Saturday, October 30, 2010

Sāriputta World Peace Walk- A new begining in the revival of the Ancient Buddhist Pilgrimage

The Legacy of Sāriputta and Mahā Moggallāna

Sāriputta (also Sāriputra) and Mahā Moggallāna were highly revered by all for their contribution to the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Sangha. Buddhist literature mentions that monks and devouts have paid homage to the Parinirvana Stūpa of Sāriputta. One thousand years after his Parinirvana, Fahein visited Sāriputta’s Parinirvana Stūpa. Xuanzang too in 7th century CE, visited the Ashokan Stūpa made to mark the Parinirvana of Sāriputta. Pali literature states that Sāriputta and Mahā Moggallāna were from villages in proximity to Rajgriha (
SA.ii.172). Pali literature also mentions the village, Nālaka (also Nāla, Nālika and Nālagāmaka), where Sāriputta attained Parinirvana (S.v.161; J.i.391; v.125; UdA.322). Fahein corroborates this by mentioning the name of the village, Nala, and Xuanzang mentions the name, Kālapināka. The place mentioned by Fahein and Xuanzang is present around Giriyak Hill. Although not absolutely confirmed by research, the scenic place around the Giriyak Hill was once the hub of Dhamma activities and what better place than this mighty Stūpa on the top of the Giriyak hill overlooking this entire vast surroundings to pay tribute to this great monk, Sāriputta, who was considered as the right hand of Lord Buddha.

The Place (Giriyak Hill)

The Giriyak Hill (25° 01’ 28 N, 85° 30’ 51 E) is the last point (peak) in the east where the Rajgir hill range abruptly ends.

Fig-1-Ancient Brick Stupa

Fig-2 - Huge Stone structure with Brick stupa on the top

View of Panchane river from the top of the Giriyak Peak

Ancient Pillars lying on the hill

An ancient Pillar

Ancient Stone pathway walked by thousands of monks in the Past

Remains of the Stupa structures on the way to the top

Panoramic view of the twin structures

 The Cylindrical stupa (fig-1) is 28ft in diameter and 21ft in height and the stone structure (fig-2) is about 120 Ft  x 120 Ft x 80 Ft with remains of ancient brick stupa at the top of it. The antiquities found at the site suggest this to be a Buddhist site at least 15 centuries old. (ASI, AR Vol-1, p-18, JASB, 1872, P-261). Incidentally this site is in proximity to the Village of the Sāriputta as suggested by Fahein and Xuanzang.  

The greatest contribution of the Buddha is to release to the suffering masses the power of developing “Awareness” in Pali “Sati”. Therefore the main objectives of the “Sāriputta World Peace Walk” is to generate awareness about this beautiful piece of heritage which is lying neglected for centuries and to generate awareness for world peace.

The Event

Department of Buddhist Studies, Nava Nalanda Mahavihara is organizing “Sāriputta World Peace Walk”.  The goal is to send message of peace across the world and to raise awareness among the stakeholder and the wider world about the tangible and intangible Buddhist heritage of Bihar.
On November 23rd, 2010, Ven. Monks and Bhikhu Sangha under the banner of Bodh Gaya Temple Management Committee and Nava Nalanda Mahavihara will lead the peace walk procession to commemorate 2497th Anniversary of the Parinirvana of Sāriputta. Grassroots organizations, corporate sponsors, media supporters alike shall join hands to support this important walk.
Participants will gather at the base of Giriyak Hill at 10.30 am, and the gathering will peacefully walk 800 meters to the venue of the chanting and  chant Sammāditthi Sutta.

The Revival of The ancient Buddhist Pilgrimage
Department of Buddhist Studies, Nava Nalanda Mahavihara (NNM) is documenting the ancient Buddhist pilgrimage walked over the last two millennia by monks scholars like Fahein, Xuanzang, Hwui Lun, It-Sing, Dharmaswamin and thousands of followers of the Buddha from various parts of the world. NNM is committed to addressing the most pressing issues related to the revival of this Buddhist pilgrimage, including the revival of the legacy of Sāriputta  and Mahā Moggallāna, the two chief disciples of the Buddha.
Revival of the Ancient Buddhist Pilgrimage involves variety of  issues. The GIS documentation of tangible and intangible Buddhist remains in the vicinity of Nalanda is a considerable component of it and the discussions about the issues pertaining to the Buddhist Pilgrimage with the government officials are underway too. Generating awareness among the stakeholders, particularly among the community of the heritage villages in high on the priority list along with the revival of this ancient pilgrimage which will initiate renewed interests in rituals and traditions. 
We find mention of some rituals that the pilgrims performed and witnessed when they made visit to the places associated with the Buddha. Xuanzang and Fahein have mentioned about what they did when they arrived at the significant places associated with the life and events of the Buddha. With the help of the literature and the knowledge held within the community, the revival of history can not be left much behind and a complete initiative with a multi-directional approach will create the future we wish for...

