Wednesday, September 30, 2015

‘Live-Museum’ of Magadha

What would you call a geographic area where every second village, roughly 600 villages have ancient Buddhist remains?

I call it a Live-museum!

I am talking about the Magadha. Magadha is mentioned in ancient literature (Purāṇa) to have been the first powerful kingdom of ancient India. Legendary Jarāsaṇḍha of epic Mahābhārata fame was the first king who ruled from Rājagṛiha (now Rājgir), the capital of Magadha.   
In the 6th BCE, Siddhārtha, the prince of Kapilavasthu, set out in search for the truth about the phenomenon of life. On this journey, he travelled through Vaiśālī and reached Magadha. After wandering and meditating for six years in Magadha, at the age of 35, Siddhārtha attained Saṃbodhi (Complete Enlightenment) at Uruvelā (Bodhgayā) and became the Buddha.  

Magadha becomes a network of Buddhist monasteries. 
Since the time of Buddha, Magadha had developed a special bonding with Buddha, the Dhamma and the SaṅghaA culture of patronage that was established by King Bimbisāra (6th CE) was further cemented by the King Ashoka (3rd BCE). The land of the Buddha, after the Mahāparinirvāṇa of the Buddha became Land of Vihāra. The word ‘Vihāra’ refers to a Buddhist monastery, a place to gain knowledge by purifying the mind. In general, it also signifies a place for quietude of mind and a resting space for Buddhist monks. Magadha in the first millennia CE was a conglomerate of monasteries from different traditions that offered true teachings of the Buddha. This Vihāra became a refuge for the seekers of the true teachings of the Buddha and for monks and scholars all over the Buddhist world. Xuanzang, who visited Magadha in 636 CE, referenced Magadha in his travelogue as being a conglomerate of more than 50 vihāra-s spread throughout the geographic unit (Watters 2004). I-tsing, who stayed at Nālandā University for ten years (675CE - 685CE) mentioned in his travelogue that Magadha was the only place where the doctrines of all Buddhist traditions were practiced (Takakusu 1998: XXVI).

Buddhist pilgrimage and monasteries comes to an ebb.
In the 11th century, the Turks began invading the Gangetic plain repeatedly plunging the entire region into fear and chaos. The changed political climate of north India underwent drastic changes that eventually brought about the demise of Buddhism in the region of Magadha.  
With the fleeing of monks, the glorious Buddhist legacy of Magadha was reduced to clusters of abandoned monasteries (vihāra-s) scattered throughout the territory. The people from the surrounding villages came to populate the monasteries – consuming woods, reprocessing metallic items and using up all other resources they found within the monasteries. Monasteries soon fell into ruin and in time, all that was left of them was bricks and stones. As centuries passed, the brick structures got buried under piles of earth. The flatter mounds were named dīh, a word with Persian roots, meaning ‘village deity’ or ‘remains of village’ (Verma 1999). The high, large and prominent mounds were named as ‘gaḍh’, meaning ‘strong foundation’. Gradually, stories and legends of unnamed kings, supposed to have once ruled the areas of these large mounds, started circulating. The gaḍh was thought to the remains of the palace of the king. The populations that subsequently settled around the mounds lacked the means to take care of the vast amount of religious artefacts. A few temples with images of Buddhist and Hindu deities continued to be used for worship, but over the next few centuries, due to a lack of resources and patronage, these also fell into ruin and many sculptures were simply left in the open. People kept discovering artefacts from dīh, gaḍh, agriculture fields and ponds, and deposited them at certain sites within the villages. People worshipped the sculptures in the open without much thought of protecting them. The practice of worshipping sculptures in open still continues with collectives called goraiyānsthān, probably a corruption of the word guru-sthān, meaning teacher’s place. 

Magadha now
Magadha of the Buddha’s time now comprises the seven districts, Patna, Nalanda, Aurangabad, Jehanabad, Gaya, and Seikhpura. There are more than 600 villages in these seven districts that have tangible ancient remains in form of sculptures and mounds, and each village has many intangible stories connected with the tangibles. 
Some images from villages ('Live-Museum') of Magadha.

