Sravasti was the ancient capital of the Kingdom of Kosala ruled by King Pasenadi, a lay disciple and great admirer of the Buddha. It owes its fame to its long and close association with the Buddha’s ministry. Of the 45 years of his ministry, the Buddha spent as many as 25 rains-retreats, 24 of them continuously (21st-44th) at Sravasti. It was here that the millionaire Sudatta, popularly known as Anathapindika or “Feeder of the Poor”, donated the famous Jetavana or Jeta’s Grove to the Buddha after he had bought it at an exorbitant price, which was “as many gold coins as would cover it”. Since the Buddha spent a major part of his missionary life in Sravasti, the majority of sermons in the scriptures were deliv-ered while staying in Jetavana. Another important monastery at Sravasti was the Pubbarama, donated by the Lady Visakha, chief benefactress of the Buddha.
Sravasti became an important place of pilgrimage because here the Buddha performed the greatest miracle of all, the Twin Miracle, in order to dispel the heretics. In a series of miraculous episodes, the Buddha created multiple representations of Himself, seated and standing on lotuses, causing fire and water to emanate from his body. This marvelous event, called the Miracle of Sravasti, is a favourite subject of Buddhist sculptures.
King Asoka visited Sravasti in 249 BC as part of his pilgrimage to the holy Buddhist shrines and erected two pillars, each 70 feet high, on both sides of the eastern gate of Jetavana, as well as some stupas to enshrine the relics of the Buddha. During the time of the Kusana kings, Kaniska and Huviska, in the 1st-2nd century AD, new shrines were installed to enshrine Buddha images which were becoming popular at the time. When Fa Hsien visited Sravasti in 407 AD, Buddhism had declined in the city but Jetavana was still occupied by monks. He saw the two Asokan pillars still standing but the stupas of Angulimala and Sudatta were in ruins. By the time Hsüan Tsang came to Sravasti in 637 AD, the main city was in ruins and there were several hundreds of sangharamas, mostly in ruin with very few religious followers. Jetavana was decayed and deserted. He also saw both columns erected by Asoka, the ruins of stupas, sangharamas and the well from which the Buddha used to draw water for his use.
After Hsüan Tsang’s visit, Jetavana was again occupied, as evidenced by the recovery of seals and images of Mahayanist pan-theons such as Lokanatha, Avalokitesvara and others belonging to the 8th and 9th century AD. The last patrons of Jetavana were King Govindachandra and his devout Buddhist wife Kumaradevi of Kanauj and Benares (1130 AD). Records of their gift of six villages to the Sangha of Jetavana monastery were found in a copper charter discovered during excavation of the ruins. With the downfall of Buddhism in India in the 13th century AD, the Jetavana shrines became deserted and fell into oblivion.
In 1863, Cunningham identified a vast collection of twin ruins called Sahet-Mahet with the ancient city of Sravasti. He excavated the ruins at Sahet covering 13 hectares, identified with Jetavana and exposed the remains of several stupas, temples and monasteries, including the site of the famous Gandha-kuti or Perfumed Chamber as well as the Kosambi kuti, both used by the Buddha. Most of the ruins exposed in Jetavana were from the Kusana per-iod (1st-2nd century AD). The ruins at Mahet are very extensive, spreading over 162 hectares. Only a few ruins have been identified while most parts of it are still unexplored. In recent times, the first monastery to be built in Sravasti was the Burmese Vihara, at the initiative of Ven. Chandramani of Kushinagar. This was followed by the Chinese Buddhist Temple founded by the Ven. Ren Chen. In 1969, the Maha Bodhi Society of India became directly involved with Sravasti with the arrival of Ven. Sangharatana of Sarnath, who initiated the construction of the Nava Jetavana Vihara just outside the old Jetavana. In 1982, the Thais too, established a vihara in Sravasti.
Place of Interest
During the Buddha’s time, the place was called Jetavana Anathapindika Arama or Anathapindika’s Garden of Jeta Grove. Today most of the ruins are the remains of temples and stupas from the Kusana period (1st-2nd century AD). The important shrines are:
(i) Temple No. 2
The ruins here mark the site of the Gandha-kuti (Perfumed Chamber) built by Anathapindika for the Buddha’s use. According to the commentaries, the site of the Buddha’s bed in it is the same
for all Buddhas, irrespective of the size of the Gandha-kuti. The original Gandha-kuti was wooden but by the time the Chinese pilgrims saw it, the structure was a two-storeyed brick building in a ruinous condition. Now only the low walls and stone platform are extant. This is a favourite site for pilgrims to perform puja and meditate.
(ii) Temple No. 3
This temple is believed to be the site of the original Kosambi kuti, also built by Anathapindika earlier for the Buddha’s use as a meditation room. Just in front of it is a long plinth, made of bricks, marking the site of the original promenade (cankama) used by the Buddha for walking meditation.
