The Circle of Ancient Iranian Studies
IRANIAN CULTURAL IMPACT
The Achaemenids Persepolitan Legacy in India
By: Mary Stewart
story of the American archaeologist David Brainerd Spooner and his excavation of
the Mauryan pillared hall at Kumrahar, Pataliputra (Patna) the capital of Indian
state Bihar, is marked by a series of ironies. In 1913 he directed the
excavations of what were supposed to be the palaces of India's first imperial
rulers, Chandragupta and Asoka Maurya. While ancient literary sources indicated
that the Mauryans had imitated the imperial Persians in palace building,
Spooner's archaeological explorations provided only the faintest, isolated hint
of this possibility. Bad weather hindered his explorations but gave him the time
to think about his discovery and its implications. Inspired by the idea that he
might have found the Persian Persepolis recreated on Indian soil, and by the
power of the written word, Spooner searched every available avenue of
scholarship to substantiate the point. His efforts led him to attempt to
demonstrate that not only were Persian craftsmen responsible for Mauryan
edifices but that the Mauryans themselves were Persian. Finally, he was forced
to abandon his Kumrahar explorations, as part of the site encroached on a Muslim
annual reports to the Archaeological Survey of India and his article "The
Zoroastrian Period of Indian History" attest to the depth and breadth of
his enquiries and erudition. And yet, while Western archaeologists and art
historians persist in the notion that a Mauryan palace was discovered at
Kumrahar, they do so without ever mentioning Spooner.
Spooner was the only American archaeologist to have worked for the British Archaeological Survey of India. Given his thorough and persistent disposition, the story would have been vastly different had Spooner survived beyond his forty-sixth year. At the time of his death in 1925 he was still developing and refining his Persian theories. He began his career as Superintendent, Frontier Circle, in 1906, excavating Buddhist sites at Sahri-Bahlol and in 1907 at the nearby Takht-i-Bahi. At Shah-ji-ki-Dheri, he discovered the Kanishka reliquary. He became Superintendent, Eastern Circle, in 1910, exploring first at Basrah (Vaisali), and then at Patna and Nalanda. In addition to his field and circle supervisory work he often assumed administrative and editorial duties for the ASI Director General, John Marshall. In 1919 he was appointed Deputy Director General. His colleagues may not always have agreed with his theories, but they respected his enterprise. For his services he was awarded an O.B.E.
in 1912 the Indian industrialist Mr. Ratan Tata proposed to give the ASI a gift
of Rs. 20,000 a year toward excavations of the would be palace of the Mauryan
rulers, Spooner was selected to take charge of the exploration. In his initial
report, Spooner noted that in 1892, at the Pataliputra site known as Bulandi
Bagh, Col. L. A. Waddell had unearthed a sandstone column capital he thought was
But Spooner chose to begin his explorations at Kumrahar, to the south of Bulandi
Bagh (fig. 1). On 7 February 1913, he uncovered most of a square substructure,
laid out in ten rows of eight columns, a Mauryan pillared hall. On the southern
end, he found a series of parallel wooden platforms (figs. 2-6). He wrote at the
time: "The resulting plan thus exhibits a pronounced similarity in
essential features with the famous hall of a hundred columns at Persepolis, and
this together with certain other established points of similarity would seem at
present to indicate a probable connection between the two."
all Spooner's caution, the discovery must have been an exhilarating experience.
As his earlier ASI reports and his Handbook to the Sculptures in the Peshawar
Museum indicate, he had often remarked on evidence of Persian influences and
workmanship throughout Gandhara. However, the Kumrahar explorations revealed
only one probable piece of evidence, a large column, 14'3" high (fig. 7).
It was the only full column he found at the site. On its bottom were a series of
mason's marks. As to these, he found a similarity with Persian marks described
in Dieulafoy's L'art antique de la Perse, which he extended to Kumrahar (fig.
The other columns, he speculated, had sunk into the soft clay below (fig. 9).
in the season of 1913-1914, Spooner's field efforts to advance his
KumraharPersepolis connection were completely frustrated. Heavy monsoon floods,
swamping "twenty or thirty thousand square feet" to a depth of between
fourteen and twenty-two feet, rendered the site unworkable.
