Thursday, July 2, 2009

Rajgir, Nalanda and vicinity...

It took several sources, several dedicated people and numerous years to rediscover Rajgir and though its link with the glory of its past has been established, it is important to understand the process that brought us here, through which we realize the potential of this place as it stand today.

As we previously discussed, the initial clues and knowledge that encouraged an exploration in this area came from travelogues of Chinese visitors and Pali sources.
Elaborating further on that the first insight into this area’s history was provided by the detailed account of Fahien, who visited Magadha in 406 AD. He started his journey in 399 from China, traveled the famous silk route and after his stay here, he traveled to southern Indian and then to Sri Lanka on his way back to China in 414 via the sea route.
Considering the travel time it took for people to move around in those days, his trip to Rajgriha is considered very brief but he extensively traveled in this part of Magadha and visited most of the important sites of the time and not just that he left a detailed description of Rajgir and its vicinity stating the importance of the sites he visited and that has helped the archeologists in their initial search for clues and references.
Another important visitor of the area who has left a detail account of Rajgir and its vicinity is Xuanzang who was here in 637 AD and spent close to two years in Nalanda as a scholar of the famous university. He not only described the sites and their attributes in his travelogue but also mentioned the socio-economic condition of the area at the time which helped a lot in relating the heritage of the area to great kings and their dynasties.
Third pilgrim who visited this region and has left detail description of Nalanda University is It-sing who stayed here for ten years from 675 to 685 AD. Fourth pilgrim to make visit and leave an account was corean monk Hwui Lun whose period of visit is not clear.
An eyewitness account of the decline of Nalanda Sangharama is provided by Dharmasvamin. His description answered some questions about the disappearance of an international university that was in service for more that 700 hundred years and at the same time acted as a fuel to flare up our curiosity. He was in Nalanda for two years from 1235 to 1237 AD and states that it was the period of great turmoil with deteriorating economic situation. He also narrates his narrow escape while crossing Ganges when he refused to give away his belongings to a fellow traveler.

Pali sources from neighboring countries like Srilanka, Burma and others provided valuable information that helped piecing the puzzle together by giving us a detail description about places and there significance. Though they didn’t provide the exact locations as the previously mentioned travelogues did, yet they reinforced the fact that the different streams of religions practiced in the south-east Asian counties actually have a common origin and Magadha was at the land of their Lord.
Translation of sutras from Pali texts helped established the location of places like Nala and Nalanda, the two different places in close vicinity which were believed to be the different names of one a same place. Nalanda they maintain was associated with Pavarika mango grove where Buddha gave important sermons. Nala/ Nalak/ Nalika were associated with Sariputra. Nalanda as per the Pali tradition was also associated with Nirgranthas (The jains).

Other sources that contributed our knowledge bases are the Mahayanist texts, mainly the Tibetan sources. Lama Taranatha in his book “History of Buddhism in India” written in 17th century has given a detail description of origin of Nalanda Mahavihara though his account is based on the biographies and nothing much is known about the primary sources.
Rajgir and Nalanda were also associated with Lord Mahavira and many of his important disciples are from this place. We find mention about many places from this vicinity in the Jaina literatures.
We also find mention about Nalanda and Rajgir in Brhaminical accounts like Kautaliya’s, “Arthasastra”.

Now that we have documented the sources, in our next post we’ll find out how these texts helped orientalists rediscover Rajgir, Nalanda and the vicinity…
NEXT: 'Nalanda and Rajgir' continued....
SPECIAL NOTE: We have received some very interesting queries that we plan to address in the coming posts. So, if you are waiting for an answer, it is to let you know that its coming soon and if you are wondering if you should ask a question/clarification, sure go ahead, add it to the comments and you’ll hear from us soon…

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