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History of Ashoka’s Ancient Iron Pillar Which Never Rust

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An iron pillar weighing over 6 tonnes, more than 7 metres tall is constructed in a single forge and is erected on top of the Vishnupada hill (somewhere in modern central India) with Sanskrit inscriptions on it in the Brahmi script about the great Gupta ruler Chandragupta Vikramaditya.

Later the founder of Delhi, Tomar king Anangapala brings it to Delhi and installs it in its current place.

The Mughal emperor Akbar makes every effort to have the inscriptions read, but at that time nobody knows about the script in which the inscriptions have been written, so the effort fails.

Much later, in the modern days, historians discover Ashoka’s pillars (The great Mauryan ruler of ancient India) and learn about the Brahmi script in which Ashoka’s inscriptions have been written. The script on the Delhi iron pillar is then identified to be written in the same Brahmi script.

What’s so wonderful about it? Well, one should ask what’s so mysterious about it?

To build an iron pillar of this huge size in a single forge more than 1600 years ago itself is an indication of the advanced metallurgy of the ancient Indians. Even in today’s modern technological world it is a great achievement to forge such a huge pillar in a single forge!!!

History of Ashoka's Ancient Iron Pillar Which Never Rust

But there’s more, this pillar which contains more than 98% of pure iron, even after 1600 years has not caught rust!!! It is 100% corrosion resistant inspite of the fact that it is 98% iron!! This indicates one of the great technological achievements of the ancient Indians as even today it is next to impossible to construct such a huge corrosion resistant iron pillar. Corrosion resistant technologists from all over the world have studied this pillar.

Modern day technology uses limestone in the blast furnaces which carries away most of the phosphorus content in the ore in the form of slag. Ancient Indians instead by solid state reduction used charcoal as a reducing agent to extract pure iron with low carbon content from the ore.

One of the research opinions about the iron pillar’s corrosion resistant nature is that the high amount of phosphorous (which is 1% of the pillar as opposed to modern day proportions which is 0.05%) has formed a thin protective layer on the surface of the pillar thereby making it corrosion proof. Since other ancient iron works of the same period do not contain such a high quantity of phosphorous, it indicates that the extra phosphorous was intentionally added to the iron pillar.

History of Ashoka's Ancient Iron Pillar Which Never Rust

Another theory suggests that the relative low humidity of Delhi ensures that the Iron pillar does not corrode. But It was strongly disagreed with this theory and want to stress on the fact that it is not the climate of Delhi but the composition of the pillar which is responsible for the corrosion resistant nature of the pillar. This is because of a simple reason that I observed a similar ancient corrosion resistant Iron pillar when I had been on a trek to the Kodachadri hills in the west coast of South India. Also I have heard about a similar corrosion resistant Iron pillar in the Konark temple of Orissa. Both the above mentioned places have a highly humid climate throughout the year and yet the iron pillars here are corrosion resistant! The spreadout of these pillars across the geographical landscape of India indicates that the Iron pillar of Delhi was not a single isolated incident of an ancient genius but was a common technical knowledge of the ancient civilization in this country.

The inscriptions on the pillar identify the king as “Chandra” (which most historians have related to the great Gupta ruler Chandragupta Vikramaditya) reads as follows (Source Wiki):

History of Ashoka's Ancient Iron Pillar Which Never Rust

He, on whose arm fame was inscribed by the sword, when, in battle in the Vanga countries, he kneaded (and turned) back with (his) breast the enemies who, uniting together, came against (him);-he, by whom, having crossed in warfare the seven mouths of the (river) Sindhu, the Vahlikas were conquered;-he, by the breezes of whose prowess the southern ocean is even still perfumed;-

(Line 3.)-He, the remnant of the great zeal of whose energy, which utterly destroyed (his) enemies, like (the remnant of the great glowing heat) of a burned-out fire in a great forest, even now leaves not the earth; though he, the king, as if wearied, has quitted this earth, and has gone to the other world, moving in (bodily) form to the land (of paradise) won by (the merit of has) actions, (but) remaining on (this) earth by (the memory of his) fame;-

(L. 5.)-By him, the king,-who attained sole supreme sovereignty in the world, acquired by his own arm and (enjoyed) for a very long time; (and) who, having the name of Chandra, carried a beauty of countenance like (the beauty of) the full-moon,-having in faith fixed his mind upon (the god) Vishnu, this lofty standard of the divine Vishnu was set up on the hill (called) Vishnupada.

