History Of Mathura

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History of Mathura / मथुरा का इतिहास

The founding of the Mathura city is ascribed to Shatrughna, the younger brother of Rama, who attacked and killed the Demon Lavansur, the son of Madhu, who had held sway over the area. Shatrughna cleared the forest of Madhuvan and celebrated his victory by founding the city of Mathura. This name is variant of Madhura from Madhu. The building of a city by Shatrughna would suggest that Mathura began as a royal capital and later developed into a commercial centre. We are told that Shatrughna had two sons, one of whom was Shurasen and his descendants ruled Mathura. The other version mentions Shurasenas as descendants of Sura of the Vrishni clan, who in turn were part of the Yadav lineage. The Yadavas are also called Madhavas which would link them with Madhu and thus make them the original settlers of the region. The Bhagwata Purana narrates the story of Krishna as member of Andhaka-Vrishnis clan. His story starts from the episode of his birth to the eventual migration away from Mathura. Here his portrayal is that of a pastoral hero and the incarnation of divinity. The episodes thread together the topography of the region. The story does not end with the defeat of Kansa but continues to the animosity of Jarasandha, who seeks revenge. A close relative of Kansa, Jarasandh attacked Mathura. The city was subjected to eighteen campaigns before it was conquered. Ultimately the Yadavas led by Krishna fled to the south-west to Dwarka in Saurashtra. Thus the original inhabitants of Mathura were ousted by the power based in Magadh The geographical link between Saurashtra and Mathura is certainly feasible. The route from Mathura to Dwarka linked the mainland to the sea which was and still is beneficial for international trade.


The Mahabharata mentions the Shurasenas as among those who fled from Jarasandh. A statement in Manusmriti implies that the Shurasenis were good warriors. Jaina and Buddhist texts also refer to the importance of Mathura. Jaina sources describe Shurasena as one of the arya-janapadas lying to the south of the Kuru and the east of the Matsya. Its capital was at Mathura which was listed among the ten most important capitals of Janapadas. Buddhist texts list the Shurasena as one of the sixteen maha-janapadas and state that it had close links with Machchha/Matsya. The capital of the Shurasena was the city of Mathura, and was situated on the bank of Yamuna. In one Buddhist text the king of the Shurasen Janapada is called Avaniputta and is described as sympathetic to Buddhist teachings. Another post-Maurayan Buddhist text refers back to an earlier period describing Mathura as the place of residence of a famous courtesan and a city of rich traders and businessmen.
The historicity of the Shurasen is further attested by Greek and Latin writers quoting Megasthenes. Arrian writes that the God Herakles was held in special honour by the Sourasenoi–an Indian tribe which possessed two large cities, Mathura and Cleisobora and through whose country flowed a navigable river called the lobaras. Pliny writes that the river Jomanes flowed through the Palibothri into the Ganges between the towns of Methora and Calisobora. Ptolemy refers to a Modoura–the city of the Gods.
According to the popular Hindi saying Mathura occupies a unique place in the three traditional worlds (Teen lok se Mathura nyari). This saying may have been derived from the heretical character of the city in Maurya-Shung times. It was only in the later times that this place became a centre of the Krishna cult. Mathura enjoyed an important place because of the strategic and geographically advantageous position. The later importance of Mathura was derived more from its being a place of pilgrimage than from its being a centre of crafts, commerce, arts and administration.

Mathura as an Ancient Urban Centre

In the immediate neighbourhood outside the walled city, monasteries, stupas, shrines, tanks and wells were built for the use of priests, monks, devotees, travellers and the general public as suggested by inscriptional data. This was further confirmed by the travel accounts of the Chinese travelers and by an impressive brick-built complex exposed at the site of the Jaina establishment of Kankali Tila. The numerous images recovered from Mathura mounds show diversity in more than one respect bespeaking cosmopolitan (Sarvabhauma) character of ancient Mathura. Patanjali's observation regarding Mathura, namely that the natives of this city were more prosperous than those of Shankasya and Pataliputra becomes meaningful in the light of the rich haul of remains, ruins and antiquities recovered from its mounds, wells and riverbed Lastly, but not the least important, the following references about the city of Mathura are available in the Harivansha Purana:

Sa Puri paramodara satta-prakara torana
Sphita rastra-sanakirna samrddhbala-vahana
Udyana-vana sampanna susima-supratisthita
Pramsu prakara vasana parikhakula nekhala
Calattalaka keyura prasadavara kundala
Susamvrtta dvaravatfi cattvarodgarhasini
Ardhachandra pratikshasha Yamunatira shobhita
Punya-panavati durga ratna sanchaya garvita
                                         (Harivansha Purana I chap. 55)

"The verses quoted above in praise of ancient Mathura distinctly refer to the crescent-shaped, we established, well demarcated, prosperous and cosmopolitan city of Mathura on the bank of Yamuna wit its high defences and moats as known to the authors of Harivansha-Purana."

