Thursday, January 11, 2018

Celebrating the 4th Year of the Dhamma Walk and the 3rd Saṅghadāna at Jeṭhian

Buddhist literatures indicate that in ancient times, the sites associated with the life of Buddha were linked through well developed routes which were used by devotees to reach these sacred sites and offer prayers, perform specific rituals and recite sūtras. In other words, devotees undertook pilgrimages to sacred sites to walk in the footsteps of the Buddha and have a spiritual experience. IBC is working to revive the tradition of pilgrimage (Cetiya Cārikā) by organising Dhamma walks and chantings at these sacred sites. In this regard, in partnership with the Light of Buddha Dhamma Foundation International (LBDFI), International Buddhist Confederation (IBC) organised the 4th Dhamma Walk on 13th December, 2017 from Jeṭhian to Rājgir. The path from Jeṭhian to Rājgir described for the annual Dhamma Walk was the same route taken by the Buddha on his first visit to Rājgir following his enlightenment.

Participants gathering for the 4th Dhamma Walk and 3rd Saṅghadāna at Jeṭhian.
Participants seated for the Inaugural Session.

The Jeṭhian to Rājgir Dhamma Walk was held for the first time in December 2013. The walk drew widespread participation and appreciation of monks and local villagers which motivated the organisers to facilitate the walk every year thereafter. In the second year of the walk, the ancient tradition of Saṅghadāna was observed. According to Buddhist literature, when the Buddha and the Saṅgha stayed in the Jeṭhian valley, they used to go out every morning to the neighbouring villages with their alms bowl to collect their food for the day. By offering food to the Saṅgha , the villagers gained merits and the blessings of the Saṅgha . For the 2nd Dhamma Walk which was held in 2015, the villagers of Jeṭhian decided to revive this ancient tradition of Saṅghadāna. In the first Saṅghadāna, about 100 monks and nuns from different countries and Buddhist traditions went to the homes of villagers in Jeṭhian to accept food. The monks and nuns appreciated highly the kindness of the villagers while the villagers felt privileged to able to make offerings to the devotees and thereby earn merits. The success of the first Saṅghadāna drew greater participation for the second Saṅghadāna which was held in 2015 during the 3rd Dhamma Walk. The third Saṅghadāna held at this year Dhamma Walk was partly sponsored by two Buddhist practitioners from Canada, Jacques Achsen and Bob Jeffs. Based on the advice given by Jacques and Bob, the villagers very thoughtfully prepared dishes with ingredients available during Buddha’s time such as barley, rice and Bengal gram. This year’s Saṅghadāna was a beautiful ceremony like ancient times. Villagers stood at their doorsteps with food prepared in advance and served them onto the plates and bowls held out by the monks and nuns walking in a silent queue. Just as the monks and nuns were touched by the compassion and generosity of the villagers, the villagers too were moved by the grace and discipline of the monks.
Laypersons seated on their knees making offerings to monks and nuns lined up for the Saṅghadāna.

Monks walking from home to home collecting food.

A mother and her daughters offering food to a monk outside their home

A man and a woman serving food to monks from traditional copper utensils
A monk thankfully accepting food from  two  village girls.

The Saṅghadāna was no less than a festival for the villagers
who cleaned up the village and decorated it with rangolis and flags especially for the occasion
Village children making rangolis in the morning of the day of the Saṅghadāna to welcome devotees and laypersons. 

Nuns looking for a place to sit down to have their meals
Chinese group of monks seated in the porch of a traditional house
offering prayers before starting their meal. Leading the prayers is their Venerable Master.
Venerable Lama Lobzang (President of IBC) sitting alongside village while the monks and nuns had their meals.

Monks and nuns seated in the courtyard of a  house for  having their meal
while villagers supply them with water, sweets, fruits, extra plates, and tissue papers.

Chinese group chqanting before starting their meal.

After the Saṅghadāna, the monks and nuns gathered for the inaugural session of the Dhamma Walk. As in previous years, the consisted of addresses from the various organizers and important dignitaries. This year’s speakers included Dr. Dipankar Lama (Associate Professor, Nava Nalanda Mahavihara), Ms. Wangmo Dixey (Executive Secretary, LBDFI), Ven. Lama Lobzang (President, IBC), and Ven. Dhammapiya (Secretary-General, IBC) along with a few others.
Ms. Wangmo Dixey (Head of LBDFI) addressing the gathering of monks, nuns and laypersons at the inaugural session.

