Buddhist Pilgrimage at Ambaran Akhnoor in Jammu
Rivers, lakes and streams are elixir of life; provide water for drinking, bathing, washing of clothes, cooking of meals, irrigation and what not. In ancient good olden days water was the cheapest and quickest means of transport of man and material. The water mills and water wheels and now turbines are harnessed to yield vast quantities of power to light our homes and sustain the Industry and digital life. The river, lake and stream banks made possible the birth and growth of human life on the earth. The rivers and various sources of water have been worshipped since time immemorial. In the most ancient text of the World, the Rig-Veda, the rivers were regarded as deities having power to purifying the worshipper physically and spiritually. Many of these sources of water continue to be worshipped by the people to this day.
The two great Rivers - Chenab and Ravi pass through parts of Jammu province of Jammu and Kashmir in Northern Part of India. The confluence of Chenab or Chandrabhaga with Marwa River while coming about ten km north of Kishtwar town further runs towards Ramban, then to Reasi. It largely passes through inhabited and inaccessible territory, mountains and gorges leaving its huge water mostly un-utilized. After traveling in mountains and land locked passages it debauches into plains of the Akhnoor town and finally enters into the plains of Pakistan. Akhnoor town is located on the right bank of River Chenab, about 32 Km west of Jammu city. About 10 meters, above the water level, before Akhnoor town, a small hamlet Pambarawan the Ancient Buddhist site namely Ambaran is situated where rich traces of Buddhist monastic establishment were discovered a decades ago. The site is famous for earlier yields of the so called Akhnoor Buddhist terracotta heads with Greeco-Roman influence that now find their place in a number of museums throughout the world.
Buddhism had prominence in the Kashmir valley till 12th century A.D. The remains of Buddhist settlement in the vicinity of Jammu are not suppressing. Ancient Sakala (now Sialkot, Pakistan) hardly 50 Km away from Akhnoor town, then the capital of Indo-Greek King Meander who won over to the Buddhist faith by the celebrated Buddhist monk Nagesena in 2nd century B.C being a proof. The name still survives as Nagaseni region of Paddar (Kishtwar Distt.) bears striking resemblance to the great Buddhist teacher Nagesena.
The British art historian and curator of Lahore Museum Charles Fabari collected few pieces of famous Akhnoor terracotta’s fired clay as surface find from the site. The terracotta comprise of Lord Buddha’s head (figure), torso of bodies and pieces of drapery belonging to Lord Buddha figures or figures of monks and lay men and lay women profusely decorated or embellished on the walls of Buddhist monastery and a Stupa at Ambaran. These terracotta’s are closely related to the terracotta’s unearth at Ushkura (Ancient Haviskapura) near Baramulla and Harwan in Kashmir valley. The beautifully smiling face of a child with curly hair a Greek facial expression was a famous discovery of Charles Fabari.
Buddhism witnessed its Golden period during the Kushan rulers Hushka, Jushka and Kanishka. King Kanishka who convened the Fourth Great Buddhist Council in Kansipura in Baramulla district in Kashmir probably built the monastery. He has also been credited for the excavation of the two colossal images of Lord Buddha at Bamiyan Valley in Afghanistan which were destroyed by the Taliban during 2000 A.D.
The Buddhist establishment at Ambaran seems to have been established during Kushan period (1st to third Century A.D.) a formative age of Buddhism in Kashmir valley. One stupa, four votive stupas and walls of a monastery (living quarters for monks) all built in burnt bricks were found in excavations during 1999-2001. The cientific clearance work was carried out in year 2009 also. The Saririka Stupa has a base of 6 x 6m measuring approximately 1.50 x 1.50 m. Four votive stupas were exposed on the western side of the main stupa. The pottery of the Kushan period comprised of bowls, basins, vases, sprinklers, lids including ink pot type of lids, lamps and spout pots are important characteristic finds of Kushan Period. The most important among the antiquities recovered of the second period include the reliquary (relic casket) and its contents with associated objects found along with it in the main stupa. The charred bones along with a piece of tooth suggesting its conception as a Saririka Stupa was also.
