Thursday, February 27, 2014

Discovery of ancient sculpture of Mahāparinirvāṇa Buddha

Tangible remains of the Buddhist past are scattered all over in the villages of Bihar. Most of these remains are still undocumented and unknown to the world. Nava Nalanda Mahavihara (NNM) has made this initiative to  photo document such undocumented heritage. The objective also is to facilitate awareness generation towards the significance of all such places locally and worldwide.

Recently the team from NNM has discovered a set of villages, 20 kms east of Bodhgaya, settled over ancient remains of some ancient Buddhist Monastery. The ancient remains (mound) of the monastery and temples is scattered in a large area on the South and West side of the Maher Hill. In the South-East end of the mound are the remains of an ancient temple with two images of Matreya Buddha. Both the images are from Pala period (8th-12th CE).

Towards its west are remains of yet another ancient temple. The main sculpture of the temple has been removed among it lies a 5ft X 3ft image Mahāparinirvāṇa Buddha from ancient times. This huge image at this place indicates that there was a Mahāparinirvāṇa temple here.

NNM team is doing its best to facilitate awareness generation towards the sanctity and importance of the place among the local community and also the stakeholders worldwide.

The idea is to revive the sanctity of the scared place. We hope some Buddhist institutions contributes towards the revitalisation of the place.

Dr. D Lama with the custodians of the Heritage 

The image is 5ft 4in long, 2ft 10in high and 10in deep

When discovered it was half buried and painted in white
Fully exposed Image of the Reclined Buddha

6th February, 2014, Telegraph

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Restoration of religious sanctity of Griddhakūṭa Vihāra (Vulture's Peak, Rājgir)

Sculpture of the Buddha recovered from Griddhakūṭa (Vulture's Peak) and currently kept at Nalanda Museum

In the year 1871 Broadley on the basis of the description of Chinese monk-scholar Venrerable Xuanzang (7th CE) identified the Deoghāṭ hill (The Buddhistic Remains of Bihar, A. M. Broadley, p.38) south of Vipulā hill (Rājgir) as Griddhakūṭa (Vulture’s Peak).. Very few antiquities were discovered at the Griddhakūṭa and most prominent among those few was the 91cm, red sandstone image of the Buddha in preaching mudrā (posture)from Gupta period (5-6th CE). This was the only large stone sculpture (See Fig-1) found at the site and most probably the same image that was mentioned by Venerable Xuanzang.
                     Considering the situation at that time the rich antiquities recovered from Griddhakūṭa were removed to Nalanda Museum (See Fig-2) for safety and display reasons. Griddhakūṭa and many such sacred sites became meaningless archaeological sites sans the images of the Buddha and Buddhist deities that originally belonged to these places. Griddhakūṭa is now a very popular pilgrimage destination for the followers of the teachings of the Buddha all over the world. Griddhakūṭa now receives more than 5 lacs pilgrims each year. It will be in interest of all the stakeholders to restore this ancient image with necessary security precautions and without compromising the archaeological significance of the Griddhakūṭa in order to revive the religious sanctity of the Place. This will facilitate restoration of the religious sanctity of Griddhakūṭa to next level and will send a very positive message all over the world and will facilitate the growth of the pilgrimage.
Fig:1- The antiquities from Griddhakūṭa (RAJGIR by M H Kuraishi, Revised by A. Ghosh, Published by The DG, ASI, New Delhi, PP- 33)


Fig:2-The red sandstone image of the Buddha from Griddhakūṭa currently displayed at  Nalanda  Museum, Nalanda.











Fig-3- Griddhakūṭa at the time of discovery in 1880's
Monks offering prayer at the Griddhakūṭa

    Read More about Griddhkūṭa (Vulture's Peak)

Ancient remains of Temple (Griddhakūṭa) sans image of the Buddha

The same image mentioned by Xuanzang 

The 7th CE, Chinese monk-scholar Venerable Xuanzang in his accounts has mentioned about a Vihāra (Monastery or Temple) on the Griddhakūṭa Hill (Buddhist Records of the Western World, Translated by S. Beal, Book-ix, p. 153). In the Vihāra he saw an image of the Buddha in preaching mudrā (Buddhist Records of the Western World, Translated by S. Beal, Book-ix, p. 153). Venerable Xuanzang carried replica of 6 images from different Buddhist pilgrimage places in India which also included an image of the Buddha in preaching mudrā from Griddhakūṭa (The Life of Hiuen-Tsiang by-Shaman Hwui Li - S. Beal, p. 214). Since the preaching mudrā image of the Buddha discovered from the remains of the sanctum of the Griddhakūṭa Vihāra belongs to 4-5th CE it’s most likely that Xuanzang saw this sandstone image that he also carried replica prepared.