Soon after the inaugural session commenced the pilgrimage walk. This year witnessed the participation of more than 1000 monks, nuns, eminent masters, laypersons, and locals from different countries, namely China, Vietnam, Korea, Sri Lanka, Japan, Thailand, Myanmar, Bhutan, Malaysia, Taiwan, Laos, Cambodia. The oldest participants were monks and nuns over eighty years of age while the youngest ones were devotees and locals under the age of twenty-five. The wide age group of participation was a clear reflection of the eagerness of devotees to have the spiritual experience of walking in the footsteps of Buddha and Master Xuanzang. The high-spiritedness of the devotees was also evident from the constant chanting as well as silent praying that went on as long as the walk lasted. The local villagers happily assisted the participants in completing the 15 km walk by supplying water throughout the walking trail and looking after those who fell behind others. The day ended for the participants at Veḷuvana (Bamboo Grove) in Rājgir where they thanked by organisers for their enthusiasm and energy. The Dhamma Walk was an extraordinary display of the synthesis of the energy of local villagers and devotion of monks and nuns. 
Monks, nuns, local villagers, and Dhamma enthusiasts walking together
at the 4th Dhamma Walk from Jeṭhian to  Rājgir, 13 December, 2017.

Hundreds of monks, nuns and laypersons walking from Jeṭhian to  Rājgir
along the path taken by the Buddha on his first visit to  Rājgir following his enlightenment
Two monks walking past a stupa. Such stupas are erected all along the pilgrimage trail to mark every one kilometer.

Two Chinese nuns walking side-by-side while protecting themselves from the sun and dust.

Foreign tourists walked with equal spirit and enthusiasm alongside monks and nuns

An ambulance and four cars filled with water bottles rolled behind participants throughout the length of the walk
to supply water and pick up those who were falling ill.
A very young monk taking a break during the walk.
Although the dust along the pilgrimage trail was significant,
it did not break the resolve of participants, both old and young, from finishing the walk.

A monk offering refreshments to a lay participant on the walking trail.

Local village boys volunteering to walk with the devotees and look after those of them who needed help.
A monk equipped with a camera to capture the beautiful moments of the walk.

Participants jubilating at the finish of the walk.

December 2017 marked the fourth time of the holding of the Dhamma Walk. The successful organising of the walk for four consecutive years is a commendable feat given the extent of arrangements that have to be made at the village of Jeṭhian and along the Jeṭhian- Rājgir walking trail and the level of communication and coordination required between organisers, government officials, local villagers and participating monks and nuns. 

On behalf of the organisers of the Dhamma Walk, I thank  Shri G C Bhuyan, Director, India Tourism, Ministry of Tourism, Government of India for sponsoring 1000 caps for the participants of the Dhamma Walk. I specially want to mention that Ms. M. Manimekalai, Principal, Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalaya, Jeṭhian was constantly in touch, enquiring if we needed any help.  The mobile medical unit from Civil Hospital, Rājgir did a wonderful job by following the Walk. Last but not the least; I would like to thank the men, women and children of Jeṭhian, who volunteered their time to help make this event enjoyable.

Friday, January 5, 2018

The Starting of a Journey to Rediscover the Roots of Mahāyanā Sūtras: The first ever Mahāyāna Chanting Ceremony held in Rājgir

Chinese Master of the Boshan Zhengjue Monastery leading the prayers at Griddhakūṭa 

In ancient times, chanting of sūtras delivered by the Buddha constituted the core activity of the daily life of Buddhist monks and nuns. Chanting was not only a means of recording and remembering the sacred words of the Buddha, it was also a way of fostering unity and brotherhood among the community of monks and nuns. While the tradition of chanting is not completely lost in modern times, it is for the most part restricted to monastic life. Chanting of sūtras by monks and nuns in the open air and in the presence of lay persons is exceptionally rare today. International Buddhist Confederation (IBC) and the Light of the Buddha Dhamma Foundation International (LBDFI) is trying to revive the ancient Mahāyāna tradition of chanting. In this light, both the organisations organised the 1st Mahāyāna Chanting Ceremony from 14-17th December 2017 at Rājgir - the site where Buddha delivered several important sūtras.

