The Ganeśa Gumpha is the only other cave of any importance on the Udayagiri Hill, which remains to be described. It is popularly known by the name of that Hindu divinity, in consequence, apparently, of the two elephants holding lotus buds in their trunks, who flank on either side, the steps leading up to its verandah. It is a small cave divided into two cells, opening into a verandah about 30 feet in length by 6 in width. Originally it had five pillars in front, but two of these have fallen away. The remaining three are of the ordinary type of nearly all those in these caves, square above and below, but octagonal in the centre, and in this instance with a small bracket capital evidently borrowed from a wooden form. There are four doorways leading from the verandah into the cells, and consequently room for three complete and two half reliefs. Two only are, however, sculptured. The end ones and the centre compartments are filled only with the ordinary Buddhist rails. One of the remaining two (Plate I., fig. 5) contains, as already mentioned, a replica of the abduction scene, which forms the second in the Râni kâ Nûr. There are the same eight persons, and all similarly employed in both, only that in this one the sculpture is very superior to that in the other, and the attitudes of the figures more easy and graceful, more nearly, in fact, approaching those at Amrâvatî, than even to the sculptures at Sanchi.1
At one time I was inclined to believe that the stories represented in the sculptures here and in the Râni kâ Nûr were continuous and formed part of one connected history. A more careful study, however, of the matter, with the increased knowledge we now possess, has convinced me that this is not the case, and that each division in the storied bas-reliefs must be treated as a separate subject. In this instance it seems the sculptor purposely left the centre compartment blank in order to separate the two so completely that no one should make the mistake of fancying there was any connexion between them. And the introduction of elephants, in the second bas-relief the difference of costume, and the whole arrangement of the subject seems to point to the same conclusion.
This bas-relief contains sixteen persons, of whom eleven or twelve may be males and four or five females, but apparently of a totally different character, and with different costumes, from those in the preceding sculpture. Instead, however, of being arranged in four groups, with two persons in each, as in the preceding bas-relief, there are here five groups of three persons each, with one, apparently a slaughtered man, who does not count. The stone in which it is carved, however, is so soft and so weatherworn that it is extremely difficult to follow the action and make out the details. One thing, however, is quite certain, which is, that it is a totally different scene from that which follows the abduction scene in the Râni kâ Nûr, proving clearly that neither here nor there do these bas-reliefs represent a continuous history. Instead of a king or kings on foot shooting deer, we have here a party of soldiers on foot, dressed in kilts, pursuing and slaying a man in a similar dress, who is prostrate on the ground. In front of him are three persons on an elephant, the hindermost of whom is seizing either the severed head or the helmet of the fallen soldier, it is impossible from the state of the sculpture to make out which, while the principal person on the elephant shoots a Parthian shot from his bow at the pursuing soldiers, and they then escape from the wood in which the action takes place.2 The remaining half of the bas-relief is made up of three groups of three persons each. In the first the elephant is kneeling, and the three persons, who apparently were those on his back in the first part, are standing behind him in the second. A little further to the right is another group of three persons, a man, a woman, and a boy, but whether they are the same as the elephant riders or not, is not clear. From the costume of the man, which differs considerably, it is probable they are not. In the last group of three the lady is sitting disconsolate on the ground, the man consoling her, and the boy, more than half concealed by the doorhead, holding the bow which he carried on the elephant.
Without some hint from some external source, it seems idle to try and find out what this bas-relief really is intended to represent. It may be a story from some Yavana conquest of Kalinga, or it may be a scene from some popular legend connected with some of the earlier Princes of the land, or, lastly, it may be a Jâtaka, representing some action that took place in one of the earlier births of Śâkya Muni. In fact it may be anything, and as I know of nothing at all like it or that affords any hint of what the story may be, either in this or in its companion bas-relief, the abduction scene, I must be allowed to relegate it for further investigation when we possess more knowledge of the local and traditional history of Kalinga Deśa.
Like the Râni kâ Nûr, this cave is without any inscription3 that can give us any hint as to the age when it was excavated, and we are consequently left wholly to the style of architecture and sculpture to enable us to fix its age in so far as it can be done, in the present state of our knowledge.
The only Buddhist emblems that can be detected in this cave are the triśula and the shield, but they are most distinctly shown in the upper part of the semicircular framework over the doors. They are there, however, connected with foliaged ornaments of so much more refined and elegant a character than the corresponding ornaments in the Râni kâ Nûr, that there can be no hesitation in ascribing them to a more modern date. The same is true of the figure sculptures in this cave. It is not only very much better than that at Bharhut, but approaches so nearly to that of Amrâvatî in some respects, that it seems difficult to carry it back even to the age of the gateways at Sanchi, with which, however, it has perhaps, on the whole, the nearest affinity. The foliaged ornaments that are found surrounding the semicircular heads of the tympana over the doorways are so nearly identical with some ornaments on the gateways at Sanchi4 that they cannot be far removed in age. Similar ornaments are also found on the jambs of the door of the Chaitya cave at Nasik (Plate XXV.), and elsewhere, which are either a little before or a little after the Christian era, so that altogether the date of this cave can hardly be considered as open to question.