Why these sculptures were removed to Museums

By the beginning of 1st Millennia CE, the teachings of the Buddha reached far and wide. Teachings of the Buddha got assimilated with the local cultures wherever it went and by 5th CE almost entire Asia had footprints of Buddhism. Popularity of the teachings of the Buddha with the monks, scholars and lay people led to evolution of rituals and practices that kept the belief system alive.  At the heart of this belief system was the holy pilgrimage “In the Footsteps of the Buddha”. Beginning at the doorstep of one’s home or monastery, devout followers of the teaching of the Buddha started their thousand mile journey to reach the exact places related to the life, events, and revelation of the true teachings of the Buddha, in what is now present day India. Apart from “In the Footsteps of the Buddha” Pilgrimage, India was also considered to be the ‘Home of Buddhist Literature’ (A Record of the Buddhist Religion by I-Tsing, translated by J. Takakusu- p. XXVI). Monks and scholars would not only pay homage to the sacred places but also visited important monasteries of Indian subcontinent to practice and collect true teachings of the Buddha. This elaborate pilgrimage and network of monasteries flourished till 13th CE. As fate would have it, the new circumstances in 2nd Millennia CE were no longer conducive for the growth and sustenance of monasteries and the Buddhist pilgrimage. This led to the gradual death of the “In the Footsteps of the Buddha” pilgrimage and network of monasteries.

              In next few centuries (after 13th CE) all the tangible remains (monasteries, stūpas, temples etc) got buried under the layers of biomass and assumed new names. All the intangible (rituals, traditions, history etc) survived in the Buddhist literature all over the Buddhist lands. In early 19th CE the Buddhist monasteries and institutions actively supported the new set of western explorers, enquirers and translators who were inquisitive about this alien religion. Translation of the Buddhist literature of China, Sri Lanka, Tibet, Nepal and Burma in 18th CE led to the discovery of the Buddhist origin of India. One of the sad fallouts of this revelation was that the orientalists gave a secular treatment to this heritage. These sacred sites associated with the Buddha were given a tag of “Archeological Site” and the sacred sculptures were treated as “Object of Art” and not object of worship. Sculptures and antiquities became a prized possession and westerners started removing all these antiquities to their museums and private collections in Europe and America. With this new treatment the sculptures were not safe at the sites of origin anymore. This led to creation of museums all across the India where the sacred sculptures were placed along with other antiquities.
             This “Legal” removal of the sculpture during the British rule continued illegally after the India got freedom. Established networks of national and international smugglers have smuggled many sculptures from villages of Bihar in last few decades. They have spurious ways of creating false provenances for the sculptures so that they could be sold to museums and private collectors all over the World. At the root of the issue is the “Object of Art” treatment to all such religious objects.

 Importance of Griddhakūṭa Hill

Monks offering prayer at the Griddhakūṭa
Griddhakūṭa Hill (also Gijjhakūta, Vulture’s Peak) is a very sacred place associated with the sublime wandering of the Buddha. It was one of the favourite places of the Buddha and during his stay at Rājagriha the Buddha often came here to practice and preach Dhamma to the Saṅgha. The most important event associated with Griddhakūṭa Hill is when the Buddha after his Enlightenment set forth the Second Turning of the Wheel of Dhamma to an assembly of monks, nuns and laity, as well as, innumerable bodhisattvas. The Prajñāpāramitā-Sūtra-s (The Life of Hiuen-Tsiang by-Shaman Hwui Li - S. Beal, III, p. 114),   Perfection of Wisdom Sūtra-s), the Saddharma-Puṇḍarīka Sūtra (Lotus Sūtra), Sūrāngamasamādhi Sūtra (Records of the Buddhist Kingdoms, By Fahein, Translated by-James Legge, Chapter XXIX), Lalitavistra Sūtra and the Bhadrakalpikā Sūtra all are considered second turning teachings delivered here. The merits that the Saddharma-Puṇḍarika Sūtra hold for the Mahāyāna followers is evident from the fact that a big stūpa was erected at the Griddhakūṭa where the Buddha delivered the sūtra at Griddhakūṭa Peak(Buddhist Records of the Western World, Translated by S. Beal, Book-ix, p, 154). Hidden among the hill’s many caves and rock shelters, history has witnessed many meditating arhat-s including the Buddha’s prominent disciples Venerable Sāriputta, Venerable Mahā Moggallāna, Venerable Mahā Kassaapa and Venerable Ānanda. Identification of meditating cells of Venerable Sāriputta and Venerable Ānanda were made on the basis of Venerable Xuanzang’s description (Buddhist Records of the Western World, Translated by S. Beal, Book-ix, pp. 154-155). On the eve of first Buddhist council at Rājagriha, Venerable Ānanda chose this rock shelter for meditation and became an arhat. The Buddha was very fond of Griddhakūṭa. As mentioned in the Mahāparinirvāṇa Sūtra it was from this place his last journey of Mahāparinirvāṇa at Kuśīnāra (kuśīnagara) started.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Vandalisation of Buddha's Statue at Mustafapur (Nalanda)

