place laid hold upon him to destroy him. The Sramana, filled with fear, asked for a respite to perform an act of worship and confession. Just then he saw a man bound with cords enter the prison. In a moment they cut off his hands and feet, and pounded his body in a mortar, till all the members of his body were mashed up together in confusion.
The Sramana having witnessed this, deeply moved with pity, arrived at the conviction of the impermanence (anitya) of all earthly things, and reached the fruit of “exemption from learning” (Arliatship). Then the infernal lictor said, “Now you must die.” The Sramana having become an Arhat, was freed in heart from the power of birth and death, and so, though cast into a boiling caldron, it was to him as a cool lake, and on its surface there appeared a lotus flower, whereon he took his seat. The infernal lictor, terrified thereat, hastened to send a messenger to the king to tell him of the circumstance.
The king having himself come and beheld the sight raised his voice in loud praise of the miracle.
The keeper, addressing the king, said,
“Maharaja, you too must die.”
“And why so? “ said the king.
“Because of your former decree with respect to the infliction of death, that all who came to the walls of the hell should be killed; it was not said that the king might enter and escape death.”
The king said, “The decree was indeed established, and cannot be altered. But when the law was made, were you excepted? You have long destroyed life. I will put an end to it.”
Then ordering the attendants, they seized the lictor and cast him into a boiling caldron. After his death the king departed, and leveled the walls, filled up the ditches, and put an end to the infliction of such horrible punishments.

A stupa
To the south of the earth-prison (the hell), and not far off, is a stupa. Its foundation walls are sunk, and it is in a leaning, ruinous condition. There remains, however, the crowning jewel of the cupola. This is made of carved stone, and has a surrounding balustrade. This was the first (or, one) of the 84,000 (stupas). Ashoka-raja erected it by the power (merit) of man in the middle of his royal precinct (or palace). It contains a ching (measure) of relics of Tathagata. Spiritual indications constantly manifest themselves, and a divine light is shed round it from time to time.
After King Ashoka had destroyed the hell, he met Upa-gupta, a great Arhat, who, by the use of (proper) means, allured him in a right way according as the opportunity (or, springs of action, i.e., his power or capacity to believe) led, and converted him. The king addressed the Arhat and said,
“Thanks to my acquired merit in former births, I have got (by promise) my kingly authority, but in consequence of my faults I did not, by meeting Buddha, obtain conversion. Now, then, I desire in all the greater degree to honour the bequeathed re- mains of his body by building stupas”
The Arhat said,
“My earnest desire is that the great king by his merits may be able to employ the invisible powers (the spirits) as agents in fulfilling his vow to protect the three precious ones.”
And then, because of the opportune occasion, he entered largely on the narrative of his offering the ball of earth, and on that account of Buddha’s prediction, as the origin of his desire to build.
The king having heard this, was overpowered, and he summoned the spirits to assemble, and commanded them, saying,
“By the gracious disposal and spiritual efficacy of the guiding power of the King of the Law I have become, as the result of my good actions in former states of life, the highest amongst them. (wish now] with especial care to prepare a means of paying religious worship to the bequeathed body of Tathagata. Do you, then, spirits and genii, by your combined strength and agreement of purpose, raise stupas for the relics of Buddha throughout the whole of Jambudvipa, to the very last house of all (i.e., to the extremity of the land). The mind (or purpose) is mine; the merit of completing it shall be yours. The advantage to be derived from this excellent act of religion I wish not to be confined to one person only ; let each of you, then, raise a building in readiness (for completion), and then come and receive my further commands.”
Having received these instructions, the genii commenced their meritorious work in the several quarters where they were; and having finished the task (so far), they came together to ask for further directions. A6ka-aja (Wu-yau-wang) having opened the stupas of the eight countries where they were built, divided the relics, and having delivered them to the genii, he addressed the Arhat 21 and said,
“ My desire is that the relics should be dsposited in every place at the same moment exactly: although ardently desirous of this, my mind has not yet been able to perfect a plan for accomplishing it.”
The Arhat addressed the king and said,
“ Command the genii to go each to his appointed place and regard the sun. When the sun becomes obscured and its shape as if a hand covered it, then is the time : drop the relics into the stupas”
The king having received these instructions gave orders accordingly to the genii to expect the appointed day.
Meantime the king, Ashoka, watching the sun’s disc, waited for the sign; then at noon (or the day) the Arhat, by his spiritual power, stretched forth his hand and concealed the sun. At the places where the stupas had been built for completion, all (the genii) observing this event, at the same moment concluded the meritorious undertaking.
By the side of the stupa, and not far from it, in a vihara, is a great stone on which Tathagata walked. There is still the impression of both his feet on it, about eighteen inches long and six inches broad; both the right and left impress have the circle-sign, and the ten toes are all fringed with figures of flowers (or flower scrolls) and forms of fishes, which glisten brightly in the light (morning light). In old time Tathagata, being about to attain Nirvana, was going northward to Kushinagara, when turning round to the south and looking back at Magadha, he stood upon this stone and said to Ananda,
“ Now for the very last time I leave this foot-impression, being about to attain Nirvana, and looking at Magadha. A hundred years hence there shall be a King A6ka;  he shall build here his capital and establish his court ; he shall protect the three religious treasures and command the genii.”
When Ashoka (Wu-yau) had ascended the throne, he changed his capital and built this town ; he enclosed the stone with the impression; and as it was near the royal precinct, he paid it constant personal worship. Afterwards the kings of the neighborhood wished to carry it off to their own country; but although the stone is not large, they could not move it at all.
Lately SaSaiika-raja, when he was overthrowing and destroying the law of Buddha, forthwith came to the place where that stone is, for the purpose of destroying the sacred marks. Having “broken it into pieces, it came whole again, and the ornamental figures as before ; then he flung it into the river Ganges, but it came back to its old place.

