A 400-KG black granite bowl of uncertain provenance has split the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). Two ASI experts who travelled to Afghanistan this May to examine the so-called Begging Bowl of the Buddha are learnt to have submitted contradictory reports on the age and historicity of the artefact.
G S Khwaja, Director, Epigraphy Branch (Arabic and Persian), Nagpur, has concluded on the basis of his study of the inscriptions and carvings on the bowl that it was probably created around the 15-16th century AD in Kandahar — for use in a madrasa.
According to the other expert, Phani Kant Mishra, Director, (Archeology), Kolkata, however, the bowl is indeed the “bheekshapatra” of legend, dating back to the time of the Buddha himself.
Khwaja and Mishra travelled to Kabul on May 2. The Indian Express reported then that they would visit the National Museum of Afghanistan in Kabul to examine the artefact, and the possibility of bringing it back to its “original place”, Vaishali in Bihar.
The bowl is 4.5 ft tall, has a diameter of 1.75 m and a rim 18 cm thick, and at least 12 people are needed to move it. It is popularly believed that the Buddha left it to the people of Vaishali who worshipped it before Kanishka of the Kushanas, who lived in the 2nd century AD, took it away to his capital Purushpura, today’s Peshawar.
In his report, accessed by The Indian Express, Khwaja argued that the inscriptions on the bowl are in a style of calligraphy that is dateable to the 15th or 16th century AD, and that the belief that it belonged to the Buddha — who is thought to have lived in the 6th century BC — “seems to be a case of mistaken identity”.
“…It was found that the bowl bears a Persian inscription… in beautiful Thulth style of Islamic calligraphy, in relief. There is no other writing in Pali or Sanskrit in Brahmi or Nagari characters inscribed on it. There is also no trace of any earlier engraving or its omission for having the Persian inscription over-written on it, as has generally happened in many cases,” Khwaja wrote. The inscription, he said, describes the purchase of land by one Jalal-ud-Din opposite the Jama Masjid in Kandahar, on which a madrasa was built, and the bowl was created for the use of its students.
Another inscription continued…