Growth and Metamorphosis of Ancient Mathura into a Metropolis

Approachable through land routes and a navigable river (Yamuna) and situated in fairly hospitable surrounding, the locality of Mathura was from an early age a natural and convenient area for human settlement. Recent archaeological excavations have indicated development of a township from a village around Ambarish Tila (situated near the Yamuna and in the northern part of the present city). The beginning of a rural settlement around Ambarish Tila is datable to about 6th century BC. Surprisingly, the habitation at Sonkh (near Mathura) may safely be pushed back to about BC 800. Although the planned urbanization of Mathura at large scale began from 4th century BC. The great grammarian Panini (Ashtadhyayi fame) mentions Mathura in 4th century BC, hence Mathura might have been a well-known locality in his times. Panini also refers to Andhaka-Vrishni Sangha, Vasudeva Vargya (i.e. a member of the society of Vasudeva) and Vasudevaka (i.e. worshipper or a follower of Vasudeva).
Rich traders with money comparatively freely available to them could have patronized religion. For example, the Yaksha was the divinity worshiped by the merchants and traders as a caravan leader. His images were installed on the highways. The communication of Mathura's society with other parts of the sub-continent had loosened the barrier and stringency of caste system. Further, heterogeneous elements were introduced into the society of the region with the extension of the Schytho-Parthian rule to Mathura during the first century BC. Mathura, as a part of the Schytho-Parthian dominions of the north-western India, became further exposed to influences from the west. Mathura gradually became a cultural centre and a political metropolis of the Schytho-Parthian dominion in the sub-continent. It became a part of the north-west.
Mathura by the end of first century AD emerged as an important trading centre for internal and also external (Indo-Roman) trade. It began to serve as a halting station for merchants and those travelling by caravans carrying goods from Central Asia and North Indian localities to Indian ports. It was natural both for the fortune-seekers from rural areas to migrate to Mathura and thereby for Mathura to have a populous and complex society. Manu-Smriti refers to the people around Mathura as `well-skilled in fighting with bare arms'. This treatise speaks several times of the power of the Surasenas. The famous Jaina text Milinda-panha, datable to first century AD aptly included Madhura (Mathura) in its list of notable cities.


The phenomenal rise of Mathura during Kushana times is well documented in Lalitavistara, which is considered to have been in existence in the first century AD. This treatise refers to the city of Mathura like thus: `Which is prosperous, and large and beneficial, and (a place where) alms are easily obtainable and which is abounding in men' (Iyam Mathura Nagari riddha cha, sphita cha, Kshema cha, subhiksha chakirna bahujanarnanvasya cha). After Kushanas, Mathura's economic power started declining. However, the school of Mathura art continued to flourish as there were demands for their products from outside. Mathura also maintained its position as a great religious centre. It could have still served as an emporium for internal trade. Outside elements had played great role in the growth of Mathura into an important centre of trade and industry. Frenetic socio-economic activities accentuated its transformation into an important city of a vast empire—a metropolitan of the orient. Barriers of thoughts, language, and religion had lost their significance in that microcosm of the ancient Mathura due to freedom of movement in a large territory and consequent growth of commerce. Even geographically and ethnically unrelated groups found themselves rubbing shoulders and in a position to influence one another. One such group had been formed by the people of Mathura. Their contribution enriched the mosaic of oriental culture.

