Monday, July 13, 2009

The background

Let us start exploring the region with the story of its rediscovery…
Believe it or not, all our rich culture of this area that we know today and all that is yet to be discovered were buried under a pile of mud and the natives had no clue about the treasure they were sitting on and in certain cases were even destroying it. Besides the physical damage, since there was an absence of any literature that would explain the origin of the heritage, there were stories built around the sculptures and they became part of the mythology and now centuries later it is tough distinguish between the real history and all the fiction that is entrenched into the local customs.
All our present knowledge about the Buddhist past comes from the Travelogues of Chinese pilgrims and Pali sources. And these sources weren’t exactly the ‘lonely planet’ guide books that take you to the tourist destinations with a list of things about how to get there and what to expect. These are centuries old scriptures that have been modified during their several revisions and that too in a language that wasn’t know at the time… That’s not all, once you follow the direction in the book to reach your ‘Tourist attraction’ site, it was at the best a mound of mud if at all that…

Our purpose of giving you all this information is just so that you understand that the process of rediscovery and restoration of Buddhist past in this area is painstakingly tedious and time consuming and was covered by various historians at different times in history.

For the purpose of better understanding, we chose to divide this work by orientalists and enthusiasts in four phases….

1st phase — Setting up of Asiatic Society

"India's most gorgeous antiquity....her greatest treasure is her ancient literary language (Sanskrit), the richness and structural features of which are absolutely unique." - G. Roerich.

William Jones after his arrival 1783 at Calcutta soon realized the extensiveness of the unexplored potential of this part of world. It was a major challenge to execute an exploration of this magnitude and after much deliberations he realized it can be achieved by “unifying the efforts of many”, and proceeded to set up a learned society in the lines of Britain’s royal society in India. Hence Asiatic society was established in Calcutta in 1784.
A lot of work was furnished in this area and the word Buddha was mentioned for the first time in a volume of Asiatic researches in 1789; it was Charles Wilkins who translated an inscription from a temple south of Town Gaya. The inscription read “The place of supreme being Buddha”; it didn’t draw any attention then. This was also the time when many of orientalists in India and abroad were attracted towards the richness of the Sanskrit language and literature. Many of the East India company staff and westerners actively learned Sanskrit the “Language of Gods” as said by William Jones to better understand the Indian culture, history and rich past. Charles Wilkins and William Jones the pioneers of the translations of ancient text and old Indian scriptures are credited with translation of Hitopadesa, Shakuntala and Gitagovinda.

William Jones laid the foundation of “Synchronology”, a study of comparing names and events recorded in ancient documents of one nation with that of ancient documents in other nations. He successfully established a link between “Sandrokottos” found mention in the accounts of Megasthenes and “Chandragupta” of a Sanskrit text “Mudra-rakshasa”.
Megasthenes, the Greek ambassador was sent to “Palimbothra”, in the court of king “Sandrokottos”, approximately in 302BC. Only clue about the “Palimbothra” was that it was situated at the conjunction of river Ganges and river “Erranoboas”. Many identification of Palimbothra were suggested but the “Patlipootra”, the modern Patna suggested by James Rennell was most suitable. Patna was indeed further east of confluence of river Sone and river Ganges.
It was just a chance that while translating one of the ancient Sanskrit texts William Jones found “Hiranyabahu” another name of the river sone. It was obvious “Erranoboas” was Greek rendering of “Hiranyabahu”. This important identification established a fixed point for drawing chronological history of Indian kings’ and their dynasties backwards and forwards.

The name Buddha again appeared in the chronology of Indian kings prepared by Jones on the basis of Rajavamsa a Sanskrit manuscript; and Jones placed him around 1027 BC.
At that time there wasn’t much awareness about his besides being a king and the information and knowledge about the Buddhist past was still in nascent stage well below the threshold to draw any attention for further research.
The Caves around Mumbai, Stone idols, topes and big structures that we now know are part of Buddhist heritage, were all assumed to be of African origin. Sacya, the law-giver, was believed to be of Ethiopian origin.

So as you see, there were a lot of discoveries of Buddhist origin in this time but there was no thread linking them together. The fabric of Buddhism that underlined it all was still unknown to the world and so no initiatives were taken to explore its roots or origin…
 NEXT: 2nd Phase-- Discovery of Dhamma - Coining of “Buddhism”

1 comment:

Sadik said...

Good post Deepak, keep it coming !!

Cheers !!