This pillar was erected in the honour of the Hindu god Vishnu who is one of the Trimurti (Three gods who represent the life cycle of the Universe: Brahma-The Creator, Vishnu-The Maintainer, Shiva-The Destroyer)

It is also interesting to note that  ancient Indians knew about the process of iron rusting more than 2300 years ago! “Buddha” is cited in the ancient buddhist book Dharmapada saying:

As rust, sprung from iron, eats itself away when arisen, even so his own deeds lead the transgressor to states of woe.

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History

Snakes and Ladders, Originated in Ancient India called Mokshapat or Moksha Patamu

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Snakes and Ladders, originated in ancient India called Mokshapat or Moksha Patamu

The board game, today called Snakes and Ladders, originated in ancient India, where it was known with the name Mokshapat or Moksha Patamu.

It’s not exactly known when or who invented it, though it’s believed the game was played at a time as early as 2nd century BC. According to some historians, the game was invented by Saint Gyandev.

Originally, the game was used as a part of moral instruction to children. The squares in which ladders start were each supposed to stand for a virtue, and those housing the head of a snake were supposed to stand for an evil. The snakes outnumbered the ladders in the original Hindu game. The game was transported to England by the colonial rulers in the latter part of the 19th century, with some modifications.

Through its several modifications over the decades, however, the meaning of the game has remained the same — ‘that good deeds will take people to heaven (Moksha) while evil deeds will lead to a cycle of rebirths in lower form of life (Patamu).

The modified game was named Snakes and Ladders and stripped of its moral and religious aspects and the number of ladders and snakes were equalized. In 1943, the game was introduced in the US under the name Chutes and Ladders.

Snakes and Ladders, originated in ancient India called Mokshapat or Moksha Patamu

The Game of Knowledge

Originally, the game of Snakes and Ladders was known variously as Gyan Chaupar (meaning ‘Game of Knowledge), Mokshapat, and Moksha Patamu, and was originally a Hindu game. Nobody knows for sure as to who invented this game, or when it was created.

It may be said that whilst the gameplay of Gyan Chaupar is the same as today’s Snakes and Ladders, the board and higher objective of the game may be said to be quite different. Like the modern Snakes and Ladders board, the number of squares in that of Gyan Chaupar may vary. One version of this board, for instance, contains 72 squares, whilst another has 100. A major difference between the traditional and modern versions is the fact that in the former, a virtue or a vice and the effects of these virtues and vices, or something neutral is placed within each box.

Gyan-Chaupar-board

For instance, in an Indian Gyan Chaupar board of 72 boxes, squares number 24, 44, and 55 have the vices of bad company, false knowledge, and ego respectively. As the game places great emphasis on karma, the Hindu principle of cause and effect, each vice (the snakes’ heads) has a corresponding effect. Thus, for the vices mentioned above, the corresponding effects are conceit or vanity, plane of sensuality, and illusion. On the other hand, the virtues of purification, true faith, and conscience are contained in squares number 10, 28, and 46, and these lead to heavenly plane, plane of truth, and happiness respectively. In this version of the board, the goal is to reach box number 68, which is the plane of Shiva.

Religious Teaching Tool

This game was so popular that it was also adopted and adapted by other religions that existed in the Indian subcontinent. It is known that Jain, Buddhist, and Muslim adaptations of the game exist, as the concepts of cause and effect, and reward and punishment, are common to them. For devout followers of these religions, the game may be played as a form of meditation, as a communal exercise, and even as part of one’s religious studies without the use of more conventional books or sermons.

Gyan-Chaupar-board

It may be added that many of the surviving game boards are works of art in their own right, as they contain elaborate illustrations of human figures, architecture, flora and fauna, etc. These boards were commonly made of painted cloth, and most of the extant ones date from after the middle of the18th century AD.