Daily Life in Ancient Mathura

We get an idea of daily life in ancient Mathura from various statues, tablets and stone inscriptions. Women used to adorn themselves profusely. Elaborate headdresses, turbans, makeup, skirts, tops, gowns, short tunics and heavy jewellery prove that not only women were respected in the society but they also freely flaunted their wealth and body. From donative inscriptions we can derive some idea of the vocations followed by many of the residents of ancient Mathura. A good number of donors of Buddhist structures were bhikshus (monks), shishyas (pupils), shishyani (female pupils), shrarnan (ascetic), priest (devakulika) etc. Even gandhikas (perfumers), shresthin (merchants or bankers), suvarnakara (goldsmiths), rayagini (dyer) and cotton-dealers find mention as donors to Buddhist and Jain shrines. Entertainers of various types also were followers of the faiths: actors, dancers and courtesans (ganikas) were also donors. From the epigraphic data, we see that Buddhist and Jaina religious establishments in Mathura were supported by people who followed a wide range of professions from mighty generals to humble smiths. The presence of the lower professions among the donor rolls suggests a high level of prosperity in the area. The economic position of craftsmen was strengthened by the various guilds, which were known to have had considerable power and influence in the traditional economic system.

Mathura- a Nodal Point of Transit Trade

Literary and archaeological evidence reveals a phenomenal transformation in the fortunes of Mathura an' its environs from the age of the Buddha, when it suffered from bad roads, dust storms, infestations o fierce dogs and bestial Yakshas and niggardliness in alms-giving to the period, between the second century BC and the third century AD, when it attained the position of a leading metropolis `rising beautiful the crescent moon over the dark streams of the Yamuna' and celebrated for its magnificence, prosperity munificence and teeming population. In the latter stages Mathura became a great centre of power, trade, and commerce, religious and cultural movements, aesthetic excellence and artistic creativity. Its zenith attained under the Kushanas, when Mathura served as one of their principal capitals and the chief stronghold for the expansion and control of their territorial possessions in the mainland India.
The rise of Mathura was due to its strategic geographical location and network of communications The city commanded the gateway to the rich alluvial Ganga plain, to the central and southern India, an' to the flourishing ports of the western seaboard. It traditionally had served as the focus for the ethnic' migrations from the north-west and as a conduit for their further movements to the south and west. I nodality was evidenced in its linkages to the principal sub-continental highway system: the Uttarapatha (Northern or Northwestern highway) and the Dakshinapatha (Southern Route). Mathura was a strategic vulnerable outpost of the central Ganga based power system. Inevitably, the north-western invaders, Greeks, Shakas and Kushanas gravitated towards it in their drives for conquest of territories and control trade routes of northern India. Its metropolitan character developed the trade routes of Mathura. Regional nodal linkages led it to other smaller- and lesser-known towns. Mathura exerted an integrative effets on the whole of Shurasena region and its neighbouring territories. These routes also served as arteries for commerce as well as pilgrimage and cultural missions. The developing institutional structures of urban economy characterized by local professional, industrial and mercantile guilds and institutions 1' Sresthin (the business-magnate-cum-banker) and Sarthavaha (the caravan-leader) made Mathura a great economic hub. All these factors contributed to Mathura's transformation from a regional metropolis into subcontinental pivot of trade and communication. The coinage of the Shungas, local rulers, and the Kushana promoted economic exchange both within and beyond Mathura region.

Ancient Sites at Mathura

At present there is no important ancient temple, stupa or monastery at Mathura. Only till recently there were mounds throughout the region. Many of the sculptures or carved stone pieces unearthed from these mounds hear inscriptions, which often record the names of the monasteries and temples. Presuming that after the demolition of a particular temple or stupa many of the sculptures originally housed therein continued to lie on that very site for centuries altogether, or remained buried under the debries, the provenance of a sculpture may he accepted as a place, where it was originally installed. Working on the above lines the following would be the tentative identification of some of the ancient sites at Mathura.

