The 'stupa' (Pali thupa) derived from the Sanskrit root 'stup' means heap or pile which had funerary association since immortal past, containing the ashes and charred remains of the dead collected from the funeral pyre. Lord Buddha wished to his cousin and closest pupil Ananda to construct stupa after his demise. According to early Buddhist canonicals his corporeal remains were distributed amongst eight claimants (Ajatshatru of Magadh, Lichchhavis of Vaishali, Shakyas of Kapilavastu, Koliyas of Ramgram, Mallas of Pava & Kushinara, Buliyas of Allakappa and Brahmanas of Bethdipa) and initial saririka-stupas were constructed over them. Thereafter, stupa was considered as an object of supreme veneration and sanctity and in course of time it was gradually developed from simple mound to an imposing structure with great architectural magnificence and became the chief emblem of Buddhist faith. The Mauryan King Ashoka, a great patron of Buddhism took out reliquaries from these early stupas and constructed several stupas across his empire and Celone (Sri Lanka). Pali texts provide an exaggerated account that as many as eighty thousands stupas were constructed by Ashoka.
Stupa at Piprahwa is one of the earliest saririka-stupas constructed by the Sakyas of Kapilavastu over his share of relics which had three structural phases:-
In Phase I, the stupa was simply an earthen mound of natural earth having 38.90 mts in diameter, whereas 0.75 mts in height. The stupa was enclosed by 2.0 mts wide pradakshinapatha (circumambulatory) around the stupa paved with brickbats enclosed by complete bricks on either side. The stupa contains two burnt-brick chambers of 0.82 x 0.80 x 0.37 mts, in the center, each revealed one soapstone caskets separately placed on different levels. The lowest casket is larger in size than the inscribed relic casket found by Peppe at higher level (Phase II) in 1898. Over the chamber, a burnt brick (42x 27x7 cm) structure contains twelve courses with its maximum height of 0.90 mts. The diameter of the brick structure at the base was 23.0 mts and the dome was 19.0 mts. This phase is assignable to 6th-5th century BC.
During circa 3rd century BC Phase II of stupa begins. It was enlarged by adding two tiers in burnt brick masonry. The lower tier projection was 1.52 mts from the dome (anda) which was maintained 19.0 mts in diameter as in phase I. The maximum number of courses of burnt-bricks (40x27x7 cm) added in this phase were forty-five, the total height being 4.55 mts. The massive sandstone coffer containing the inscribed casket found by Peppe in 1898 was most important discovery of this period.
In phase III, the stupa was again enlarged and its circular medhi was converted into a square platform measured 23.50 x 23.50 mts., embellished with rectangular niches of 80 cm (width) and 12cm (depth) at regular intervals, seems to be meant for keeping images for worship. The diameter of the dome (anda) of the stupa was enlarged by 23.0 mts from 19.0 mts. The total thirteen courses of bricks were added and its total height increased up to the 6.35 mts. The bricks of Phase III were varied in sizes ranging from 38-40 x 26-29 x 7-8 cms. with some exceptions of wedge-shaped. Only one casket was found by Peppe in smashed condition at a depth of about 3.0 mts could be dated to Kushana period.
The most impressive structure after stupa is a monastery, located at a distance of about 26.83m to the east-north-east of the stupa. It is measuring 45.11m (east-west) X 41.14m (north-south), with an entrance-porch on the west facing the stupa. It is roughly square on plan having a large courtyard in the centre with more than thirty cells arrayed around it. In the front of cells there are remains of a covered verandah supported on pillars. The outer walls were 1.82m wide, the inner being about 1.21m. Walls of the cells were plastered with mud. The main entrance of the monastery was 5.70m wide with two miniature rooms on either side. Flanking the entrance, there were 2.05m wide wooden jambs. The cells also had wooden doors. Below the bottom level of the doors, the walls of the cells descended down to 2.43m. The extraordinary depth of the walls was perhaps due to the existence of an earlier monastery.
The monastery has four structural phases. The planning of the first two phases was alike and similarly planning of the last two phases was more or less the same without changing its entrance which was always on the west. During the first two phases, the monastery was square in shape and one side measuring 32.3m. The central courtyard was also a square, each side being 21.80m. In all, there were thirty-three cells in the first two phases, twenty-one around the central courtyard, one on each corner and four each on either side of the entrance.
