Friday, March 12, 2010

Rajgriha- Griyak peak- Ghosrawan- Tetrawan- Parwati- Nanand- Chandimau

The track from Rajgriha to Parwati has many sacred places along the way and CM visited a few of these spots and gave instructions to all concerned departments for early finish of the projects related with road, forestation and bridges. He inspected the ongoing work of three important bridges that when complete will reduce the travel time and distance between rajgir and Parwati.

Griyak peak Lat- 25° 01’, N, Long- 85° 30’ E)
Griyak peak is currently proposed to be the first spot between Rajgir and Parwati to be developed as tourist attraction.
The Griyak peak is one of the most massive structures in the region and is visible from distance.
It consists of a 25 ft brick pillar from gupta period and a massive cubical shaped rock structure with dimensions around 60 X 60 X 60 Meters. The evidences on the site suggest that this was once a very lively place with frequent monastic activities. This brick structure and the stone structure have witnessed some happening times during Gupta and Pala period as suggested by the massive remains.

The site is a must see for all Patrons of Buddhist art and architecture. It is about a 300-meter walk to the top of the hill where the stupa is situated and the views of river Panchane to its east are incredibly beautiful.

PIC: Discussing the giriyak Peak

Ghosrawan (Lat- 25° 05’, N, Long- 85° 34’ E)The mounds that were essentially the remains of huge religious structures were full of rich materials that were repurposed extensively by the newly settling populations. As per the Inscription discovered by Kittoe in 1848 amongst the ruins, this was the site of Vajrasana Vihara erected by Monk Viradeva. The inscription states that Monk Viradeva had earlier in his life studied in the monastery of Kanishka. He then found his way to this part of ancient Magadha where he stayed at a Vihara of Yasovarmanpur and was consequently appointed to govern the monastic establishment of Nalanda.
In the modern days the village is a popular destination for Hindu devotees. A big temple housing old pala period sculpture is under construction over an old temple. This temple is popularly called Asha Mata temple and on every Tuesday lots of devotees flock to sacrifice Goat. It is believed by performing such sacrifice at this temple wishes comes true.

PIC: temple at Ghosrawan

The central image at the temple is beautifully decorated and some colors have been applied to make it more conspicuous. As per the belief the Devi sculptures are generally covered with cloth and should not be removed. A big sculpture from the village is placed in Patna museum. There are many other sculptures big and small, pillars and other structural and architectural elements scattered through out the village is often found repurposed in many individual houses too.

Tetrawan (Lat- 25° 07’, N, Long- 85° 35’ E)
As per the Inscription found in village the place was once known as “Tenta-di-grama”. The size of the mound and the name suggests it was a monastic site. Main attraction of the village is a huge black stone Buddha in Bhumisparsh mudra. The size of image is almost 10 ft tall. And is one of the largest images in whole of the region. Lots of foreign pilgrims visit the place and the locals have constructed a temple with help of their contributions. The CM spent considerable amount of time with the community discussing how best we can use the surrounding. The place has two huge water bodies, which can be suitable for developing into a recreational area in order to attract more pilgrims.

PIC: Colosal buddha at Tetrawan

Parwati (Lat- 25° 05’, N, Long- 85° 38’ E)
The hansa stupa at the top of the hills is one of the most intact stupa which marks the site of sacrifice of a wild bird for the pious Bodhisattvas. The associated folklore goes like this, ‘One day a monk from the monastery saw a flock of wild geese flying overhead and he jokingly commented “today there is no breakfast for the brethren; the mahasattva must know the right time”. Before he finished speaking one of the wild geese dropped, all the monks were greatly moved by this selfless act and the goose was buried and this tope was erected over his body as a sign of great respect.

Buddha shared an invaluable insight with us humans at Indrasaila Guha, ‘Envy and selfishness has brought about hostility among beings. He further explained that the roots of such extreme emotions lie in desire.
The legend associated with this site is another example of the convoluted boundaries between modern day religions. It is said that once Sakka, the king of devas, also known as Indra, visited Buddha here and asked him to answer eight doubts about the mortal life on earth. Lord Buddha gave a discourse in response which is now preserved as Sakkapañha Sutta. Xuanzang mentions the presence of 42 lines inscribed in the cave in his travelogue.