A rare, four feet sculpture of Buddha from Pala period (8th 12th CE) at village Mustafapur was lost in a wanton act of vandalisation. In an unsuccessful bid to remove the sculpture from the temple in the village the miscreants have destroyed the face of the image. Ironically, the village is situated just 1km north of the world famous Ancient Nalanda University.
The Damaged sculpture of the Buddha
Before damage
A close view before the damage
            These sculptures from ancient times are an integral part of the cultural heritage of Bihar. The theft of sculptures from the villages of Bihar has now become a very common occurrence. Many such cases are reported each year but no success in nailing the culprits has led to an increase in such untoward incidents.  Such cases are not dealt with the seriousness it deserves and they are treated as any other petty crime. The scale at which this is happening suggests miscreants at the village and state level is doing it in nexus with the international organized gangs.
Disappointed villagers by the Temple where the Statue was safely kept
Villagers had taken sufficient precautions to safeguard the sculpture 
           In recent years, bracing to the situation, the communities in villages of Bihar have taken many protective measures for safeguarding the ancient antiquities. But this has to be complemented by Government agencies by bringing the culprits responsible for such wanton act to book. Few years ago a beautiful sculpture was stolen from the famous Bargaon Sun temple near Nalanda.  Criminals responsible for such acts are never brought to book, no example being set, people feel reporting such matters is a waste of time and energy. Heritage volunteers in villages who have been working on heritage related issues are demoralized. An ambience of trust needs to be established by taking some concrete steps.
Shri Vijay Singh, the local caretaker of the Temple
                  For many centuries this sculpture was lying in the open. It was an object of worship for the local villagers. In 70's a temporary shed was constructed for its protection. Many unsuccessful attempts were made in 80's and 90's to remove/smuggle the sculpture. To make it more safe, a brick temple was constructed. Two iron grills were put in front of the sculpture and the sculpture to further enhance its safety. But even this it didn't act as a deterrent to the miscreants from making yet another unsuccessful bid to remove it which eventually led to its defacing.   Shri Vijay Singh who since his childhood has been associated with its protection is now a shattered man.
            The Government of Bihar is yet to fully realize that these sculptures are an integral part of the sublime wandering of the Buddha and very sacred to the Buddhist all over the world. Bihar being the custodian of this heritage owes the moral responsibility and obligation to protect and safeguard them. Until this awareness comes such incidents will continue unabated and the heritage of Bihar will continue to bleed.

A Signature Campaign Launched      

We have launched a Signature Campaign  to generate awareness towards this unacceptable event and ask the Government of Bihar to take appropriate measures to safeguard the ancient antiquities. A State level investigation committee should be appointed to take up all such incidents of theft and damage that have taken place in the past. More stringent laws needs to be framed to ensure the safety of precious antiquities.
Ven. Chalinda, Chief Priest, Mahabodhi Temple, Bodhgaya blessing the campaign
Shri. Nangzey Dorjee, Member Secretary, BTMC supporting the campaign
Ven. Ananda Bhante and Dhamajyoti from ABCC, Bodhgaya supporting the campaign

Friday, March 1, 2013

Rampurwa- A compelling case for Kuśīnāra (Mahāparinirvāṇa place of the Buddha)

Twin Ashokan Pillars of Rampurwa
Is Rampurwa (27° 16’ 11 N, 84° 29’ 58 E) the Kushinara (The Buddha’s Mahāparinirvāṇa place)
Xuanzang(7th CE) and Fahein (5th CE) took same route to Kuśīnāra from Kapilavastu. Both of them touched same set of places and reached Kuśīnāra (also Kuśīnagara), the place of Mahāparinirvāṇa of the Buddha.
In order to find where the description reaches us we plot the description of Xuanzang and Fahein on a GIS map. We can start our measurement leg from Lumbini as Lumbini (Rumandie Pillar)( Table 1) is an established site. As we have seen there is no fixed value for “Li” and “Yojan”. Here we shall use two set of values (Maximum and Minimum) for each measure and calculate the distances provided in “Li” and “Yojan” in Kilometers.
For calculation purpose we shall use,
Maximum value for Li = 400 Mts
Minimum Value for Li = 300 Mts
Maximum value for Yojan= 10 Kms
Minimum value for Yojan = 8 Kms