The Modern Game

The game of Gyan Chaupar became Snakes and Ladders towards the end of the 19 th century, when it was introduced to Great Britain by India’s colonial rulers. Whilst the original gameplay was maintained, its underlying philosophical message was greatly diminished. The religious virtues and vices were replaced by two-part cartoon dramas connected either by a snake or a ladder. Additionally, the number of snakes and ladders were equalized, whilst in the original ones, there were usually more snakes than ladders, which symbolizes the belief that it is far easier to fall prey to vice than to uphold virtue. From Great Britain, the game traveled to the United States, where it was introduced in 1943 by Milton Bradley as Chutes and Ladders.

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Telhara University – Older than Nalanda, Vikramshila Universities

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Telhara University - Older than Nalanda, Vikramshila Universities

It was a useful mound, no doubt. A good vantage point where villagers occasionally relieved themselves.

But who would have thought that deep beneath its golden brown earth would be stories of dynasties and empires that now suggest that this — Telhara, a village 33 km from the ruins of the more famous Nalanda University — could be ‘Tilas-akiya’ or ‘Tiladhak’, the place Chinese traveler Hiuen Tsang visited and wrote about during his travels through India in 7th century AD? So far, there were only vague references but recent excavations at the mound suggest that Telhara was indeed an ancient university or seat of learning with seven monasteries.

 

The Bihar government has been calling the Telhara project one of its biggest after the excavations that unearthed Nalanda and Vikramshila universities. The excavation at Telhara should have happened earlier, say experts, but the site lost out to the more famous Nalanda.

The Telhara project that started on December 26, 2009, has so far come across over 1,000 priceless finds from 30-odd trenches — seals and sealing, red sandstone, black stone or blue basalt statues of Buddha and several Hindu deities, miniature bronze and terracotta stupas and statues and figurines that go back to the Gupta (320-550 AD) and Pala (750-1174 AD) empires. But the 2.6-acre mound has now thrown up the most tantalising find yet — evidence of a three-storied structure, prayer hall and a platform to seat over 1,000 monks or students of Mahayana Buddhism.

The terracotta monastery seals — a chakra flanked by two deers — unearthed at Telhara are similar to those at Nalanda, suggesting Telhara or Tiladhak was another great seat of learning besides Nalanda and Odantpuri during the Gupta and Pala reigns. It was the discovery of a similar monastery seal that clinched it for Nalanda University.

Telhara University - Older than Nalanda, Vikramshila Universities

Former Archaeological Survey of India director B S Verma, who between 1971 and ’81 supervised the excavation at the site of the ancient Vikramshila university, says, “Telhara or Tiladhak has much more convincing epigraphical proofs — monastery inscriptions — than Vikramshila. The findings that match Hiuen Tsang’s account do more to convince that the place was a university or mahavihara similar to Nalanda.”

In his book, The Antiquarian Remains in Bihar, historian D R Patil writes about Hiuen Tsang’s description of Telhara. “Hiuen Tsang describes Telhara or Tilas-akiya as containing a number of monasteries or viharas, about seven in number, accommodating about 1,000 monks studying in Mahayan. These buildings, he says, had courtyards, three-storied pavilions, towers, gates and were crowned by cupolas with hanging bells. The doors and windows, pillars and beams have bas relieves (sculptures in guilded copper). In the middle vihara is a statue of Tara Bodhisatva and to the right (is) one of Avlokiteshwar”.

Telhara University - Older than Nalanda, Vikramshila Universities

Other history books too talk of Tiladhak monastery, on the western side of Nalanda, as having four big halls and three staircases. It is said the mahavihara or university was built by one of the descendants of Magadha ruler Bimbisara. The monastery was decorated with copper and also had small copper bells that gently chimed in the breeze.

For months now, the excavation has been unearthing these stories. Apart from the mound that is now being dug up, Telhara has six other mounds — five of which have settlements and one which is partially elevated.

