This paper suggests that Megha, the future Buddha of the Dipankara Jataka, is Gaumata the Maga who belongs to the 6th century B.C. and who is Gautama Buddha himself. Sumedha, the name of Megha in the Pali texts, became Smerdis of the Greeks. The recently discovered Mes Aynak vihara may have been founded by Trapusa. This may have been visited by Gautama who was from Gandhara, not Nepal. Buddhism and Zoroastrianism were sister religions which diverged later.
It is often alleged that there is little data in the Jataka tales on Gautama Buddha himself, but this is untrue and is due to careless interpretation of early Buddhist geography and history. The Jatakas have parallels in the Mahabharata, the Panchatantra, the Arabian Nights, the Aesop’s Fables and the Bible and belong to world literature. T. W. Rhys Davids writes:
And the Book of Birth Stories has a value quite independent of the fact that many of its tales have been transplanted to the West. It contains a record of the every-day life, and every-day thought, of the people among whom the tales were told: it is the oldest, most complete, and most important collection of folk-lore extant.
The tales are said to be about the previous lives of the Buddha and are echoes of floating ancient tales. They were popular throughout the Buddhist world and beyond; G. Az-arpay writes about Jataka motifs on Sasanian silverware. However, to make sense of the Jatakas, it is at first necessary to delve deeper into common terms such as Lanka, Nagas etc. and fix the locale of Gautama Buddha. The magnificent relics from Sanchi, Ajanta, Bharhut, Amaravati, Gandhara, Mathura and Thotlakonda, firmly link modern India with Buddhism yet there is a chronological problem. Buddhism dates from the 6th century B.C. but none of the above sites are older than the 4th century B.C.
Niharranjan Ray voices concern:
The fact remains therefore that we have no examples extant of either sculpture or architecture that can definitely be labelled chronologically as pre-Mauryan or perhaps even as pre-Asokan.
Although most historians gloss over the lacuna, this is ill-advised. The Sutta Nipata records that Gautama Buddha passed a night on the bank of the river Mahi, which D. C. Sircar dismissed as scribal tampering. But other texts also speak of Gautama at seemingly distant Khotan and Lanka and P.C. Bagchi noted that the Tara Tantra places him in Maha-China.
Significantly, Al-Mas’udi, the learned Iraqi historian who is often compared with Herodotus, also seems to describe the journey of Budasp, or Gautama Buddha, to Zabuli-stan, Seistan and Kerman. Gautama was a great wanderer, yet his lack of interest in Nepal and his trip to Khotan, Zabulistan etc. is perplexing. Kabul echoes Kabil/Kapil and the data from the Tara Tantra and Al-Masu’di raises the suspicion that Kapilavastu may actually have been in Afghanistan which is also a hill-country; and was is in the north-west, the ce-nter of early India. Buddhism was a Vedic heresy and Afghanistan was within Vedic India; the RigVeda cites many Afghan rivers and tribes. A. Toynbee and Sir Charles Eliot were aware that southeast Iran and Afghanistan (an extension of Sindh), were within ‘India’. This is shown by Alexander the Great’s ‘victory over the Indians’ at Kohnouj near Patali and Jiroft.
Buddhism Was Born in the Gandhara Area, not Nepal
Incidentally, a startling discovery of Buddhist relics near the old Indian border (50 km) adds substance to Al-Masu’di’s statement. Afghanistan today is a cauldron of violent conf-licts, but the giant Buddha statue of Bamiyan makes one wonder whether there is more to its resounding Buddhist heritage. The massive 6th century B.C. Buddhist site of Mes Aynak, 35 km south-east of Kabul spanning 1000 hectares and having monasteries, temples, and thousands of statues calls for a complete revision of Buddhist history. The excavations are unfinished yet but Mes Aynak (~2450 meters above sea level) may turn out to be the oldest Buddhist site in the world. It is about 18 km east of Kabul-Gardez highway close to the trade routes to India. Three areas of the site have now been excavated: Gol Hamid where a Buddhist temple was first found; Kafiriat Tepe with a second monastic complex, and Baba Wali which has secular dwellings and a garrison and was linked to copper mining which is far older than the Buddhist phase. The site was continuously occupied from the Bronze Age to the Islamic period. Fragments of manuscripts in Brahmi script have been found in one of the buildings which may date from the early centuries of the present era. Mes Aynak was long known to be an important site and was first excavated in 1963. It was later explored by Z. Tarzi and the eminent Russian archaeologist V. Sarianidi but no one foresaw its vast expanse.
Gautama Buddha May Have Visited Mes Aynak or Mahanaga Vihara
The glittering archaeological finds including texts and ornaments show that Mes Aynak was a premier Buddhist institution of the day in the world and it is natural to expect its name in Buddhist literature, possibly in a different garb. As the area has a huge deposit of copper, its name may be related to bronze or copper. This leads to an early metal-man of Buddhist literature, Trapusa (‘Trapu’ = ‘Tin’ in Sanskrit). Incidentally, Tin (or Nickel) is an important constituent of Bronze. From pottery and other archaeological relics found here, B. E. Huffman has inferred that beneath the Buddhist Vihara lies a Bronze Age site which is much older. Aynak is almost identical to ‘Anak’ or ‘Annaku’, the Akkadian word for ‘tin’ (or ‘lead’). Notably, the Hebrew ‘Nahos’, which means ‘snake’, is similar to the Pali word ‘Naga’ which stands for ‘snake’; but ‘Copper’, in Hebrew is ‘Nahoshet’ which echoes ‘Naga’ and hints that one of the meanings of the word ‘Naga’ may have been copper or Bronze.
Thus the Buddhist name of Mes Aynak may have been Mahanaga vihara or Nagamaha-vihara. Nagamahavihara is usually placed in Ceylon but the Ceylonese chronicles are often very confused. Nagamahavihara is said to be a monastery in Rohana built by Mahanaga, brother of Devanampiya Tissa, but the name Tissa occurs in the Persepolis tablets and there were many Tissas who were not related to modern Sri Lanka. Sir A. B. Keith wrote that the earlier meaning of the term ‘Loha’ may have been copper. Loha may be linked to ‘Logar’, the name of the province in which Mes Aynak is situated, and also the name of a nearby river.
