According to Dhammapada Commentary XIV, 2, after the Buddha had completed the rains-retreat in Tavatimsa Heaven, he informed Sakka of his intention to return to earth. Thereupon, Sakka created three ladders; one of gold, one of jewels and one of silver, the tops of which rested on the summit of Mt. Sumeru and the feet of which rested against the gate of the city of Sankasia. On the right side was the golden ladder for the devas, on the left side was the silver ladder for Brahma and his train, and in the middle was the jewelled ladder for the Buddha. As the Buddha descended upon the jewelled ladder, the devas and Brahmas honored him by accompanying him on each side. With this retinue the Buddha descended and set foot on earth at the gate of the city of Sankasia. Because of this miraculous event which was witnessed by a great multitude, Sankasia became an important Buddhist shrine and several stupas and viharas were erected there.
King Asoka visited Sankasia as part of the itinerary of his pilgrimage in 249 BC. According to Fa Hsien, Asoka built a shrine over the spot where the Buddha set foot on earth. Behind the shrine, he raised a stone column 18.3 m high with a lion capital on top and on its four sides he placed Buddha images. Fa Hsien also saw other stupas and viharas where about 1,000 monks and nuns resided. When Hsüan Tsang arrived in 636 AD, he saw the great sangha-rama of beautiful construction, wherein lived 100 monks and religious laymen. He also saw the Asoka column 21 m high with carved figures on the four sides and around it, and mentioned the presence of some stupas. Other than these accounts of the Chinese pilgrims, the history of Sankasia remained blank for the next 1,200 years until Cunningham identified it with the modern village of Sankisa-Basantapur in the Farrukhabad District of Uttar Pradesh. The present village is situated on a 12.2 m high plateau within an area of 457 m by 305 m or roughly 14 hectares.
Place of Interest
(i) Broken Asoka Column with Elephant Capital
The Elephant Capital that once surmounted the Asoka column is an important relic of the 3rd century BC. It is kept in a fenced up pavilion. Nearby under a tree, is a small shrine with a standing image of Lord Buddha, flanked by Brahma and Sakka to depict the Buddha’s descent from Heaven.
(ii) Site where the Buddha Descended from Heaven
About 20 metres to the south of the Asokan pillar is a high mound composed of solid brickwork, which was once a Buddhist structure. According to Hsüan Tsang, when the ladders by which the Buddha descended from Heaven had disappeared, the neighbouring princes built up a new foundation on the ancient foundation (three ladders) resembling the old ones. There was a vihara on the foundation and close by its side was a stone column 21 m high, which was erected by Asoka-raja. After the disappearance of Buddhism from India, the vihara probably followed the same fate as many other Buddhist establishments and fell into ruins. On top of the foundation now is a small shrine dedicated to a Hindu goddess Visharidevi. It is believed that the Buddha set foot at this place when he descended from Heaven at Sankasia.
(iii) Burmese and Sri Lankan Viharas
The first Buddhist monk to reside in Sankasia was the late Ven. Vijaya Soma from Sri Lanka, who established a school there. It is indeed heartening to see two Buddhist monasteries now in Sankasia in spite of its remote location. The Burmese monastery was opened in the year 2000 while the Sri Lankan monastery was built a few years earlier. Pilgrims visiting Sankasia should visit these monasteries to pay their respects to the bhikkhus, whose presence has enhanced the sanctity of this rural environment.