Atul Kumar Verma, director (archaeology) of the Bihar government’s Department of Art and Culture, says, “Since the excavations suggest that Telhara might have been a contemporary of Nalanda, it is quite possible that it was either an independent university for specialized education or that students graduating from Nalanda University would come here for specialized study. It is a great feeling to see the place emerging as the next big find after Nalanda. It has also aroused great curiosity and attracted even the likes of Nobel laureate Amartya Sen.” Sen wrote in the visitors’ book: “What a wonderful site, really thrilling! And so skillfully excavated and restored.”

Telhara University - Older than Nalanda, Vikramshila Universities

 

“We have found the courtyard that might have been an extension of the platform Hiuen Tsang had described,” Nand Gopal, camp in-charge at the Telhara site, says, peering into his optical line meter that’s mounted on a tripod.

In more recent times, it was A M Broadley, then magistrate of Nalanda, who in 1872 wrote about “Tilas-akiya” as a university and site of learning. British army officer and archaeologist Sir Alexander Cunningham, who visited the place between 1872 and 1878, wrote about inscriptions describing “Teliyadhak” as a place that had seven monasteries and which matched Hiuen Tsang’s account. A statue of the 12-armed Avlokiteshwar Buddha found from a Tiladhak site is at the Indian Museum in Kolkata. Perhaps the best known Pala sculpture from Telhara is now in Rietberg Muzeum, Zurich.

Though there was this and more proof that Telhara could be sitting on a glorious past, it wasn’t until December 2009 that the excavations finally began. Telhara panchayat head Awadhesh Gupta claims to have been the one who got things started.

“We all knew Telhara was once a great seat of learning, but nobody did anything to prove it. In 1995, I approached the Congress government requesting that the place be excavated but got no assurance. When Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar visited the site in 2007, I put up this demand once again. The villagers were not happy with me. They thought I should have demanded something more concrete than just the digging of a mound.”

Telhara University - Older than Nalanda, Vikramshila Universities

But the mukhiya may have had the last laugh. Villagers now talk about Telhara being part of the Nalanda-Rajgir circuit and how that could bring them jobs and better opportunities. “We hope the site is conserved and clubbed with Nalanda to attract tourists. The site has already given temporary jobs to 70 villagers,” says Anil Kumar, a villager.

It was a useful mound, no doubt.

Experts associated with its excavation are now claiming that the university originated in the Kushan period.

 

Atul Kumar Verma said that in the recent excavation, archaeologists have found some bricks of very large size (42x36x6.5cm) substantiating that the university belonged to the Kushan period. “Bricks of the Kushan period were quite large from other dynasties, including the Gupta and Pala periods,” said Verma.

Earlier, the university was thought to come into existence in the Gupta period. The excavation work is going on at Telhara village, around 32km northwest of the Nalanda University ruins.

While the Kushan period is considered to be 1st century AD, the Gupta dynasty ruled from 3rd to 6th century AD.

MAJOR FINDINGS

SEALS AND SEALING

The recovery of over 100 terracotta seals and sealings from the Gupta and Pala periods provides strong evidence of this being a Buddhist university. Besides seals of the chakra flanked by two deers, other seals have inscription of Buddhist mantras. Seals of Gaj-Lakshmi and flying birds were also found. Some inscriptions that have not yet been deciphered would be sent to Mysore for deciphering.

PLATFORM, TEMPLES

Just above the ashen layer — said to be proof of Turkish general Bakhtiyar Khilji having destroyed the monastery — is the sanctum sanctorum of three Buddhist shrines, each measuring 3.15 square metres. A big platform, found just below this ashen layer, is said to have accommodated over 1,000 monks.

Telhara University - Older than Nalanda, Vikramshila Universities

CELLS FOR TEACHERS

The excavation has so far revealed 11 cells of 4 square meters each. It is believed that these were faculty quarters. There is evidence of bricks from the Gupta and Pala periods.

COPPER BELL CHIMES

The excavation revealed several broken pieces of small bells. Parts of molten copper also suggest that the monastery was well-decorated.

CAUTION INSCRIPTION

A stone inscription in Sanskrit (early Nagari script), probably written just before the destruction of the Tiladhak mahavihara, says, “He who tries to destroy this monastery is either a donkey or a bull”. Below the stone inscription are images of the two animals.