The Buddhist texts refer to Gautama Buddha’s presence in Lanka which is taken to mean modern Sri Lanka but as H. D. Sankalia and others have shown, this is unjustified. The Mahavamsa refers to a visit of Gautama Buddha to Lanka:
And he knew also that in the midst of Lanka, on the fair river bank, in the delightful Mahanaga garden, three yojanas long and a yojana wide, the (customary) meeting-place for the yakkhas, there was a great gathering of (all) the yakkhas dwelling in the island. To this great gathering of the yakkhas went the Blessed One…
But this Lanka was in Afghanistan, not Ceylon and the Mahanaga garden is Mes Aynak, which seems to have been visited by Gautama Buddha. The Mahavamsa echoes Al Mas’udi’s report of Budasp’s visit to Zabulistan which included Kabul. The Tanta text Satpanchasad-desabibhaga, which deals with geography, clearly places Lanka in the North-West. Xuan Zhang states that Lankaro, which was under Persian control, had more than 100 monasteries and more than 6000 brethren of the Hinayana and the Mahayana schools. ‘Dwipa’ corresponds to ‘Tepe’ which is loosely translated as ‘island’; Jambudwipa was not an island. The landscape of Mes Aynak is desolate, which is an aspect of the worldwide degradation of ecosystems. The denudation is more striking in Seistan, which was a fertile land even during Alexander’s time.
Who Was Asoka and Who Were The Kushans?
Mes Aynak is within the orbit of Gandhara culture and stone sculpture and reliefs found here were carved in schist as in the earlier known Gandharan sculptures. The Buddhist iconography of the images is similar to those from Kham Zargar, Shuturak and Paitawah. About the crucial role of Gandhara in early Buddhist history, the Encyclopedia Britannica states:
The Gandhāra region had long been a crossroads of cultural influences. During the reign of the Indian emperor Aśoka (3rd century BC), the region became the scene of intensive Buddhist missionary activity; and, in the 1st century AD, rulers of the Kushān empire, which included Gandhāra, maintained contacts with Rome. In its interpretation of Buddhist legends, the Gandhāra school incorporated many motifs and techniques from classical Roman art, including vine scrolls, cherubs bearing garlands, tritons, and centaurs. The basic iconography, however, remained Indian.
But who really was Asoka and why did his missionaries took the call for brotherhood and amity to much of Asia and the Greco-Roman world from Gandhara? Sir Mortimer Wheeler wrote that Asoka may have had Greek blood in his veins. Buddhist chronology is centered on his history but it is crucial to note that he was the same as the half-Greek Diodotus-I, who operated from Bactria. This is the crux of the Gandhara efflorescence.
Of greater importance, vis-à-vis Indian chronology, is that the Kushans may have been linked to Armenia which explains their proximity to Rome. That there were many Indians in Armenia in the 2nd century B.C. is well known. The name of King Artavasdes (53-34 B.C.) of Armenia echoes the name of the Kushan king Vasudeva. The contact with Rome may also have been mediated by the ‘Indo-Greeks’ such as Demetrius, Menander, Heliocles-II, Amyntas Nikator and Hermaeus Soter, who were from Asia Minor.
Mes Aynak – One of the Earliest Buddhist Sites
Mes Aynak was situated on an ancient crossroads of trade and culture which later became a Buddhist center. The primacy of Afghanistan’s Buddhist heritage is shown by a recent accidental discovery (~1993) of jars containing many (>10,000) hitherto unknown Buddhist texts at Bamiyan dating from the 2nd to the 8th century AD, many of which are now in the Schoyen collection. This has been compared to the discovery of the Christian Dead Sea Scrolls. This collection stands right at the roots of the formation of Mahayana Buddhism, and is its single most important source. Secondly, hundreds of Achaemenian silver coins (6th century B.C.) have been found at Caman Hazori and Tapa Marenjan areas of Kabul. The multiple layers of habitation at Mes Aynak provide data about the technological, economic, religious and social history of not only Afghanistan but Buddhism in general. It was a key transit region between Asia and Europe and was centrally located on the Silk Road. Mohammed N. Rasouli of the Afghan archaeological department states:
There is a temple, stupas, beautiful rooms, big and small statues, two with the length of seven and nine meters, colorful frescos ornamented with gold and some coins… Some of the relics date back to the fifth century (AD)… We have come across signs that there are items maybe going back to the era before Christ or prehistory…
Z. Tarzi dates the earliest Buddhist relics of Mes Aynak to 2nd century AD and posits a strong influence of Hadda. Incidentally the Basawal caves near Hadda have not been satisfactorily dated and appear to be very ancient. The first Gandhara (Afghanistan and Pakistan) sculpture that reached Europe (~ 1833) was from Kabul and Sir John Boardman now says that the date of the earliest Buddha images from Gandhara should be pushed back by a century to 2nd-1st century B. C.. Pottery sherds of Mes Aynak have been dated to the Indo-Greek era (2nd century B.C.). M. Kenoyer holds that Mes Aynak may have supplied copper to the Indus-Saraswati civilization. Regarding the overall dating of the Mes Aynak site, the report published by the Kabul National Museum states:
Circular shaped graves surrounded by stones have been observed between the monasteries of Gol Hamid and Kafiriat Tepe. Two of them have been excavated but they had been looted. They could be dated to the same period as the monasteries and buildings but an earlier dating is also possible, as C14 analysis gave as result the 1st millennium B.C.
In fact the upshot of the discoveries goes far beyond regional issues and calls for a revision of early Buddhist history. The combined evidence of Mes Aynak, Bamiyan and Hadda indicates that Buddhism spread from Afghanistan and north-west India, not Nepal.
