Saturday, February 29, 2020

My Foot Journey of 2000 kms begins at Adi Badri

I began my 2000 km foot journey, ‘Retracing Bodhisattva Xuanzang,’ from the ancient monastic site of Adi Badri. Nestled in lush green mountains, the location of the site is breathtaking. The picture is made perfect by a flowing river which originates in the Himalayas.

At  Adi Badri Museum with Filmmaker Surinder Talwar and  Cinematographer Rajinder Pauly   (Pic:: Pauly)

Adi Badri Museum Campus  (Pic: Pauly)

I arrived at Adi Badri on 19th February late in the afternoon, and made a stop at the museum of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). I was received by a cheerful, middle-aged man named Shri Vijay Kumar Gupta. He introduced himself as the caretaker of the site, and added, not without some disappointment, that his employment at ASI was temporary only:  “finding a permanent job was a dream for the majority of Indians”.
He showed me around the campus. It comprises 8 housing an interpretation center, office, guest house and staff quarters. Many of the sculptures discovered during the excavation at this site are on display in the open. The infrastructure of the museum is relatively well done but the campus is not sufficiently staffed to be able to take care of each wing. Shri Gupta ji made a very kind offer to me to stay at the guest house. So I spent the night on campus engaging in more conversations with him about the site.
Aerial Image of monastic site of Adi Badri-III (Pic: Pauly)
The story of the discovery of Buddhist remains at this site is quite interesting. Most of the Buddhist sites in India have a similar story of discovery. In the 1990s, while leveling the ground for construction of roads, local workers came across ancient bricks. Word about this spread till it reached the concerned authorities. An exploration team was sent to the neighbourhood. Excavations revealed three ancient Buddhist sites. Talking to Dr. Akshat Kaushik of ASI who was part of the exploration team explained there were three prominent remains at Adi Badri referred to as ABR I, ABR II, ABR III. He said that apart from these, there would be many more sites in the neighbourhood requiring exploration.
ABR III is the principal site. It was an agricultural plot. The farmers who owned the plot spotted bricks and sculptures. They thought these mounds were of kings who owned these lands in the recent past. Opposite to ABR III is a hill which is also separated by the river. This site, ABR II, is made in the shape of a stupa. Dr. Akshat thinks that this was achieved by cutting away the sides of the hill because ancient bricks were found on the hill as well during the explorations. One can visualise that around the 1st millenium when the stupa was in its original form, how huge and magnificent it must have been.
The hill cut into Stupa shape, behind me (Pic: Pauly)
In 2002-03, excavations at the site ABR III led to the discovery of a  monastic complex with a stupa adjacent to it. Presently it is believed that the stupa was built around 3rd CE and was enlarged in 5-7th CE while the monastic complex was built only in 10-11th CE and existed till as late as 15-16th CE. Dr Akshat hopes to discover monastic cells from 3rd to 10th CE in at this site.
Adi Badri monastic site is situated near river Som (Pic: Pauly)
Something interesting to note is that in the last days of the monastic complex, which was around  15th CE, ABR III became a Brahmanical site. A similar fate was met by most of the Buddhist shrines in the subcontinent. They were assimilated into the Brahmanical system or reused to create Islamic structures.
As I prepared to leave Adi Badri, a pleasant event awaited me. The head of the village (Sarpanch of Kathgrah), Shri Ram Saran Singh, came to visit me. During our conversation, he informed me that local people were unaware of the significance of the ancient heritage of Adi Badri. I did not find it difficult to comprehend why this is so. Even the British, who stumbled upon these sites as early as 18-19th centuries, were puzzled by the discovery of images with matted hair, big lips and long earlobes throughout the Indian  subcontinent. So much so that the British went on to propose a theory that these images were of a Ethopian personage. This confusion arose because unlike the other Buddhist countries with which the European had come in contact like Thailand, Myanmar, Japan, Sri Lanka, China, there were no people in India known to be of Buddhist faith. Hence the British could not even remotely relate these images to Buddhism. Today it is well known that there are Buddhists in India, concentrated in the Himalayan belt. Yet, even today, Buddha and Buddhism remain an alien subject for many people in India.
For the locals, the ancient Buddhist structures of Adi Badri are the remains of the palace of King Virat who lived here at some unknown period. I have heard such stories at many ancient Buddhist sites during my explorations in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.
The Buddhist site of Adi Badri is situated on the bank of River Som at the foothills of Himalayas. The great Indo-Gangetic plain starts about 1 km from this place. Shri Gupta ji informed me that during the monsoon the River Som is in full fury while the rest of the year, it flows with a weak current. Prima facie, Adi Badri looks like an ideal setting for meditation. In ancient times, the place must have been a haven for monks to withdraw into hermetic life and engage in deep meditation. In present times, Adi Badri is a sacred place for Hindus. Recent studies have led to believe this as the place of origin of the vedic river Saraswati.

A very  warm send-off on 20th February

At the time of my departure from Adi Badri, Shri Ram Saran Singh, Sarpanch of Kathgrah (Adi Badri) and Dr. Satbir Singh Saini, former Additional District Commissioner of Yamuna Nagar along with a few others who had given me company for the few days of my stay came to see me off for my further journey. A warm farewell and a great beginning for my Walk!

Story chronicled by Dr. Aparajita Goswami 

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