Jain Establishment Sites/Places
Vodva Stupa Kankali Tila
Buddhist Establishments
Yasa Vihara Katra Keshavdev
Stupa Katra Keshavdev
Vihara of Amohassi Katra Keshavdev
Another Stupa Jail/Jamalpur Mound
Huviska Vihara Jail/Jamalpur Mound
Sri Kunda Vihara near Huviska Vihara Saptarishi Tila
Guha Vihara Bharatpur Gate
Apanaka Vihara Maholi Mound
Khanda Vihara Madhuvan, Maholi
Pravaraka Vihara Near Kans Khar
Kraustukiya Vihara Mata-ki-Gali
Chutaka Vihara Jamuna-bagh
Svarnakara Vihara Sadar Baazar
Rausika Vihara Ancient Alika, possibly modern Aring in Mathura district
Shri Vihara Gaughat
Madhuravanaka Stupa Chaubara Mound
Vihara of Dharma-hastika Village Naugava, about 7.25 Km, south west of Mathura
Vihara of the Mahasanghika School Palikhera
Vihara of Pusyada Sonkh
Ladyaskka Vihara Mandi Ramdas
Chaitya-kuti of the wife of Dharmaka Mathura Junction
Uttara Hausa Vihara Anyor, near Govardhan
Brahmanical Sites
Chatussala temple of Vasudeva Katra Kesavadeva
Vaisnava temple of Gupta times Katra Kesavadeva
Temples of Kapileswara and Upamitesvara near Rangeshwar Mahadev
Sacrificial Ground Ishapur across Yamuna
Temple of Dadhikarna Naga Jail/Jamalpur Tila
Temple of Panchviras of Vrisnis Village Mora
Tank of Senahasti and Bhondika Chhadgaon, south of Mathura city

European Visitors To Mathura And Their Accounts

The French traveller and physician Francois Bernier was in Hindustan between 1656 and 1668 and closely followed the contemporary events at Mughal court. While travelling between Agra and Delhi- in 1663 he left an account about Mathura and its surroundings like this: "Between Delhi and Agra, a distance of fifty or sixty leagues, there are no fine towns such as travellers pass through in France; the whole road is cheerless and uninteresting; nothing is worthy observation but Maluras, where an ancient and magnificent temple of idols is still to be seen; a few tolerably handsome caravansaries, a day's journey from each other; and a double row of trees planted by order of Jehan-Guyre, and continued for one hundred and fifty leagues, with small pyramids or turrets, erected from kosse to kosse, for the purpose of pointing out the different roads. Wells are also frequently met with, affording drink to travellers, and serving to water the young trees."
Another French traveller named Tavernier, covering his first journey from Delhi to Agra in 1659, calls Mathura as the Shah ki Sarai and gives the name Mathura to the temple of Keshava Deva: " From Dehly to Badelpoura, 8 coss; From Badelpoura to Peleul-ki-sera, 18 coss; From Peleul-ki-sera to Cotki-sera, 15 coss; From Cotki-sera to Cheki-sera, 16 coss."
"At Cheki-sera there is one of the grandest pagodas in India with an asylum for apes, both for those commonly in the place and those from the neighbouring country, where the Banias provide them with food. This pagoda is called Mathura; formerly it was held in much greater veneration by the idolaters than it is at present, the reason being that the Jumna then flowed at the foot of the pagoda, and the Banias, both those of the place and those who came from afar in pilgrimage to perform their devotions there, were able to bathe in the river before entering the pagoda, and after coming out of it before preparing to eat, which they must not do without bathing; besides, they believe that by bathing in running water their sins are more effectually removed. But for some years back the river has taken a northerly course, and flows at a good coss distance from the pagoda; this is the reason why so many pilgrims do not visit it now." While on his second journey about Mathura, Tavernier wrote like thus: "After the pagodas of Jagannath and Benares, the most considerable used to be that of Muttra, about 18 coss from Agra, on the road to Delhi. It is one of the most sumptuous buildings in all India, and was visited by the greatest concourse of pilgrims; but at present scarcely any are to be seen there, the idolaters having gradually lost the devotion which they had for this pagoda, since the river Jumna, which used to pass close to it, has changed its course, and now flows half a league away. For when pilgrims have bathed in the river it takes them too much time to return to the pagoda, and during that period they may encounter something which renders them impure and unclean.