The Stifling Nepalese Stories
The discoveries at Mes Aynak have been widely reported in the international media yet it has been overlooked that these have a bearing on the origin of Buddhism. The Buddhist texts from Bamiyanand statues and other relics from Mes Aynak, Bamiyan or Hadda cannot be compared with relics from any location of Nepal and this cannot but cast doubts on the claims of Gautama’s birth here. The Silk-route which was the vehicle of the transmission of Buddhism, passed through Mes Aynak but not Nepal. This unmistakably points to Afghanistan and North-west India as the cradle of Buddhism. Owing to Jones’ false identification of Palibothra at Patna it has escaped the notice of all that nothing in the history, archaeology, literature, or art of early Nepal has the faintest hint of Buddhism. Sudha Sengupta points to the link between Gautama Buddha and Afghanistan:
These inscriptions recording the installment of ‘sarira’ of the Buddha are mostly from Afghanistan, Punjab and N. W. Frontier areas of modern Pakistan, excepting Mathura in U.P. and Bhattiprolu in Andhra Pradesh.
The largest number of Buddha images is from Gandhara, not Nepal or eastern India where one should expect them in the Jones-Cunningham theory. The colossal Buddha statue of Bamiyan and the thousand Buddhas of China are a far cry from the archaeological void of Nepal. C. Humphreys expresses concern:
The Lumbini gardens, where Gotama was born, lie in the difficult Nepal Terai, and Kusinara, where the Buddha passed away, has little to show.
The way out is shown by T. A. Phelps, whose painstaking work has exposed the skullduggery behind Dr. A. Führer’s so-called discovery of Lumbini. Führer copied inscriptions from Buhler’s articles on Sanchi and Mathura, reworked them, and incorporated the results into the report of his own excavations at the site of Ramnagar. He incised Brahmi inscriptions on to stone exhibits in the Lucknow Museum. He also sold a horse tooth for a large sum of money faking it as Buddha’s own tooth.
Phelps’ exposé shifts the center of early Buddhism Baluchistan-Afghanistan-North-West-India. He suggests that the British colonial administration may have deliberately condoned the forgeries of Führer. It is possible that they considered that these ‘discoveries’ bolster Sir William Jones’ so-called discovery of Palibothra at Patna which has been rejected by the eminent scholar N. G. L. Hammond and others. Vincent Smith strongly denounced Führer’s fraudulent activities and wrote that the location of Kapilavastu will remain unknown for long. He surmised that Gotama may have been a Central Asian. Similar ideas were put forth by J. Fergusson and S. Beal. D. B. Spooner wrote that Gotama and Chandragupta were from Iran but here it has to be noted that Afghanistan and south-east Iran were once in ‘India’. It is uncanny that the patently absurd story of Gotama’s birth in Nepal has survived scholarly scrutiny for more than a century. Sir Aurel Stein, who almost single-handedly established the material basis of Buddhism, found nothing in Nepal.
Gautama Buddha, Gaumata the ‘Maga’ and Gombrich’s False Date for Gautama Buddha
The Gaumata-Darius-I clash is one of the greatest stories and scandals of history but surprisingly it solves a vexing problem in Buddhist chronology. Due to a false focus on Nepal, instead of Indo-Iran, it has been missed that the Gaumata-Gautama synchronism supports the traditional date of Gautama (6th-5th cent. B.C.) not the Gombrich-Bechert date of 6th-5th cent. B.C. Unaware that vis-à-vis the early era, the term Indo-Iranian is preferable to Iranian or Indian, E. J. Thomas blames the sources:
These documents do not in themselves form a basis for a historical account. It is impossible to determine form them any credible chronology, and the Buddhists themselves failed to do so. The various calculations for the date of Buddha’s death in Pali and Sanskrit works vary by centuries.
Gaumata (Gau-mata = ‘cow-mother’ in Sanskrit) was a namesake of Gautama (Gut-ama = ‘cow mother’ in Sumerian) and also a contemporary, yet due to the Nepalese allusions, it has been missed that Gaumata was the same as Gautama Buddha. The portrayal of the episode by R. N. Frye is shallow but A. T. Olmstead, A. Toynbee and T. C. Young Jr. doubted Darius’ veracity and held that Gaumata was not an imposter. M. Dandamayev and W. Culican also suggest that Darius-I had lied in the Behistun inscription. Another seemingly independent report is available from Herodotus whose version largely agrees with Darius’ story. This is seen by R. N. Frye as a confirmation of Darius’ testimony, but as T. C. Young Jr. points out, Herodotus’ story may have been based on copies of Darius’ document which were widely distributed. C. Starr also suspects Darius:
Students of modern history can read many sources, though an abundance of evidence does not mean that they can always establish exactly what happened or explain why it occurred. In ancient history, on the other hand, it is very rare to have two major accounts of the same event… In recreating the history of the past from its sources the historian must ask himself many questions. In this case do the stories agree entirely? Is Darius trying to prove anything in particular about his right to rule? Darius was a devout Zoroastrian and believed in the truth; yet can we trust his official document? As for Herodotus, did he have any reason not to be impartial? How could he have known about the events? Does he make Darius solely responsible for the overthrow of Gaumata?
T. C. Young Jr. comes very close to recognizing the true Gaumata and makes the dramatic suggestion that Gaumata may have preached a new religion:
He then specifically tells us that, ‘As before, so I made the sanctuaries which Gaumata the Magian destroyed.’ Clearly Darius and Gaumata had a difference of opinion about sanctuaries, and, therefore, we may assume about religion or, at least, about ritual forms of religious expression. The details of this disagreement escapes us. Indeed, we are not even sure who was the innovator; the Achaemenians may have introduced forms of religion which adherents of an older faith reacted against under Gaumata’s leadership; or the Magian could have been attempting to introduce a new religion which offended the establishment. What is critical in the present context is that the story of Darius’ overthrow of Gaumata probably contains evidence of a religious as well as dynastic, social/economic and political struggle.
This new religion is Buddhism and Gaumata, who was a contemporary and namesake of Gautama, was Gautama Buddha. Furthermore, Gaumata’s abode is said to be the Median city Sikayauvati orShakyavati, abode of Shakya, which matches Gautama’s title Shakya. Herodotus wrote that Gaumata was widely popular. After Darius’ rule (522-486 B.C.) his son Xerexes turned against Gaumata which supports the traditional date of his death in 486 B.C.
