Friday, June 6, 2014

Jeṭhian–Rājgir Heritage Walk, 13th December, 2014

Date: 13th December, 2014
Time: 12.30 pm
Starting point: Supatiṭṭha Cetiya, Jeṭhian 
Ending point: Veḷuvana (Bamboo groove), Rājgir
  •  An important highlight of the Event is plantation of 700 Bamboo saplings of different varieties by Mahāsaṇgha of ITCC at Veḷuvana (Bamboo groove), Rājgir, the ending point of the Walk.

The landscape of Bihar is traversed with pilgrimage routes connecting important places associated with the life and events of the Buddha and his disciples. The path through the valley connecting Rājgir with Jeṭhian was once an important pilgrimage path connecting Indraśailaguhā (also Indasālaguhā, present day Pārwati), Rājgriha, Yaṣṭhivana (present day Jeṭhian), Tapovana and Saṃbodhi (Bodhgayā). 
The Buddha Path through the valley connecting Rājgir to Jeṭhian
This ‘Buddha Path’ from Rājgriha (Rājgir) to Yaṣṭhivana (Jeṭhian) is now ready for the devouts of the teachings of the Buddha who would like to take this spiritual journey and earn immense merits by travelling on the “Buddha Path”.

Significance of  the Place
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 for Rājagriha. Walking 25 miles north-east along the hills they reached a beautiful bamboo forest, Laṭṭhivana (also Laṭṭhivanuyyāna), surrounded by hills on three sides. Venerable 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 (Yaṣṭhivana, Bamboo Forest). In the heart of Bamboo Forest was Supatiṭṭha Cetiya, and this is where the Buddha stayed during his maiden journey to Rājagriha after his enlightenment.
The Buddha’s pious steps in Supatiṭṭha Cetiya (Supratishṭha Chatiya) caused a rush of people anxious to hear him speak and receive his blessings. The Kassapa brothers were prominent teachers with huge followings in the Magadha and Anga kingdoms. Such a thing, of a prominent teacher with many followers taking refuge under a new and relatively unknown teacher, and one that happened so quickly, was never heard of before.
King Bimbisāra gathered news of the Buddha’s presence; at this point in time, King Bimbisāra most likely was unaware of the connection between the recluse prince Siddhārtha whom he had met at Rājagriha six years ago and the Buddha who transformed the Jaṭila-s. 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 Supatiṭṭha Cetiya, about 7 miles west, along the Rājagriha hills.
King Bimbisāra was very happy to see Siddhārtha again, who now was the Buddha. He approached the Buddha and paid his respects, but others accompanying the king were not sure whom they should pay their respects to at first: the Buddha or Venerable Kassapa; they wondered whether the Buddha was leading a holy life under Venerable Kassapa or the reverse, as both were highly respected religious teachers. The Buddha read their thoughts and asked Venerable Kassapa why he had given up his Fire Sacrifice. Being given this opportunity to explain his transformation, Venerable Kassapa said that he preferred pursuing the peaceful state of nirvāṇa to the continuance of a physical cycle of life and death. After that, he fell at the feet of the Buddha and said, "My teacher, Lord, is the Exalted One: I am the disciple."
The Buddha found the assembly eager to absorb his words of wisdom and offered insights, such as, saying that ego or self is nothing but a deception. The life that exists is nothing but transitory and dwelling in desires of the senses is the cause for all suffering. He explained that once a human being let go of the self and realized the transitoriness of all that exists, that person would be on the path that ensures happiness.  After realizing the Dhamma, King Bimbisāra addressed the Buddha.
"Formerly, O Reverend Sir, when I was a prince, I had five wishes. They are now fulfilled. My first wish was to become king. My second wish was that a Fully Enlightened One should visit my country. My third wish was that I should associate with such an Enlightened One. My fourth wish was that he should preach to me the doctrine. My fifth wish was that I should understand that doctrine. Now all these five wishes are fulfilled.”
Among many Sanskrit manuscripts recovered from Central Asia by the Turfan Expedition in the early 20th century were portions of the Bimbasāra-Rāja-Pratyudgamana-Sūtra (Welcome by King Bimbisāra Sūtra) that mentioned what was said by the Buddha to the audience at Supatiṭṭha Cetiya,
"Ordinary people do not hear Dharma [Dhamma (P)] and ordinary people are attached to a self."
The dialogue, the meeting and the place where the Buddha was received by Bimbisāra became an integral part of the tradition that lasted for many generations; pilgrims and devotees visiting Rājagriha from Vajarāsana (now Bodhgayā) made sure to stop by at this junction to pay their respects to the king.

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).

 The "Buddha-Path"
Ancient Buddhist literatures and travelogues of Faxian (5th CE) and Xuanzang (7th CE) provides us enough clues about traditional routes connecting sacred places associated with Buddha and sometimes have even led us to retrace the actual paths taken by Buddha. One such straight path along the Rājgir-Jeṭhian hills connecting places associated with the Buddhacarika like Indasālaguhā (Pārwati), Rājgriha (Rājgir), Yasṭhivana (Jeṭhian), Tapovana, Prāgbōdhi (Dungeswari Hill) and Vajrāsana (Bodhgayā) has section of stretches that were actually walked by Buddha.
The "Buddha-Path" conceptualised on the basis of travelogues of the  7th CE, Chinese Monk-scholar Xuanzang

The path connecting Rājgir and Jeṭhian through the valley is one such Path walked by the Buddha and Saṇgha and later by devouts following the footsteps of the Buddha pilgrimage.   

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