The 1st Mahāyāna Chanting Ceremony brought together monks, nuns, eminent masters, and scholars from six countries namely China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, Nepal, and India. The four-day event opened with a chanting session at Griddhakūṭa hill (Vulture’s Peak). Griddhakūṭa hill is a very sacred place for Buddhists for several reasons. It was one of the favourite places of Buddha and during his stay at Rājagriha, Buddha often came here to preach Dhamma to his Saṅgha. According to Pali literature Buddha also delivered many important Sutta-s at Griddhakūṭa such as Atanatiya Sutta, Bhikkhu-aparihaniya Sutta, Daruka-khandha Sutta, and Dighanaka Sutta. However, the most important event associated with Griddhakūṭa hill is when Buddha after his Enlightenment set forth the Second Turning of the Wheel of Dhamma to an assembly of monks, nuns, laity and innumerable bodhisattvas. The Prajñāpāramitā-Sūtra-s (Perfection of Wisdom Sūtra-s) (Beal 1914: 114), the Saddharma-Puṇḍarīka Sūtra (Lotus Sūtra), Sūrāngamasamādhi Sūtra (Beal 2005: 116), 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 site where Buddha delivered the sūtra at Griddhakūṭa Peak (Beal 1969). The recitation of sūtras at Griddhakūṭa on the first day of the Chanting Ceremony was not only a surreal spectacle but also a deeply spiritual experience for both who were reciting and who were listening to the sūtras. 
Ariel view of monks and nuns seated for chanting at Griddhakūṭa
Chanting by Japanese Monks

           Chanting by Vietnamese- American monks

The second and the third days of the Chanting Ceremony were held in the open air auditorium of the Rājgir Convention Centre, set amidst rocky hills and serene gardens. From morning until late afternoon, monks and nuns from the different participating countries chanted the sutras in their respective languages often accompanied with beats from their traditional instruments. Such multilingual chanting not only represents cultural interaction and mutual respect but, more importantly, unity of peoples and nations.

Chanting by Chinese group at the Rajgir Convention Centre.

Chanting at the open air auditorium of the Rajgir Convention Centre.
The evening time of the second and third days of the Chanting Ceremony were dedicated to cultural performances by groups from China and India. These performances were a display of the cultural diversity between China and India in terms of dance and music. At the same time, by bringing talents from both counties on a common space to celebrate the transcendental beauty and appeal of dance and music, the cultural performances also reflected the friendship between India and China.

Chan Tea Culture Team performs the Chinese traditional tea ceremony performance with the accompaniment of music, poetry, and ornamental props.

Ms. Wagmo Dixey (head of LBDFI) giving closing remarks while Chan Tea Culture Team, Master of Boshan Zhengjue Monastery and Chinese scholars pose for photographs. 

Chan Tea Culture Team form China performing the traditional Chinese tea ceremony 
with the accompaniment of music, poetry and ornamental props.

The Chanting Ceremony was brought to a close on the fourth day through a valedictory session held at the remains of the ancient Nālandā University. The ancient university at Nālandā was one of the most prominent Mahāyāna monasteries in the first millennium where monks from China, Japan and Korea visited to collect and practice the true teachings of Buddha. In this way, Nālandā was one of the greatest seats of Buddhist learning and practice in ancient times. With this in mind, the remains of the ancient Nālandā University was aptly chosen as the venue for the closing session of the beautiful journey of returning to the roots of the Mahāyāna sūtras. The valedictory session constituted of remarks by one representative of each of the participating countries. At the end of the valedictory session, all the monks and nuns made special offerings at Temple no. 3 which according to Chinese and Korean literature is Mūlagandhakuṭī — the place where the Buddha spent one of his rainy season retreat. As documented in Pali literature, the Buddha visited Nālandā many times and delivered some of the very important sermons.
Valedictory session being held at the remains of the ancient Nālandā University on the fourth day.
The four-day Mahāyāna chanting ceremony is an unprecedented event. By reciting the sūtras collectively, participants from different countries showed their resolve to strengthen Buddha Dhamma (Dharma) in the land of its origin and promote the cultural oneness of these countries symbolised by the Buddhist faith. The event attracted the participants to the sacred heritage sites of Rāgjir and its surroundings, namely Silāo, Pārwati, Nālandā, Jeṭhian, and Buddhavana, thereby highlighting further the sacredness of these sites. The ceremony also showed the eagerness of participants to bring about cultural exchange and revive friendship between their respective countries. Finally, this event paved the way for further cooperation between India and China for cultural exchange and mutual learning. IBC and LBDFI hope that they are able to organise more chanting ceremonies in the coming year and elicit greater participation to continue the cultural interaction and friendship between India and the Buddhist countries of East Asia. 

