Pataliputra, the capital of the kingdom of Magadha
Pataliputra, the capital of the kingdom of Magadha and the head quarters of the imperial government, stood on the northern bank of the Son, a few miles above the confluence of that river with the Ganges.
The Son changed its course long ago and now unites with the larger stream near the cantonment of Danapur above Bankipore, but the old bed of the river can be readily traced and vestiges of the gates or steps which lined its bank can still be discerned. The capital, thus protected by two great rivers against hostile approach, occupied a strong, defensible position such as was much favoured by the founders of Indian towns. The site is now covered by the large native city of Patna, the English civil station of Bankipore, the East Indian Railway, and sundry adjacent villages. The belief at one time current that a large part of the ancient city has been swept away by the rivers is erroneous. Such action seems to have been slight, and the remains of the early buildings still exist, but lie buried for the most part under a deep layer of silt.
The ancient city, like its modern successor, was a long, narrow parallelogram, about nine miles in length and a mile and a half in breadth. When Megasthenes lived there in the days of Chandragupta, it was defended by a massive timber palisade, pierced by sixty-four gates, crowned by five hundred and seventy towers, and protected externally by a broad, deep moat filled from the waters of the S6n. Fragments of the palisade have been found at several places in the course of casual excavations. A.soka improved the defences by building an outer masonry wall, and beautified the city with so many richly decorated stone buildings that they seemed to after ages to be the work of the genii and beyond the power of human skill. I have myself seen two magnificent sandstone capitals dug up, one close to the railway and the other in a potato-field, which must have belonged to stately edifices of large size. Unfortunately, the depth of the overlying silt, often reaching twenty feet, and the existence of numerous modern buildings make excavation exceptionally difficult.
The royal palace, or one of the palaces, seems to have occupied the site now covered by the village and fields of Kumrahar, to the south of the railway, and the partial excavations carried out there by Dr. Spooner are sufficient to prove that remains exist suggestive of extremely puzzling problems. Further systematic exploration may reveal startling discoveries. It would be possible to identify many of the sites of the monuments at and near Pataliputra mentioned by the Chinese pilgrims, if a thorough survey were made by an adequate staff working with suitable appliances under skilled supervision, but the results of the praiseworthy efforts hitherto made excite rather than satisfy curiosity.
The Kumrahar palace apparently was that of Asoka's grandfather. Chandragupta's abode, although probably constructed mostly of timber like the palaces of the modern kings of Burma, is described as excelling in magnificence the royal palaces of Susa and Ekbatana. The pillars, we are told, were clasped all round with vines embossed in gold, and adorned with silver figures of the most attractive birds. The gardens were replete with the choicest plants and furnished with artificial ponds of great beauty. Those splendors have all gone beyond recall, but extensive and costly excavation, no doubt, would disclose something of the magnitude at least of the masonry foundations of the earlier buildings and possibly might reveal more characteristic remains of Asoka's stone edifices and inscriptions.