Although this pagoda, which is very large, is a hollow, it is visible from more than 5 or 6 coss distance, the building being very elevated and magnificent. The stones which were used in its construction are of a red colour, and are obtained from a large quarry near Agra. They split like our slates, and some of them, which are 15 feet long and 9 or 10 feet wide, are of 6 fingers in thickness, that is to say, they are split by the quarrymen to the required size; beautiful columns are made of them also. The fortress of Agra, the walls of Jahanabad, the palace of the Emperor, the two mosques, and some houses of the great nobles are built of the same stone. Returning to the pagoda, it is seated on a great platform of octagonal shape, faced with cut stone, around which there are two courses of animals, chiefly monkeys, carved in relief. One of the courses is only 2 feet from the ground floor, and the other 2 feet from the level of the platform. It is reached by two staircases of fifteen or sixteen steps each, the steps being only 2 feet long, so that two persons are unable to ascend side-by-side. One of these staircases leads to the great gate of the pagoda, and the other behind the choir. But the pagoda occupies scarcely half the platform, the other half serving as a grand area in front. Its form, like those of the other pagodas, is that of a cross, and in the middle there rises a lofty dome, with two other little smaller at the sides. On the exterior of the building, from base to summit, there are numerous figures of animals such as rams, monkeys and elephants, carved in stone, and all round are niches containing different monsters. From the foot of each of the three domes up to their summit, at intervals, there are windows from 5 to 6 feet high, and at each a kind of balcony where four persons can sit.
Each balcony is covered by a small canopy, and some are sustained by four columns, other by eight, but then they are in pairs and in contact with one another. Around these domes there are also niches full of figures which represent demons, one with four arms, another four legs; some of them have the heads of men on the bodies of beasts, with horns and long tails which twine round their legs. There are, finally, numerous images of monkeys, and it is a terrible thing to have before the eyes so many ugly representations. The pagoda has but one door, which is very high, and on both sides there are many columns and images of men and monsters. The choir is enclosed by a screen of stone columns 5 to 6 inches in diameter, and no one may enter these except the principal Brahmans, who have access by a small secret door which I could not see. When I visited this pagoda I asked some Brahmans, who were there if I might see the great Ram Ram, that is to say the great idol.They replied that if I gave them something they would go to ask leave of their Superior; this they did as soon as I had placed two rupees in their hands. I waited less than half an hour when the Brahmans opened a door inside the middle of the screen, for on the outside there is none, the screen itself being closed. I saw across it, at about 15 or 16 feet from the door, as it were a square altar covered with a piece of old brocade of gold and silver, and on it the great idol which they call Ram Ram. Only the head, which is of black marble, can be seen, and he has for eyes what appear to be two rubies. All the body from the neck to the feet is covered by a robe of red velvet with some embroidery, and the arms cannot be seen. There are two other idols beside him 2 feet in height or thereabouts; they are arranged in the same manner, save that they have the faces white, and they are called Becchor. I also saw in this pagoda a machine 15 to 16 feet square and about 12 to 15 feet high, covered with painted calico on which all kinds of demons are represented. This machine was supported on four small wheels, and I was told that it was the car on which their great god is placed at the solemn days when he goes to visit the other gods, and is taken to the river by the people on the occasion of their principal festival."


Father Tieffenthaller, who visited Mathura in 1745, after mentioning the two mosques (lama Masjid and Katra Masjid) goes on to describe the streets as narrow and dirty and most of the buildings as in ruins; the fort very large and massive, like a mountain of hewn stone, with an observatory, which was only a feeble imitation of the one at Jaypur, but with the advantage of being much better raised. The only other spot that he particularizes is the Visrant (or Vishram) ghat. When Father Tieffenthaller visited Vrindavan, in 1754, he noticed only one long street, but states that this was adorned with handsome, not to say magnificent, buildings of beautifully carved stone, which had been erected by different Hindu Rajas and nobles, either for mere display, or as occasional residences, or as embellishments that would be acceptable to the local divinity. The absurdity of people coming from long distances merely for the sake of dying on holy ground, all among the monkeys–which he describes as a most intolerable nuisance–together with the frantic idolatry that he saw rampant all around, and the grotesque resemblance of the Bairagis to the hermits and ascetics of the earlier ages of Christianity, seem to have given the worthy missionary such a shock that his remarks on the buildings are singularly vague and indiscriminating.
The metalling of the Delhi road was done in 1860 as a principal famine relief work; which was not only a boon at that time, but still continues as a source of the greatest advantage to the district. The old imperial thoroughfare, which connected the two capitals of Mughals, Agra and Lahore, kept closely to the same line, as is still shown by the dozens of surviving ponderous kos minars, which may be seen still standing at intervals of about three miles, and nowhere at any great distance from the way side.
Here was the "delectable alley of trees, the most incomparable ever beheld," which the Emperor Jahangir enjoys the credit of having planted. That it was really a fine avenue is attested by the language of the sober Dutch topographer, John de Laet, who, in his India Vera, written in 1631, that is, early in the reign of Shahjahan, speaks of it in the following terms:- "The whole of the country between Agra and Lahore is well-watered and by far the most fertile part of India. It abounds in all kinds of produce, especially sugar. The highway is bordered on either side by trees which bear a fruit like the mulberry, and," as he adds in another place, "form a beautiful avenues," "At intervals of five or six coss," he continues, "there are saraes built either by the king or by some of the nobles. In these travelers can find bed and lodging; when a person has once taken possession he cannot be turned out by any one." The glory of the road, however, seems to have been of short duration, for even so late as 1825, Bishop Heber, on his way down to Kolkata, was apparently much struck with what he calls "the wildness of the country", but mentions no avenue, as he certainly would have done had one then existed. Thus it is clear that about the middle of 19th century administrators of the district were the only persons entitled to the traveller's blessing for the magnificent and almost unbroken canopy of over-arching boughs, which extended for more than thirty miles from the city of Mathura to the border of the Gurgaon district, and formed a sufficient protection from even the mid-day glare of an Indian summer's sun. Alas! now nothing remains even of that glory. Though the country has now generally been brought under cultivation, and can scarcely be described as even well wooded, there are still here and there many patches of waste land covered with low trees and jungle, which might be considered to justify the Bishop's epithet of wild-looking.