Still, the inferiority in technical merit of the sculptures in the Râni kâ Nûr, and their more distinctly Indian character as compared with those in this cave, for a long time made me hesitate before coming to a positive conclusion as to which was the earliest of the two. As a rule, the history of art in India, as I have frequently pointed out, is written in decay. As we trace it backwards, not only are the architectural details more elegant and better executed in each preceding century, but the figure sculpture improves in drawing and dramatic power, till, at least, we reach the age of the Amrâvatî Tope in the fourth century. There was perhaps as much vigour in those of the Sanchi gateways in the first century of our era, but they lack the technical skill, and now that we know what was done at Bharhut and Buddha Gaya, two or three centuries earlier, we can state with confidence that there was distinct progress in sculpture from the age of Alexander to that of Constantine. The highest point of perfection was apparently reached in the fourth or fifth century, the decay, however, set in shortly after, and has unfortunately continued, with only slight occasional oscillations towards better things, to the present day. With this knowledge there can be little hesitation in placing the sculptures of the Râni kâ Nûr as earlier than those of the Ganeśa cave, though at what interval it is difficult to say. There is, however, still one point ill the architecture which points most distinctly in the same direction. All the jambs of the doorways in the Râni kâ Nûr slope inwards, not to such an extent as is found in the Behar caves, or even in the earlier ones here, but still most unmistakeably, and to such an extent as is not found in any cave either in the east or west of India after the Christian era. No such inclination of the jambs can be detected in the photographs of the Ganeśa cave, and, in fact, does not exist; and this, with the superior elegance of the sculpture, and delicacy of the architectural details, is more than sufficient to prove that the excavation of the Ganeśa cave must, according to our present lights, be placed at an age considerably more modern than that assigned to the Râni kâ Nûr, whatever that may be.
From what we now know of the sculptures of the Topes at Bharhut and Sanchi, we ought not perhaps to be surprised to find no scenes that can be directly traced to the legends of the life of Buddha in the sculptures in these caves; nor till the whole of the Jâtaka stories are translated call we wonder that we cannot interpret the sculptures from that vast repository of improbable fables. Still, having recognised beyond doubt the Wasantara, the Sama, and other Jâtakas at Sanchi, where no descriptive inscriptions exist5—and the inscribed ones at Bharhut show how favourite a mode of illustration they were at the age of these caves,—we ought not to despair that they may yet yield their secrets to future investigators. A more remarkable peculiarity of this group of caves is the total absence of any Chaitya caves, or of any sanctuary in the Viharas, which could ever have been appropriated to worship in any form. In all the western groups, such as Bhâjâ, Bedsâ, Nâsik, Ajaṇṭâ, everywhere in fact, the Chaitya, or church cave, seems to have been commenced as early as the Viharas or monasteries to which they were attached, The two in fact being considered indispensable to form a complete monastic establishment. Here, on the contrary, though we have Aira in his famous inscription boasting that he had “caused to be constructed subterranean chambers and caves containing a Chaitya temple and pillars,”6 we find nothing of this sort anywhere. No traces of such excavation have been found, and the Viharas also differ most essentially from those found on the western side of India. There in almost every instance the Vihara consists of a central hall, round which the cells are ranged; nowhere do the cells open directly,—except in the smallest hermitages,—on the verandah, or on the outer air.
The only means that occur to me of accounting for these differences, which appear to be radical and important, is by supposing that in Behar and Orissa there existed a religion—Buddhist or Jaina—using the same forms, and requiring the same class of constructions, that were afterwards stereotyped in the caves. If this were so there probably existed, before Aśoka's time, halls of assembly and monasteries—constructed in wood of course—which were appropriate for this form of worship, and they continued to use these throughout the whole Buddhist period without, as a rule, attempting to imitate them in the rock.
If we knew exactly when it was that Buddhism was first practically established in the west, it might aid in determining this point. As before mentioned, it (vide ante, p. 17) is probable that it was not known there before the arrival of the missionaries sent by Aśoka after the third convocation held in the 17th year of his reign, B.C. 246. If this is so, it is unlikely that any suitable places of worship were found there, or any habit of constructing them, while as these missionaries found everywhere a rock admirably suited to the purpose, they may at once have seized the idea of giving permanence and dignity to the new forms by carving them in the imperishable rock. It is true, it may be objected, to this view that this almost necessarily presupposes the idea of the inhabitants of the country having used caves as habitations, of some sort, anterior to the advent of the Buddhists, while, as none such have been found, it seems strange the habit should have become at once so prevalent. If, however, any such earlier caves did exist, they must have been only rude unsculptured caverns, like the Hâthi Gumpha and the rude caves in Behar, and would be undistinguishable from natural caverns, and it would be impossible now to determine whether they had ever been used by man for any purpose. Be this as it may, I know of no other mode of accounting for the general prevalence of Chaitya caves in the west and their non-existence in the east of India than by supposing that on the one side of India they always had, and continued to use, wooden halls for this purpose, while on the other side, having no such structures, they at once adopted the idea of carving them in the rock, and finding that so admirably adapted for the purpose they continued to use it ever afterwards.