Sāriputta world peace walk is one of the firsts of such event  where we plan to involve the community in Heritage promotional event.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Terracotta Souvenirs

The antiquities found in the course of excavation at the Remains of  Ancient Nalanda University suggests that Nalanda was once a flourishing center of terracotta art. reviving the ancient tradition, NNMSG, has designed few terracotta souvenirs that has a connection with the glorious past.

Terracotta souvenir in the making

Pre-fired votive stupas...

The replica of Nalanda Sealing

Identification of large mound of Bargaon as remains of Ancient Nalanda Mahavihara was determined on the basis of a Seal discovered during the course of Exploration over the Mound of Bargaon. The inscription on the Sealing stated that the mound was in fact ancient Nalanda University. During the course of excavation thousand of such seals from Gupta and Pala period were found. The souvenir is replica of 5th century Gupta period Sealing displayed in Nalanda Museum. It was also part of the souvenir packet for the Buddhist Convention held in Nalanda earlier this year.
The souvenir was meticulously crafted by Shri Rajendra Pandit. The process was long and took efforts to prepare the right cast to match the original.

The cast for the seal

The seal ready and packaged with tag 

The hang tag with description about the Souvenir

The Buddha Head

Although Buddha himself was against idolism as an irony to his own teachings people world over find peace in the image that held the Buddha.

The Buddha has been replicated in various medium, tangible and intangible and since Nalanda had the privilege of touching the feet of the lord himself, the earth from the area can only be the best to recreate the radiant and peaceful sculpture replica of the body that held the soul.

The Votive Stupa

The Buddhist literature mentions the tradition of offering votive stupa at the chatiyas, Stupas and Viharas. 7th century Chinese Monk scholar who made the pilgrimage to Land of Buddha mentions about one such story about the place Jethian.

" it is a custom in India to make little stupas of powdered scent made into a paste; their height is about six or seven inches, and they place inside them some written extract from a sutra; this they call a Dharma-sarira. When the number of these has become large they then build a great stupa and collect all the others within it, and continually offer to it religious offerings" (Records of western countries, Book IX, p-146, S. Beal)

The plan of revival of the ancient Buddhist pilgrimage can’t be achieved without revival of these rituals. The terracotta votive stupa souvenir has been designed keeping this tradition in mind.

Multi Sprouted Jar

This is a miniature of a 36 mouth jar discovered from Maniyar Math site in Rajgriha. The original jar is kept in Nalanda Museum for display. This is a unique jar and has no parallel to any of the other pottery discoveries made so far. This symbol of uniqueness stood almost as distinct as the past and heritage of Nalanda and seems like the best souvenir to showcase the rich art and craft that flourished in Magadha.

The whole entourage
Such craft are a family enterprise where everybody in family contributes

The next generation learning and pitching in...

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Kusha Grass mat

Buddha took  austerities to seek the highest truth and in the process he wandered for 5 long years  in and around the Pragbodhi hills. After eating the Milk Gruel offered by Sujata, the daughter of local village head, Siddhartha  made a fresh quest to attain  enlightenment .  On his way to the Pipal tree on the west bank of Niranjana he was offered 8 handfulls of Kush grass by a grasscutter Sottiya. He made them into a seat and mediating under the Pipal tree (considered to have religious significance), Siddhartha became the Buddha, the enlightened one.  
Kusha grass has religious connotation in Hindu rituals. Yagna are performed sitting on kusha carpet. Brahman priests collect the yearly needs of Kusha Grass in the auspicious month of September.  The Grass collected is washed and purified in sacred river or pond. and thus this collection is used for all pious rituals throughout the following year.
A Brahman priest purifying  his collection of sacred Kusha grass
in Sacred Sun temple, Bargaon
Kusha grass grows in abundance in Nalanda and it surroundings. Nalanda was once charika of Luminaries like the Buddha and Mahavira; both spiritual teacher visited this place often and had many disciples in the vicinity.
Taking into account the underlying connections of importance of Kusha grass with many religious practices provides us opportunity to weave special Kusha grass carpet weaved from the grass that founds its roots in Nalanda. 
Kusha Grass fields in Nalanda

Lemu Manghi preparing the Kusha carpet
The Kusha grass collected from the fields are  dressed in appropriate size and weaved in the area. Local Manjhi community is involved in the first stage of kusha grass carpet making.