(iii) Stupa H
This stupa is believed to mark the place where the Buddha used to preach to the monks and laity. It was erected in front of the Gandha-kuti Temple and was rebuilt several times, pointing to its importance as a sacred shrine.
(iv) Ananda Bodhi Tree
The Ananda Bodhi tree is located near the entrance of Jetavana. It was planted at the request of Anathapindika so that the laity would have an object to worship during the Buddha’s absence from Savatthi to propagate the Dhamma after each vassa. When Ven. Ananda reported the matter to the Buddha, the latter replied that there were three types of objects of veneration, namely: the corporeal relic deposited in a stupa after the Buddha’s Parinibbana, an object used by the Buddha such as his alms-bowl, etc. and a visible symbol such as a Dhammacakka wheel.
108 The first was not possible while the Buddha was alive, while the third object was not appropriate for those who were not content with a mere symbol or picture. So only the second remained and the Buddha suggested the Bodhi tree as the best object to venerate in his absence. So it was decided to plant a small shoot of the Bodhi tree from Bodhgaya and Ven. Moggallana, foremost in psychic ability, was assigned the task of obtaining the sapling. When it arrived, the young shoot was ceremoniously planted at the gate of Jetavana by Anathapindika. The tree grew and became an object of veneration to the laity. At the request of Ven Ananda, the Buddha spent one night meditating under it, adding sanctity to the tree. The present tree looks very old from its hoary appearance but it is not possible to confirm whether it is the original tree or a descendant of it.
(v) Sudatta Stupa
North of Jetavana, in the ruins of Mahet (old Sravasti) stands the Sudatta stupa, the most imposing monument in the area. According to Fa Hsien, this stupa was built on the foundations of the house of Sudatta, popularly known as Anathapindika. The ruins show structural remains from the 1st-12th century AD. From the road, one has to climb up several flights of steps to reach the plinth, where one can see the sunken basements of two circular stupas.
(vi) Angulimala Stupa
Near the Sudatta stupa is a mass of bricks with a tunnel in the middle, identified by Cunningham as the Angulimala stupa seen by the Chinese pilgrims. The tunnel was cut through the whole mound at the base to serve as a drain, helping to preserve the monument. According to Fa Hsien, the stupa marks the site where Angulimala was cremated.
(vii) Place where Devadatta Sank into the Earth
According to the Dhammapada commentary, after Devadatta created a schism in the Sangha, he left to form his own faction. Thereafter his fortune took a turn for the worse and eventually he fell sick for nine months. Knowing his end was near, he instructed his disciples to carry him to Jetavana to see the Buddha for the last time. When the Buddha heard about this, he predicted that Devadatta would not succeed in seeing him at all. As Devadatta was being carried in a litter, they passed a lotus pond outside Jetavana. Putting the litter down, his disciples went into the lotus pond to bathe. Devadatta arose from his litter and sat down, resting both feet on the ground whereupon his feet sank into the earth. By degrees he sank into the earth, first to his ankles, then to the knees, then to the hips, then to the chest and then to the neck. Before he was completely swallowed by the earth, he managed to verbally take refuge in the Buddha. Thereafter he was reborn in Avici Hell to suffer for his bad kamma. The place where Devadatta sank into the earth is believed to be the swampy area behind the Burmese Vihara.
(viii) Stupa of the Great Miracle
According to the commentaries, the Buddha ascended to Tavatimsa Heaven to preach to his mother during the 7th rains-retreat. Prior to his ascent, he had performed the Twin Miracle and other mir-aculous feats to silence the heretics at a place where the gardener Ganda had planted a mango tree. This place is believed to be at the top of a hillock near the Nikko Lotus Hotel as one enters Sravasti. In the year 2000, excavations were carried out on this hillock, which revealed the remains of a brick stupa believed to be erected by King Asoka. The area has now been fenced in to pro110
tect the ruins of the Miracle stupa on top of the hillock. This stupa is known locally as ‘Orajhar’.
(ix) Burmese and Sri Lankan Monasteries
Pilgrims visiting Sravasti should visit both monasteries to pay their respects to the monks and find out more about the monuments from them. The Sri Lankan monastery is named Nava (New) Jetavana Vihara and inside it one can see beautiful murals on its walls depicting important events in the Buddha’s life. The monastery also possesses some Buddha relics, which it keeps in a stupa-shaped vessel to show to visiting pilgrims. The Burmese vihara is named the Burmese Buddhist Temple and the abbot is the Venerable Sayadaw U Awbatha. According to the Sayadaw, although the temple is situated outside the fenced-in Jetavana Park, its precincts were once part of the old Jetavana grove. The Burmese vihara has been recently renovated and now offers free accommodation to pilgrims who visit Sravasti.
Sravasti is in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh
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150 km by road East of Lucknow
390 km by road North-west of Varanasi
16 km from Balrampur