The planning of the monastery underwent a great change in the last two phases i.e. third and fourth. In these two phases the outer wall of the earlier monastery was converted into inner wall and cells all around the central courtyard were converted into a covered verandah similar to that existing towards the entrance side only in the first two phases. The traces of plaster have also been noticed on the western corner of verandah.
Located about 6m south of the stupa, this monastery is square on plan measuring 24m on each side. Facing east, the monastery is entered through 5.60m wide entrance, having a central courtyard surrounded by small cells which are twenty-one in number. There were only two structural phases in the monastery. However, it was continuously in use without any change in planning. There was a 25cm wide drain on the southwestern corner of the paved courtyard to flush out the rain water. It is running north to south and opens on the western side of the monastery.
Located about 100m west of the main stupa, it is standing separately over slightly elevated place on the southeastern corner of a mango orchard. Three structural phases have been distinguished in the monastery. Initially, the monastery was small in size made of burnt-bricks measuring 33x25x7-5cm with the total height of 0.72m. The structure of second phase was distinguished by an offset over the first structural phase and made of bricks measuring 37x24-23x7-5cm in size.
Presently, the monastery is roughly square on plan with wide entrance on the east, flanked by two projections having small rooms inside. In the center of monastery, there is a square courtyard arrayed with cells which are 16 in number. The cells are varied in size measuring 4.20 to 3.70x3.20m. The monastery could not be exposed fully. However, the outer wall of the monastery could be measured 25m in length. P.C. Mukherji noticed during his operations in 1898, that the monastery was destroyed by fire, as proved by pieces of burnt wood in various parts of the building. The monastery yielded coins of the Mitra dynasty (?) and early Kushan kings, besides iron objects like spear-head, framework for a door or window, spike and nail.
There was another monastery on the northeastern side of the stupa by the side of eastern monastery. It is smaller in size compared to other monasteries at the site. It is having two structural phases with square paved courtyard in the centre, surrounded by verandah and cells. The cells are varied in size measuring 3.20x2.35m to 2.10x1.80m being sixteen in numbers. The east-west wing of the monastery was 19.30m while the northern wall was missing.
In the space between northern monastery and eastern monastery, there is another attachment having less thick walls which seems to be added later. It is rectangular on plan with a courtyard in the centre and surrounded by cells. A drain is passing through diagonally from south-west to north-east to discharge the water of northern monastery.
Further beyond the drain, there was a votive stupa with a diameter of 4.80m. On the western side of the monastery, there was a small stupa with square base. In the beginning, the size of the stupa with a square base developed the impression that it might have been constructed to enshrine relics but after the same was opened the votive purpose became apparent. The base of stupa was 6.35m square with the diameter of the dome being 5.50m.
Ancient Site Ganwaria:
Ganwaria located about one kilometer south-west of ancient site of Piprahwa is an extensive mound spread 300m from north to south and about 270m east to west with an average height of 7m from the surrounding level. The site was excavated in 1974-75 by the ASI during the course of excavations at Piprahwa in 1971-1975. A large scale excavation at Ganwaria has yielded four-fold cultural sequence i.e. Period-I datable to circa 800BC to 600 BC; Peirod-II distinguished by NBPW, Period-III belonged to Sunga times with its beginning in the second century BC and end by the beginning of the Christian era and the last-IV is characterized by Kushana period datable to First century A.D. to Third century A.D.