Darius-I is said to have murdered his father. Curiously this is echoed in the Buddhist sources. Ajãtaśatru is said to have murdered his father and in this he is alleged to have been instigated by Devadatta. This may be a garbled echo of Darius’ alleged murder. Vincent Smith wrote that Ajãtaśatru was succeeded about 467 B.C. by his son Darśaka. If the date is taken back by 19 years, which is not a large margin of error in Indology, one has the accession of Xerxes who may have been mistaken for a Darius. The name Darśaka or Dara-Ŝaka echoes Darius, though he is not known to be a Ŝaka. He is widely suspected to have been close to Zoroaster but there is no direct proof. Gotama is also never called Ŝaka but his title Shakya has such a hint. Names such as Brahmadatta, Benares and Kalinga in the Jataka stories have to be considered with greater care.
The Daivas Mentioned by Xerexes Were the Buddhists
Another precious clue regarding the early Buddhists is offered by Xerexes. In a trilingual inscription, he boasts over his destruction of the Daivas:
Among these countries (that submitted to him) was (one) where previously daivas were worshipped. Then, by the favour of Ahura Mazda, I destroyed that daiva place, and I had proclaimed, the daivas shall not be worshipped. Where previously the daivas were worshipped, there I worshipped Ahura Mazda properly with the Law (arta).
Who were the Daivas? The identification of the group is a serious problem in Persian history. R. N. Frye does not recognize that Gaumata was Gautama yet writes:
It is generally agreed that the daiva worshippers were not Babylonians or Egyptians but rather Iranians, or at least Aryans. One may ask whether the Indians living within the Achaemenid empire, who worshipped the old gods, may have been regarded as Daiva worshippers.
Due to the Nepalese smokescreen, and geographical confusion about the extent of ancient India no one took up Frye’s cue. The Buddhist texts speak of Devadaha area near Lumbini and Kapilavastu which shows that the Indians in the Achaemenian Empire were the early Buddhists. To study Buddhist art of the 6th century B.C. one has to venture to Afghanistan, Seistan and Baluchistan which provide the most ancient traces of Buddhism.
Bardiya Was Bhaddiya of the Pali Texts But Was Not Smerdis
The Smerdis-Gaumata-Bardiya episode is of such complexity that even the Greeks failed to grasp its true background. They did not refer to Buddhism and probably mixed it up with Zoroastrianism. They also had vague notions about Zoroaster. Herodotus was deluded by Darius’ propaganda and gave a distorted account of Cambyses’ history. He confused Bardiya with Smerdis and the same mistake is repeated by the Encyclopedia Britannica which states:
Bardiya was the son of Cyrus the Great of Persia. According to both the Greek historian Herodotus and the Persian king Darius’s account in his inscription at Bīsitūn, Bardiya was murdered by his brother, King Cambyses, but was later successfully impersonated by Gaumata, a Magian, who was able to seize the throne when Cambyses died in 522 BC. The usurper reigned for only eight months, however, before he was slain by Darius and other Persian nobles suspicious of his origin. Certain modern historians consider that Darius, who succeeded to the throne, invented the story of Gaumata to justify his actions and that the murdered king had indeed been a son of Cyrus.
Fortunately a third source relating to the Gaumata-Darius-I episode exists in Buddhist sacred literature which implies that Darius had indeed killed Bardiya, not Gaumata. According to the Buddhist texts the Sakya king Bhaddiya, whose name echoes Bardiya, wanted to help a nobleman named Aniruddha who was permitted by his mother to renounce the material world if only the king did so. Bhaddiya renounced his kingdom and joined the Buddhist order. But if the king of the land joins the Sangha, the head of the Sangha may appear to have some royal powers. This is the crux of the Bardiya-Smerdis confusion. Gaumata probably assumed some responsibilities which Bardiya previously shouldered as a king and this may be the essence of Darius’ allegation of impersonation. M. Dandamayev points out that Gaumata was a friend of the poor who freed slaves and waived taxes and this is why the landed gentry revolted against Bardiya. He also quotes Herodotus’ statement that only Smerdis was capable of drawing a special bow with a breadth of two fingers, which reminds one of Gautama’s feats in archery described in the Buddhist texts.
The Jataka Stories in Indo-Iran and Beyond
Relocating the center of Buddhism to Afghanistan-Sindh-Punjab not only alters the histories of Buddhism and Zoroastrianism but totally changes the complexion of the Jatakas. The parallels in the Aesop’s fables and the Arabian Nights stories show that these belong to a very wide area including north-west India, Iran and even further West. Theodor Benfey held in the 19th century that although the impulse to invent folktales is a feature of general human nature, yet the existing folktales of Europe and Asia as a matter of fact originated in India. But ‘India’ was a wide territory which also included Armenia, south-east Iran, Sindh, Afghanistan and even Babylonia. Benfey noted the similarity of the Babylonian Story of Ahikar (7th cent. B.C.) with the Mahaummagga Jataka. It is the tale of a king’s minister, who falls into disfavour, and is restored through his skill in answering certain problems that had been sent to the king. In Greek tradition Aesop is credited with the discovery of the animal-fables and he is said to be a Phrygian but there is little evidence for an extensive Phrygian literature. R. D. Barnett writes about animal fables:
…The animal fable, a form of folk-literature of great antiquity in the east and usually unwritten. The home of the animal-fable, in which the normal roles are reversed and animals play the parts of men, is, par-excellence, India; but traces of it can be detected in Sumer in the third millennium B.C. in the Royal Graves of Ur…
Some Sumerian cuneiform tablets dating from the 2nd millennium B.C. contain proverbs with animal characters. The Harappan seals also reveal an obsession for animal motifs.
Vincent Smith noted that according to ancient writers, Gedrosia and Kermania were once known as ‘India’. Also, from the Vedic age India was in close contact with Asia Minor and this cultural intercourse became much more pronounced after the expedition of Alexander. The manuals known as ‘instructions for princes’ are known from Babylonia from a very early stage and these have some similarities with the Panchatantra and other Indian texts.