Since Xuanzang has not mentioned distance between the Charcoal tope to Kushinara but has only provided the direction we can safely assume that the Kushinara should be 144 Km to 192 Km plus some Kilometers in East direction from Lumbini (Table-2).
 As per the Fahein’s description Kushinara should be between 200 Kms to 250 Kms from Lumbini in its East direction (Table-3).
The calculation for the description of Xuanzang and Fahein suggests that Kuśīnāra should be not more than 250 Kms from Lumbini in East direction. If we see the description of both the pilgrims we find that the whole stretch from Sravasti to Kuśīnāra (See Table-4) was a wild forest, infested with deadly animals and a complete desolate.

In given circumstances we have to be flexible with the distance. Most probable place that fit best the description for Kuśīnāra and in the range of 200 Kms from Lumbini (Rumandie) is Rampurwa.
If we project the description of Fahein on a GIS map we see it reaches us to Rampurwa (mentioned as Kuśīnāra (Fahein) in the Fig-1).
Fig-1- GIS Projection of Fahein Description
If we plot the description of Xuanzang description on a GIS map (Fig-2) we reach Rampurwa.
GIS Projection of Xuanzang's Description
The GIS distance (Straight/Shortest Line) between the Lumbini to Rampurwa is 124 Kms. And we see this value is close to our approximation i.e. 200 Kms. 124 Kms is the shortest distance between the places but as we have seen the ancient paths must be along the established track and pack routes which are definitely not a straight line but must be curved.

Xuanzang and Fahein’s Description about Kuśīnāra

After plotting the GIS route map of the descriptions of Xuanzang and Fahein we  prepare a sketch of description of Kuśīnāra based on their narratives. This will help us to cross check with what we have presently at the Rampurwa site.
The Matrix of the description of Fahein and Xuanzang about the Kuśīnāra

Fig-3- Sketch of Kushinara based on Xuanzang and Fahein narratives

Major highlight of the description about the Kuśīnāra as mentioned by Xuanzang is two Ashokan Pillars separated at a short distance. Rampurwa qualifies for Kushinara for two reasons First is the distance and direction (Route map, fig-1&  fig-2) from Lumbini and Second is the two Ashokan pillars at Rampurwa both confirms the Xuanzang's description.

1) The remains of Rampurwa (From the Published ASI Reports)
Two Ashokan pillars and two mounds near village of Rampurwa were reported Mr. Carlleyle, in 1877. The North Pillar and South Pillar were 850 Ft apart, fallen, broken and submerged in layers of earth and sand. The Northern pillar was buried in morass and only 3ft was protruding above the surface. The southern pillar was 6Ft standing above the ground broken in two pieces without any trace of the broken parts. Excavations were carried out at this site in phases starting in 1877 by Carlleyle. Two years later Mr. Garrick was deputed he did some digging around the northern pillar and drove shallow pits into the centres of the two mounds. First systematic excavations were carried out in 1907-08.
Northern pillar is 44ft 9.5In (Length) exclusive of Capital, 3Ft thick at top and 4Ft at the base. The Lion capital is bell-shaped style and is 6.5 Ft high. The capital was broken from the pillar and was discovered 7ft below the ground level on some brick debris. The brick debris was the extension of the floor which surrounded the foot of the pillar. The Northern Pillar is inscribed with Ashokan Brahmi inscription

Fig-4- Lion Capital of Northern Pillar at the time of  excavation
Fig-5 Section Daigram of the Pillar at the time of  Excavation

Fig-6- The Brick Floor around the Pillar was found 7ft below the present surface level
A floor of Mauryan bricks ( 12.5" X 12.5" X 2.75") was found at the depth of 7ft. From the Mauryan floor (at 7ft) to the ground surface were alternating layers of irregular intervals of layers of sand and soil (above Fig 6).
Southern Pillar
Souther pillar was found to be 6" protruding above the surface. On Excavation a brick plinth was found encircling the Southern pillar at the level (7ft below the ground) of the floor around the northern pillar. The plinth is an irregular shaped structure, measuring 11.5Ft X 9Ft. In the southern half the bricks were of same sizes as that of Northern pillar but smaller bricks in Northern half. The pillar stump measured 12.5Ft from shattered top to level of plinth. The upper portion of the broken pillar was found lying on the brick floor. The broken portion was of 18Ft 4In long. The capital is 6Ft 9In high of which 4Ft is the height of statue crowning it. A figure of Bull surmounts the capital and there was no inscription on the Pillar.