LBDFI and IBC together plan to revive these traditions and make these heritage sites into living heritage. LBDFI and IBC plan to extend the chanting programme to a few more sites in the neighbourhood of Rājgir such as Silāo — the place where Buddha exchanged robes with Mahākassapa. The ‘Exchange of Robes’ is an important event in Buddhist traditions, and yet Silāo is a very neglected site. Chanting of sūtras at Silāo would help not only in making the site as living heritage and bring it on the Buddhist pilgrimage map. The monks who participated in the Mahāyāna chanting ceremony at Rājgir resolved to also organise a special prayer ceremony for Xuanzang next year onwards.

Some newspaper clippings from the Event


Beal, S. (2005) Travels of Fah-hian and Sung-Yun, Buddhist Pilgrims from China to India, Low Price Publications, Delhi (Originally published London: Trubner and Co.: 1869). 

Beal, S. (1914), The life of Hiuen-Tsiang by Shaman Hwui Li, Kegan Paul, Trench Trubner & Co. Ltd, London. (New Edition 1911). 

Beal, S. (1969), Si-yu-ki: Buddhist records of the Western World, Translated from the Chinese Of Hiuen Tsiang, Oriental Books Reprint Corporation,Delhi, (1st Pub. 1884. London: Trubner & Co.).

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Chanting of Mahāsatipaṭṭhāna Sutta: Reverberation of the Dhamma in Kurū Land

International Buddhist Confederation (IBC), the Light of the Buddha Dhamma Foundation International (LBDFI) and School of Buddhist Studies and Civilisation, Gautama Buddha University together organised a one-day chanting event on 5th November, 2017 at Gautama Buddha University titled “Chanting of Mahāsatipaṭṭhāna Sutta (The Discourse on the Foundations of Mindfulness)”. The event constituted of chanting by a group of sixty (60) venerable monks and nuns from the Theravada tradition interspersed with talks by seven speakers listed namely:

- Venerable Bhikkhu Sanghasena (Mahabodhi International Meditation Centre, Devachan, Leh- Ladakh)
- Venerable Dr. Dhammapiya, Chairman of the Bahujana Hitaya Educational Trust and Dhamma Dipa Foundation
- Dr. Prabhat Kumar, the Vice Chancellor, Gautama Buddha University, Greater Noida
- Dr Ravindra Panth, IBC
- Ms. Wanmgo Dixey, LBDFI
- P L Dhar, Retired Professor, IIT Delhi
- Mathieu Boisvert, Professor, l’Université du Québec à Montréal

Chanting — or collectively reciting aloud the sermons of Buddha — is a very ancient Buddhist tradition practiced till today in Buddhist monasteries all over the world. Before the sermons of Buddha were written down in the Pāli canon in Sri Lanka in the 1st BCE, the sermons were preserved as oral tradition for more than five centuries. Chanting constituted an important exercise in maintaining the oral tradition because it helped monks in memorising long texts.

Moreover, by chanting in groups, monks could at once become aware if they had gone wrong in their memorialisation. The practice of collective chanting played an extremely important role in preserving Buddha’s discourses and transmitting them from one generation to the next.

The Mahāsatipaṭṭhāna Sutta has been described as the most important discourse ever given by the Buddha on mental development. It is highly revered by Buddhist sects, but holds special importance for the followers of Theravada Buddhism. This discourse opens with Buddha declaring: There is, monks, this way that leads only to the purification of beings, to the overcoming of sorrow and distress, to the disappearance of pain and sadness, to the gaining of the right path, to the realization of Nirvana—that is to say the four foundations of mindfulness. According to Buddhist source Buddha delivered this discourse in Kammāsadhamma, a township in the ancient kingdom of Kurū. Ancient Kurū comprises of present-day region of Delhi- Kurūkeshetra-Ambala and its immediate neighbourhood.

According to Buddhist tradition, the Kurū Kingdom was ruled by kings belonging to the Yuddhitthila gotta i.e. the family of Yudhishthira (of the Mahābhārata epic). The capital of the Kurū was Indapatta (Indaprastha) in the outskirts of modern Delhi. In Buddha’s time, Kurū was a minor state ruled by a chieftain named Koravya. It is said of this country that its people were wise and had good roots (supporting conditions for the achievement of the noble Dhamma).

