‘‘A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.’’—Marcus Garvey
Imagine a fifteen centuries old place of historical and religious importance with potential to be a popular tourist attraction willfully neglected. I am sure quite a few such destinations exist in different corners of the country, but imagine a place where one can find more cows, goats and dogs then human beings; where you are confronted with pools of cow dung, animal feces and human excreta. Yes, we visited such a spot and were saddened with what we saw.
The place was Kawa-Dol (Kawva-Dol), a small group of granite rock hillocks situated near the village Kurisarai in Belaganj Block in Gaya District of Bihar. Kurisarai is located 24 km from district headquarters Gaya and 84 km from Patna. Spheroidal weathering has given the hillock a domal shape.Kawa-Dol or Kawva-Dol is situated just 3km from the famous Barabar caves, oldest surviving rock-cut caves in India. At Kawa-Dol we found some excellent reliefs carved into the rock walls. On the rocks of the northern and eastern face of Kawa-Dol hill, numerous figures representing mostly Hindu deities like Hara-Gauri, Mahishasuramardini Durga, and Ganesa etc. can be seen. A few figures of the seated Buddha are also noticed viz of Vajrasattva, Prajnaparamita and a seated Buddha. The sculptures may be assigned to a period between 600 and 1000 A.D.
The passage leading to the Holy ‘Siddheshwarnath temple’ of Barabar Hill is filled with ancient rock cut sculptures or Shiva Linga, Shiva Parvati, Ganesha etc. The image of the goddess Durga are however largest in number at Kauva Dol Hills. The four armed Durga slaying the buffalo demon Mahishasura is also present. Other Brahmanical Figures can be noticed too.
There is also a fine Buddha statue in a small shrine near the village, measuring around 8ft tall, and probably dating from the 8th-9th centuries. It stands in the midst of a collapsed temple, only the columns of which survive. This eight-foot statue of Lord Buddha in ‘Bhoomisparsh’ (ground-touching) posture was excavated by the ASI and Bihar ASI.
Written on the base of the black stone Buddha statue is: ‘‘Ye dharmā hetuprabhavā / hetuṃ teṣāṃ tathāgataḥ hyavadat /teṣāṃ ca yo nirodha / evaṃvādī mahāśramaṇaḥ
ये धर्मा हेतु प्रभवा हेतुं तेषां तथागतः ह्यवदत्
तेषां च यो निरोध एवं वादी महाश्रमण ।
(Means: Of those things that arise from a cause, The Tathāgata has told the cause, And also what their cessation is: This is the doctrine of the Great Recluse.)
According to historian Wenglar, the place was sanctum sanctorum of the temple—where one mandap, a semi-mandap and a maha-mandap existed. Till 1902 here 13 mandap existed and now only 9-10 mandap could be seen. Kawa-Dol has been identified as the site of the ancient ‘monastery of Silbhadra’. This place was visited by Hiuen-Tsang in the 7th century. Here the Bodhisattva touched the earth when Mara challenged him, exhorting the Earth goddess to appear to witness his enlightenment.
Sir Alexander Cunningham—British Army engineer who later founded the Archaeological Survey of India—wrote in a report: ‘‘Kawva-Dol is a detached hill nearly one mile to the south-west of the main group of hills . . . . This hill is quite inaccessible, as it is formed entirely of huge masses of granite piled precipitously above one another, and crowned with a single lofty block that frowns grandly over the plains below. It is said that this pinnacle was formerly topped by another block, which was so nicely balanced that it used to rock even when a crow alighted upon it. From this belief the hill acquired the name of ‘Kawva-Dol’, or the ‘crow’s swing’ or ‘rocking stone’.’’
Bhante Shravasti Dhammika, a prolific chronicler of Buddasim related topics, writes, ‘‘When the Chinese pilgrim Xuanzang (Hiuen Tsiang) was on his way to Bodh Gaya from Patna he passed by Kawadol and described several large monasteries in the vicinity, the most important founded by and named after a monk called Silabhadra. Born in Bengal and ordained by Dharmapala at Nalanda, Siladhadra later distinguished himself in debates with non-Buddhist ascetics. As a reward for his skills the king gifted him the revenue of a town and from this he built a monastery the ruins of which can still be seen.’’ (dhamma musings)
Hiuen Tsiang visited India through the Silk Route between AD 627-643 and the a monastery built by monk Siladhadra (529–645) at Kawadol existed that time. We can safely say that the earliest Kawadol ruins dates back to 6th-7th centuries.
The term ‘Kawa-Dol’ is mentioned a number of times by E.M. Forster in his novel ‘A Passage to India’. The term has a dual meaning: first, it is taken to means a ‘rocking stone’, a huge boulder that swings on the summit of the highest of the hills. Forster writes that ‘‘Inside this boulder is a bubble-shaped cave that has neither ceiling nor floor, and mirrors its own darkness in every direction infinitely. If the boulder falls and smashes, the cave will smash too — empty as an Easter egg. The boulder because of its hollowness sways in the wind, and even moves when a crow perches upon it: hence its name and the name of its stupendous pedestal: the Kawa Dol.’’ As you might guess from the last few words of that quote from the original book, the second meaning to the term ‘Kawa-Dol’ is that of the support to the rocking stone, in other words, the mountain itself.
In David Lean’s film, the term ‘Kawa-Dol’ is mentioned twice. The first time is when Dr Aziz tell the ladies of his expedition ‘‘the best caves are higher up, under the Kawa-Dol’’ (Actually there is no cave up the hill). The second mention comes when the Indian guide who takes the group into the lower Marabar cave shouts ‘Kawa-Dol’ to demonstrate the effect of the remarkable echo.
British photographer Joseph David Beglar photographed Kauwa Doll Hill in 1870 and one of his images was reproduced as a lithograph in Alexander Cunningham and H.B.W. Garrick’s, Report of tours in North and South Bihar (1880-81). The report mentions, ‘‘Kauwa-dol, or the ‘Crow’s Rocking Stone’, is the name of a tall perpendicular rock on the top of a bluff granite peak about 500 feet high…The peak is now quite inaccesible, and from a distance it looks exactly like a ruined stupa without its pinnacle . . .’’
Our visit to this remarkable site was surely a success, but we were sad about the place—Kawa-Dol could have been a wonderful tourist place, but it is totally neglected. The whole area is in a pathetic condition. No one cares about it. The roads to it are broken, badly damaged in places. No utilities/facilities are available for tourists. One can’t get a cup of tea or a bottle of water around. The place itself is full of filth. A truly heritage site lies in shambles—the result of the Govt. apathy and lackadaisical attitude of local administration. The sad fact is our heritage today grapples with abject neglect and encroachment.
Kawa-Dol has an Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) signboard, but only one guard-cum-caretaker is posted there. One thing is clear that we need a greater will and vision to protect the heritage sites and monuments of the country. Only an increased sense of heritage and history among the people as well as the authorities can help the nation to effectively protect its monumental records of the past for posterity.