Smerdis and Gaumata the Maga in the Dipankara Jataka
The Aesop’s fables speak of a contact between India and Greece (or Phrygia) but it is surprising to find Jataka names in Herodotus. The Dipankara Jataka which was depicted at Mes Aynak was immensely popular in Afghanistan and Central Asia and it is generally thought to have originated in this area. The Chinese pilgrim Xuan zang’s report seems to localize the Dipankara cult at Nagarahara in the neighbourhood of Hadda. Among the schist statues found at Mes Aynak, a painted stele of Dipankara Buddha is unique and deserves special mention. Dipankara is said to be first among the 24 (or 28) former Buddhas, and the fabulous picture of him in the Buddhavamsa shows the great respect for him:
Dipankara was 80 cubits tall, shining like big tree of lamps, he was always attended by 84,000 Arhats, he lived (in the earth) for 100,000 years and the Stupa in which his remains were enshrined was 36 yojanas high.
Despite the mythical tone, the Jatakas contain valuable historical clues. There may have been an earlier Dipankara but from the contact of Sakyamuni with Dipankara it is useful to ignore the ‘former births’ and hold that Dipankara was a senior contemporary. The organization of the Sangha appears to be much older than Gautama and the Jataka story may hint at some process of selection of a new successor. Sir Charles Eliot observes:
In the olden books of the Pitakas six Buddhas are mentioned as preceding Gautama (Dik. Nik. 14/Mahãpadãnasutta; therag, 499: Sam. Nik XII 4-10) namely, Vipassĩ, Sikhĩ, Vissabhǔ, Kakusanda, Koņãgama and Kassapa. The last three at least may have some historical character. The Chinese pilgrim Fa-Hsien, who visited India from 405-411 AD, saw their reputed birth places and says that there still existed followers of Devadatta (apparently in Kosala) who recognised these three Buddhas but not Gotama.
Eliot refers to Asoka’s erection of a monument in honour of Koņãgamana in Nepal with a dedicatory inscription, unaware that this is likely to be a fake.
In the story described in the Mahavastu the young Brahmin Megha (Sumedha in the Pali accounts), met Dipankara Buddha who had gained enlightenment and was on his way to Dipavati, the royal city of his father King Archimat. Knowing that the king made elaborate arrangements for reception of the exalted Dipankara, Megha who had just finished his Vedic studies also decided to honour Dipankara. He carried with him his simple things, like the water-pot, sunshade, stick and bathing mantle. He met a Brahmin girl Prakriti who had seven lotuses in her hand. He purchased five of these and then both proceeded to greet Dipankara. When they threw their lotuses on Dipankara, they remained suspended over his halo. At this time at a marshy spot Megha loosens his plaited hair, spreads it out on the ground, and lies face downwards, wishing that the exalted Buddha Dipankara, with his host of disciples, may step over his hair without having their feet soiled by mud. At this moment there arose in his mind the thought that he also can become a Buddha in future. Pleased with Megha’s devotion and reading his mind, Dipankara prophesied that Megha, after innumerable eons, would become a Buddha to alleviate the suffering of humanity and would be born in Kapilvastu and would be known as Sakyamuni Buddha.
Megha clearly echoes Gaumata the Maga of and Sumedha corresponds to Smerdis of the Greeks. That Herodotus came to know about the Jataka names shows their wide currency. He may have got it from Persian or Median sources. The mythical trappings associated with re-birth and hair (and hair-washing) eludes a modern observer but there are historical clues in the story which deserve careful investigation. Megha is declared as a Brahmin whereas Gautama Buddha is known to be from a Kshatriya family. The identity of a sixth century nobleman named Dipankara who became a ‘Buddha’, and the location of the city Dipavati (Devavati?) are interesting historical problems. Again one wonders whether there is any significance of the five lotuses Megha offered to Dipankara.
The Mes Aynak Vihara May Have Been Linked to Trapusa
It is probable that the Mes Aynak Vihara, which is linked to copper, was founded by Trapusa. There is also some likelihood that hair-relics of Gautama were kept here. The Chinese monk Xuan Zhang (Hsuan-Tsang) wrote that Buddhism was brought to Bactria by the merchant brothers Trapusa and Bhallika who first offered food to Gotama Buddha after his enlightenment and became his first lay followers. They are said to have established Viharas in their country. Bhallika is clearly a person from Balkh but Buddhist history was so badly botched up by the Nepalese stories that it was overlooked that this is absurd in a Nepalese scenario and that Buddhism spread out from Gandhara. As already noted, Trapusa was a ‘Tin man’ or ‘bronze-man’. T. W. Rhys Davids writes:
At that time two merchants, Tapassu and Bhallika by name, were travelling from Orissa to Central India with five hundred carts. And a deva, blood relation of theirs, stopped their carts, and moved their hearts to offer food to the Master. And they took a rice cake, and a honey cake, and went up to the Master and said: “O sir, Blessed One! out of compassion for us accept this food.
Now, on the day when he had received the sweet rice-milk, his bowl had disappeared; so the Blessed One thought: ‘The Buddhas never receive food in their hands. How shall I accept it?’ Then the four Guardians knew his thought and, coming from the four quarters of the sky, they brought bowls made of saphire. And the Blessed One accepted them. Then they brought four other bowls, made of jade; and the Blessed One, out of kindness to the four devas, received the four, and placing them one above another commanded, saying: “Let them become one.” And the four closed up into one of medium size, becoming visible only as lines round the mouth of it. The Blessed One received the food into that new-created bowl, and ate it, and gave thanks.
The term Majjhima or Madhyama echoes Media which designated many regions. The Kabul area could have been Majjhimadesa as the North-west was the center of early India. Rhys Davids had a very naive approach in geography and did not realize that ‘Ukkala to Majjhimadesa’ is not the same as ‘Orissa to central India’. A brother of Bhallika could not have been a native of Orissa. Orissa was called not only Utkala but also Kalinga and Pliny pointed to three Kalingas. Also as Asoka was Diodotus-I, the Kalinga war cannot have taken place in Orissa. The allusion to five hundred carts is an exaggeration but a caravan in 6th century B.C. makes sense at Mes Aynak or Khyber pass, not Orissa which had no trade routes in that era. In the region west of Baluchistan there were cities named Puri, Katak and Konarak and this area may have been Ukkala. Alexander’s historians found the Oritae here.