Members of the Nalanda Women Cooperative
The the grass carpet is then made comfortable enough for the meditationers who sit for long meditations sittings.  the artisans from the Women cooperative do the next work of putting cushion and cover.

The Kusha Carpets finally ready for the Sale

Hang Tag  designed to go with the Carpet
Kusha Carpet in Carry bag, ready for the meditationers to pick

Buddhist Heritage, Culture, Community and Tourism

Nava Nalanda Mahavihara organised a one day workshop on “Engaged Buddhism” on the occasion of the World Tourism day on 27th September, 2010

Nalanda and its vicinity is among few sacred places where Buddha made his sublime wanderings.  This land is bestowed with rich tangible and intangible Buddhist heritage and most of the heritage lies unprotected in the villages. Since long it was desired to devise programmes that could facilitate a mutually beneficial relationship between the heritage and the community. This was the guiding force for the conceptualization of The Department of Buddhist studies at Nava Nalanda Mahavihara.

“Mapping of Nalanda” is one such project conceptualised by the department to bring all the stakeholders of the heritage on one platform.
The broad objectives of the project are,

  1. Document the tangible and Intangible Buddhist heritage of the Bihar
  2. Conduct research studies to facilitate Revival of the Ancient Buddhist Pilgrimage
  3. Involve the community in Heritage management
  4. Share the finds of the study with the stakeholders
The objective of this workshop was to bring stakeholders of Buddhist heritage on one platform. Heritage leaders from all the villages where we have been working for last 5 years were invited to share their opinions and experience on how this long neglected heritage can be protected, restored and revived.
In past the NNM has conducted exhibitions, events and workshops to achieve the objectives of the project. In continuation, the department organized the one day workshop on “Buddhist Heritage, Culture, Community and Tourism” to take it a step further than the art and cultures conglomeration.   

Take part in the events of the day through the following pictures:

The workshop began with Mangal patth by the Bhikku Sangha

Welcoming the guests by offering  Khatta

Chief Guest Shri N. Dorjee being offered Khatta
In past few decades we have been  partially successful in invoking the interest of the world community  in Bodh Gaya, Nalanda, Vaishali and few other Buddhist sites but these few sites are a very small part of the big heritage that flourished for 2000 years in this part of India. The heritage has undergone many changes following the decline of the religion but as we are unearthing the structures and the facts, it needs proper interpretation and conservation. Documentation of the heritage in the modern world started in the 18th century as we know it today and we became an active participant since 2005; and continued documentation of the Buddhist Heritage spread around in villages of Nalanda.
The presentation was titled “Buddhist Heritage, Culture, Community and Tourism”.

Overtime and with the help of the community a vision plan was developed by reaching consensus on how we can best revive this ancient Buddhist pilgrimage by effectively sharing it and yet actively protecting it. This vision plan was a long process and it involved many stakeholders over a considerable time. This one day workshop was about sharing; the vision-plan that has been developed so far, with the stakeholders and receive their feedback to further fine-tune it and make it universally acceptable. 

The presentation was followed by the speeches by Shri R.S Tiwary (Former Secretary, Tourism, Government of Bihar), our Guest of Honour, Shri Nangzey Dorjee (Member Secretary), Mahabodhi temple our Chief Guest, Shri S.P Tarun (Former Education Minister, Bihar) and Dr. R Panth, Director Nava Nalanda Mahavihara.

The chief Guest Shri. N Dorjee offered coffee table book on Mahabodhi Temple to Dr. R. Panth

Another major component of this workshop was to launch the souvenirs that have recently been developed utilizing the local arts and crafts. The intention behind this move was to promote and preserve the inherent culture and make sure community directly benefits from the tourist activities while ensuring that the visitors get a true piece of art rather than a factory fabricated mass-produced article. This effort promotes a healthy symbiosis through which the local community shares a little peek with of the rural art and craft and the tourist carry a memorabilia which has true local roots.

The souvenirs are inspired by the antiquities found during the course of excavations of the heritage site in and around nalanda. These were valuable finds and required a lot of research in identification of suitable souvenirs that are meaningful, easily replicated by hand with the use of local materials and help showcase the heritage of Nalanda. Nava Nalanda Mahavihara Sanskritk Gram (NNMSG) put forth the budget and resources for all the research and in the development of suitable design products.