Chandi Mau (Lat- 25° 03’, N, Long- 85° 29’ E)
& Nanand (Lat- 25° 05’, N, Long- 85° 30’ E)
Either Nanand or Chandimau is the place associated with Sariputra. Antiquities of both the village is very rich and both the site deserves attention. The CM visited both the village and spoke to the community about the village being now part of the Parwati circuit, which is being developed at his instigation. ASI carried out an excavation at the site in 2001 and remains of a monastery were unearthed.
These sites were visited by Xuanzang and Fahien and they have left detailed account of these sites, and the antiquities of the area were confirmed when prominent orientalists visited here a couple of centuries ago.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Places visited by CM for revival of this circuit

Jethian- Lat- 24° 56’, N, Long- 85° 20’ E)
Jethian is associated with many events during the lifespan of Buddha. Xuanzang, the Chinese scholar spent almost 2 years here with an eminent monk Jayadeva and as expected has written extensively about the many spots associated with Buddha. Cunningham identified this site in 1871and then Auriel stein carried the work forward by identifying various the spots discussed by Xuanzang in his travelogue. The exploration and identification work is only partly accomplished as Jethian still has some mounds, an ancient tank and some pala period sculpture scattered that needs serious attention from an archeologist. A Japanese monastery has taken an initiative and built a small temple to house a beautiful Buddha sculpture. Things are progressing slowly on the path to self-reliance and the villagers from the Jethian Valley are prompted to take training and develop rural tourism related industry like home stay for tourists, supply local cuisine and encourage youths to take up responsibilities as escorts and guides in the area. Jethian has many sacred places in its vicinity where tourist can make day trips while maintaining their base there. Tapovan is about 3 Kms Southwest from Jethian and is one such spot which tourists might like to visit since this is where the Buddha often frequented. Tapovan has hot water springs and is a very sacred site for local population. Xuanzang in his travelogue refers to a stupa that was raised at the spot where Buddha walked. Auriel Stein in 1902 identified a 30 ft round 10 ft high mound as the particular stupa mentioned by Xuanzang. Village Kurkihar (Lat- 24° 48’, N, Long- 85° 12’ E) in the Jethian valley is about 40 Kms from Bodhgaya and is equidistant both from Rajgir and Bodh Gaya and this would be an ideal place to be developed as Night halt point for the pilgrims. The antiquities of the village are very rich and suggest that this village was probably the foundry of ancient Nalanda University.

PIC: Discussing importance of Jethian

Rajgir Valley-
The dense valley of Rajgir spans for almost 18 kilometer and falls under jurisdiction of two district administrations. Split half way through the middle a 9km stretch belongs to Gaya district and the other 9 Km to Nalanda. The Chief Minister ventured for a distance of about 9km inside the valley from rajgir end. The forest is home to a variety of flora and fauna and some of the trees and plants are of medicinal value too. The CM suggested that the valley needs to be conserved in its native state and it may be fenced in but at the same time be open to tourists who would like to visit it on a safari.

Sone Bhandar- Lat- 25° 00’ 25.72”, N, Long- 85° 25’ 00.48” E)
Sone Bhandar is a man made cave cut into a huge rock ledge, and poses to be a puzzling architecture in itself. As one exists from the 18 Km dense Rajgir valley, Sone Bhandar welcomes the visitor and have been doing so since the Mauryan era. The evidences suggest that this cave must have been built by Mauryan rulers they then donated it to the Jain followers. CM visited this place and was caught in its enigma and proposed that it should be further explored for a venue for the next annual Rajgir Mahotsav (Dec 5-6, 2010).

