Charles Allen on discovering the bones of the Buddha
The bones of Lord Buddha have been discovered under a mound in Northern India. So why isn't everyone excited? Noted historian Charles Allen explains whyhttp://www.wanderlust.co.uk/magazine/ar ... the-buddha
In 1898 Colonial estate manager Willie Peppe's workers, digging at a mysterious hill in Northern India, found what seemed to be the most extraordinary discovery in Indian archaeology. 20 feet down they unearthed a huge stone coffer containing 5 ancient soapstone jars, over 1600 separate jewels and some bones. And one jar had an inscription that appeared to say they were the remains of the Buddha himself buried by his own 'clan', the Sakyas.
Sadly, the involvement of Dr Anton Führer, a shadowy German archaeologist subsequently exposed as a fake and a fraud, has cast doubt and scandal over this amazing find. For over 100 years it has been ignored and avoided.
In a new film, The Bones of the Buddha, renowned historian Charles Allen sets out to solve the mystery once and for all.
Allen was initially drawn to the project through his interest in the ‘orientalists’ of the British period in India, the men who rediscovered India’s history through things like coins, inscriptions and finding old manuscripts.
“They've always been my heroes in a lot of ways,” he says . “Guys like William Smith, the father of Indian studies, and in particular, James Principe, the guy who sits down and actually breaks the code of this strange and mysterious language.”
That language is Brahmi, devised by Emperor Ashoka, and India’s first written language. It is also the language found inscribed on a vase found at the Piprahwa excavation, the authenticity of which is the key to solving the mystery. The inscription dates the vase to the time of Emperor Ashoka and confirms Allen’s theory that the Sakya clan’s portion of the original remains of the Buddha were dug up by Ashoka, divided even further and then reburied with jewels.
The key to the program was convincing one of the world’s leading epigraphists, Professor Harry Falk, to travel to India to study the inscription and validate it’s authenticity. Professor Falk had largely ignored the Pripahwa discovery because of the controversy but was genuinely excited by what he found.
“And as you’ll see in the film, he has no doubts about it," says Allen. "He says that it is quite patently genuine and he explains why. There’s a word used for remains, that has not been used anywhere else.”
Professor Falk was also able to confirm that the coffer was also from the Ashokan period.
“He measured it, examined it and confirmed it as an Ashokan artifact,” explains Allen. It conformed to Ashokan yard, the measurement introduced by Emperor Ashoka, and displayed exceptionally high quality craftsmanship.”
“More excitingly, Professor Falk discovered little black spots in this pink sandstone that confirmed it came from the same quarry as the Lumbini column, erected by Ashoka, came from.”
The Indian authorities, however, seem less convinced, leaving these important relics neglected. The vase with the inscription is kept in a metal cabinet in the back of a dusty office. The giant stone coffer sits in a courtyard in the museum in Calcutta, mislabeled and left out in the elements.
“The help we got from the Archaeological Survey in India and the museum was minimal.’ Says Allen. “They were just very, very unwilling to help. It took six weeks of negotiation to get them to open up and show the vase with the inscriptions.”
His request to see the jewels that were discovered with the remains was met with a curt refusal.
I asked Allen why he felt there was such apathy towards such a potentially monumental find and he readily admits that it is the involvement of Dr Führer tainted them, despite the fact that he has “a whole series of letters “ that indicate that say Führer never visited the site until six weeks after the excavation.
It doesn't help, either, that one of the world’s experts on Buddhist relics, Dr Michael Willis from the British Museum, is not convinced of the find’s authenticity. Allen says that he asked Dr Willis to take part in the program but he refused because it was “too hot to handle.”
Allen says that Doctor Willis is yet to be convinced that the inscription is genuine.
“It’s maddening,’ explains Allen. “It’s not just Professor Harry Falk who has said it was genuine, but the other great Sanskritist of our era, Professor Richard Salomon of the University of Seattle has also said that there is no question that it is anything part genuine.”
