The Dharmarajika stupa, as it is known after the 10th century inscription giving name to a group of monuments, was constructed at the instance of king Asoka. It is referred to in the texts that after dividing the ashes of the Lord obtained from reopening seven of the earlier stupas, Asoka got many stupas constructed at Buddhist sites with the same name- Dharmarajika1. That he also had constructed a stupa at Mrigadaya is recorded in the Buddhist texts2. Xuanzang further confirms this by starting that, “To the south –west of the vihara is a stone stupa built by Asoka-raja. Although the foundations have given way, there are still 100 feet or more of the wall remaining’’3. Xuanzang’s statement, when scrutinized with the archaeological findings, suggests that initially Dharmarajika was stupa was original stupa of the Mauryan times. The spade of Marshall and Konow revealed a number of stages of construction, dating from 3rd century BCE to the 9th /10th century CE of this stupa4. He might have seen the stupa after the additions of the 5th/6th century CE, since his date of visit to the place was in the 7th century CE.
The Dharmarajika stupa of sarnath is said to have had five constructional phases, dating between Mauryan and the early medieval periods. The original stupa, according to Marshall and Konow, date back to the time of Asoka. The anda or the dome of this stupa, a loosely constructed masonry, measured 44'3" (approximately 18m)5, and was composed of bricks (measuring 19½" x14½"x2½" and 16½"x12½"x3½"), mostly wedge- shaped ,…. “the smaller end being laid nearer the centre of the stupa; but no effort made to bond the courses together”6. The stupa was also covered with a thick layer of concrete. The cylindrical green marble relic casket containing a circular stone box, which was recovered from this structure during the eighteenth century, was found at a depth of 18 cubit below the surface7, perhaps kept in the centre of the dome constructed during the time of Asoka. Along its circumference was 4.5-4.8 meter (15’-16’) wide ambulatory floor, which was also a brick construction. Remains of this pradakshina patha was recorded beneath the concrete flooring of the main shrine, north of the stupa, at a distance of 60’ from its centre. The width of this passage was 15’-16’, and it was encircled by a brick wall (4’5’’ high and 3’4’’thick), with four openings at four cardinal points. The excavators state that this: ‘’is the first example that we have in India of a pradakshina closed in with a solid wall; instead of an open railing’’8 it may be significant to note that the unusual feature of this stupa was the brick wall surrounding the passage, instead of a railing.
The Dharmarajika stupa was renovated and a couple of monasteries were perhaps renovated and some new ones built9 at Sarnath in the period under consideration.
It has been recorded, for instance, that the first addition to the original form of the Dharmarajika stupa, the Asokan monument, was made during Kushan or early Gupta times by Marshall and Konow10. According to Majumdar, this addition was done during the Kushan period11.
During constructional Stage II of Dharmarajika, the anda (dome) of the stupa was enlarged. From its earlier diameter of 44'3", it was enlarged to 51'. Composed of bricks, both full (17"x10½"x2¾") and half, this masonry was found preserved in the southern part of the stupa enlargement of the dome in this stage covered the pradakshina patha of Stage I12. The core was filled with rubble and clay, and was covered by well-laid bricks and concrete, respectively. The dome was encircled perhaps by a pradakshina patha, which is not distinct due to overlap of the later constructional phases.
Construction of Stage III, or the second addition of Dharmarajika stupa, ascertained by the excavators, coincides with the period under consideration. The alteration of this stupa after the Kushan is dated to 5th/6th century C.E., “when a pradakshina path or circumambulatory passage of nearly 16' across enriched the stupa and was encompassed by a solid outer wall of 4'5" high pierced by four doorways at each of the cardinal points”13. The dome was also enlarged, as per the diagram, showing history of construction of Dharmarajika stupa14. Marshall and Konow note that the material used was “anything but lasting”15. Thus, the structure needed strengthening in the succeeding century.
1.Vogel, J. Ph. 1906. ‘Buddhist sculpture from Benares’. Archaeological Survey of India Annual Report 1902-04. New Delhi:223.
3. Beal, S. 1884. Si-Yu-Ki. Buddhist Records of the Western World. Translation from the Chinese of Hiuen Tsang (AD 629). Vol. II. Book VII. (Reprinted 1980). Asian Educational Services, New Delhi: 45-61.
4.Archaeological survey of India Annual Report 1907-08: 65.
5.Majumdar, B. 1947. A Guide to Sarnath. (2nd Revised Edition). The Manager, Government of India Press, Delhi, 26.
6.Archaeological survey of India Annual Report 1907-08: 65.
7.Majumdar, B. 1947. A Guide to Sarnath. (2nd Revised Edition). The Manager, Government of India Press, Delhi, 30.
8.Archaeological Survey of India Annual Report 1907-08:645.
9.Majumdar, B. 1947. A Guide to Sarnath. (2nd Revised Edition). The Manager, Government of India Press, Delhi, 16.
10.Archaeological Survey of India Annual Report 1907-08:65.
11.Majumdar, B. 1947. A Guide to Sarnath. (2nd Revised Edition). The Manager, Government of India Press, Delhi, 16.
12.Archaeological Survey of India Annual Report 1907-08:65; Pl. XVII.
13.Majumdar, B. 1947. A Guide to Sarnath. (2nd Revised Edition). The Manager, Government of India Press, Delhi, 23.
14.Archaeological Survey of India Annual Report 1907-08.
15.Archaeological Survey of India Annual Report 1907-08:65.