Fig-7- Southern pillar at the time of Excavation
Section Daigram of Southern Pillar at the time of Excavation
We see that the original surface level of the place at the time of the Mahāparinirvāṇa of the Buddha was more than 7fts below the level when it was excavated (1908). Lack of support in the remote place and inhospitable condition led to just small excavation at Rampurwa. Just a small trench was dug in the centre of the stupa. Venerable Xuanzang has mentioned many stupas in the area surrounding the Pillars. Presently we can see two big stupas at the site. It is possible other stupas were small and are buried inside 7ft of layers of sand and earth.

Another major issue with regard to Mahāparinirvāṇa of the Buddha is that we dont find any mention about the Buddha crossing river Gandak in any Buddhist text. If he didnt cross the river Gandak then in that case the Kuśīnāra should be on the east side of river Gandak. The present identification of Kasia as Kuśīnāra is on the west side of Gandak while the rampurwa is on the east side of the Gandak.

One point that goes against the Rampurwa is that venerable Xuanzang has mentioned that both the Pillars he saw at Kuśīnāra were inscribed with the respective events that took place at each spot.
But the Northern Pillar of rampurwa is not inscribed and the Southern Pillar has the usual dhamma edicts and no mention of the event related to Mahāparinirvāṇa of the Buddha. This discrepenacy can be explained if more excavations take place at the site.

Both the Pillars removed from the place where they where found to safe place over the 2nd Stupa mound at Rampurwa
Community Memory takes us to place where the Northern Pillar was found( 300mts north from where they are kept now)
Aerial View of twin Stupas and the pillars placed over the 2nd Stupa
Lion Capital of rampurwa  kept at Kolkotta Museum
Bull Capital of Rampurwa kept at Rastrapati Bhawan, New Delhi

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Stupas of Magadha under threat

The beautiful hills of Magadha are a witness to a culture that has long flourished in this lovely landscape. Many of these hills have ancient remains, remnants of an association to the Buddha with Magadha. Most of these hills are still not documented and the world is unaware of them. Lack of awareness has led to a loss of many such tangible symbols in recent years. One such beautiful piece of history that adorns the Majhwe Hill in Gaya District is on verge of extinction. Majhwe Hill, one of the highest hills standing by the Nawadha-Gaya Highway, is being legally mined. Most likely, lawmakers are not aware of the existence of an ancient stupa on this hill. The stupa on this hill is already in very bad shape because of centuries of disuse, the peak has thousands of fallen bricks from the ancient stupa all over the peak. There is an immediate need to assess the situation and make thenecessary steps to ensure that this piece of our cultural legacy is properly safeguarded.
Majhwe Hill on Gaya- Nawadha Highway

Stupa on Majhwe Hill

Stupa position on the Majhwe Hill

Stupa Remains on the Peak

Mining in progress at Majhwe Hill

Rampant mining of Majhwe Hill
Remains of the Stupa

Building small votive stupa from fallen bricks arnd the stupa- Involving the commiunity
The community who lives by these heritage places don’t have any control over it and are a mute spectator to the loss. There is a need to develop an inventory of all such heritage remains on the hills of Magadha. Bihar and the sublime wandering of the Buddha are synonymous. For more than 1700 years after the Mahaparinirvana of the Buddha (6thcentury BCE), Magadha as a whole was highly revered by devout followers of the teachings of the Buddha all over Buddhist lands. This still holds true for today. The revival of the ancient Buddhist pilgrimage as mentioned in Buddhist literature is on its way and eventually all such tangible remains will again bea part of the elaborate pilgrimage that once existed in Bihar. And hence eventually this Buddhist pilgrimage could be a major source of livelihood for people living by such heritage sites.

With the responsibility for the preservation of these inherited pieces of culture in the hands of the Government, it is essential that the government safeguards these pieces that are now under threat. The government must work to preserve them in the best possible way for the posterity of all who follow.

Sonsa Hill (Nawadha)

Sonsa Village (Hisua, Nawadha) has one of the richest antiquities from ancient times. The hill towards the south of the village has a huge brick structure most probably a stupa (70 ft. high x 100 ft. diameter approx). In recent years, government authorities have authorized construction of the Indira Awas, which is now encroaching upon the stupa. Lack of awareness of this piece of heritage has led to a large quantity of brick robbing. It is our collective responsibility to join hands and generate awareness of this heritage. 

Stupa on the Sonsa Hill

Ancient images sculpted on boulders at Sonsa

Remains of Ancient Temple

Construction of Government colony over the Stupa

Damaging the Stupa , construction of houses over the Stupa remains