They were capable of penetrating a deep Dhamma talk. This reputation is mentioned as the reason for the Buddha having delivered some of his most profound discourses to the Kurūs. Pāli texts particularly mentions about the township Kammāsadhamma which was frequently visited by the Buddha where he gave some of the deepest and subtlest sermons on causation and inner exploration like Mahasatipatthana Sutta, Māgandiya Sutta and Mahānidāna Sutta.

Chinese monk scholar Xuanzang (Hsüan-tsang, 7th CE) visited Sthāneśvar and Śrughna in the (Kurū) region. Xuanzang saw stūpas to mark visit of the Buddha in this area. Xuanzang mentions about hundreds of Buddhist monasteries flourishing in Śrughna. This is also revealed in discovery of numerous Buddhist monastic remains in Chaneti, Shug, Asandh and other places in this region.
Map depicting Ancient Kurū 

Besides stūpas and Buddhist monasteries importance of this region is also reflected from the fact that Emperor Ashoka (3rd BCE) installed Dhamma Pillars at Topra and Meerut. Installation of two Dhamma pillars in this region reflects deep connection of Kurū with the Buddha and his teachings. The Ashokan pillars were transferred to Delhi by Sultan Firoz Shah Tuglaq (1309-1388) as trophies. The Meerut Pillar is currently installed at Delhi ridge opposite the entrance of Bara Hindu Rao Hospital, close to the Delhi University campus while the Topra Pillar is in the grounds of Feroz Shah Kotla.

Presently, the Buddhist pilgrimage is limited to Eight Great Places i.e. Lumbini, Bodhgaya, Sarnatha, Kushinagara, Sravasti, Sankashya, Rajgir and Vaishali but in ancient times all the places associated with life and events associated with the Buddha including Buddhist sites of Kurū region were part of the Buddhist pilgrimage. At present, IBC is working towards the integration of the Buddhist heritage sites of ancient Kurū region with other important Buddhist pilgrimage sites in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh and facilitate creation of a larger ‘The Sublime Wandering of the Buddha’ Buddhist pilgrimage circuit. IBC hopes to organize events to highlight the tangible and intangible Buddhist heritage of Kurū region.
 Saṅghādana to venerable monks offered by Mr. Thi Ha, Mr. Myo Naing Soe, Daw Khin Aye Mu of Kokotoke Company 

Lighting of the lamp by dignitaries (Ms Wangmo Dixey in pic)
Chanting of Mahāsatipaṭṭhāna Sutta

Ven. Dhammapiya sharing his views

Dr. Panth sharing his views

Prof Mathieu Boisvert sharing his views

Team GBU (School of Buddhist Studies and Civilisation, Gautama Buddha University) that made this event possible

Special Thanks to Aparajita Goswami

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Dev Nī Morī Relics: From Museum to its Find Spot

  Dev Nī Morī Relic Casket
On 19 August 2017, I had the opportunity of accompanying Ven. Lama Lobzang (Lama Ji), Secretary General of International Buddhist Confederation (IBC), on a visit to the ancient Buddhist site of Dev Nī Morī near Shamlaji in Gujarat. Archaeological excavation in this scenic valley in 1962 had led to the discovery of body relics of Buddha. Those relics are currently kept at the MS University in Baroda under lock and key. Buddhists venerate the relics of Buddha as sacred objects. According to Buddhist tradition, the rightful place for the exposition of the relics of the Buddha is the stūpa. The Government of Gujarat has now decided to bring out the body relics of Buddha from the closets of the museum and re-enshrine them at their find spot. This is welcome news.

After a two hour drive from Gandhinagar we reached Dev Nī Morī. The place is now a large water reservoir (lake) and the ancient Buddhist remains discovered near the village Dev Nī Morī lie submerged under the lake. Local volunteers at the dam site pointed out to us a Buddhist flag hoisted on a vertical pole in the centre of lake believed to be the site of the stūpa where the holy relics of Buddha were discovered in 1962.
                                           Meshwo Lake

Ven. Lama ji requested the dam management to allow us to offer prayers at the spot where the relics were discovered. The dam officials not only agreed but were also kind enough to offer their motor-boat to take us to that spot in the centre of lake.
Ven. Lama Lobzang on his way to spot of the submerged stūpa 