The excavation has yielded several large structures identified with residential complexes, shrines, stupa, wells, etc. Besides other antiquities, beautiful head of Buddha seated on double lotus throne in a contemplative mood holding the fingers of his left hand into the right; heads with a peculiar head-dress exhibiting foreign features; warriors; drummers; demons; mother with a child in her lap; ornamented female figurines with elaborate coiffure and decorated anklets in their feet; head of Siva with heavy kundalas in the ears; and human figurines with elaborate drapery need special mention. Among other important antiquities; metal objects, gamesmen, beads of glass and semi-precious stones, stone weights; two hoards of coins including one silver punch-marked coins and the other of copper coins of Kushana period are also noteworthy. The details of structures are as under:
Of all the brick structures, one of the largest and most impressive structure of Ganwaria is located on the westernmost limits of mound. The complex is a square measuring 38x38m having a courtyard in centre enclosed by verandah with 26 cells arranged on the four sides. Facing east, the structure has impressive gateway on the east with two bastion-like platforms projecting out on either side. The size of rooms was generally 2.85x2.60m. Two rooms on either side immediately behind the entrance were most spacious. In between the rooms and the central courtyard there was a 2.80m wide covered verandah supported on one meter thick wall. The thickness of outer wall of the complex was a little more than two meters and that of the inner one 1.70m while the inner walls are little more than one meter thick. The central courtyard has brick jelly flooring while some of the rooms which belong to phase IV have brick-bat floorings. A narrow drain was provided on the south-west corner of the courtyard to discharge the rain water which falls inside the structure. The excavator has suggested that this was a residential palace. The structure was constructed in period II (6th century B.C.) and it was continuously in use up to the period IV (1st century A.D.) with certain additions and alterations.
Located about 40m north-east of the larger structural complex, there is a smaller structure square on plan measuring 26x26m with a square courtyard of 10.70m in the centre. There is a series of 21 cells with average size of 2.10x3.10m provided all around the courtyard with covered verandah on the front. There is a small well on the northeastern corner of paved floor of the courtyard measuring 1.25m in diameter. A covered drain with a width of 0.60m was provided on the southwestern corner for the discharge of refuse water from the paved floor of the courtyard.
Facing east, this complex has wider entrance of 3.15m flanked by two impressive bastion-like platforms on either side similar to larger structure. The side platforms are measuring 4.15x2.80m. A low wall made of burnt bricks of 1m thickness was also erected in the line with the edge of the platform. The space between wall and main entrance was paved with bricks. Five structural phases have been noticed in the complex. Several additions and alterations were made during the long use of monastery like addition of shrine and a privy on the northeastern corner of the complex. The most interesting feature of the complex is one of the cells located opposite of main entrance which was converted into the shrine by adding a platform against the opposite wall during the last structural phase V. Moulded bricks were used in converting the room into the shrine.
House complex on the northern side of smaller structural complex:
A large house complex located on the north of smaller structural complex is measuring 21.50m east to west and 15m north to south. It comprises several rooms, brick-paved hall, gallery and a well on the northern portion of the complex. The complex was built in III to IV structural phases with slight addition and alteration. Generally, the walls of the houses are 0.55m thick but wall of the gallery is 1.10m thick. A room on the south-west corner of building has cistern-like structure in the centre measuring 2.70x3.30m with paved bottom. It is made of burnt bricks arranged in receding fashion. There is a well on the northern side having inner diameter of 1.10m. A huge brick-paved platform, which must have served the purpose of a hall, was observed on the northwestern end of the structure. The maximum area of the hall must have been 6.50x5.80m.
Located on the south-east corner of the mound having rectangular structure of massive dimensions, this structure comprises several rooms, long corridor and a room containing rectangular platform which seems to be a shrine. It is measuring 29.3 x 15.3 m.
During the excavation, four shrines and several other unidentified structures have also been reported from Ganwaria. Of all the four, shrine-2 was the most magnificent measuring 9.5 m in length which belonged to period IV of the site. The shrine-3 is located on the southeastern corner of the mound, measuring 13.5m east-west and 11.80m north to south. Like other shrines it was also constructed in two stages. A stupa formed a part of the shrine on the northeastern corner of the complex having 2.50m diameter. The shrine is facing west having two large flights of steps and a large chandrasala. After a short interval, 1.3m thick wall was added around the structure. Shrine-4 located on the eastern fringe of the mound is rectangular on plan raised over a square platform. The shrine including platform was enclosed by wall which forms a paved pradakshinapatha around the shrine. It was further altered and some additions were made in stage II by raising another wall around the shrine extending to 14.30m north to south and 14m east to west. All the shrines at Ganwaria could be bracketed within the same chronological horizon.