FASTING BUDDHA AND VOTIVE STUPA

A miniature terracotta image of a fasting Buddha from the Pala period is a rare find. A six-foot-tall votive stupa from the Pala period suggests the prevalence of Buddhism.

MAURYAN PERIOD

Bone tools and pottery shards of Northern Black Polished Ware points to this being a settlement in the Mauryan period.

STONE SCULPTURES

Among the over 15 stone sculptures found at the site are a red sandstone sculpture of Bodhisatva, Avlokiteshwar, Manjusri and the Buddha in his ‘earth witness’ mudra. A black stone statue of Buddha in abhay mudra (fearless mode) from the Pala period has been found. The red sandstone Bodhisatva sculpture is believed to be from the Gupta period. Some sculptures of Hindu deities such as Uma Maheshwar and Ganesh and Vishnu from the later Pala period were also found. The presence of a Yamantaka sculpture is evidence of Tantric Buddhism at the monastery.

 

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History

India’s first Islamic Mausoleum Was Built on Top of Ancient Hindu Temple

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India’s first Islamic Mausoleum was an ancient Hindu Temple

About 6 km west of Qutab Minar in Delhi, there lies a tomb called Sultan Ghari which is believed to be the final resting place of Prince Nasir’ud-Din Mahmud, the uncrowned eldest son of Sultan Shamsuddin Iltutmish of the Slave Dynasty built in 1231 AD.  It was the first Islamic Mausoleum built in India.

However, engraved symbols of animals, Shiva Linga and the Sanskrit inscriptions on ceiling tell a different tale altogether.  The beams of the octagonal crypt bear figures of Kamadhenu, the celestial cow and Varaha, the wild boar reincarnation of Lord Vishnu.  These two animals were a royal Hindu insignia and considering the ideology of Islam against idols and the immense hatred towards pigs, it is very unlikely that such statues would adorn the inside of a Muslim tomb.

About 6 km west of Qutab Minar in Delhi, there lies a tomb called Sultan Ghari which is believed to be the final resting place of Prince Nasir’ud-Din Mahmud, the uncrowned eldest son of Sultan Shamsuddin Iltutmish of the Slave Dynasty built in 1231 AD.  It was the first Islamic Mausoleum built in India.  

Iltutmish invaded eastern part of India in 1225 AD which resulted in signing of a treaty between him and Iwaz Khalji, the ruler of Eastern India.  After a few successive battles, Prince Nasiru’d-Din Mahmud was appointed governor of Lakhnauti province who later merged the province of Oudh with Bengal and Bihar, gaining him the title of “Malik-us-Sharq” (King of the East) by his father.

The Prince was killed in 1229 AD after a very short rule of 18 months.  Grieved by the death of his favourite son, Iltutmish commissioned the Sultan Ghari Tomb.  After Iltutmish’s death in 1236, his daughter, Razia Sultana ruled the kingdom until her defeat and death in 1240 AD.

About 6 km west of Qutab Minar in Delhi, there lies a tomb called Sultan Ghari which is believed to be the final resting place of Prince Nasir’ud-Din Mahmud, the uncrowned eldest son of Sultan Shamsuddin Iltutmish of the Slave Dynasty built in 1231 AD.  It was the first Islamic Mausoleum built in India.  

While ASI is pretty much silent on this matter, historians and archaeologists justify these carvings as new buildings being fashioned out of the debris of some Hindu buildings or that the workmen may have been Hindus and would have built the tomb in Hindu style.  Their arguments in favor of the tomb fail here because no building worth its name can be build out of old debris and no workman would even dare to fashion a building for which he is hired according to his taste rather than that of the owner’s.

The building is also of an octagonal shape which is another Hindu specialty.

Due to indifference or perhaps purposeful negligence by the government and ASI, we may never know the reality and history of this ancient Hindu temple.

About 6 km west of Qutab Minar in Delhi, there lies a tomb called Sultan Ghari which is believed to be the final resting place of Prince Nasir’ud-Din Mahmud, the uncrowned eldest son of Sultan Shamsuddin Iltutmish of the Slave Dynasty built in 1231 AD.  It was the first Islamic Mausoleum built in India.  

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