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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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”.
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.”
“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.”
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.
While the Kushan period is considered to be 1st century AD, the Gupta dynasty ruled from 3rd to 6th century AD.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Bone tools and pottery shards of Northern Black Polished Ware points to this being a settlement in the Mauryan period.
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.
Revisiting Afghanistan’s Hindu Past
~ Dr. Bikram Lamba, a political and business strategist
It is commonly known that while the British, the Russians- both the Tsar and present communist regimes-, and the US met their Waterloo in Afghanistan, it was destined that the then King of Punjab in India could win and establish his rule there.
May be it was a throwback to history, since Afghanistan has traditionally been a Hindu Kingdom. The year 980 C.E. marks the beginning of the Muslim invasion into India proper when Sabuktagin attacked Raja Jaya Pal in Afghanistan. Afghanistan is today a Muslim country separated from India by another Muslim country Pakistan. But in 980 C.E. Afghanistan was also a place where the people were Hindus and Buddhists.
The name “Afghanistan” comes from “Upa-Gana-stan” which means in Sanskrit “the place inhabited by allied tribes”. This was the place from where Gandhari of the Mahabharat came from, Gandhar whose king was Shakuni. Today the city of Gandhar is known as Kandahar. The Pakthoons are descendants of the Paktha tribe mentioned in Vedic literature.
Till the year 980 C.E., this area was a Hindu majority area, till Sabuktagin from Ghazni invaded it and displaced the ruling Hindu king – Jaya Pal Shahi. Shiva worship was widespread in Afghanistan. There was a time when the entire region was replete with hundreds of Shiva temples celebrating Shiva – Parvati worship and abuzz with Shiv chants, prayers, legends and worship.
Archaeological excavations in this region conducted by Sir Estine (an East India Company official) led to the recovery of uncountable shrines and inscriptions. He has authored four books on that topic featuring photos of icons, icons and inscriptions discovered. The photos show a sun temple and a Ganesha statue too. An Islamabad University professor Abdul Rehman has authored two books on those finds recalling the glory and prosperity of those times.
Regimes of two Hindu rulers “Kusham” and “Kidara” lasted for fairly long periods. During their rule a number of Shiva temples were not only in Afghanistan but in other West Asian regions too. Uzbekistan and Takzikistan formed part of the Afghan kingdom in those times. Tashkent has one of those ancient Shiva temples standing even today.
Professor Abdul Rehman states that Bukhara region was known as “Shah Vihar” in ancient times. It was ruled by a Hindu king. When Arabs invaded that kingdom its queen traveled to Kashmir to seek military help. Arab chronicles mention her as ‘Khatoon’, meaning ’Woman’.
“Kalhan“, the ancient Hindu historian of Kashmir has mentioned that the army of the then Hindu ruler of Kashmir had a battle with a vast army of the Arab Khalifa Mamoon whose headquarters was Baghdad. At that time Bukhara had been under Muslim rule. He had invited a number of leading Hindu experts to Baghdad. An Ayurvedic practitioner of Varansi (alias Benares) had treated the Khalifa for some ailment afflicting the latter. In those days it was Hindu Ayurvedic practitioners who were eagerly sought by Arab patients. A number of Arabs had translated Sanskrit Ayurvedic texts into Arabic. A list of those translated Sanskrit texts appears in a Volume known as al “Frisht“.
Baku (capital of the Azerbaijan region) known for its underground petroleum yields has still an ancient Hindu temple of the Divine Flame generated by the subterranean petrol and gas). During the Czar regimes in Russia, a Punjabi priest officiated at that temple. The walls display some religious stanzas written in Punjabi Gurumakhi script. The market there also had Hindu merchants. Nearby was a locality too of Hindu inhabitants. Baku in Azerbaijani language actually signifies a Goddess. Therefore obviously Baku derives its name from a very ancient Vedic Goddess temple there.
Kenduj a province of Afghanistan was ruled by a king that had a Hindu prime minister. This is mentioned in history books. Albirruni’s travel account contains details of ancient Hindu Afghanistan, He mentions a Hindu king, Khingla whose coins bore the imprint of Shiva. The first ruler of that dynasty was Viahitagni.