A stupa

By the side of the stone is a stupa, which marks the place where the four past Buddhas walked and sat down, the traces of which still remain.

By the side of the vihara which contains the traces of Buddha, and not far from it, is a great stone pillar about thirty feet high, with a mutilated inscription on it. This, however, is the principal part of it, viz., “Ashoka-raja with a firm principle of faith has thrice bestowed Jambudvipa as a religious offering on Buddha, the Dharma, and the assembly, and thrice he has redeemed it with his jewels and treasure; and this is the record thereof.” Such is the purport of the record.

To the north of the old palace is a large stone house. It looks outside like a great mountain, and within it is many tens of feet wide. This is the house which Ashoka- raja commanded the genii to build for his brother who’ had become a recluse. Early in his life Ashoka had a half-brother (mother’s brother) called Mahendra (Mo-hi-in-to-lo), who was born of a noble tribe? In dress he arrogated the style of the king; he was extravagant, wasteful, and cruel. The people were indignant, and the ministers and aged officers of the king came to him (the Icing], and remonstrated thus, “Your proud brother assumes a dignity as though he were some great one in comparison with others. If the government is impartial, then the country is contented; if men are agreed, then the ruler is in peace: these are the principles which have been handed down to us from our fathers. We desire that you will preserve the rules of our country, and deliver to justice those who would change them.” Then Ashoka-raja addressed his brother as he wept, and said,
“ I have inherited (as my rule, of) government the duty of protecting and cherishing the people ; how then have you, my brother, forgotten my affection and my kindness ? It is impossible at the very beginning of my reign to neglect the laws. If I punish you, I fear the anger of -my ancestors; on the other hand, if I excuse you, I fear the opinion of the people.”
Mahendra, bowing his head, replied, “I have not guarded my conduct, and have transgressed the laws of the country; I ask only an extension of my life for seven days.”
On this the king placed him in a dark dungeon, and placed over him a strict guard. He provided him with every kind of exquisite meat and every necessary article. At the end of the first day the guard cried out to him,
“One day has gone; there are six days left.”
The sixth day having expired, as he had greatly sorrowed for his faults and had afflicted (disciplined) his body and his heart, he obtained the fruit of sanctity (became an Arhat); he mounted into the air and exhibited his miraculous powers (spiritual traces’). Then separating himself from the pollution of the world, he went afar, and occupied the mountains and valleys (as a recluse).
Ashoka-raja, going in his own person, addressed him as follows,
“At first, in order to put in force the laws of the country, I desired to have you punished, but little did I think you would have attained to this highest rank of holiness. Having, however, reached this condition of detachment from the world, you can now return to your country.”
The brother replied,
“Formerly I was ensnared in the net of (worldly) affections, and my mind was occupied with love of sounds (music) and beauty ; but now I have escaped all this (the dangerous city), and my mind delights in (the seclusion of) mountains and valleys. I would fain give up the’ world for ever (men’s society) and dwell here in solitude.”
The king said,
“ If you wish to subdue your heart in quiet, you have no need to live in the mountain fastnesses. To meet your wishes I shall construct you a dwelling.”
Accordingly he summoned the genii to his presence and said to them,
“On the morrow I am about to give a magnificent feast. I invite you to come together to the assembly, but you must each bring for your own seat a great stone.” The genii having received the summons came at the appointed time to the assembly.
The king then addressed them and said,
“ The stones which are now arranged in order on the ground you may pile up, and, without any labor to yourselves, construct of them for me an empty house.”
The genii having received the order, before the day was over finished the task. Ashoka-raja then himself went to invite his brother to fix his abode in this mountain cell.
To the north of the old palace, and to the south of “the hell,” is a great stone with a hollow trough in it. Ashoka-raja commissioned the genii as workmen to make this hollow (vase) to use for the food which he gave to the priests when he invited them to eat.
To the south-west of the old palace there is a little mountain. In the crags and surrounding valleys there are several tens of stone dwellings which Asoka-raja made for Upagupta and other Arhats, by the intervention of the genii.

An old tower, heap a stone and a pond

By the side of it is an old tower, the ruins of which are a mass of heaped-up stones. There is also a pond, the gentle ripples of which play over its surface as pure as a mirror. The people far and near call it the sacred water. If any one drinks there of or washes in it, the defilement of their sins is washed away and destroyed.

A collection of five stupas
To the south-west of the mountain is a collection of five stupas. The foundations are lofty but ruinous; what remains, however, is a good height. At a distance they look like little hills. Each of them is several tens of paces in front. Men in after-days tried to build on the top of these little stupas. The records of India state, “In old time, when Ashoka-raja built the 84,000 stupas, there was still remaining five measures of relics. Therefore he erected with exceptional grandeur five other stupas, remarkable for their spiritual portents (miraculous exhibitions), with a view to indicate the fivefold spiritual body of Tathagata. Some disciples of little faith talking together argued thus, ‘In old time Nanda-raja built these five (stupas) as treasure-places for his wealth (seven precious substances)’

In consequence of this gossip, in aftertime a king of insincere faith, and excited by his covetousness, put his troops in movement, and came with his followers to dig (the stupas). The earth shook, the mountains bent (fell), and the clouds darkened the sun, whilst from the stupas there came a great sound like thunder. The soldiers with their leaders fell backward, and the elephants and horses took to flight. The king thus defeated, dared no longer to covet (the treasures). It is said, moreover (i.e., in the Indian records), ‘ With respect to the gossip of the priests there has been some doubt expressed, but we believe it to be true according to the old tradition.’



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