Agam Kuan – Ashoka’s Chamber of torture

Agam Kuan – Ashoka’s Chamber of torture

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Agam Kuan or ‘Unfathomable Well’ is situated near Gulzarbagh Railway station in Patna city of Bihar State. It is an important archaeological site that has many interesting stories associated with it. Agam Kuan is associated with Mauryan King Ashoka the great. It was built by Ashoka in 3rd century BC (304-232 BC). Standing at this site from thousands of years this monumental well has a lot of stories to tell.

Apart from historical and archaeological importance, Agam Kuan has the faith of people associated with it. This ancient well is situated near an ancient temple dedicated to Shitala Devi. People believe that the water of the well ‘Agam Kuan’ has medicinal values which cures diseases like Chickenpox, smallpox, etc and hence they believe that Shitla Maa and this water will solve all their problems.

Stories of Agam Kuan

It is said that Agam Kuan was built by Ashoka to torture his enemies (as part of Ashoka’s hell). There are many legends associated with this well and one of them is related to Ashoka the great. It is said that in order to attain the throne Magadh i.e. Mauryan Empire Ashoka killed his 99 brothers in the well. Some say he drowned his brothers in the well, while as per some he set them ablaze in it and others say he beheaded his brothers and threw their heads in this well. Ashoka’s edict no. VIII refers to these wells as hell of earth or fiery well.

Another legend tells the story of a King and a monk. As per the story in an attempt to murder Monk called Sudarshana, a king named Chand threw Jain Monk inside the Agam Kuan, expecting him to be drowned under and eventually killed, the king looked inside the well, to his surprise he discovered that the monk was seated on a lotus and was floating on water.

Mysterious ‘Agam Kuan’:

One thing about this well that astonishes everyone is that despite being there since the 3rd century BC (304-232 BC) Agam Kuan has not dried. Some researchers believe that the source of well’s water is river Ganga as when it was built Ganga river flowed just next to it. But even today when Ganga is no longer that close to the well, the water level of the well has remained intact. This is considered an unsolved mystery by some and some call it a miracle and a blessing of God.

It is said that there are nine smaller wells within this well and at the end of it is there is hidden treasure of Ashoka. Some people say that this well is connected to hell or Patal.

It is said that till date the actual depth of Agam Kuan could not be measured three attempts were made for the same but rise in water level never allowed it to happen. However as far as the ASI team to reach and record its depth, the depth of Agam Kuan is considered about 105 ft; upper 44 ft walls of the well are encased with bricks and lower 61 feet walls encased with wooden rigs. It has a parameter of about 20 ft. 

The rediscovery of Agam Kuan:

After remaining ignored for a while Agam Kuan was identified as the legendary well of Ashoka that was built for torturing his enemies, it was rediscovered in the 1890s by British explorer Laurance Waddell. He found this while he was exploring the remnants of the ancient city of Patliputra. Agam Kuan was part of Ashoka’s Hell chambers. A Chinese traveler named Fa Hillen also confirmed the same.

The legends of Ashoka’s hell

There is a famous legend that claims to tells the story of how Ashoka changed the way he conducted himself and how he accepted Buddhism is also related to these Chambers of hell. It is said that Ashoka had built a chamber of torture that was disguised as beautiful palaces with all kinds of amenities (that are there in luxurious palaces) in it.

However, inside the amazing architecture surrounded by beautiful trees, and flowers spreading beauty all around was a chamber where Ashoka used to torture his enemies. One of the methods of torture included pouring molten metal on the prisoners.

It is said that the architecture of this Ashoka hell and the ways of torturing were inspired from five tortures of Buddhist hell. Ashoka had ordered Girika (the man who executed people and designed Ashoka’s hell) that if anyone entered the torture chamber even by mistake that person should not be able to go out alive this rule also applied to Ashoka himself.

One day a Buddhist monk called Samudra by chance walked into this place. As he went inside, he came to know about the Girika and he was told because he had entered this place he would now be tortured to death and was taken to the chamber of torture and attempts to torture began.  

The end of chamber’s hell: 

Surprisingly none of the tortures seemed to hurt the monk. When Ashoka heard of this miracle, he came to see it for himself. As Ashoka walked inside, he found the Monk levitating with half his body set on fire and the other half under raining water.

Surprised by this miracle, Ashoka asked the monk who he was and the monk told him he was Buddha’s disciple and dharma adherent. Samudra the monk then chastised the emperor for his heinous act of building this chamber and torturing people. He then enlightened him to dedicate his life for the well-being of everyone and instructed him to build 84000 stupas.

Samudra the monk was successful in making Ashoka realize his mistakes. Ashoka then accepted Buddhism and Dharma and ensured the security of all beings.

Preservation and renovation of Agam Kuan

Over the years well has been renovated time and again. It was renovated in Emperor Akbar’s reign as well. In the late 20th century some work for preservation and protection of the well was done. Under this work red-colored walls were erected around the well, it’s almost like the well is enclosed in a small room, this room is usually kept locked. A signboard is seen at the door of the well which has Agam Kuan written in Hindi on it. The well also has eight arched windows at regular intervals built around well these count as its distinctive feature and windows are also covered with jaalis. 

Many ancient sculptures belonging to medieval times were found here in this well complex. A statue of Yaksha which probably belonged to the Mauryan era was found from the site. These statuses were mentioned by Alexander Cunningham a famous British archaeologist who visited this ancient site in 1879-1880.   

Wanderer’s Comment:

As terrifying as its legends maybe there is no denying to the fact that Agam Kuan holds immense importance in terms of history, archaeology, and faith. This icon well belongs to the reign of Emperor Ashoka the Great.

It for monuments like these that we can relive history or remember some iconic people from the past and look at their journey from our and their point of view.

This place without a doubt is the ultimate destination for history buffs, but that does not mean it is not for others. I mean who doesn’t love a good story?  This legendary place ready to take every traveler by surprise, visit there and you won’t regret it I promise. After all, it’s the ancient city of Patliputra, there are countless amazing places like this in every corner. 

Go explore and Happy wandering.


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