An ancient custom in India is to circle around a person of reverence or a holy object (stūpa, temple etc), keeping the person or the object on the right side. This is called ‘padakkhina’ (Sanskrit: ‘pradaksina’). Ven Lama ji requested the motorboat operator to circle around the pole to be able offer prayers as per this custom and chant Buddhist sūtras. Lama ji also wrapped a Khadda (Buddhist scarf) on the pole installed at the spot of the submerged stūpa.
Ven. Lamaji wrapping Buddhist scarf on the pole installed at the spot of the submerged stūpa

Lama Ji felt nostalgic and shared with me how Dev Nī Morī relic project was conceived during his meeting with the then Chief Minister of Gujarat, Shri Narendra Modi ji at the latter’s office in Gandhinagar on 20 February 2013. To realise the project, the government of Gujarat signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with IBC on 12 January 2015, and formed a Working Committee on 8 June 2015. The Committee has met several times since its formation. The project was also discussed with H.H. Dalai Lama on 19 March 2015. Further, at the ‘Global   Hindu-Buddhism Initiative,’ an International event jointly organised by IBC and Vivekanand International Foundation (VIF) on 5 September 2015 at Bodhgaya, the architect Shri Ojas Hirani and officials of the Gujarat Pavitra Yatradham Vikas Board (GPYVB) made a presentation to Shri Narendra Modi, Hon’ble Prime Minister on the holistic development of Dev Nī Morī. The delegates present at this event including more than 400 eminent monks from 26 nations appreciated the Project highly.
Ven. Lama Ji with Hon'ble Chief Minister Shri Narendra Modi Ji

Name of the place

Conjectural plan of Mahāstūpa and Vihāra of Dev Nī Morī (based on excavation finds)  Courtesy: Gujarat Tourism
The remains of many Vihāra-s and extensive litter of brickbats and potsherds indicate that the archaeological site of Dev Nī Morī was a hub of Buddhist activity spread over a wide area. It appears that even after these Buddhist monasteries were abandoned at the end of 1st millennia, the sacredness of the place persisted. Because of the sacredness associated with the place, the population that settled around these monastic remains in later centuries named this area ‘Dev Nī Morī’. The name ‘Dev Nī Morī’ has multiple interpretations because the word ‘Morī’ has many meanings like ‘in Front of’ or ‘a Collective’ or ‘a Drain’. Therefore, Dev Nī Morī could mean ‘In front of God’ or ‘Collective of God.’ Since the River Meshwo flowed by the monastic remains, the name Dev Nī Morī could also mean ‘Drain belonging to God’.

Discovery of the site and construction of the reservoir

        Map depicting the Valley and Meshwo lake

The ancient Buddhist site of Dev Nī Morī was situated in a 16 km long and 2 km wide, bowl-shaped valley surrounded by hills on four sides. These hills, called Danta Hills, are part of the Arawali Mountain range. River Meshwo, a tributary of River Sabarmati, enters this valley from a narrow pass on the northern side and drains out through a 150 metre-wide ridge on the western side of the valley. Shamalaji is drought prone region. As a result, in the mid-1950s, the government of Gujarat planned to construct a medium-scale dam in this region for the purpose of irrigation. Engineers involved in the planning of the dam found the bowl-shaped valley of Dev Nī Morī as the most suited site for collecting the water by constructing a dam at the point where the river drains out of the valley i.e. on the 150 metres wide ridge on the western side of the valley. Archaeological exploration by Shri P A Inamdar in 1936 and later by Dr. H Goetz and Dr. U P Shah reported the existence of a lot of archaeological remains in this valley. Irrigation department requested the concerned government authorities to conduct excavation and documentation of the archaeological remains before the construction of the water reservoir. Six   villages in the valley including the village of Dev Nī Morī were relocated in the process of construction of the water reservoir.