Marshall commented: "Indeed, Dr. Spooner himself goes so far as to express
a regret that a report on [the excavations] should be necessary at all at the
present juncture, seeing that the problems that present themselves are so
numerous and perplexing, and that the digging has not advanced far enough to
enable him to approach them with any degree of confidence. Nevertheless, his
conjectures, although admittedly tentative, are so interesting and suggestive in
themselves that I feel reluctant to pass them by in silence.”
the evidence was slim. Spooner's supports for his argument for the Persian
presence at Kumrahar were: 1) the columns; 2) their spacing (the Persian and
Indian systems of distance measurement are similar); 3) the discovery of a head
of a statue he thought might have "stood in the hall"; 4) the
discovery of a seal depicting a three-storeyed hall, which he relates to the
Persian tālār, such as is found in the pillared hall at Persepolis and
on the facade of Darius the Great’ tomb.
remained skeptical. "Brilliant and attractive as these theories are,"
he wrote, "it must be borne in mind that the evidence on which they are
based is at present very slender and that the explorer himself does not put them
forward as anything more than reasonable conjectures.”
to continue his exploration at Kumrahar, Spooner turned his attention to other
considerations, starting with "stratigraphical evidences" in the soil
and debris, and in the process developing his pillar sinkage theory.
His second line of enquiry involved extrapolating a Mauryan palace, of which the
pillared hall was but one part, from Lord Curzon's plan of Persepolis. All about
him at Kumrahar were mounds that appeared to conform to the plan. The
exploratory trenches he dug revealed a brick wall and some artefacts, but no
further evidence of a Mauryan palace.
site was still waterlogged in the 1914-1915 season. Spooner had used his leave
time for preparing his article on the Persepolitan connection for publication in
the fournal of the Royal Asiatic Society. In the field, he shifted his focus to
Waddell's sites, especially Bulandi Bagh, where, he now stated, Waddell had
unearthed a "Persian" capital in 1903.
Here Spooner found a wooden palisade, reputedly the wall surrounding the ancient
city of Pataliputra as mentioned by Megasthenes.
Back at Kumrahar, exploring the mounds contingent to the pillared hall, he found
a "boundary wall" at the southwest corner of the terrace. Again he
tried to equate his discovery of the wall with the "Achemaedian
platform" upon which the Persepolitan palace buildings stood.
In attempting to trace the wall around the site, he encountered a Muslim
cemetery. At this point all work at Kumrahar ceased.
final discovery at Kumrahar, at a site southwest of the terrace known as Mauri
Pokhar, was a potsherd bearing "a very unmistakable emblem of the
Zoroastrian fire altar (fig. 10). The figure is remarkably similar to that form
of fire altar which is shown on the facade of Artaxerxes' tomb at Persepolis.
The same device has been found at Vaisali and at Bhita on sealings, and we have
even seen it among the seals recovered this year at this very site."
The site name, Spooner said, means Magian's Pool. Thus, he felt that the
Persian/Mauryan connection was complete.
this same report Spooner mentioned the publication of his article, "The
Zoroastrian Period of Indian History." If the pillared hall at Kumrahar had
been located from literary sources, surely a literary argument could be made for
its significance in Indian history. For this he had called on his academic
training as a classicist.
had attended Stanford University ("the one college in America where a mere
undergraduate could take up the study of Sanskrit"), and Harvard
University, where he completed a Ph.D. with Lanman. He had studied and taught in
Tokyo (his "guru" was Takakusu), Benares and Berlin. It was his wife,
also a student of Lanman's, who had initially called his attention to the
possible connection between Kumrahar and Persepolis.
also read Chinese, Japanese, French and Spanish. His sources range from the
classical through the European translations of the Chinese pilgrims' accounts
(he even questioned some English renderings of the Chinese), to his European and
Indian contemporaries in the fields of Indian and Persian archaeology, history
of art and architecture, paleography, history, etymology, geography, numismatics
and religious studies. In all, he cited some sixty-one sources.
Spooner argued for many and various parallels between Persian (Zoroastrian) and
Indian customs and traditions, similarities in words and their meanings,
sculptural conventions, all pointing to Persian origin of not only the Mauryan
dynasty but the Sakyan dynasty (the family of the Buddha) and a decidedly
Zoroastrian element, if not origination, of Buddhism. As E. A. Horne observed:
"Such a revolutionary body of doctrine was unlikely to win ready
He noted that Spooner was in the process of completing a book "embodying
his maturer views," which he had just about finished when he died.