The reference to bowls made of sapphire, Jade etc. is also inflated yet it has to be noted that Afghanistan was a land of precious stones such as sapphire, Lapis Lazuli and emerald. Since Neolithic times Lapis lazuli from Badakhshan was sent to Mesopotamia, Egypt and India. In addition to silk these gems, copper (or bronze) must have been the items traded through the Silk road. Trapusa and Bhallika joined the Sangha and became Buddhists. When they requested the Buddha to give them something to which they would be able to pay reverence, he tore own hair from his head and gave them as hair-relics. The brothers built a Dagaba in their own city, and placed the hair-relics within it.
The Magnificent Bamiyan Texts
Not surprisingly, the earliest Buddhist texts come from Gandhara, Bamiyan and the far away Dun Huang library, not Nepal. At the dawn of the last century Sir Aurel Stein discovered one of the greatest treasure troves(~60,000 texts) of ancient texts at dun Huang which date from the 5th to the 11th century AD. The Gandhāra Buddhist texts (thought to be the oldest Buddhist manuscripts yet discovered), are from the 1st century AD. The twenty-nine volumes from Gandhara are of great significance. These were written in Kharosthi script on birch skin(1st–2nd cent. AD) and were found in the Nagarahara area near Hadda. The manuscripts are now in the British Library. R. Salomon attributes the Gandhari texts mainly to the Dharmaguptaka sect whose library was near Hadda and not far from Mes Aynak. Texts in Brahmi and other scripts have also been found at Mes Aynak.
A tantalizing recent discovery was a collection of Buddhist manuscripts found in caves in Bamiyan, in Afghanistan, around 1993-95. They comprise around 5,000 leaves and fragments, with around 7,000 micro-fragments, from a library of originally up to 1,000 manuscripts. The Bamiyan texts have brought to notice such a vast range of new data that their impact is yet to be carefully analysed. Among the finds is a Buddhist text in Greek script:
One such manuscript is written in cursive Greek script and contains passages praising various Buddhas. It is noteworthy that the name of Lokeśvararãja Buddha (λωγοασφαρο-ραζο βοδδο) is included, which implies the existence of the worship of Amida Buddha among the people.
D. D. Kosambi made the profound suggestion that Lukman of the Mohammedan texts may be Gautama Buddha himself and this may be linked to Lokeśvararãja.
Gautama Buddha and His Father in the Persepolis Tablets
A hitherto untapped source for Buddhist history is the archive of inscribed clay tablets from Persepolis (509 to 494 BC) which seem to mention Gautama Buddha and his father. The Gaumata-Gautama identity shows the importance of Persia in early Buddhist history and not surprisingly, the Persepolis archive provides data relevant to early Buddhism. Thanks to the work of R. T. Hallock, W. Hinz and others, these tablets have opened up new vistas of research. They provide priceless data about the economic, religious and social life of Iraq, Iran and India, yet much remains unknown. Curiously, although Sanskrit was considered in the study of the tablets, the Buddhist Pali sources were left out which has hampered the analysis as Pali may be related to Avestan. Significantly, the name Tiśśa, which has a unique Buddhist imprint, is found in the tablets (PF 781 and PF 1124). Tiśśa is a timeless name in the Buddhist tradition – Tiśśa-kumara was Asoka’s brother and Tiśśa was the 17th of the 24 Buddhas. Tiśśantamma (Tiśśa Dharma) of PF 48 is another form that stresses his religious stature. Tiśśa is said to have been born at Khemaka which may be Kemarukkaŝ of the tablets. The title ŝaramana of some officials in the tablets points to a link with Buddhist history as the Buddhist were later called Shramanas.
Although Parnaka was the chief treasurer, the name of his deputy Ŝudda-Yauda-ŝaramana (or Ŝudda-Yauda-Damana) appears in numerous tablets which show his great importance. He turns out to be Ŝuddhodana, father of Gotama Buddha. More importantly, Ŝedda-ŝaramana of tablets appears to be Ŝedda-Arta or Siddhartha Gautama himself who was the same as Gaumata. Other names in the tablets such as Yaŝudda, Karaŝna etc. also point to a close link with Indian history. The Buddhists were called Samaniyas and Šaman, the karamaraš (priest?) of Ištibara (Istakhr?) in PF 1537 appears to be Gautama Buddha.
Prince Siddhartha Before He Became a Buddha — a Statue and a Seal
A precious archaeological find at Mes Aynak is a schist stele that appears to depict prince Siddhartha before enlightenment. In it he is shown sitting under a pipal tree foliage on a round wicker stool, eyes turned down, and his right foot against his left knee. He is clad in a dhoti and is adorned with a turban, necklaces, earrings and bracelets. The turban is decorated by a rich front-ornament, without any human figure in it. A monk standing beside holds a lotus (or palm) with his right arm. G. Fussman identifies the figure as prince Siddhartha, before enlightenment. According to him the stele reveals a monastic cult devoted to Siddhartha before he became a Buddha. The existence of such a cult was proposed by G. Schopen from a study of the Tibetan Mulasarvastivada vinaya. The text elaborates on the carrying the image of Siddhartha (treated as a Bodhisattva embodying divine wisdom and virtue) on a wagon. Fussman, who has no problems with the Nepalese stories, dates the stele to 4th century AD.