Excavations and discovery of the Buddha Relics

The stūpa mound (‘Bhojrajā no Tekro’)

 Inscription on the Relic Casket of Dev Nī Morī
The excavations at the archaeological site of Dev Nī Morī were conducted by Prof. B. Subbarao, Dr. R. N Mehta and Shri S. N Choudhary of the Department of Archaeology and Ancient History of the Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda from 1959 to 1963. The excavations revealed the remains of a big Mahāyāna Buddhist Stūpa and Vihāra-s belonging to early centuries of Common Era. The highlight of the excavations was the discovery of a circular reliquary casket from 120 feet wide and 40 feet high canonical stūpa mound known locally as ‘Bhojrajā no Tekro’ meaning ‘Hillock of King Bhoj’. The relic casket of stone bore an inscription reading ‘dashabala sharira nilay,’ in other words ‘the abode of the Body Relic of the Buddha’. The main body of the casket bears an inscription which records an account of the construction of the stūpa and the installation of the Buddha relic casket there. It indicates that the Mahāstūpa (great stūpa) was erected during the reign of King Sri Rudrasena on the 5th day of bhāḍrapada in the year 127 of the Kathika Kings (i.e. 206 century CE). Following the Mahāparinirvāṇa of the Buddha in the 6th century BCE, his body was cremated and its ashes were divided into eight parts which were then preserved as holy Relics in eight śarīra stūpas (constructed over the Buddha’s relics). As mentioned in Aśokāvadāna, King Aśoka (3rd century BCE) who ruled from Pāṭaliputra collected the Buddha’s śarīra from seven droṇa stūpa (seven of the original eight stūpas constructed over the Buddha’s śarīra) and enshrined it in 84,000 stūpas throughout his realm of Jambudvīpa (Indian Subcontinent). Archaeological and circumstantial evidence suggest that many kings in the Indian Subcontinent reopened the Buddha relic stūpas made by Aśoka and redistributed the body relics of the Buddha. The Dev Nī Morī relic of the Buddha is probably one such Buddha relic that was enshrined by the King Rudrasena (probably from the Kushana dynasty). As mentioned in Buddhist literatures including the travelogues of the 7th century CE Chinese monk-scholar Xuanzang, this region of Vaḍnagar had hundreds of flourishing Buddhist monasteries. This has been corroborated with the excavation and exploration in this region done by the team of excavators from MS University who excavated the Relic stūpa.

Importance of the Buddha Śarira (body relics) to the Buddhist World
Relics have been a focus of veneration for the Buddhist since, it would seem, the passing of the historical Buddha himself. As mentioned in Mahāparinibbana Sutta (Chinese: Nièpán Jīng; 3 Japanese: Nehankyō; Tibetan: myang ‘das kyi mdo), on the final journey to Kuśīnagara to attain Mahāparinirvāṇa, Buddha asked his followers to erect stūpas over his remains and also endorsed the worship of these holy edifices. This is believed to be the origin of the practice of building stūpas at which lay followers could pay homage and earn good karma-s. Archaeological investigation at reliquary sites such as Vaiśālī and Piprāhwā has confirmed that the practice of relic veneration existed prior to the time of the Aśoka. The Sanskrit version of the Mahāparinirvāṇa Sūtra refers to the Buddha’s remains as Asṭhi and specifies that they are collected and placed in a golden urn. These reliquaries were often placed in larger receptacles and nesting receptacles made of gold and precious metal which in turn were put inside stūpas. In symbolic terms, when a king constructed stūpas to house relics, he and his kingdom became a kind of living reliquary. In the 1st millennium, with the gradual spread of Buddhism, the body relics of the Buddha were carried throughout the Asian subcontinent. Imperial patronage of relic veneration in China, Sri Lanka, and other areas of Asia constituted both a demonstration of the largess of the ruler and a response to the fervour of local Buddhists.

Throughout his travel in the India subcontinent, Chinese monk-scholars Faxian (5th century CE) and Xuanzang (7th century CE) witnessed how the presence of Buddha’s relics attracted devotees and strengthened their belief in the Buddha’s historical existence. Many of the relics were also thought to possess miraculous power. Xuanzang noted that a large number of pilgrims and local people paid homage to these relics showing they had deep faith in the miracle-working power of these relics. 

The decision of the government of Gujarat to bring out and enshrine the Dev Nī Morī relics is a historical move to preserve and promote the relics of the Buddha as per the wishes of Buddha recorded in the Mahāparinibbana Sutta. The Project for exposition of the relics in the stūpa — at the very place where they were discovered — rather than keeping them in the museum has made Gujarat the first state in the country in enshrining Buddha’s relics in their rightful place. Taking inspiration from the Gujarat government, I believe that the government authorities in Bhattiprolu, Vaishali, Sopara, Nagarjunakonda, Lalitagiri and others places which contain body relics of the Buddha should also enshrine the relics in their find spots.

Special Thanks to Aparajita Goswami