During his short stint as sub-divisional magistrate of Bihār in 1870’s, Broadley surveyed the villages in the neighborhood of Bihār Sharif that was part of ancient Magadha. The report he drew up, stated:

There is scarce a mile in the whole tract of country which doesn’t present to the traveler some object of deep interest and curiosity thus awakened and intensified at almost every step, is speedy concentration as it were, on the ruins of the hill grit capital of Magadha, or the mounds and figures which mark the site of greatest of great Buddhist viharas (Broadley 1979: 98).

These villages of ancient Magadha with Buddhist remains were either individual Buddhist monastic units or villages that supported the Buddhist monasteries. These villages laden with ancient Buddhist sculptures make Magadha virtually a ‘Live-museum’.

 I consider myself extremely fortunate to have witness the Live Museum for myself while in the process of documenting the villages.
It’s unfortunate that this Live Museum is now under threat. The sculptures are getting stolen from these villages at an alarming rate and reaching foreign lands. Our effort is to document this heritage for posterity before it is too late.

 Broadley, A. M.; 1979, The Buddhistic Remains of Bihar, Bharti Prakashan, Varanasi, (1st Ed.1872)

 Pandey, Mithila  Sharan; 1963, The Historical Geography and Topography of Bihar, Motilal Banarsi Das, Delhi.

Takakusu, J.; 1998, A Record of the Buddhist Religion by I-Tsing, Munshiram Manoharla Publishers, New Delhi, ISBN: 81-215-0168-7, (Originally published in 1896 by the Clarendon Press, London).
Verma, R.C.; 1999, Sankshipta Hindi Sabdsagar, Nagaripracharini Sabha, Varanashi

Thursday, September 10, 2015

2nd Jeṭhian-Rājgir Dhamma Walk- Revitalisation of Jīvaka Mango Grove

Revitalisation of Jīvaka Āmravana (Ambāvana, Mango grove) 
The place in the heart of Rājgir which is today covered with dense bushes was originally the site of Jīvaka mango grove during the time of Buddha (6th BCE). Jīvaka, the famous royal physician got attracted towards the teachings of the Buddha and became a lay disciple. Soon, he realized that he needed to spend more time with the Buddha to listen his sermons and practice more closely under his guidance. He built a monastery in his Ambāvana (mango grove) and offered it to Buddha and Saṅgha (DA.i.133; MA.ii.590). 

In 12th CE, new political circumstances in Magadha (Bihar) were not conducive for the growth and survival of Buddhism. As a result, all the sacred Buddhist pilgrimage places and monasteries including the Jīvaka Mango grove got abandoned and subsequently reduced to ruins. 

After a gap of more than 1000 years, efforts are now being made to revitalize the sanctity of many of the sacred places associated with the Buddha in Bihar. After the revitalization of Jethian-Rajgir Buddha path this year, we are working towards the revitalization of the Jīvaka mango grove. 
Site of Jīvaka mango grove (presently forest)
The revitalization: 
At the time of the Buddha this place was a Mango grove, therefore, the basic element of the revitalization is to recreate the Mango grove by planting mango trees. Added to that some basic facilities for the devotees who wish to practice meditation and offer prayers at this sacred place are also being worked upon.

It is proposed to hold the the 2nd Jeṭhian-Rājgir Dhamma Walk on 13th December, 2015 and it shall conclude here. Venerable monks and nuns from 13 countries shall plant 100 saplings of Mango trees and offer prayers at the place.