Victor Jacquemont, who came out to India on a scientific mission on behalf of the Paris Museum of Natural History, and passed through Agra and Mathura on his way to the Himalayas in the cold weather of 1829-30, writes about Mathura region like this: "Nothing can be less picturesque than the Yamuna. The soil is sandy and the cultivated fields are intermingled with waste tracts, where scarcely anything will grow but the capparis aphylla and one or two kinds of zyzyphus. There is little wheat; barley is the prevailing cereal, with peas, sesamum and cotton. ….The villages are far apart from one another and present every appearance of decay. Most of them are surrounded by strong walls flanked with towers, but their circuit often encloses only a few miserable cottages."
Further narrating about the city of Mathura Jacquemont concludes: "The streets are the narrowest, the crookedest, the steepest and dirtiest that I have ever seen."
Mons. Victor Jacquemont, who passed through Vrindavan in the cold weather of 1829-30, has left rather a fuller description of the religious town. He says, "This is a very ancient city, and I should say of more importance even than Mathura. It is considered one of the most sacred of all among the Hindus, an advantage which Mathura also possesses, but to a lesser degree. Its temples are visited by multitudes of pilgrims, who perform their ablutions in the river at the different ghats, which are very fine. All the buildings are constructed of red sandstone, of a closer grain and of a lighter and less disagreeable colour than that used at Agra: it comes from the neighbourhood of Jaypur, a distance of 200 miles. Two of these temples have the pyramidal form peculiar to the early Hindu style, but without the little turrets which in the similar buildings at Benares seem to spring out of the main tower that determines the shape of the edifice. They have a better effect, from being more simple, but are half in ruins." (The temples that he means are Madan Mohan and Jugal Kishor). "A larger and more ancient ruin is that of a temple of unusual form. The interior of the nave is like that of a Gothic church; though a village church only, so far as size goes. A quantity of grotesque sculpture is pendant from the dome, and might be taken for pieces of turned wood. An immense number of bells, large and small, are carved in relief on the supporting pillars and on the walls, worked in the same stiff and ungainly style. Many of the independent Rajas of the west, and some of their ministers (who have robbed them well no doubt) are now building at Vrindavan is the largest purely Hindu city that I have seen. I could not discover in it a single mosque. Its suburbs are thickly planted with fine trees, which appear from a distance like an island of verdure in the sandy plain." (These are the large gardens beyond the temple of Madan Mohan, on the old Delhi Road). "The Doab, which can be seen from the top of the temple, stretching away on the opposite side of the Yamuna, is still barer than the country on the right bank."
Jacquemont, who saw the sarai of Chhata town in the year 1829, describes it as "a large fortress, of fine appearance from the outside, but it will not do to enter, for inside there is nothing but misery and decay, as everywhere else, except perhaps at Mathura and Vrindavan."