After decades of research, Allen hopes that this film will finally lay the myth to rest and finally remove the stain of impropriety from this important excavation.
“It’s just thrilling to be able to bring this story to a conclusion after ten years,’ he says. ‘And thrilling that to have a great, world leading authority like Professor Harry Falk say that it’s genuine.”
The Bones of the Buddha was produced by Icon Films and will air on National Geographic UK on May 11th, 2013 at 8pm.
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Bones of the Buddha
About This Episodehttp://video.pbs.org/video/2365051393http://www.pbs.org/wnet/secrets/feature ... sode/1023/
This summer, PBS is dedicating a full evening to the Buddha, anchored by an intriguing new Secrets of the Dead episode, Bones of the Buddha. The film presents a convincing collection of evidence that suggests an amateur archaeologist discovered the leader’s sacred remains more than a century ago. Bones of the Buddhaairs Tuesday, July 23, 10-11 pm ET on PBS (check local listings).
Preceding Bones of the Buddha is a rebroadcast of
The Buddha, http://www.pbs.org/thebuddha/
acclaimed filmmaker David Grubin’s documentary about a royal prince who fled the opulence of the palace more than 2,500 years ago. Journeying for six years, he witnessed human suffering for the first time and attained enlightenment, establishing a new religion, Buddhism. Richard Gere narrates the two-hour film airing Tuesday July 23, 8-10 pm ET on PBS (check local listings).
Preview this episode:
The mystery surrounding the bones of the Buddha dates back more than 100 years ago, when colonial estate manager William (Willie) Peppe and his workers began digging at a mysterious hill in Northern India. Peppe had no idea what they’d find just a little more than 20 feet down. They unearthed an astonishing discovery: a huge stone coffer, containing five reliquary jars, more than 1,000 separate jewels – carved semi-precious stones and gold and silver objects – and some ash and bone. One of the jars bore a Sanskrit inscription which, when translated, stated the jar contained the remains of the Buddha himself.
Doubt and rumors of forgery have overshadowed this remarkable find dividing, Buddhist scholars for more than 100 years. Many believe the whole thing is an elaborate hoax. Others insist the tomb on Peppe’s estate is no less than the final resting place of the leader of one of the world’s great religions, a sage who died nearly 2,500 years ago. For the doubters, suspicion focuses on a key figure from the time, disgraced German archaeologist Dr. Anton Fuhrer.
Renowned historian Charles Allen sets out to solve this extraordinary mystery, once and for all. Is the little-known monument in Northern India really the Buddha’s tomb? Is the find genuine? And if it is, who created it and when? Allen begins his journey in England at the home of Neil Peppe, the grandson of William Peppe. From there he travels 4,000 miles to Birdpore House in India, built by the Peppe family in the 1840s. The mysterious hill known as Piprahwa where the tomb was found sits on the northern edge of the Birdpore estate. Allen traces Peppe’s steps to authenticate the find, uncovering how the discovery became shrouded in scandal and where the Piprahwa ashes and bones reside today.
But is the inscription on the jar stating “these are the relics of the Buddha – the Lord” genuine? Allen meets with Harry Falk, a professor at Germany’s oldest institute of Indology and the world’s leading authority on ancient Indian languages, to authenticate the ancient Brahmi script. Though Falk’s findings may finally clear William Peppe’s name and resolve the mystery surrounding his find, Allen must still unravel who built the tomb and buried the remains of Buddha 2,500 year ago.