Representative of HH Dalai Lama, Shri N Dorjee ji, Dr R. Panth, and others for site inspection at Jivaka's place
His Holiness the Dalai Lama has expressed his desire to offer a stupa in Rājgir. Representatives of His Holiness and member secretary, Bodhgaya Temple Management Committee, Shri Nangzey Dorjee visited us to finalise the location. We have convinced him to offer the stūpa at Jīvaka Mango Grove.
Places associated with the Buddha are places of worship and cannot be treated as an archaeological site. We hope to facilitate revitalization of this and many more sites associated with the sublime wandering of the Buddha. 
See pictures from the 1st Jeṭhian-Rājgir Dhamma Walk

How do we know about location of Jīvaka mango groove? 
7th CE Chinese monk-scholar Xuanzang in his pilgrimage to sacred spots associated with the Buddha in India also visited the remains of the Jīvaka monastery in Rajagriha. According to Xuanzang, the Jīvaka’s monastery was on way to Griddhākuta (Vulture's peak) and on the NE corner of the Palace City (Watters 2004: II 150).  Excavations in 1953-55 by D R Patil and later in 1958 by A. C Banerjee revealed elliptical structures at the SE side of the Palace City wall. The archaeological finds suggest these structures were of some communal nature probably some monastery (Patil 2006: 448). The location of the discovery of the ancient ‘Monastic’ remains is in same location where Xuanzang saw remains of the Jivaka monastery (Watters 2004: II 150).

Sanctity of Jīvaka Mango Grove:

   Jīvaka was the royal physician in the court of King Bimbisāra. Bimbisāra introduced Jīvaka to the Buddha. Buddha gave some very important sermons at Jīvaka mango grove which includes;

   1. Jīvaka Sutta- The Buddha gave the conditions under which monks and nuns can eat meat and in the second he defined a lay disciple as one who has taken the Three Refuges and who observes the five percepts (M.i,368f).

    2. Sāmaññaphala Sutta- When King Ajatasattu asked Jīvaka where he could go for religious discussions; Jīvaka brought him to see the Buddha at his mango grove. Although the king had killed his father under the evil advice of Devadatta, King Ajatasattu became a distinguished lay follower of the Buddha. 

   3.When Devadatta threw down a rock splinter at Vulture’s peak (Griddhakūṭa) and injured the Buddha's foot, he was first brought at Jīvaka mango grove for first aid (DhA.ii.164).

      D. R.; 2006, The Antiquarian Remains in Bihar, K. P. Jayaswal Research Institute, Patna, (1st Edition: 1963). 
     Watters, Thomas; 2004, On Yuan Chwang’s Travels in India, (Edited by T. W. Rhys Davids and S.W.    Bushell), Reprinted in LPP 2004, Low Price Publications, Delhi. (First published by Royal Asiatic Society, London, 1904-05), ISBN: 81-7536-344-4.

Abbreviations of Bibliography: 
Source of Pāli references:
 P.T.S.    Means published by the Pāli Text Society.
SHB.     Means published in the Simon Hewavitarne Bequest Series (Colombo).

D.          Digha Nikāya, 3 vols. (P.T.S.).
DA.       Sumangala Vilāsinī, 3 vols. (P.T.S.).
DhA.    Dhammapadatthakathā, 5 vols. (P.T.S.).
J.           Jātaka, ed. Fausboll, 5 vols
M.          Majjhima Nikāya, 3 vols. (P.T.S.).
MA.     Papañca Sūdanī, Majjhima Commentary, 2 vols. (Aluvihāa Series, Colombo).

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

The Buddha Valley

The picturesque Jeṭhian valley in the heart of Magadha is an ensemble of places with valued cultural heritage relating to the sublime wanderings of the Buddha. The beauty and calmness of this valley enticed Buddha. Chinese monk-scholar Xuanzang (7th CE) who stayed in this valley and studied under monk Jayaṣena for two years has mentioned about many sacred traces of the Buddha’s stay in this valley. The remains of this association of the Buddha with the valley can be found all over the valley. 
The valley is 20 km, running east to west and on an average 4 km wide. Presently, there are more than 50 villages settled in this serene valley and the valley still retains its pristine character with verdant landscape.
Nava Nalanda Mahavihara (Deemed University) under its ‘Engaged Buddhism’ initiative is facilitating awareness generation among the people of this sacred valley towards the rich heritage the place is bestowed with.  People living in many villages of this Buddha valley are proud of the legacy that they are a part of. This valley is very sacred and holds a special meaning to Buddhists all over the World who are slowing trickling in. Efforts are now being made to facilitate creation of an ambiance suitable for pilgrims and Buddhist meditation practitioners.

