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Date of Buddha
chief landmark of Buddhist chronology is the year and date of the
Buddha's parinibbana which is said to lie according to two main
traditions, somewhere between 487-477 B. C. and 543-544 B. C.
Max Muller2, and General A. Cunningham3 asserted 477-478 B. C. as the
date of the Buddha's demise. According to them, the year of
Chandragupta's accession was 315 B. C. and it is now proved to be an
favours 481 B. C. while V. A. Smith prefers 486 B. C. Smith depends on
the so called "Cantonese
Dotted Record". It is said that Bhiksu Sanghabhadra sent news
of the buddha's parinibbana to china. since then an arrangement of
reckoning the Buddha's death by marking a dot each year had been made in
Canton, and this dotted record continued upto the year 489 A. D. All the
dots were counted in 489 A. D., and their total number reached 975,
which suggests 486 B. C. as the year of Buddha's death. It is not easy
to recognize the dotted record
as being trust worthy unless other strong evidence supports it.
accepts 486 B. C., while Kern6 places it in 488 B. C. On the other hand,
Muni Nugaraj7 mentions 502 B. C. as the year of the Buddha's parinibbana.
But all these conceptions do not carry weight as they do not take into
account all the evidences.
date 483 B. C., which seems more reliable, is supported by several
non-traditionalists or reformed traditionalist scholars. Sylvain Levi8
pointed out from the Chinese accounts that 483 B. C. was reckoned as the
Buddha's demise up to the 4th century in Ceylon, while E. R. Ayroton9,
the late Archaeological Commissioner of Ceylon, and Wickrema-singhe10
try to prove the acceptability of this date from the beginning of the
4th century up to the 11th century. Geiger also warmly accepts this
M. Seneviratne established his theory that "The era reckoned from
483 B. C. remained not only up to the 11th century but up to the end of
the 15th century, when the new tradition that the Buddha died in 544 B.
C.-came in and soon ousted the old, are creating no little confusion,
not so much during the transitionary stage as in our own time.11
scholars, who accept 483 B. C. as the date of the Buddha, urge that 218
years after Buddha's death, Asoka's consecration took place. They quote
the Dipavamsa13, and Mahavamsa14 in support of their theory. As regards Asoka's
consecration, they say that his predecessors Bindusara and Candragupta
ruled for 28 and 24 years, according to the Ceylonese chronology.15 And
Asoka was consecrated four years after he had already reigned over the
country.16 This means Candragupta would have ascended the throne 162
years (218 - 4=214 - 28+24= 162) after the Buddha's nibbana.
they could say with almost certainty that Chandragupta's accession took
place in 321 B. C., since Alexander the Great died at Babylon in the
same year and this fact has been amply recorded17. From this they
conclude that the Buddha's death would have taken place in 483 B. C.
(321+162 = 433).
on the otherhand, accepts 482 B. C. as the "Practically
certain" date of the Buddha's parinabbana. He supports his view by
the evidence that Bimbisara was murdered by his son eight years before
the Buddha's nibbana.18 Though there is no great difference between the
dates, 483 B. C. appears the more dependable one.
regards the traditional date of Buddha, it is yet to be asertained,
since the tradition itself is not accepted with unanimity. According to
the Buddhist Chronicles of Ceylon and Burma, the Nibbana took place in
544-543 B. C., while the Northern Indian traditions place it at a very
early date. Cunningham19 refers to some of them. In the time of Hwen
Thasang, A. D. 630-645, the Buddhist schools held widely different
opinions, varying from 900 and 1000 years up to 1200, 1300 and even 1500
years prior to that date20, which would place the Nibbana of the Buddha
either in 250, or 350, or 550, or 650 and 850 B. C. The same extravagant
antitquity was also asserted in the time of Fa-Hian, who places the
Nibbana during the reign of Ping-Wang, Emperar of China, in B. C.