PIC: -exploring possibilities for rajgir mahotsava at Sone bhandara

Rajgir to Parwati
The next destination on CM’s agenda was yet another important place of Buddhist pilgrimage, prominent scholars including Xuanzang and Fahien visited it earlier in the millennia. It was Indrasaila guha situated near modern day Parwati. Current infrastructure provides no direct road link to Parwati and reaching the site is very time consuming. The 45 Km stretch from Rajgir to Parwati has many villages with rich antiquities and birthplace of Sariputra, the dhamma senapti of Buddha lies on this route. The purpose of the visit was to see the antiquities of the village and talk to community in this regard and to discuss possible shortest route to Parwati that would include all villages en route with significant heritage. Three bridges are under construction over River Panchane and Sakri to create a short route linking the entire heritage site. The CM personally visited all the bridge sites and urged for a speedy completion of the bridges.

Fig: A visit to the Bridge sites

Monday, March 8, 2010

Revival of the Bodh Gaya- Rajgir- Parwati, Pilgrim path

Siddhartha Gautam after enlightenment came to Rajgriha from Gaya and was received by Bimbisara somewhere near yasthivana (now Jethian). Xuanzang’s account describes the whole stretch from Bodh Gaya to Rajgriha scattered with auspicious spots associated with Buddha and his disciples, which were part of Buddhist pilgrimage at the time of his visit. This is further corroborated with the references of other travelogues. There are strong indications that suggest that this pilgrimage path was in frequent use till 14th century and abruptly came to an end without leaving any traces of its existence behind.
After the rediscovery of Buddhism in India and identification of places associated with Buddha, the path again came into focus but the condition of the 18km path was not suitable for the Pilgrims to tread.

One of the most important effect of CM’s visit to the area and realizing the underlined potential is the revival of the footsteps of Buddha trail that would also include this particular stretch. A 70 Km trail is now in the process of being developed as the first leg of “Engaged Buddhism”. In the initial phase, the CM visited five villages and the plan is to involve the entire community in developing tourism related recourses and build capacity for Guide services, home stays of tourists, handicrafts and souvenirs and not to mention some local cuisine would also be part of the palate.

CM asked District Magistrate of Gaya to get in touch with Buddhist monasteries and explore the possibilities of developing this pilgrimage route. He also assured that once the route is in service there would be ample security provided through deployment of necessary police force to ensure a safe walk through the Jethian valley. This 18Km stretch will be meant only for pedestrian traffic and no vehicle will be permitted on this route except for access to emergency vehicles.

A few monks visiting from South-East Asian countries were interested in taking this route in its present condition rather than waiting for a next trip in the hope of better road and travel conditions; CM respected the wishes of the monks and instructed the Gaya and Nalanda district administration to make necessary arrangements for their safe travel through the area.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Day after Christmas with COMMUNITY IN TELHADA

Telhada (Lat- 25° 13’, N, Long- 85° 10’ E)

CM visited Telhada the day after Christmas on the 26th of December 2009.
Telhada used to be the monastery of Pragynabhadra who was the chief abbot of this university which had 1000 students when Xuanzang stayed and studied here for two months in 640CE. As per Xuanzang’s account this monastery was constructed by the last king of Bimbisara linage. He further describes it in detail mentioning that this monastery had a 30ft stone sculpture at the centre. Almost whole of the village is settled over a big mound which is almost 30 Acres in size. There is a 30ft high stupa type mound in the west corner of the village and it is being excavated by state Archaeology department. This exploration work was brought to fruition because of Chief Minister’s visit to the area and his instigation to follow it through.
We have been working with the community of Telhada for last 4 years and two years ago we facilitated a suitable community based institution to take care of the heritage and tourism. And then taking it a step further developed a community museum to house all the sculpture scattered around village.