The Buddha Valley                                                                                                                                 @Yves Guichard

Map-1. The Buddha Valley

Map-2. Buddha Valley on the Bodhgayā- Prāgbodhi- Jeṭhian- Rājgir- Pārwati, Buddha Trail

Map-3. Buddha Valley in the heart of Magadha (of the Buddha's time).

Sacred places in the Buddha Valley and its significance

Supatiṭṭha Cetiya 
Temple created over the ancient Supatiṭṭha Cetiya.                                          @ Jashoda Chettri
Before leaving Rājagriha in search for the truth, Siddhārtha promised King Bimbisāra to share his experience once he attained Enlightenment. Keeping his promise the Buddha, after his Enlightenment, on his way to Rājagriha, arrived here and stayed at Supatiṭṭha Cetiya. King Bimbisāra with a myriad of followers came here from Rājagriha to receive the Buddha (Vin.i.35ff; DhA.i.88; AA.i.166; BuA.18). King Ashoka later built a stūpa at this place to mark the presence of the Buddha (Beal 1969).
Chinese monk-scholar Xuanzang mentioned an interesting legend where a man made a failed attempt to measure the height of the Buddha with a bamboo stick (Laṭṭhi) and he threw the bamboo on ground. His bamboo took root and the place became Laṭṭhivana (Bamboo Grove). 
Read other stories about Jehian 

Asura cave (now Rājāpinḍā Cave)
Asura Cave                                                                                                                                     @ Douglas Mason
Xuanzang wrote about a wide road constructed by king Bimbisāra leading to Asura Cave where the Buddha once dwelled and preached Dhamma for three months. Xuanzang has also described how king Bimbisāra cut out a passage through the rock, opened up the valleys, leveled the precipices and built up a wall of stones to reach the place where the Buddha was present (Beal 1969).
In 1899, Sir Auriel Stein identified the Rājāpinda Cave on the eastern hill with Asura’s Cave. Sir Stein reported a 6 to 12 feet wide road around 500 meters long leading to the cave as mentioned by Xuanzang. Sir Stein also mentioned in his report a big stone platform and a massive wall (measuring 16 ft wide and 18 ft high) leading to the 25 ft high by 20 ft wide by 91 ft deep cave (Asura Cave) (Patil 2006: 188-189).
Our objective is to restore this ancient Bimbisāra path so that pilgrims can once again pay respect and meditate at the Asura Cave where the Buddha stayed and gave important discourses. 

Buddhavana (Ayer-Pathri)
Rock shelter where the Buddha stayed, Buddhavana                                          @ Mathieu Jaquinet
While making cārikā through this beautiful Laṭṭhivana valley (now Jeṭhian valley), a rock shelter in the middle of the mountain (later called Buddhavana mountain) (Beal 1969) was where the Buddha chose to take shelter for a night as mentioned by Xuanzang. The sacred cave amid earthly surroundings is not only a tangible reminder of the Buddha but also a place to reflect on the sublime wandering of the Buddha ‘for the good of the many, for the happiness of the many, and out of compassion for the world.’ Xuanzang mentions that during the Buddha’s stay at the rock shelter, Lord Śakra and Lord Brahma descended from the heavens to visit the Buddha one night. Out of great respect for the Buddha, they ground ox-head sandal-wood on a big stone by the Buddha’s rock shelter and anointed the Buddha with it (Beal 1969). A 50mt climb from the sacred rock shelter is the remains of an ancient Buddhist temple and an ancient man-made platform, probably a place for meditation for the residing monks.  
Read other stories about Buddhavana 

Ancient stūpas over the hills of the Buddha Valley
Remains of an ancient Stupa in the Buddha Valley