As I hope to be able to show, in describing the Raths at Mahâvallipur, a little further on, the Viharas of the Buddhists as originally constructed consisted of a square hall, the roof of which was supported by pillars, and with cells for the residence of the monks arranged externally round, at least, three sides of the hall, on the upper storeys, at least. In some, perhaps most instances, it was two or three or more storeys in height, each diminishing in horizontal dimensions, and the cells being placed on the roof of the lower storeys of the structure, which thus assumed a pyramidal form like the Birs Nimrud near Babylon. If any such monasteries existed in Katak they probably continued in use during the whole Buddhist period, and so have been preferred as residences to others cut in the rock. Whether this was so or not, it is clear that the eastern caves are not such direct copies from structural Viharas as those on the west, where the central hall, surrounded with cells on three sides, with a portico or porch on the fourth, was as nearly a direct copy as could well be made in the rock. In the east they proceeded on a different system. The hall was entirely omitted, and the cells open either directly on the outer air or into the verandah, while, as explained in describing the Râni kâ Nûr (ante, p. 78) all the other arrangements of the structural Vihara were turned topsy turvey. The difference probably arose from the fact the Udayagiri group of hills is literally honey-combed with little cells, of about 6 or 7 feet square, just sufficient for the residence of a single hermit. Most of them probably had a verandah in wood or shelter of some sort over the doorway to prevent the inmate being baked alive, which without such protection he certainly would have been. Some of the earlier carved caves, such as the Tiger cave, the Bhajana cave, and the Ânanta, are still only single cells, with verandahs of greater or less magnificence. Some, like the Jaya Vijaya and Ganeśa, are only two cells with verandahs to protect both, and others, like the Vaikuntha and Râni kâ Nûr, contain three or four cells arranged in two storeys. Still these are only an assemblage of hermitages without any common hall or refectory, or any of the monastic arrangements which were so universally adopted in the western caves. At the same time it may be remarked that there being no halls in the eastern caves, accounts for the absence of any internal pillars at Udayagiri, though they form a marked and important feature in all the western caves of any pretension to magnificence.
The absence of a Dagoba either in or about these caves may perhaps be accounted for, as before hinted, by the Tooth relic being probably the great object of worship in this province during the Buddhist period, and it may have been preserved in a Dagoba or shrine of some sort, on the top of the Udayagiri hill, if this was Dantapuri. The local traditions, it must be confessed, tend rather to show that Dantapuri was where the temple of Jugannâth now stands at Puri on the sea shore, but the evidence is conflicting on this point. But be this as it may, it is quite certain, unless Kittoe is right about the remains on the Udayagiri hill, that there is no material evidence of a Dagoba, either structural or rock-cut, existing in connexion with these caves. On the other hand, it may probably be asserted with equal confidence that in western India there is no group of caves, of anything like the same extent, which has not one or more of these emblems, either rock-cut or structural.
There are several minor peculiarities pointing however to essential differences between the caves on the east and west of India, which will be described in the subsequent chapters of this work, when describing the western caves, but which it is consequently not necessary to anticipate at the present stage of the investigation.
- 1. It was well and carefully drawn by Kittoe, and lithographed by Prinsep, J.A.S.B., vol. vii, Plate XLIV.
- 2. From Mr. Phillips' letter above referred to, it seems that the third person on the elephant is a man, and not a woman, which from the cut he might be mistaken for, and that he holds the head of the fallen man by the hair. It also appears that the head is quite severed from the body, which in Kittoe's drawing is certainly not the case.
- 3. In Prinsep's plates, J. A. S. B., vol. vi. Plate LIV., there is an inscription said to be found in this cave, though even that is doubtful; but supposing it to exist, as I pointed out in my original paper, R. A. S., vol. viii. pp. 31, 41, it is in so modern a character that it is absolutely impossible it could be coeval with the date of the excavation, though it might mark its appropriation by the Hindus at a long subsequent age.
- 4. Tree and Serpent Worship, woodcuts 17 and 18, p. 114.
- 5. Tree and Serpent Worship, Plates XXXVI. and XXXVIII. The identification of these jâtakas at that time was one of the most important discoveries made in modern times for the authentication of the Buddhist scriptures. Before that many were inclined to believe that the Jâtakas were mere modem inventions. Then for the first time it was proved that before the Christian era, they existed, and very nearly in the same form as at the present day.
- 6. J. A. S. B., vol. vi. p. 1084.