Agam Kuan , Ashoka’s Hell

Agam Kuan , Ashoka’s Hell

 

 Agam Kuan  which means ”unfanthomable well” is an ancient well and an archaeological site situated in Patna,Bihar,India. The Agam Kuan is set within an archaeological site identified by the Archaeological Survey of India which also contains the adjacent Shitala Devi temple where the folk deity Shitala Devi is venerated. It is said to date back to the period of Mauryan emperor, Ashoka (304–232 BCE). The well was known to be part of “Ashoka’s Hell “. It’s a legend that Ashoka threw 99 of his brothers in this well after killing them for the throne of Magadh. The well is believed to be 105 feet deep, Circular in shape, the well is lined with brick in the upper 13 metres (43 ft) and contains wooden rings in the remaining 19 metres (62 ft). The surface structure, which now covers the well and forms its most distinctive feature, has eight arched windows. A hand written plate stuck in the wall of the well reads "The well of Emperor Asoka" in Hindi. According to a myth, the well has a subterranean link with the Patala (netherworld) or hell. Another geo-hydrological link suggested that Agam Kuan is connected to the Ganges river.
The water from the kuan never dries up and the level of water remains unaffected despite floods. The well miraculously maintains the water level at 1-1.5 feet throughout the year. It is considered sanctimonious and used for worshipping. As per the local belief, it has 9 smaller wells inside it and a hidden treasure at its base. The reason behind the water never drying up is still unknown. The depth of Agam kuan is still unknown. Three attempts to ascertain the depth of the Agam kuan have gone in vain. The first attempt was made in 1932 during the British rule. While extracting the water from the well, a flood-like situation had occurred, but the depth of the kuan could not be ascertained. The second attempt was made in 1962 by the then chief minister of Bihar Krishna Singh but did not meet success. The third and so far the last attempt was made in 1995 by Archaeological Survey of India during chief minister Lalu Prasad Yadav's term. The team relentlessly extracted water, gold coins and money from the well for several days but could not reach its bottom. To everyone's  surprise, the water level regained its original level. The mystery of the miraculous Agam kuan continues unabated with a hope that one day plausible findings will demystify its magic!

 The site is also connected with several Jain legends, the most notable of them being that of a Jain monk, Sudarshana, who, when thrown into the well by a king named Chand, floated to the surface and was found seated on a lotus. Visitors throw coins into Agam Kuan, as it is still considered auspicious. It is used for many religious ceremonies, especially Hindu weddings. Although it is venerated, the well waters are not consumed.
 Ashoka's Hell was, according to legend, an elaborate torture chamber disguised as a beautiful palace full of amenities such as exclusive baths and decorated with flowers, fruit trees and ornaments. It was built by King Ashoka (304–232 BCE) in Pataliputra (modern Patna, India), the capital city of the Maurya Empire. The legend of the torture palace is detailed in the Ashokavadana, the text that describes King Ashoka's life through both legendary and historical accounts. According to legend, the palatial torture chamber was artfully designed to make its exterior visually pleasing and was referred to as the "beautiful gaol". Beneath the veneer of beauty, however, deep inside the exclusive mansion, torture chambers were constructed which were full of sadistic and cruel instruments of torture including furnaces producing molten metal for pouring on prisoners. The narrative mentions that the architect of the chamber was inspired by descriptions of the five tortures of the Buddhist hell for the design of the torture chamber and of the torture methods he inflicted upon his victims. The text of the Ashokavadana, describes how the torture chamber was so terrifying, it caused people to believe that Ashoka had visited hell itself in his quest to perfect its evil design. Through a pact made between Ashoka and the official executioner of the torture chamber ,Girika ,anyone entering the palace, even by chance as a visitor, was not allowed to come out alive , including Ashoka himself.
The Ashokavadana further mentions that sometime later a Buddhist monk by the name of Samudra happened to visit the palace and upon entering he was informed by Girika that he would be tortured to death, and was subsequently led into the torture chamber. His torturers however failed to injure him and he appeared able to neutralise their torture methods by realising that the suffering of the other prisoners is part of the Buddhist dogma of suffering and attaining arhatship. A particular narration detailed how Samudra, while tortured in a cauldron full of boiling water, human blood, bone marrow and excrement, caused the contents of the cauldron to cool down and then sat meditating cross-legged on a lotus sprouting from the fluid. The narrative further describes that when Ashoka heard of these miracles, he was overcome with curiosity and decided to enter the chamber to verify for himself the veracity of the stories. After arriving there he witnessed Samudra levitating with half his body on fire and the other half raining water. Intrigued he asked Samudra to identify himself. Samudra replied that he was a disciple of Buddha and adherent to the Dharma. Samudra then chastised Ashoka for having built the torture chamber and further instructed him to build eighty four thousand stupas according to Buddha's prophecy, and to guarantee the security of all beings. To those demands, Ashoka acquiesced. Further he confessed to his crimes and accepted Buddha and the Dharma.
The Ashokavadana describes the events leading to the demolition of Ashoka's torture chamber. According to the text, the torture chamber had become the site and the reason of his conversion to Buddhism. Girika, as the resident executioner of the chamber, however, reminded Ashoka of his pledge to kill anyone entering the chamber including Ashoka himself. Ashoka then questioned Girika as to who entered the torture palace first during their visit to see Samudra's miracles. Girika was then forced to admit that it was he who entered first. Upon the executioner's confession, Ashoka ordered him burnt alive and also ordered the demolition of the torture palace. According to the Ashokavadana, "the beautiful jail was then torn down and a guarantee of security was extended to all beings".
From that point on, Ashoka became known as Ashoka the Pious.
People, at large, believe the well's water to be endowed with miraculous power, and the well auspicious.


In addition to the Agam Kuan, the archaeological site features a temple, as well as several ancient and medieval sculptures. The Shitala Devi temple is adjacent to the well, and is dedicated to Shitala Devi, which houses the pindas of the Saptamatrikas (the seven mother goddesses). The temple is widely venerated for its belief in curing smallpox and chicken pox, and it is also visited by devotees for wish fulfilment. The water is believed to have healing properties and is given to patients. It is also believed by the locals that if a childless couple takes bath in the well, their wish to extend their family could be granted. The devotees throw gold and silver coins in the well as donations. The water from the well is used to perform all the rituals at this temple. A statue of Yaksha of the Mauryan art period which use to stands guard outside the temple, as described earlier by Alexander Cunningham when he visited the site in 1879–80, is not traceable in the present day. 

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