Entirely captivating, this pilgrimage path through the valley marked by stūpa remains over its hills is reminiscent of the ancient tradition of the votive offering at Yaṣṭhivana witnessed by Xuanzang. 
In his words, It is custom in India to make little stūpas of powdered scent into a paste; their height is six or seven inches, and they place inside them some written extract from a Sūtra; this they call Dharma-Śarīra (Beal 1969). 
Xuanzang mentions how Upāsaka Jayasena at Yaṣṭhivana made numerous Dharma-Śarīra and placed them in a great stūpa here.
Efforts towards revitalization of the valley 

Revitalisation of Supatiṭṭha Cetiya

Ven. Sataori Hanoka and people of Jethian at the restored temple.

Though, the place was correctly identified long back in 1901 by Sir Auriel Stien, but not much happened after that. The real revitalization of the place started when in 1999, Venerable monk Satori Hanaoka along with Gencyu Hayase and Kenryu Ito of the Japanese All Kochi Young Buddhist Association created a Temple to house the sacred images of the Buddha that were lying neglected for centuries. 

 Buddha trail and Dhamma Walk
Venerable Monks, Nuns and laity, Dhamma Walk, 2014                                @ Alok Jain

In recent years Nava Nalanda Mahavihara (NNM)made efforts towards revitalization of the sacred places in the valley. NNM in collaboration with International Tipitaka Chanting Council (ITCC) organized a Dhamma Walk on 13th December, 2014. More than 1500 participants from 15 Buddhist countries participated in the Walk and most of them expressed they were not aware of this beautiful stretch existed. Many of them wanted this to be organized more frequently so that they could join it again. Idea behind the walk is to generate awareness towards the rich legacy of the Buddha particularly towards the lesser known but significant places associated with the Buddha. Hundreds of youth from Jehian generously volunteered for the walk this year.  
More pictures of Dhamma Walk 

Significance of this Buddha Walking Pilgrimage trail 
Before leaving Rājagriha in search of the truth, Siddhārtha promised King Bimbisāra to share his experience once he attained enlightenment. Keeping his promise the Buddha, along with the Saṅgha, left Gayāsisa (Brahmayoni) for Rājagriha. Walking 25 miles north-east along the hills they reached a beautiful bamboo forest, Laṭṭhivana (Jehian).
King Bimbisāra gathered news of the Buddha’s presence. King Bimbisāra along with his retinue of ministers and a myriad of followers from the town of Rājagriha came to greet this enlightened one at Laṭṭhivana, about 7 miles west, along the Rājagriha hills (Vin.i.35).
The Buddha and the Saṇgha, escorted by King Bimbisāra and myriads of people from Rājagriha then took this route through Jeṭhian-Rājgir Valley to reach Rājagriha, where the King Bimbisāra offered the Buddha and the Saṇgha his favorite pleasure garden, the Veḷuvana (Bamboo Grove) (Vin.i.39f).


Beal, S.; 1969, Si-yu-ki: Buddhist records of the Western World, Translated from the    Chinese   Of Hiuen Tsiang, Oriental Books Reprint Corporation,Delhi, (1st Pub. 1884. London: Trubner & Co.).

Patil, D. R.; 2006, The Antiquarian Remains in Bihar, K. P. Jayaswal Research Institute, Patna, (1st Edition: 1963). 

Abbreviations of Bibliography: 
Source of Pāli references:

P.T.S.    Means published by the Pāli Text Society.
SHB.     Means published in the Simon Hewavitarne Bequest Series (Colombo).
AA.      Manorathapūranī, Anguttara Commentary, 2 vols. (S.H.B.).
BuA.   Buddhavaṃsa Aṭṭhakathā Commentary (S.H.B.).
DhA.    Dhammapadatthakathā, 5 vols. (P.T.S.).
PED    Pāli English Dictionary.
Vin.      Vinaya Piṭaka, 5 vols., ed. Oldenberg (Williams and Norgate).