Sunday 13 January 2013

The place where lakhs were cremated

The Kurukshetra war between the Pandavas and the Kauravas is supposed to have been one of the most destructive events ever fought on Earth.
The war arose from a dynastic struggle for succession between two groups of cousins of an Indo-Aryan kingdom called Kuru for the throne of  Hastinapur.
Several kingdoms of the then ancient Indian sub continent took sides in the battle and there is historical mention of even the Pandyas, Cheras and Cholas from south India joining the event.
he Pandyas were fierce warriors who joined the Pandavas. A Pandya king, Sarangadhwaja, is mentioned in the epic. His capital was Madurai and Bheeshma rated him as a great Ratha (a grade for chariot-warriors - 5,172). He led an elephant force in the war.
Apart from the Pandyas, the Cholas and Cheras also joined the war. The Chera king, Udiyanjeral, sumptuously fed the armies on both sides during the war at Kurukshetra. The Cholas reportedly also ran the kitchens for the vast Pandava Army.
Though the actual battle was fought over the vast plains near Tanesar in today’s Haryana state, there are hundreds of places in the state associated with the war, the camps of both the armies and incidents relating to pre and post war happening.     
One such location is Astipura.
This is a small village west to Tanesar. It is to the south of Aujas Ghat and it is at this very place that the bodies of  lakhs of people slain in the Kurukshtra war was cremated.
Historian Alexander Cunnigham has excavated a huge mound in the area, measuring 700 feet by 50 feet (213 metres by 152 metres). He found an extensive platform of unbaked bricks 364 feet or 111 metres in length besides fragments of terracotta sculptures.
The mound lies near Aujas Ghat and south of Dhirpur.
Excavations at Asthipura has unearthed cremated bones of people thought to be killed and later buried here.
In his extensive notes on Astipura Cunningham writes that
The place of bones also had a baniayan tree nearby which was a place f pilgrimage. This tree is said to have stood on the spot where the bodies of all the slain in the 18 days of battle was collected and burned.
“Bones of large size were still to be seen here in the time of Hwen Thsang. Unfortunately, whatever existed on this site was long ago swept away by the Muhammadans, who built a Madrasa or college on the ruins, which has also disappeared, but the mound is still known by the name of Madrasa Tila.
I made several excavations in this mound, which brought to light an extensive platform of unbaked bricks still 364 feet in length, besides many remains of walls and fragments of terra-cotta sculptures. The mound is 700 feet long by 500 feet broad. The unbaked bricks were 14 ¾ by 8 by 4 ½ inches. I found only one carved brick, but there were numerous fragments of stone, several carved, all of which looked as if they had been fractured by fire. The bricks were of several sizes, from 13 to 15 inches in length, by 9 and 10 inches in breadth, and from 2 to 3 ½ inches in thickness. Amongst the stone fragments there was a half life-size head of Siva as Trilochana, and a larger head and body of a female crouching. The terra-cottas also were broken, but I obtained one with two figures wrestling of which only the lower portion is missing. The figures are distinguished by long hair and curly hair, and the expression of pain on the curly-haired wrestler is well marked, although much exaggerated”, says Cunnigham.
He says there is a smaller mound to the north east called Dhira This is 150 feet in diameter at base, and 80 feet at top with a height of eight feet.
Now the question is how many died in the war. The Mahabharata itself provides the answer. It says on the eighteenth day when the battle ended, only twelve warriors survived-the five Pandavas, Krishna, Satyaki, Ashwatthama, Krpiacharya, Yuyutsu, Vrishakethu and Kritvarma.
The entire Kaurava Army comprising of eleven Akshauhinis or divisions and the seven Akshauhinis of the Pandavas are wiped out.
Each division includes 21,870 chariots and chariot-riders, 21,870 elephants and elephant riders, 65,610 horses and their riders and 109,350 foot-soldiers (in a ratio of 1:1:3:5). The combined number of warriors and soldiers in both armies was approximately 3.94 million.
Each Akshauhini was under a commander or a general, apart from the Commander in chief  who was the head of the entire army.
Mahabharata states that the war lasted only eighteen days during which vast armies from all over the Indian Subcontinent fought alongside the two rivals.
The war is variously dated from 6000 BCE to 500 BCE, based on the astronomical and literary information from the epic. The history of the war is also traced to the Battle of the Ten Kings which is mentioned in the Rig Veda.
Well, coming back to the number of  dead, Yudhistera himself provide the answer. After the war, a grief stricken Dhritarashtra asks the eldest Pandava how many were killed in the battle.
In the Mahabharata, Book 11 (Stri Parva), Chapter 26, Verses 9 and 10: 9,
a shocked and disturbed Yudhistera answers.
“dasayutanam ayutam sahasrani ca vimsatih
yah astis ca at caiva ye smin rajamrdhe hata
10 alak
yanam tu viranam sahasrani caturdasa
dasa canyani rajendra satam
astis ca panca ca”.
When roughly translated, the Sanskrit verse means,
“One billion 660 million and 20,000 men have fallen in this battle. Of the heroes that have escaped, the number is 240,165”.

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