Fussman is unaware that another relic of Gautama before his enlightenment is available from the Persepolis archive. The personal seal of Ŝedda-ŝaramana, who has been identified with Siddhartha Gautama, is not known definitely, but one of the texts mentioning him (PF 250) was sealed only by PFS 79 which makes it likely that it was his personal seal. Garrison and Root note that PFS 79 always occurs alone in the tablets that it seals, which shows that it belonged to a very important functionary. The five-pointed dentate crown of the hero was worn by Darius-I himself and only three other vassal kings, and reminds one of the Panchalas. This may indicate a family relationship of Gautama with Darius-I who was related to Kurash. Gaumata was very close to Bardiya whose name echoes Bharata, and the name Kambujiya probably hides an Afghan ethnicity. The bird-headed winged lion creatures that the hero holds may be significant. Garrison and Root note that the birds have their mouths open which may point to an affectionate relation. In a famous Buddhist legend Gotama rescues a fowl which was injured by Devadatta who is Zoroaster. The five-pointed dentate crown may be related to the five lotuses Megha offered to Dipankara. Like the great Rama and Darius-I, Gautama may also have been an ‘Aryan’.
The Dismantling of Mes Aynak
The artifacts of Mes Aynak are to be shifted to museums and the site is due to be dismantled to make room for copper mining. This will be a tragedy of the highest order, for the Archaeological and historical relevance of Mes Aynak goes far beyond Buddhism. It was a religious and social hub which may have been linked to other religions such as Jainism, Zoroastrianism, and even Christianity. The Buddhist culture of Gandhara was egalitarian in which people of diverse ethnicities and nationalities participated. Gandharan Greco-Buddhist art and the Buddhist texts in Greek script speak of a significant contribution of the Greeks in many aspects of Buddhism. Furthermore, Mes Aynak has to be considered together with not only Hadda/Basawal, Bamiyan and Kapisa, but also, Mardan, Peshawar, Mathura, Sanchi, Bharhut, Thotlakonda and Ajanta.
As Tarzi writes, Mes Aynak was a going concern at the dawn of the present era when Christianity rose, and this calls for a broadening of paradigms. There are numerous refere-nces to the missionary activities of St. Thomas in Seistan, Gandhara, South India, and perhaps Punjab and Jesus Christ is also said to have visited India. It is, therefore, possible that St. Thomas and Jesus were active in Gandhara where Mes Aynak is situated.
No history of Gandhara can ignore the Indo-Greeks who ushered in earth-shattering transformations in world history. ‘There is still a romance about Hellenistic Bactria all but impossible to resist.’, writes F. L. Holt, unaware that Hellenistic culture was related to Buddhism and that the greatest vanguard of Bactrian Hellenism was the Indo-Hellene Diodotus-I/Asoka who turned Buddhism into a world-religion. Other ‘Indo-Greeks’ also appear to have played equally determinant roles. As Droysen held, Christianity grew out of an intercourse between Hellenism and the Eastern cultures and apart from Bactria and Pergamon, an important contact area appears to be Gandhara. Asoka’s Edicts and the elephant–headed Zeus in the coins of Hermaeus Soter suggests that religion in the first century B.C. was syncretic in nature, not as compartmentalized as it is today.
Further archaeological research at Mes Aynak, Bamiyan, Kapisa and Hadda may throw light on the apparently irresolvable problem of relics of the founders of Christianity. Who really was the Indo-Greek Hermaeus Soter (40 B.C-0 AD, whose effigy on coins resembles that of a missionary? Numerous coins of him have been found and the great respect for him in antiquity is indicated by that his face appeared on the coins of later kings. This seems to be related to the problem of relics of St. Thomas who was a contemporary of Hermaeus Soter and who is a prominent literary figure.
R. C. Senior has recently proposed an earlier date for Hermaeus’ contemporary Gondophares Soter i.e. 20-10 BC (in place of early 1st century AD) which seems to have a cascading effect on Christian history; as Gondophares is known to have been converted to Christianity by St. Thomas. Senior suggests that a later Gondophares was the contemporary of St. Thomas but the title Soter of the elder Gondophares shows that this is tentative and unnecessary. No coins of Diodotus-I, or Hermaeus Soter or his close associate Amyntas Nikator have been found as yet at Mes Aynak, but Hermaeus’ coins have been found near Kabul (Bopp 10F). Incidentally Kapisa (Begram) which was the center of Amyntas and Hermaeus is only about 70 km away. Sir William Tarn realized the greatness of Amyntas and Hermaeus Soter. A. K. Narain also has a similar opinion but has no idea of the link with the gospels. Amyntas may have been known as Amen.
Prof. Brent E. Huffman and others are trying to mobilize international public opinion against the dismantling of Mes Aynak which would be an unmitigated disaster. The financial gains from copper mining are offset by probable groundwater pollution. Moreover, in the final count, Afghanistan may not only gain more in future from tourism if Mes Aynak is not destroyed but there is also a psychological gain in projecting Mes Aynak as a monument testifying Afghanistan’s cultural and scientific contribution in human civilization.
by Ranajit Pal – Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, India
Original article: Gaumata and Smerdis in the Dipankara Jataka and the Date of the Buddha
GAUMĀTA, according to the Bīsotūn inscriptions (q.v.), the Magian pretender who seized the Achaemenid throne by claiming to be Bardiya (Smerdis), the son of Cyrus the Great (qq.v.). No event has been more abundantly documented and more bitterly discussed in the rich history of the Achaemenids than the transition of power from Cambyses (Kambūjiya) to Darius I (522 B.C.E., qq.v.). Shortly after his accession to the throne and his great victories, Darius had the official version inscribed on the rock of Bīsotūn in three languages (Elamite, Old Persian, and Babylonian) and diffused in all the languages of the empire (an incomplete Aramaic version has been found in the back of a papyrus from the Egyptian island of Elephantine [q.v.], dated to Darius II). According to Darius (DB 1.26-61), Cambyses has had his half brother Bardiya assassinated and kept it secret. When Cambyses embarked on his Egyptian expedition (525 B.C.E.), the rebellion (drauga-, lit: the lie) grew “in Persia, Media, and other countries”; it was in these circumstances that a man (martiya-), referred to in the inscriptions as a Magian (magu-) by the name of Gaumāta plotted a coup d’état in Persia and claimed to be Bardiya, Cyrus’s son and Cambyses’ brother. Having found quite a number of supporters, he seized royal power (xšaça-) and when Cambyses died in July 522 B.C.E., he continued his reign without much opposition (DB 1.26-60). Apart from some still debated military and topographical problems (Koch, pp. 49-60), it is the now famous and much discussed paragraph 14 (ll. 61-70) that poses arduous problems. There, Darius accuses the usurper of having upset the equilibrium of the society and the kingdom by destroying the sanctuaries and confiscating from the kāra- (people? army? nobles? see below), pastures, herds, workers, and houses/domains (abicariš; gaiθāmcā; māniyamcā; viθbišcā). Darius flatters himself for having single-handedly led the revolt against the usurper, who was shortly afterward eliminated in a fortress in the Median district of Nisaya. In a later paragraph (DB 4.80-86) the new king mentions the names of six grandees who assisted him. Darius says in his Bīsotūn inscriptions that, by the grace of Ahura Mazdā, he restored the kingdom on its legitimate basis and became the ninth king issued from a family founded by Achaemenes (Haxāmaniš; DB 1.3-11, 68-71).
