Renovation work may prove Indian emperor built Nepal monastery

by AFP/Shusham Shrestha, Feb 11, 2003 | Destinations: Sri Lanka / Nepal / India / New Delhi / Kathmandu / Colombo

KATHMANDU, Feb 10, 2003 - Ancient artefacts unearthed during renovation work on Nepal's second-oldest Buddhist monastery may prove a long-held popular belief - that the structure was built by the great Indian emperor Ashok, researchers say.

The dome of the Charumati or Chabahil (Dhando Chaitya) monastery on the outskirts of Kathmandu was undergoing repair work last week when bronze and copper idols, coins and gold, silver and clay seals were found, said Prakash Darnal from the Department of Archeology. Some of these seals were inscribed with an ancient Indian script, leading experts to believe the monastery was erected by Ashok during a pilgrimage to the Hindu kingdom. The Chabahil monastery is popularly believed to have been built by the emperor for his daughter, who married a prince from Nepal, in around the 3rd century BC.

Ashok was one of India's greatest rulers and presided over an empire that covered two-thirds of the subcontinent. However, after a series of wars he renounced violence and converted to Buddhism. "Folklore says Ashok visited the Kathmandu valley with his daughter Charumati and built the monastery in her name," said Milan Shakya, professor of archeology and history at Tribhuvan University in Kathmandu. "So far nothing had been found to ascertain that Charumati had visited Kathmandu, he said.

But during the renovation work seals inscribed in the ancient Indian Bhrami script were discovered. One had Charumati's name written on it, while another had a mark believed to have been used by the emperor. "After finding the bricks inscribed in Bhrami script, known to be the mother script of South Asia or the oldest script, it can be proved that emperor Ashok came to Nepal on his Buddhist pilgrimage," Shakya said. "This find is very significant."

Tapassi Dhamma, a Sri Lanka-educated Nepali monk who looks after the monastery, said it was believed that Ashok had built monasteries on the outskirts of Kathmandu. "Now it is no longer hearsay, it is finally confirmed archaeologically," he said. "The monastery carries a huge historical, as well as religious significance. It is the second-oldest monastery in Kathmandu."

Dhamma first learned about the monastery from his Buddhist teachers in Sri Lanka more than ten years ago. "I didn't know anything about the existence of such an important monastery in my country. When I learnt about it from my guru, I made up my mind to dedicate my life to safeguard and popularise it," he said. "When I returned from Sri Lanka and visited the monastery, highly venerated there, I was shocked to find it in such a sorry state," he said. "The monastery and its surrounding areas had become an open toilet and garbage collection centre." He cleaned up the area and taught residents the significance of the site.

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