Bones of the Buddha - Secrets of the Dead
By K. Kris Hirst, About.com Guidehttp://archaeology.about.com/od/india/f ... e-Dead.htm
Author Charles Allen examines original jewels from Piprahwa Stupa
Courtesy of © Icon Films / Lorne Kramer
2013. Secrets of the Dead: Bones of the Buddha. Directed and written by Steven Clarke. Executive producers Steve Burns and Harry Marshall. Produced by Icon Films for Thirteen and WNET. Featuring Charles Allen, Neil Peppe, Harry Falk, Bhante Piyapala Chakmar, and Mridula Srivastava. Special thanks to the Archaeological Survey of India, the Indian Museum of Kolkata, the Mahabodhi Temple committee, Dr. S. K. Mittra, the Srivastava Family and Ram Singh Ji. 54 minutes; DVD and BluRay
The Bones of the Buddha is an historical entry in the PBS series Secrets of the Dead, published in 2013 and touching on the politically dicey discussion of religion and history in India. Centered around the ongoing research of historian Charles Allen, Bones of the Buddha tells the story of the stupa at Piprahwa, a Buddhist sacred structure in the Basti district of Uttar Pradesh in India. Piprahwa is believed by some scholars to be near the site of Kapilavastu, the capital of the Shakyan state, and the Shakyas were the family of the man who would become the historical Buddha [Siddhartha Gautama or Shakyamuni, 500-410 BC], the center of the Buddhist religion. But more than that: Piprahwa is, or rather was, the family burial place of some of the Buddha's ashes.
Historical and Archaeological Investigations
Bones of the Buddha details the investigations by amateur archaeologist William Claxton Peppe, professional archaeologist Dr. K.M. Srivastava, and historian Charles Allen to identify one of the most important of the several burial places of the ashes of the Buddha: that belonging to the Buddha's family. After his death, so the legend goes, the Buddha's ashes were divided into eight parts, one part of which was given to the Buddha's clan. Evidence of the Shakya family burial place of the Buddha's ashes was ignored for nearly 100 years due to the damage inflicted by a corrupt archaeologist: Dr. Alois Anton Führer.
Führer was the head of the British colonial archaeological center for northern India, a German archaeologist who was at the center of a scandal concerning faked and looted artifacts, attributed falsely to the Buddha. But when the excavations at Piprahwa were being undertaken by W.C. Peppe in the late 19th century, the scandal was yet a few months away: but near enough in time to cast doubt on the authenticity of the finds.
The Buddha's Cache
Secrets of the Dead
WNET and PBS
What Peppe found buried deeply within the enormous stupa was a stone reliquary, within which were five small jars. In the jars were hundreds of tiny jewels in the shapes of flowers. More were scattered within the reliquary, intermingled with burned bone fragments of the Buddha himself: this burial is believed to have been placed here by Buddha's disciple, King Ashoka, 250 years after the Buddha's death. In the 1970s, archaeologist K. M. Srivastava reexcavated at Piprahwa and found, beneath Ashoka's elaborate burial, a simpler burial place, believed to have been the original site where the Buddha's family placed the remains.
The story brought forward by Bones of the Buddha is a fascinating one: one of the British Raj in India, when the amateur archaeologist W.C. Peppe plowed a trench through an enormous stupa and found the 4th century BC burial remains.
The story continues in the 1970s, with K. M. Srivastava, a young Indian archaeologist who was convinced that Piprahwa was Kapilavastu, the capital of the Sakyan state.
And finally it concludes with modern historian Charles Allen, who wanders suburban England and northern India in search of the artifacts, the language and the history behind the stupa at Piprahwa.
Most of the all, the video (and the site's investigations for that matter) is excellent as an introduction to the archaeology and history of Buddhism. The Buddha's life, where he was born, how he came to become enlightened, where he died and what happened to his cremated remains are addressed. Also involved in the story is the leader Ashoka, Buddha's disciple, who 250 years after Buddha's death promulgated the religious teachings of the holy man. Ashoka was responsible, say the scholars, for the placing the Buddha's ashes here in a stupa fit for royalty.
And finally, Bones of the Buddha provides the viewer with an introduction to the broadening of Buddhism, how it came to be that 2,500 years after the Buddha died, 400 million people world wide are following his teachings.