Lamenting his demise on the brink of a significant historic contribution, Horne
said: "Already it seems certain that it will be necessary to re-examine Dr.
Spooner's discoveries at Pataliputra, and the daring speculations which they
suggested to him, from an entirely new angle."
this never happened. A. Berriedale Keith and F. W. Thomas offered criticism of
some of his etymological points. Overall, Berriedale Keith was caustic,
only conclusion to be drawn from the evidence is clear. Iran [sic] may and no
doubt did lend India ideas of various kinds; in each case these must be
carefully looked for and examined, and ascribed to Iran only if another and
Indian origin is not possible and natural. A Zoroastrian period of Indian
history never existed, nor indeed was any such existence to be expected .
a note to his criticism he added:
is clear that the equation of the Mauryan palace and the palace of Darius rests
on wholly insufficient evidence on the archaeological side. There is not a
priori reason to deny its possibility, but it must be established by
archaeology, not by such evidence as adduced by Dr. Spooner.
while agreeing with Berriedale Keith on the last point, was more conciliatory.
He wrote: "Nevertheless, it must be admitted that Dr. Spooner has made a
gallant attempt to deal with a real problem, namely the extent of that Persian
(or, at least, western) influence which is visible in the early
learned men were not alone in commenting on Spooner's article. As to the
cumulative critical effect, the remarks of his obituarists are instructive. C.
E. A. W. Oldham wrote:
anticipated that [his conclusions] would meet the usual fate of such novel and
boldly stated speculations. Though sensitive, as most modest men are, he did not
worry over criticism on minor issues, feeling that it did not affect the really
essential questions involved. He was much cheered, on the other hand, by the
very sympathetic treatment and even encouragement his arguments received at the
hands of certain learned European and Indian scholars, whose opinion he justly
Horne presents a picture:
or wrong, however, the path of the pioneer in new and strange doctrines is a
hard one; and what Dr. Spooner suffered was magnified a hundred times by his shy
but proud and abnormally sensitive nature. It was not the honest skepticism of
scholars which wounded him, much as it may have disappointed him. Nor was it the
vulgar legend that since [the Parsi] Sir Ratan Tata had found the money for the
Pataliputra excavations, it was merely a commercial quid pro quo to ascribe the
glories of Chandragupta and his capital to the Parsis [sic] of old. This would
have been cruel, if it had not been ridiculous. But it was the insinuation, the
suggestio falsi that the scholar who put forward such a theory was prompted by a
foreigner's unconscious desire to belittle the character of India's indigenous
culture-it was this that hurt beyond bearing. Indeed, it is the sad truth, we
fear, that the pain of it embittered his last years and clouded the joy in his
work which was so characteristic of him. For here was a man who . . . devoted
his life, from his very boyhood, to India's classical culture.
remarks suggest that a curtain was deliberately drawn over Spooner's Zoroastrian
contribution to Indian scholarship. In 1915, Patna was a hotbed of Indian
nationalism. Horne, who was secretary to the Bihar and Orissa Research Society,
based at Patna, would have been particularly aware of any offence given to
native sensibilities. Nevertheless, Spooner stayed on at Patna as the Eastern
Circle Superintendent. In 1916 he began, with the assistance of funds donated by
the Royal Asiatic Society, London, the exploration of the nearby monastic site
of Nalanda. And, gradually, he assumed more administrative duties within the
his death in 1925, the irony continues. While for all intents and purposes,
Spooner vanishes from the western archaeological and art historical record, the
next generation of scholars in these fields seem to have accepted without
question the notion of a Persepolitan legacy.
he never mentions him, Percy Brown, writing in the 1940s, had definitely read
Spooner's accounts. However, Brown insisted that the finds included "the
pillars of an immense hypostyle hall in the royal palace.” He went on to say that
Persian "craftsmen were also employed in the preparation of some of the
most important parts of the Mauryan emperor's [Asoka's] palace.”