These were the steps involved:
  1. An institutional setup for participation and capacity building of the stakeholders for community based tourism.
  2. The identification, development, testing and  standardization of Community based tourism products.
  3. Modules for awareness generation among the community on preservation of the tangible and intangible Buddhist heritage of Bihar.
Tourism provides a window of opportunity for the cultural exchange among the visitors and the host community. World Tourism Day was a perfect occasion to begin the new tourism season with new flavor, new colors and new products. At NNMSG the artisans experiment with the skills and come out with new souvenirs that have roots in our rich heritage. This year the artisans have designed few souvenirs based on the Buddhist theme with local roots.

These souvenirs were launched at the function.
Kusha Carpet for meditatinoers developed by cooperative women of Nalanda

The artisans from the cooperative being felicitated 

Launch of  the replica of "Nalanda Seal"

   Launch of terracotta Votive Stupa

Launch of Buddha Head and the resource person Rajendra Pandit who prepared it

The highlight of the function was talk by the Heritage leaders from various heritage villages in and around Nalanda. This included heritage leaders from, Chechar, Jethian, Gurpa, Parwati, Apsadh, Juafardih, Jagdishpur, Telhada and Pragbodhi. 

Shri Ram Pukar Singh from Chechar

Shri Ram Pukar Singh, has dedicated his life for drawing the attention of the authorities to protect the scattered heritage of chechar. Chechar like many other villages in the area indeed needs atention. Ihe place has a couple of stupa remains which are very important to the Buddhism history, one of them is Ananda's parinirvana stupa. Xuanzang and Fahein both visited this place as part of their pilgrimage to the Land of the Buddha. Shri Ram Pukar Singh has collected lots of antiquites from the fields by banks of ganges and has put them in a Museum that he maintains himself. He is a living example for all of us to emulate.

Shri Narendra Singh and Shri Jugal Singh from Parwati and Apsadh recieving memento from Dr Panth

Parwati is the site of Indrasaila Guha, where the Buddha frequented and it was here that he answered 42 questions of lord Sakra. Apsadh is a neighboring village full of antiquities and this village is mentioned in Pali sources as Ambasanda village. Buddha and the Sangha found patrons here.

Shri Narendra singh ji is a retired school teacher who is generating awareness about this heritage among the community and government. the parwati hill has remains of 4 beautiful stupas that needs protection.

 Jay Jay is a Korean, working in an International NGO "Join Together Society", JTS is working with the community in and around Pragbodhi Hill. The Pragbodhi is an important Buddhist site where Buddha did meditation few days before he finally attained BODHI under the bodhi tree, Bodh Gaya.

Rajesh and Arvind are youth from Gurpa, Gurpa hill is the place where Maha Kashyappa attained Parinirvana. Gurpa  is situated on the top of a hill and the pilgrims have to climbs about 1700 steps to the top, the provides a lots of potential for community involvment and we have made a  beginning here.

Vendors are ambassadors of heritage and visitors spend a lots of time with them and yet they were never thought as an integral part of the heritage and this reflected of unorganized mess created around the heritage sites of Bihar and infact most of India. We took a new initiative in Nalanda and involved vendors as an important component of community involvement programme here. There have been many mutually beneficial meetings with them in past and their response is truly encouraging.    

We also had representatives from village Juafardih, the site of Maha-Moggallana Parinirvana Stupa. One of the next few planned events is a Workshop at Stupa site on 5th December 2010. Moggallana attained parinirvana on New Moon day of Aghan (Nov-Dec) and this celebration will begin a new chapter of taking tourism beyond Nalanda Remains and revival of ancient Buddhist Pilgrimage.

 Shri. Sadhu Saran Singh, is from Jethian. Jethian is midway between Bodh Gaya to Rajgriha and it was here that Buddha was received by Bmbisara after the Buddha attained enlightenment.

A photographic exhibition “Echoes of the Footsteps of the Buddha” was also arranged on the occasion.

An Exhibition "Echoes of the Footsteps of the Buddha" was arranged for the visitors to appreciate the rich heritage of Nalanda and around. The department of Buddhist studies, NNM has been doing heritage spread around in villages of Bihar. the response was encouraging and in future we plan to design more such theme based exhibitions.

Dr. D. Lama, Head, Department of Buddhist Studies is the man behind the show

Dr. R. Panth is the Director of NNM and a guiding force behind this grand vision of revival of the Buddhist Pilgrimage.