The people of the village are extremely enthusiastic about preserving their heritage and showcasing it in a way that can be shared with the connoisseur of the history and culture. Last year the villagers’ helped with the collection of these sculptures and the youth of the area played an extremely important role. In his earlier visits to Telhada CM had assured that Telhada be developed as a tourist destination. This excavation of the site is a concrete step towards a new chapter for the community participation and the community taking ownership of the heritage. The keen interest of the CM to revive the tourism potential of the area and making people proud of the heritage that they have preserved is a positive reinforcement and can be seen as an example to be followed by others who are in a position further a cause and make a difference.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

CM took the same route as Bimbisara

Griddhkuta- Lat- 24° 59’ 55.81”, N, Long- 85° 26’ 14.17” E)

Griddhakuta as we know it today is the remains of an old monastery at the top of a hill. The concrete paved way to the top from the base of the hill is the same that was used by King Bimbisara when he used to visit Buddha. The hill has numerous small and big stone caves where Buddha and his associated took refuge from the harsh weather while meditating. There are accounts of each particular cave linked to various disciples of Buddha and has significant importance for the Bhikkhus following in their steps. The place is very important for Mahayanist all over the world and the Mahayanists consider that the first turning of wheel took place here. The place is also site where Buddha delivered sadharmpundrika sutta. A stupa was erected to mark this event and the stupa is still present. The base of the hill also has stone rests and caves where many important disciples of Buddha meditated.

It was proposed that a circumambulatory path is built around the remains of the monastery encompassing the top portion of the hill and making some of these caves more accessible at the base so that Buddhist pilgrims can visit the shrines and its sacredness can be shared more visiting tourists. The CM was very appreciative of the idea and he encouraged the fact that the community is taking a lead and proposing infrastructure improvements so showcase its heritage, he communicated to the state tourism department to proceed further with the construction of a circumambulatory path as per the proposal.

North of Griddhkuta on top of a separate hill is a massive brick stupa from the Ashoka period. Xuanzang points out that this stupa was built to mark the event when Buddha beheld the empire of Magadh and preached law for 7 consecutive days. There is no marked path to the top of the stupa and that makes in inaccessible for most visitors. There is also a Vishwa Shanti Stupa on an adjacent and it has a historic trolley system to take the visitors up the hill.
Since there no comprehensive plan for the heritage management and no mechanism for revenue generation, there are no new improvements done to develop the entire site. Currently, all a visitor needs to pay is vehicle parking charges at the bottom of the hill and that income goes out to the maintenance of existing infrastructure and no new improvements can be planned based on that little in flow on money with major monetary help from an external source. For tourism to be part of mainstream economic activity, we need a plan with upward spiral where there is scope for investment in the infrastructure to provide better facilities and in turn demand an entry fee or something like heritage zone fee to do the same.

The three destinations in the close vicinity provide ample opportunity to include in heritage zone comprising Griddhkuta, Vishwa Shanti Stupa and the Stupa on the North Hill.

If a spiral route could be developed at the initiative of the local community that would increase future prospects of many such sites, make visitors more demanding and receptive and Government officials will have to be more accountable.

Monday, March 1, 2010

CM’S walk through Veluwana

Veluvana- Lat- 25° 00’ 59.14”, N, Long- 85° 25’ 06.21”E)

Veluvana is the place where the tradition of Varsavaas started; it was devoted for the use of the Sangha by King Bimbisara and since then has witnessed many moments being turned into what we know as history today. This place being the hub of activities for several centuries holds immense potential for tourism. This place can be equally appealing for a regular visitor and the ones with the religious bent.

As per the Pali commentaries, the area of Veluvana was huge in comparison to its present spread. The Xuanzang travelogues describe Saptaparni cave situated amidst dense veluvana, and that reinforces the claimed suggested by Pali literatures. In last few centuries the land use has changed a lot and the dense forest cover in the area are now totally lost. It is the sincere hope of the community that with the renewed interest in the area and attention showered by the CM, the area would see a new dawn with restoration work and improved maintenance to these historic sites. This will help conserve the heritage and boost tourist flows while providing new avenues for livelihood opportunities. There have been discussions for developing the site further so that its original purpose could be restored and Buddhist monks can do Varsavaas here.

The veluvana is the site were the Varsavaas started and first 3 Varsavaas of Buddha happened here and it would be a unique tribute to the Buddha and the tradition if Veluvana is established again to serve its intended purpose.