This story gained an immense popularity in antiquity, as shown by its many versions that circulated at the time. Among the classical authors, only one, Justin, applies the name Cometes to Gaumāta (1.9.7). The longest and the most detailed version is given by Herodotus, who gives the name of Smerdis to the usurper, and, like Darius, calls him a Magian, pushed to the throne by his brother (also a Magian), Patizeithes. Many analogies may easily be drawn between the Bīsotūn inscriptions and the account given by Herodotus (3.61-79); secret assassination of Cambyses’ half brother, the Egyptian expedition, usurpation by the false Smerdis, his elimination by seven conspiring nobles, and, finally, the accession to supreme power by Darius, son of Hystaspes (Vištāspa). The list of the seven names, except for a single exception, is identical to that of Darius. The discrepancies are just as important, particularly the central role given by Herodotus to Otanes (Utāna), and also the Median connection attributed by the Greek historian to the rebellion of the false Smerdis, called not only Magian but Median as well (Herodotus, 3.73); according to Herodotus (3.65), the usurper seems even to have favored a return to Median hegemony (words spoken by Cambyses on his death bed). Herodotus (3.67) adds that except for Persians, all the peoples of Asia missed the false Smerdis because he had granted a three-year military draft and tax exemption to the peoples of the empire (same version given by Justin, 1.9.12).
We could multiply comparisons between the versions recounted by various classical authors (Herodotus, Ctesias, Justin, Aeschylus, etc.) without much result. Nor would making a conspectus list of the analogies and the discrepancies between Herodotus and the Bīsotūn inscriptions help us to arrive at perfectly reliable conclusions, because historians doubt both versions. It is obvious that Darius had much interest in presenting Gaumāta as a usurper and destroyer of traditions in order to demonstrate his most fundamental claim that he was guided and protected by Ahura Mazdā and the sole legitimate descendant of a long dynastic and family succession. While in the Old Persian and Elamite texts Gaumāta is simply described as a Magian (maguš, makuš in Elamite), in the Babylonian version he is referred to as a “man from Media.” Are we supposed to conclude that this reference adds weight to the Median connection version of Herodotus? This conclusion does not seem to be justified (pace Schmitt, p. 110).
The only certainty is that the Babylonian tables confirm that for a few months a king was officially recognized by the name of Barziya/Bardiya. But was he Cambyses’ brother, or was he a Magian by the name of Gaumāta? That a number of historians have for a long time replied positively to the first question is because the contradictions and improbabilities of Darius’s version strengthen the hypothesis of a possible and even plausible mystification on his parts, as is the case with all the kings who come to power with force, claiming to have restored order and dealt with a usurper of uncertain and obscure origins who has destroyed social, religious, and moral traditions. In other words, it was vital for a man like Darius, who had no particular rights to the throne, to invent a character (Gaumāta) condemned for his acts against gods and men.
Some historians have tried to interpret this episode as a brutal shift in the balance of power within the ruling class, somehow leading to a restoration of aristocracy, which, in the short term, brought Darius to power, and, in the long term, prevented the creation of a centralized state. But such a hypothesis is hardly admissible (see Briant, 1996, chaps. 3-4), because it is first and foremost based on Herodotus and a factitious comparison with an obscure passage of the Bīsotūn inscriptions. In fact, Herodotus says, before making the final choice, each conspirator had sworn to bestow exorbitant privileges upon the others should he become king (Herodotus, 3.80-84). Moreover, Herodotus is repeatedly used to explain paragraph 14 of the inscriptions (1.61-71). As a result of a questionable methodology, kāra- is said to mean “the nobility” and thereby it is maintained that Bardiya fought the nobility and Darius represented the restoration of the aristocracy. The fact is that kāra-, as much as taššup in Elamite and uqu in Babylonian, merely means people/army in the indeterminate social sense of “mass,” like the Greek plethos or the Latin populus. Besides, it may easily be observed that such privileges were never bestowed by Darius or his descendants upon the great aristocratic families, and the king primus inter pares and the seven mighty families are the two sides of the same historiographical myth. Although the disappearance of Bardiya (the pseudo-Gaumāta invented by Darius) eventually paved the way for an “outsider” (Darius) to seize power, the former’s short reign does not, properly speaking, signify a disruption in the Achaemenid political history. Bardiya relied on the Persian aristocracy as much as his father (Cyrus) and his brother (Cambyses) did, and only a fraction of Persians rallied to Darius against him. His confiscation of land under precarious tenure (bīt qašatu in the Babylonian version) was aimed at these rebellious noblemen. In the light of this hypothesis, “Gaumāta’s case” seems to be rather banal, set against the long history of the Achaemenid dynasty, which saw many attempted usurpations carried out by brothers or sons of the reigning monarchs. Gaumāta has become a “historical figure” only because on the rock in Bīsotūn and in the countries of his empire Darius tampered with timeless memories.
From Encyclopaedia Iranica: Gaumata
There might be a very good reason why traditional Buddhism offers no details on the early life Suddartha Gautama. This theory may also explain why no archaeological evidence for him even appears until almost 200 years after his death.