He then proceeded to paraphrase Spooner with regard to the three-storeyed height
of the pillared hall, the mason's marks and the bas-reliefs on Darius the Great'
And, as if for good measure, he suggested that fragments of "atlantean"
figures and colossal sculptures found near Patna were "yakshas"
supporting the roof of the pillared hall.
the next decade Benjamin Rowland described the Kumrahar excavation as the great
audience hall of the Mauryan palace and even repeated Spooner's theory that the
columns had sunk into the soil. He concluded that the Mauryan period of Indian
history was a natural extension of the Achaemenian civilisation, and went so far
as to say: "The conscious adoption of the Iranian palace plan by the
Mauryas was only part of the paraphernalia of imperialism imported from the
Wheeler, in the 1960s, stated with characteristic drama: "Achaemenian
Persepolis was a blackened ruin, but Mauryan Pataliputra rose in its stead.
However, Wheeler and Rowland quote Megasthenes, the envoy of Seleucus to
Chandragupta, ca. 300 BCE, regarding Chandragupta's palace: "[It] was
calculated to excite admiration, and with which neither Susa, with all its
costly splendour, nor Ecbatana, with all its magnificence, can vie.”
This was, according to Wheeler: "A Persian paradise. The craftsmen of the
old and now defunct Persian empire had found a new and congenial home in the
uprising empire and northern India."
of these writers appear to have read Spooner's Zoroastrian article, nor
Berriedale Keith's and Thomas' suggestions that more archaeological work needed
to be done at Kumrahar if his claims were to be considered valid. Though this
other dimension of Spooner's work does not appear to have been known in western
quarters, it was not forgotten in India. An exploration conducted by A. S.
Altekar and V. Mishra, under the auspices of the K. P. Jayaswal Research
institute, did take place at Kumrahar between 1951-1956. And it was based on
ironies occur at this point. The first concerns the relationship between Spooner
and jayaswal. In his Zoroastrian article Spooner refers to "my friend K. P.
Jayaswal, who calls attention to the Avestan name Mourva, the Margu of the
Achaemenian inscriptions, and proposes, in the light of all the evidences now
adduced, to derive Maurya from this source.”
there was jayaswal's response. In 1916, Jayaswal, lecturer in Ancient Indian
History, University of Calcutta, at Spooner's request wrote an article giving
his "conclusion to [Spooner's] theory.”
He wrote: "Being on the spot I have had the opportunity to follow the
progress of the Kumrahar excavations. I do not think that the learned
archaeologist has succeeded in proving that the site excavated represents
Chandragupta's palace. On a closer search the Persepolitan picture disappears
from Kumrahar." He proposed to give his reasons for not being at all
satisfied with the "architectural evidence" in another article.
However, there is no indication that he ever wrote anything more about Spooner.
examined the site using Spooner's conclusions. He stated that the hall had
burned in the Sunga period.
Whatever later travellers, such as the Chinese pilgrims, reported seeing, it was
not a Mauryan building. Secondly, he discovered the missing pillars, thereby
discrediting Spooner's sinkage theory. The pillars had been removed by later
builders who then filled up the holes with debris.
Thirdly, finding no other evidence of Mauryan building at the site, he
determined that the pillared hall was an isolated structure.
Lastly, he described the pillared hall as "probably the earliest huge
stone-pillared structure to be built by Indian architects.”
Altekar may have satisfied the requirements put forth by jayaswal, Berriedale
Keith and Thomas regarding Kumrahar and its Persepolitan legacy, there is no way
of knowing whether Rowland and Wheeler knew of his work or chose to ignore it.
It is a final irony that the notion of a Persian and Persepolitan architectural
legacy was as strong for them as it had been for Spooner.
am indebted to the British Library Oriental and India Office Collections,
London, and to the Archaeological Survey of India, New Delhi, for permission to
reproduce the illustrations shown in this article.
Archaeological Survey of India Eastern Circle Annual Report
Archaeological Survey of India Eastern Circle photograph album
BL/OIOC British Library/Oriental and India Office Collections
 C. E. A. W. Oldham, "David Brainerd Spooner," JRAS (1925 /, pp. 375-76.
L. A. Waddell, Discovery of the Exact Site of Asoka's Classic Capital of
Pataliputra (Calcutta, 1892/. The capital Waddell found is illustrated in M.
Wheeler, Flames over Persepolis (London, 1968/, p. 130. Waddell had been
searching specifically for an Asokan pillar. Other capitals, on exhibition
at the Patna museum, do not seem to have come from Kumrahar but rather from
other Patna sites, or from repairs to the infrastructure in the area over
Spooner, "Pataliputra," ASIECAR 1912-13, p. 55. Also quoted by J.