The Ancient Buddhist Stupa site of Ambaran locally known as “Pambaran” (Lat 300 54` N and Long. 740 46` E) is located near Akhnoor about 30 kms north west of Jammu on the right bank of river Chenab (Ancient Asikis or Chanderabhaga). The top river terraces of River Chenab, in between two rivulets, which come down from the hills join the river. The site is about 100 m in width from north south. On either side of the river, there are middle Pleistocene boulder conglomerate deposits over which there are loose boulders and pebbles mixed with sand, silt and clay belonging to the late Pleistocene period, which is the natural soil below the cultural deposits.
The Archaeological Survey of India, Srinagar Circle has carried out Archaeological excavation for two seasons (1999 — 2000 and 2000 — 2001) to know the association and startographic position of the famous Akhnoor terracotta heads in the Buddhist Monastic establishment at Ambaran. In addition, it was to study the layout and planning of the site believed to be the only early Buddhist site in the Jammu Region outside the Kashmir Valley. During the excavation, burnt brick structures of various phases encountered. The site seems to have been abandoned sometimes around the seventh century A. D. as attested by two flash floods in the river, which this led to the abandonment of the Buddhism establishment of Ambaran. The excavation revealed the cultural sequence of the following periods:
Period I: Pre-Kushan period (circa second first century B. C.)
Period II: Kushan period (circa first to third century B. C.)
Period III: Post-Kushan (Gupta) period (circa forth fifth century A. D.)
Period IV: Post Gupta period (circa sixth seventh century A. D.)
Period I: No structural remains of period I found. The thin deposit contained grey ware shreds of bowls and red ware vases.
Period II: Buddhist monastic establishment was founded at the site in period II. A stupa votive stupas and walls of a monastery were exposed which was built of burnt brick masonry with bricks usually measuring 36 to 38 x 24 x 6 to 7 cm
Period III: Two distinct structural phases of period II were noticed, the first having structures with bricks measuring 27 x 22 x 7 cm in general and a second phase with bricks and brickbats of earlier structures reused. Remains of an entrance of some important complex, stone pitched pathway were also found. A 2 x 2 m square base of a votive stupa along with evidence of its circular shape structure was found.
Period IV: The large complex, possibly a monastery, partly survived during the period IV when additions and alterations were made in its original structures and repairs were also carried out after the flash flood. Pottery of period II to IV does not have much difference in shape, except that in the last period rims of bowls become sharp and straight. Important shapes are basins, bowls, sprinklers, vases lids, lamps, spouts and storage jars. Stamped designs have also been found. Amongst the spout with grotesque animal head and the pot lugs, an interesting piece bears head of a lion.
Among important antiquities a large number of decorative terracotta figurines, terracotta moulds of human figurines, leaves and ornaments, terracotta skin rubber, beads and gamesmen, iron nails, hooks and rings, copper objects, semiprecious stone beads have been found. A small stone sculpture in Gupta style showing a male attendant holding some object in his right raised hand and the left resting on his thigh. Copper coins belonging to the Kushan rulers Soter Megas, Kanishka and Huvishka were found during the excavations. The unique discovery of relic caskets during the excavations has opened a new chapter in the study of history and culture of the Jammu region discovered for the first time. Significant Buddhist remains have been found in the form of reliquary alongwith three containers copper, silver and gold caskets which could fit into one another was found to be 2.4 cm high with its diameter being 5.6 cm, which comprise 30 circular thin sheets of gold, 2 silver and 130 micro beads of pearl, 12 coral and 2 metallic in the oval shaped silver caskets, a circular gold casket, a bead of amethyst and 3 encrusted copper coins.
Similar Stupas belonging to Saka- Parthian period in Taxila including those as Dharmajika, Kalwan and Jandial (now in Pakistan) Buddhist monastic establishment provide similar structural pattern in their elevation and plan. The Saririka Stupa and votive probably belong to the name architecture feature as found at above sites now in Pakistan which was then in the same political boundary of the empire.
The famous terracotta objects found at Ambaran like busts of women with typical Greek or Gandhara influence or facial features and Greek hair styles this collection formed part of Punjab Museum collection at Lahore. After partition it was transferred to State Museum at Chandigarh from where it was brought to Dogra Art Gallery, Mubarak Mandi at Jammu. There are also a few pieces of Akhnoor terracotta male heads in National Museum Collection New Delhi.