History mentions a Shiva temple in Gardej township, which was plundered by Arab invaders. Khingla dynasty ruled the region from 666 to 843 A.D. From 843 to 850 A.D. a Brahmin Minister ruled the region. The Kalkaa community of Brahmins had acquired prominence in those times. They were later known as Kallers. A township of that name exists in Punjab. Prominent among them who find a mention in later history are Samantdev, Bheemdev, Jaipaldev, Anandpal and Trilochan.
Jaipaldev suffered a defeat in 1002 when Mohammed Gaznavi invaded India. Unable to bear that defeat Jaipaldev committed suicide. When Hsüan-tsang visited the region early in the 7th century CE, the Kabul valley region was ruled by a Hindu Kshatriya king, who is identified as the Shahi Khingal, and whose name has been found in an inscription found in Gardez.
The Hindu Shahi kings of Kabul and Gandhara may have had links to some ruling families in neighboring Kashmir and other areas to the east. The place where Kabul’s main mosque stands today was the site of an ancient Hindu temple and the story of its capture is kept alive in Islamic Afghan legend which describes the Islamic hero Sabuktagin who fought with a sword in every hand to defeat the Hindus and destroy their temple to put up a Mosque in its place.
The victory of Sabuktagin pushed the frontiers of the Hindu kingdom of the Shahis from Kabul to behind the Hindu Kush mountains Hindu Kush is literally “killer of Hindus” – a name given by Mahmud Ghazni to describe the number of Hindus who died on their way into Afghanistan to a life of captivity.
After this setback, the Shahis shifted their capital from Kubha (Kabul) to Udbhandapura (modern Und in NWFP).
Sabuktagin’s son Mahmud Ghazni, kept up the attacks on the Shahis and captured Und. Subsequently, the Shahis moved their capital to Lahore and later to Kangra in Himachal. The recovery and significance of the inscription, telling a story of the Hindu ruler Veka and his devotion to lord ‘Shiva’, was told by leading epigraphist and archaeologist Prof Ahmad Hasan Dani of the Quaid-E-Azam University of Islamabad at the Indian History Congress. As per Prof Ahmad Hasan, “The date of 138 of present inscription, should be equal to 959 AD which falls during the reign of Bhimapala”, Dani said in a paper “Mazar-i Sharif inscription of the time of the Shahi ruler Veka, dated the year 138”.
The inscription, with eleven lines written in “western Sarada” style of Sanskrit of 10th century AD, had several spelling mistakes. “As the stone is slightly broken at the top left corner, the first letter `OM’ is missing”, he said
According to the inscription, “the ruler Veka occupied by eight-fold forces, the earth, the markets and the forts. It is during his reign that a temple of Shiva in the embrace with Uma was built at Maityasya by Parimaha (great) Maitya for the benefit of himself and his son”. Dani said “the inscription gives the name of the king as Shahi Veka Raja and bestows on him the qualification of `Iryatumatu Ksanginanka’…. and (he) appears to be the same king who bears the name of Khingila or Khinkhila who should be accepted as a Shahi ruler”.
Dani further said “he may be an ancestor of Veka deva. As his coins are found in Afghanistan and he is mentioned by the Arab ruler Yaqubi, he may be an immediate predecessor of Veka deva… Both the evidences of inscription and coins suggest that Veka or Vaka should be accepted as an independent ruler of northern Afghanistan.”
“Thus we find another branch of the Shahi ruler in northern part of Afghanistan beyond the Hindukush. Veka is said to have conquered the earth, the markets and the forts by his eight-fold forces, suggesting that he must have himself gained success against the Arab rulers of southern Afghanistan”. Dani observed that going by the findings it seemed that during the rule of the Hindu Shahi ruler Bhimapala there was a break in the dynasty – one branch, headed by Jayapala, ruled in Lamaghan and Punjab, and another branch, headed by Veka, ruled in northern part of Afghanistan. The northern branch must have come to an end by the conquest of Alptigin in the second half of tenth century AD”, he said.
India has now developed a highly constructive, imaginative reconstruction strategy for Afghanistan that is designed to please every sector of Afghan society, give India a high profile with the Afghan people, gain the maximum political advantage with the Afghan government, to become an indispensable ally and friend of the Afghan people in the new century.
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