Marshall in ASIAR 1912-13, pt. 1, p. 24; Spooner, "Pataliputra,"
ASIAR 1912-13, p. 70, and in Spooner, "The Zoroastrian Period of Indian
History," JRAS (1915 ), p. 64.
 . Spooner, ASIECAR 1912-13, p. 59. He refers to Dieulafoy's L'art antique de la Perse (Paris, 18841889/, pt. 1, figs. 12 and 13. In this regard, David Stronach found eleven mason's marks in Persepolis, also at Pasargadae. The full chart is reproduced in Stronach, Pasargadae (Oxford, 1978), opposite p. 22. Marks 1, 3B and 10 are possibly similar. The marks shown do not include a circle with an arrow, flattened on the base, (see fig. 10) that Spooner regarded as significant, yet stretching the point: "The form was not identical, perhaps, but the resemblance was nevertheless striking." ("The Zoroastrian Period of Indian History," p. 67.)
 Spooner, ASIAR 1912-13, p. 70.
 Marshall, ASIAR 1913-14, pt. 1, p. 23.
 Ibid., p. 24.
 Spooner, ASIECAR 1913-14, pp. 45-58.
 Ibid., pp. 58-74. The plan is found in N. Curzon, Persia and the Persians (London, 1892).
 Spooner, ASIECAR 1914-15, p. 48. D. R. Patil comments on Spooner's failure to take into account work done after Waddell's first explorations by P. C. Mukerji, published in 1896-1897, but not listed in the British Library catalogue (The Antiquarian Remains in Bihar [Patna, 1963], p. 380). And although Patil says that Spooner also fails to mention Waddell's 1903 account, Spooner was familiar with his second report.
 Ibid., p. 49.
 Ibid., p. 54.
 Ibid., p. 60.
 No more work was done at Pataliputra until the seasons of 1922-1923 and 1926-1927. Manoranjan Ghosh, Curator of the Patna Museum, devoted his time to continuing Spooner's work at Bulandi Bagh unearthing the wooden palisade. (See J. A. Page, "Bulandi Bagh, Near Patna," ASIAR 1926-27, pp. 13540.) According to Patil (Antiquarian Remains, p. 394), Ghosh published a monograph (The Pataliputra [Patna, 1919]).
 E. A. Home, "D. B. Spooner (1879-1925)," Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal (1926), p. clxiii.
 Spooner, "The Zoroastrian Period," pp. 35-89; 405-55.
 Horne suggests that the article appeared "somewhat prematurely," that the title Spooner later wanted was "The Magian Period," "D. B. Spooner," p. clxii.
 A. B. Keith, "The Zoroastrian Period of Indian History," [RAS (1916), pp. 142-43.
 Ibid., p. 143.
 F. W. Thomas, "Dr. Spooner, Asura Maya, Mount Meru, and Karsa," [RAS (1916), p. 362.
 Oldham, "David Brainerd Spooner," p. 376.
 Horne, "D. B. Spooner," pp. clxii-iii.
 P. Brown, Indian Architecture (Bombay, n.d.), p. 10.
 Ibid., p. 12.
 Ibid., p. 13.
 Ibid. No doubt the colossal figure Brown refers to is that of a female holding a fly-whisk, found in 1917 on the banks of the Ganges at Didarganj and dated to the third century BCE It was described by Spooner in "Didarganj Image now in the Patna Museum," fournal of the Bihar and Orissa Research Society 5 (1919), pp. 107-13.
 B. Rowland, The Art and Architecture of India (Harmondsworth, 1970), pp. 63-64.
 Wheeler, Flames over Persepolis, p. 13.
 Ibid., p. 131; Rowland, Art and Architecture of India, p. 60. They do not seem to notice that quoting Megasthenes in this instance does not actually make the Persepolitan connection.
 Spooner, "The Zoroastrian Period," p. 407.
 K. P. Jayaswal, "The Zoroastrian Period of Indian History," fournal of the Bihar and Orissa Research Society 2 (1916), p. 98.
 Ibid., p. 104.
 A. S. Altekar and V. Mishra, Report on Kumrahar Excavations 1951-1955 (Patna, 1963), pp. 14-15.
 Ibid., p. 16.
 Ibid., p. 14.
 Ibid., p. 25.
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