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.


Archeo-foodista said...

Wonderful description of the current vs Tsang's setting of the situation :)

God is You said...

Excellent summary. Photos and illustrations are very helpful. Thanks!