770-719 21. A similar antiquity was still claimed as late as the Twelth
Century A. D., during the reign of Asoka Balla Deva. Two of his
inscriptions are dated in the years 51 and 74 of the Laksmana Sena era,
or in A. D. 1159 and 1180. A third inscription, which is dated in the
year 1813 after the Nibbana of Buddha shows that at that time, Nibbana
was believed to have occured between about 656 to 633 B. C.
all the traditional views, except the traditions of Ceylon and Burma, do
not have sufficiently strong evidences in their support. According to
the Mahavamsa, Parakramabahu I was corwned when 1696 years had elapsed
since the buddha's death, that is, in the year 1697 A. B. The Ceylonese
era falls this year 1153 A. D.22 This is supported by an independant
source, viz. a South Indian Inscription at the temple of Tiruvalisvara
in Arpakkama. According to the Culavamsa, 56.16 foll., the predecessors
of Parakramabahu, from Parak rama Pandu onwards, reigned 107 years. Thus
the accession of the last-named prince falls at 1590. A. D. Moreover,
this date is confirmed by the South Indian Manimangalam inscription,
which is dated the same year23. All this shows that for the second half
of the twelfth century the existence of the Ceylon era, reckoned from
544; is established with certainty.24
support of this view, we can now put forward another evidence. An
inscription has been recently discovered near Anuradhapura in Ceylon
which delineates the various kinds of donations made by king Upatissa 1,
the elder brother and predecessor of the king, for the benefit of the
Bodi-shrine. S. Paranavitana, on the basis of this earliest inscription
so far found in which a date is given in the Buddhist era reckoning from
the parinirvana of Buddha along with the regnal year of the king
reigning at the time, has been able to say that the Budhist era reckoned
from 544 B. C. was prevalent in the reign of king Upatissa 1 (368-410).
is to be noted here that some scholars think of 483 B. C. as the
Ceylonese traditional era of the Buddha's Nirvana. M. De. Z.
Wickremasinghe, however, tried to establish the view that till the 11th
Centuary A. D. the tradition of counting the Buddhist era from 483 B. C.
was prevalent both in India as well as in Ceylon. He suggested that the
mistake might have occured in regard to the length of reigns assigned to
the several kings who preceded the great Vijaya Bahu 1. His reason for
suggesting it is that it was a century of foreign domination for about
86 or 96 years, the Cholians over-ran the Island, carrying destruction
every-where. If a mistake did really occur in this chronology, it is mot
probable that it was due to such difficult circumstances.26
too has attempted to prove that the death of Buddha took place in the
year 483 B. C., on the strength of the conclusion arrived at by Fleet
and accepted by Geiger and Wikramasinghe. He says that the correctness
of Fleet's date is beyond question. According to him, the above date
continued till the time of Parakramabahu VI when it was corrupted by the
addition of 93 years; and a few centuries still later a Buddhist monk at
kandy dropped out of this 93, when the era assumed its present date.
these views are refuted by other eminent scholars. E. Hultzsch28 pointed
out that the above view, that of reckoning the era from 483 B. C. is
based on an erroneous translation by WIjesinghe of passage in the Culavamsa (Chapter, 53.v. 44), H, W. Codringron29 remarked on the
paper of Seneviratne that the Kalyani inscription indicated that the
"Sakaraja" era as that used in Burma and dating form A, D.
638, according to a Burmese inscription, is dated saka-raja 657 at
Bodhigaya." "This date", he says "however, shows
that the Buddhist era, as used in Burma in the fifteenth centuary was
544 B. C". E. M. Abhesinghe,30 on the basis of Jaina literature,
criticising the view of Seneviratne, says that "We know that Buddha
was countemporaneous with Bimbisara, and if with the Jainas, we identify
Swami Gautama or Gautama Indrabhuti with Lord Buddha, the first disciple
of the Jaina Tirthankara Mahavira, we can approximately fix, from both
these sources, the date of the great demise at 544 B. C."31
connection with Abhesinghe's conclusion I would like to make a few
comments. His suggestion, in support of 544 B. C. being date of the
Buddha's demise, that Gautama Indrubhuti and Bautama the Buddha are
identical, is incorrect. They were different personalities. One was the
Ganadhara or explainer of Mahavira's preachings, while the other was the
founder of Buddhism. One died at Gunava in. Rajagraha at the age of
ninety two, 12 years after the attainment of salvation by Mahavira,
while the other died at Kusinara at the age of eighty and attained
In the light of the aforesaid evidences we can now conclude that the most probable date of the birth of Buddha therefore, is 624-623 B. C. We make this deduction as he is supposed to have lived for 80 years, as he himself says in the Mahaparini-bbanasutta of the Dighanikaya before his death that he was of 80 years of age (athititaro me vayo vattati). Thus the date of the Buddha's parinivana may be decided at 544 B. C. (624-623 B. C.-80 = 544-543 B. C.)
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