No. 17.─ EPIGRAPHICAL DISCOVERIES AT SARNATH.
BY J. PH. VOGEL, LITD. ; LAHORE.
In the course of excavations carried on by Mr. F. O. Oertel in the winter of 1904-05 at
Sârnâth near Benares, a considerable number of epigraphs, besides a wealth of other archæological materials, have come to light. Mr. Oertel intends giving a full account of his explorations
in the Annual Report of the Archæological Survey for that year. But as it will be some time
before this is published it seems desirable to render the most important of his epigraphical discoveries at once available to European scholars. It is hoped that this early publication of
the inscriptions will not only be welcome, but that it may attract a discussion of the new
finds among experts and thus lead to a solution of the various problems which will be indicated
in the course of the following pages.
I.─ INSCRIPTIONS ON THE ASOKA PILLAR.
a, b, c, d.─ Inscription of Aśôka.
Earliest in date is an inscription in Brâhmî of the Maurya period, cut on the shaft of a
monolith of highly polished and fine-grained limestone. Its appearance agrees well with that
of the pillar “ bright as jade ” which, according to Hiuen Tsiang, marked the spot where
Śâkyamuni began to “ turn the wheel of the Law.” Unfortunately only the lower portion of
the shaft was found in situ. Evidently the pillar had been wilfully thrown down and mutilated, probably in that same “ great final catastrophe,” of which Major Kittoe received so vivid
an impression in the course of his Sârnâth excavations. Besides large portions of the upper part
of the shaft, a Persepolitan capital of excellent workmanship was unearthed. It bears four
sitting lions, carrying a wheel,─ another indication of the pillar being identical with that
described by Hiuen Tsiang.
That its height cannot have reached the 70 feet of Hiuen Tsiang’s pillar does not seem a
serious objection, as the figure is only approximate, and it must be remembered that there is
always a tendency to overestimate the height of monuments. What is more inexplicable is
that Hiuen Tsiang neither connects its origin with Aśôka nor mentions the fact of its being
inscribed. As to the latter point, I agree with Mr. Oertel’s explanation that at the time of
Hiuen Tsiang’s visit most of the inscribed part of the shaft must have been under ground. This
was certainly the case at the moment of its destruction. For, in order to lay bare the inscription,
Mr. Oertel had to cut through several concrete floors, superimposed one above the other, as the
ground gradually rose above the original level. It is due, indeed, to this circumstance
that most of the inscription has been preserved.
Mr. Oertel succeeded in recovering three inscribed fragments, from which it may be inferred
that the destroyed portion consisted only of the first three lines of the epigraph. It will be seen
that of the uppermost line of the main portion still in situ (i.a on the Plate), several of the
letters are injured and the concluding part is broken off. This missing part of twelve aksharas
is supplied by one of those three fragments (i.d), which also contains the end of the preceding
Si-yu-ki (Beal), Vol. II. p. 46.
 A. S. R. Vol. I. p 126.