A Buddhist Mathura As Seen By The Chinese Travellers

Mathura's association with Buddhism is amply corroborated by the accounts of the foreign travellers. The Greek writer Megasthenes, Pliny and Ptolemy who either visited or wrote about Shurasena or Mathura in their records are silent over this issue as by that time Buddhism was not popular, although efforts were being made to propagate it. One important figure responsible for establishing the association of Buddhism with Mathura in the pre-Christian centuries is Bhadra Kapilani, who was the wife of Mahakasyapa, one of the main disciples of the Buddha. Mathura was her native place. One Mahadev, associated with the second Buddhist council was the son of a Brahmana of Mathura. The Tibetan and Chinese translations of Vasumitra reveal that the second council, of Vaishali was called to discuss the five dogmas of Mahadev.
The Chinese traveller Fa-hien who visited the place in the beginning of the 5th century AD furnished significant data in his travel memories. The mission of his journey was to collect the original Buddhist texts and commentaries. Starting from Lanchow in central China he covered most of the distance on foot and passing through the Gobi desert and other difficult routes reached Mathura which he recorded as the first kingdom with the capital of the same name, situated on the Jamuna. According to him everybody from highest to lowest rank had faith in Buddhism and it was so from the time of the Buddha.
Fa-hien further informs that the religious establishments were in possession of copper plate grants testifying the evidence of their historicity. There were twenty monasteries on both sides of the river and 3000 monks resided in them. The number of monks and priests is sometimes stated as ten thousand. Besides, he saw six stupas (relic towers) out of which the most important and venerable was of Shariputra. The stupas commemorate the sacred memory of Ananda and Mudgalaputra, the great teacher of Samadhi or meditation. The stupa of Ananda was more popular among women (probably due to the fact that he persuaded the Buddha to permit the women folk into the Sangha). The remaining three stupas were to pay respect to the holy books, the Tripitakas i.e. Abhidharma, Sutra and Vinaya.
Fa-hien speaks of the happy and cordial conditions of the place. The rulers and the court officials showed much regard to Buddhism and they derived pleasure in serving the monks and feeding them. `At the end of the meal they spread carpets on the ground, and sat down facing the president not venturing to sit on couches in the presence of priests', an arrangement handed down from the days of the Buddha.


Hiuen-Tsang (also pronounced as Yuanchwang) followed Fa-hien after about 200 years and spent about sixteen years in India. Like his predecessor he also collected a large number of Buddhist texts besides several other items of ritualistic interest and Buddhist figures. On his return to China he translated 75 texts into Chinese and went on writing for 19 years. Some of his translations are as valuable as the original sources; as the original books are now not available. He has also handed over detailed account of his memoirs of wide travels in India. These supply valuable informations for the study of contemporary society. He commenced his journey at the age of 26 and remained in India between 629 and 645 AD. This tall and handsome pilgrim was a man of high determination and firm conviction.
Three stupas built by Ashoka were also seen by him besides several spots where the four former Buddhas left their footprints. The stupas built in the memory of the disciples of the Buddha were also held in great reverence. These consist of the holy relics of Shariputra, Mudgalayana, Purvamaitrayaniputra, Upali, Ananda, Rahula, Manjushri and other Bodhisattvas. Shariputra was respected by the followers of Abhidharma and Mudgalayana by those who practiced Dhyana or contemplation. The followers of Sutras paid homage to Maitrayaniputra and those who had faith in the three Pitakas worshipped Upali. The new entrants to the Sangha honoured Rahula while the followers of Mahayanism paid respect to all Bodhisattvas. The traveller reveals that five or six lis i.e. about a mile and a quarter to east of the city was a monastery on the hill credited to have been built by Upagupta and it housed his nails and hair as relics.
About the general conditions Hiuen-Tsang gives an appreciable remark. People were happy and prosperous and the land was fertile and yellow in colour, mango yield was in abundance. The climate of the region has been recorded as hot while his predecessor mentioned it as moderate. It appears that the season of the visit of one Chinese traveller differed from the other. The citizens were of high intellect, honest and of good character. They believed in the merits of deeds (karnaphala). We can derive the conclusion that Buddhism was prevalent in Mathura in those times although its decline had begun. From here the Chinese traveller proceeded to Kanyakubja, the capital city of northern India in the time of Harshavardhana, of whom he speaks in high admiration.

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