|Sankashya: Lord Buddha
descended from Tushita Heaven
The most westward and perhaps most obscure of the eight places of
pilgrimage is Sankashya, whose name may derive from a stupa built
there by Kashyapa Buddha's father and dedicated to his son. This is
the last of the four places common to the buddhas of this world. Some
say that during his forty-first year Shakyamuni went up from Shravasti
to the Tushita Heaven and passed the rainy season retreat teaching
Abhidharma to his mother, Queen Mayadevi, who had died seven days
after Buddha's birth and been reborn as a male god in Tushita. The
same happens to the mothers of all the buddhas, and they too later
go to teach them, afterwards descending to Sankashya. Seven days before
his descent the Buddha set aside his invisibility. Anuruddha perceived
him by his divine sight and urged Maudgalyayana to go and greet him.
The great disciple did so, telling the Buddha that the Order longed
to see him. This was the time Prasenajit's statue was made. Shakyamuni
replied that in seven days he would return to the world. A great assembly
of the kings and people of the eight kingdoms gathered. As the Buddha
descended, a flight of gold stairs appeared, down which he came. He
was accompanied on the right by Brahma, who, holding a white chowny,
descended on a crystal staircase, while to the left Indra came down
a flight of silver stairs, holding a jewelled umbrella. A great host
of gods followed.
The Buddha bathed immediately after his descent,
and later a bathing house and stupa were built to mark the site.
Stupas were also raised at the spot where he cut his hair and nails,
and where he entered samadhi. The Chinese pilgrims describe further
stupas and a chankramana where Shakyamuni and the previous buddhas
had walked and sat in meditation. The three flights of stairs disappeared
into the ground, but for seven steps of each, which remained above.
When Ashoka came here later he had men dig into the earth around
the protrusions in order to discover their depth. Although they
reached the level of water, they could not find the stairs' end.
With increased faith, Ashoka then built a temple over them with
a standing image of the Buddha above the middle flight. Behind this
temple he erected a great pillar surmounted by an elephant capital.
Because the tail and trunk had been destroyed, both Chinese pilgrims
mistook this for a lion.
Hsuan Chwang tells that the original stairs had existed until a
few centuries before his visit, when they disappeared. Various kings
built replicas of ornamented brick and stone, with a temple containing
images of Shakyamuni, Brahma and Indra above them. These were within
the walls of a monastery, which he describes as excellently ornamented
and having many fine images. He further says that some hundreds
of monks dwelt there and that the community had lay followers. Two
centuries earlier Fa Hien found roughly 1,000 monks and nuns living
here pursuing their studies, some hinayana and some mahayana. Both
pilgrims tell stories of a white-eared dragon who lived close to
the monastery, caring for it and the surrounding area. Fa Hien especially
remarks on the abundant produce of the land and the prosperity and
happiness of the people.
Little seems to be known about Sankashya after the Chinese accounts.
In 1862 General Cunningham identified the spot as being located
outside an obscure village west of Farruhabad, above Kanpur, on
the Ganges. Not much of the ancient glory of the place remains today.
Within a deserted, fenced area stands a large mound topped by the
crumbling ruins of a Hindu shrine, in which the former image has
been replaced by a small representation of the Buddha. The elephant
capital of Ashoka's pillar has been remounted on a ten-foot high
pillar beneath a stone canopy. Another small shrine nearby contains
a statue of Buddha. The surrounding grounds appear as if they might
contain the ruined foundations of former buildings, but if any excavation
has ever been done it is buried once more. This is the only one
of the eight places of pilgrimage where today there is no temple,
monastery or even a solitary monk. Perhaps the wildness of the area
is the cause. With or without a dragon's aid, it may be hoped that
this will change.