Friday, July 10, 2009

2nd Phase-- Discovery of Dhamma - Coining of “Buddhism”

“The people say they remember it as entire as the temple of mahamuni now is, but that it was round and solid”, “ in digging for the bricks he is said to have found a stone chest containing bones and many small things… he has also removed pillar which has been erected at…..” Mr. Buchanan on an act of vandalism by Mr. Boddam, a local officer at Gaya

First information about the “Buddha” & “Buddhism” in English language appeared in 1797 by a surgeon botanist Hamilton Buchanan. He traveled to the Kingdom of Ava in 1797 as a part of an official team to visit the court of King of Ava. Based on his observation and father Vincentius Sangrmano’s manuscript Buchanan produced “The religion and literature of the Burma”. He was 1st to chose the term “Buddhism” a religion founded by “Godma” also called “Buddh” though no information about the places associated with life and events of Buddha was known at the time. In response to the papers on Buddhism by Buchanan a few papers came from Srilanka one such response was written by Captain Mahony in 1801. It was based on Sinhalese texts in Pali and gave a more detailed account of Buddha and his life.
As destiny or a chance of faith as you may choose to call it, Buchanan went to Gaya for a routine survey work in 1811. He was approached by a local Mahant from Bodh Gaya, who told him about the visits of two envoys from Ava (modern Burma) to Mahabodhi in recent past and that they were sent by the king of Ava. Mahant told him about the importance of the place for the religion of Ava. Buchanan was yet again approached local; a Buddhist convert at this time who offered to take him around to other places around Bodh Gaya and during their visit described the significance of those places as were told to him by the messenger of Ava.
For the next three months Buchanan visited many places in and around Rajgir and most notable among them was his visit to Bargaon. At Bargaon (Remains of ancient Nalanda University), he was told about its links to Kundalpur capital of king Bhimika from Mahabharata mythology. Buchanan wasn’t convinced with this story though he did notice that the structure was remarkably similar to the circular mounds he had seen at Bodh Gaya. He could now compile his observations from his trips to Ava and Nepal and compare those with what he heard and found at Bodh Gaya. It was with these correlations that Bodh Gaya was established as the heart land of the religion of Ava and Nepal. But unfortunately, this important information didn’t get the required priority. Though the basic stage was set its important characters were missing to take the story further, William Jones wasn’t here to materialize the importance of this information and James Princep was yet to enter the scene...

As many orientalists learned the ancient languages and took up the translation work, more relevant information started pouring in. The English translation of Mahavamsa (Pali account of Kings of Srilanka from 6century BC to 4th century AD) by George Tournour in 1837 provided deep insight into the religion and the events as per the Srilankan traditions. Brian Hodgson was a major contributor with translation of two sets of Kanjur, the Tibetan cannon. Also, Alexandar Csoma de koros helped further by compiling a Tibetan-English dictionary.
With progress being made in trying to understand the available literature, the field activities gained momentum too. There was a surge in the knowledge base and as their importance was recognized the collection of manuscripts, antiquities, coins etc… increased rapidly.
Many mounds were discovered and cursory digs of the remains were rampant, yet the significance of the place and its association with past was a riddle and the iconography was still beyond comprehension. Each new discovery further complicated the riddle.
Colin Mackenzie, the then surveyor general, thought it was best to document things as is, in their original setting because it was tough to draw inferences about the scheme of things without the knowledge about their significance. He did his best to prepare detailed drawings of as many structures as possible; and it was him who coined word “Tope” for stupas.

Many other discoveries were made about the existence of structures like Ajanta, Ellora, Bhilsa etc; many of them got documented and equal number of them were vandalized and are now lost to us.

Buchanan provided enough pieces of the puzzle to establish a link between religions of Southeast Asia and it was quite apparent that Buddha was of jambudvipa origin and Bodh Gaya was the heartland of the religion of Buddha. But all that information needed a few more evidences to conclusively assemble the picture for the entire story to unfold...
Thus far many consequential discoveries were made throughout India and an apparent connection was emerging but these were some of the main questions that were still at large:

1- What is the significance of the places with massive structures, caves and topes and who made them
2- Where was the fountain head of “Buddhism”
3- The inscription on the stone pillars & rock edicts

NEXT: 3rd Phase – Rediscovery of Buddha  

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