Kesariya Stupa is located in Champaran district at a distance of about 110 km from the capital city of Patna and about 55 km from the ancient city of Vaishali in Bihar state, India. Kesariya Stupa is the largest Buddhist stupa in the world. Kesariya Stupa is one of the most significant Buddhist sites, it holds great values in terms of history, architecture, and heritage.
What makes Kesariya Stupa so special is not only its size or the fact that it is the largest stupa in the world but also its incredible architectural style. Although this site is in ruins now, nonetheless its grandeur can still be felt from its remains.
History Kesariya Stupa:
Originally built with mud, Kesariya Stupa was enhanced upon in Kushana, Sunga and Maurya period which finally made its appearance what it is today. The current structure was built between 200 AD and 750 AD. The original stupa at this site is believed to have been built before Buddha attained Nirvana.
The importance of Kesariya Stupa in Buddhist history is paramount. It is said that when Buddha was on his final journey from Vaishali to Kushi Nagar he stopped at this place for a night to take some rest and it was here that he shared the news of his Nirvana. This news saddened his disciples deeply.
He then gave this begging bowl to the people of Vaishali as a memento and asked to return to Vaishali after his death. The Lichhivis, people of Vaishali built a mud stupa at this site to commemorate the last visit and to venerate end of life of Buddha.
Kesariya Stupa is a highly revered site, Buddhists from all over the world considered it to be a holy landmark. This place and the stupa stand strong reminding us of the great soul that this land was once blessed to host. This place reminds us of the teaching of the great Buddha; it reminds us to be gentle and compassionate towards others.
Kesariya Stupa was visited by many notable personalities in the past. Some of its noted visitors were Chinese travelers Fa Hien and Hieun Tsang both visited this pilgrim site and have mentioned their visit in their dairies. Another Chinese monk traveled this site around 5th century AD he mentioned this pilgrim site as a stupa built over begging bowl of Buddha.
The built of Kesariya Stupa:
This colossal Stupa has a height of nearly 104 ft and circumference of approximately 1400 ft. Experts believe the original height of Kesariya Stupa was about 150 feet but after the devastating earthquake of 1934, the stupa suffered damage in its structure which led to the reduction in its height from 150ft to 123 ft. The aftermath of this earthquake further led to the reduction in its height which brought to its current height of 104 ft.
The circular base of this magnificent Kesariya Stupa rises in terraces. Several terraces were made to craft this amazing structure. The total no. of terraces is no known as some of them may still be buried under the ground but at least six of these can be distinguished very clearly. Each of these terraces had several cells. These cells perhaps housed images of Buddha. The Pradakshina path marked around the Kesariya Stupa was brought out during an excavation.
Rediscovery of Kesariya Stupa:
The first attempt to rediscover this site was made in the 19th century. In 1814 the exploration project started under the leadership of Colonel Mackenzie. Later in 1861-62 General Alexander Cunningham initiated proper excavation work.
But a systematic excavation was initiated in 1998 by the Archaeological Survey of India. It was after this excavation that the ancient structure was revealed. As of today only one side of this ancient site is excavated.
Kesariya Stupa is a very significant monument and part of the great India heritage. The excavation work carried at this site in 1998 lead to the discovery of many ancient items such as arrowheads, earth lamps, copper and terracotta items, decorated bricks, Islamic coins, etc.
Apart from these several figurines of Buddha in Bhoomi Sparsh Mudra and other sitting Mudras (postures) were recovered from the site. Most of these incredible life-size statues are in ruins; these statues are said to be broken by Muslims invaders back in the day.