Thursday, April 28, 2011

Developing Ancient Buddhist sites in Rajgriha Forest

Developing Ancient Buddhist sites in Rajgriha Forest
Many important Ancient Buddhist pilgrimage sites are now in the ambit of forest laws.  For example, Rajgriha, once the capital of the Magadha Empire, played an important role in promoting the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Sangha. Rajgriha has many sacred relics from the Buddhist period that were visited by Chinese pilgrims like, Fahein, Xuanzang and many others.

Most of the places mentioned by Xuanzang have been correctly identified and are once again pilgrimage sites for modern Buddhists. Apart from the sites mentioned by Xuanzang, there are other sites not mentioned by him that hold Buddhist remains.  These remains suggest that during the prime of the Buddhist pilgrimage, these were also important sites.

Forests were favorite place among the followers of the practice of true Dhamma. Forests provided solitude for peaceful meditation practice. The nature of forests provided the perfect ambiance to followers for peace walks and guided meditation forest walks. Because of this, many important Buddhist places were located in forests.

Due to present-day forest management practices, many important ancient Buddhist sites now come under Forest Law, which often deprives the development of sites for the pilgrimage. Though there is a general understanding that developing these sites for the ancient Buddhist pilgrimage is important work, the procedure to do so is often so lengthy and difficult that many people are discouraged before completing the process.

We now have an opportunity to focus on the ecological, social and economic values of these forest areas by considering the local communities and stakeholders in sustainable forest management when developing sites for the Buddhist pilgrimage. We are privileged to be working with Shri Rakesh Kumar, a young and dynamic Divisional Conservator of Forest for Nalanda. Shri Rakesh believes in the middle path, one that takes both an interest in sustainable forestry and in Buddhist pilgrimage revival efforts.  At his request, we went together to Giriyak Hill, to explore the possibilities of reviving this ancient heritage site to once again be in reach of patrons of the ancient Buddhist pilgrimage.

This is just a beginning. We hope that with his efforts, other important places in and around Rajgriha may be appropriately developed to ensure a healthy relationship between forests and pilgrims.
Read more- Importance of Giriyak Hill 

Myself with DCF, Shri Rakesh Kumar

Shri Rakesh by an ancient brick remains

Reaching the Top after an 30 minute climb

View from the top of the Stone stupa

The Ancient piece of Glory

20 Ft Wide stone path from ancient times

Shri Rakesh Ji took special interest in developing access to the beautiful Ghoda katora Dam. The site is now an Eco-Tourism Destination but it faced same set of problems as it falls under the forest act.  Chief Minister Congratulated the team of officials from the forest department to make this a reality.

CM Shri Nitish Kumar Ji, DM, Nalanda Shri Sanjay Agarwal and DCF Shri Rakesh Kumar

Ghoda Katora Dam now open for Eco- tourism

Sunday, April 3, 2011

The sad situation of the Heritage Sites of Bihar

India has a way of welcoming its guests. In tourism, “Incredible! India” is promoted and “Atithi devo bahvo.” But the governmental agencies responsible for tourism and archaeology are failing. We share with you recent pictures telling the situation of a few Buddhist sites around this tourism season. These sites are being promoted by government agencies as part of the “Buddhist Circuit.”  When visitors see chained entrances, dilapidated sign boards, and stucco reliefs so damaged as to be unrecognizable, they are getting the wrong message from India, one of apathy, dispassion, and disregard.
The situation of preserving the Buddhist heritage in Bihar is in very bleak. We are all custodians of this vast heritage. As such, it is our duty to work towards preserving it for future generations the world over.
Presently, our attitude toward preserving Buddhist heritage sites and artifacts is unconcerned. Followers of the Buddha from all over the world have the right to share in this heritage. As they make their pilgrimage to India, they should be struck with awe and wonder at the enormity of this shared heritage, instead of feeling disappointment at the sorry state of the sites.
Indians, as the custodians of this Buddhist heritage, need a wake-up call. All should be doing their part to save and promote this heritage. We own a great legacy. Isn’t it time we realize this?

Read- The Protected sites of Archaeological Survey of India

The Keshariya Stupa you enter the Main (only) Entrance
Read more- Kesariya Stupa
Nandangarh Stupa (Betiah)... No place for parking and the main entrance closed
Local cricket, Tourism and Heritage all in one Premises!!!
Read more-Nandangarh Stupa
The Ashokan Pillar of Lauriya Nandangarh

Read more- Lauria Nandangarh

Rampurwa Ashokan Pillar site

Rampurwa Ashokan pillar site

Main Entrance of Lauriya Areraj

Sports and Heritage tourism go hand in hand

Lauriya Areraj...Ashokan pillar Site

Lauriya Nandangarh....Vedic Burial Stupas site
Read More- The Vedic Burial Site Tourism destination

The Experience of Aerial Photography at Buddhist Sites

Nalanda was privileged to host retired French archaeologist, Yves Guichand. As an archaeologist, his knowledge regarding Buddhist heritage sites is invaluable, as is his expertise as a kite photographer. Yves has been coming to Nalanda since 2005 to document the heritage with his aerial photographs. In the past five years, he has helped me, working with Nava Nalanda Mahavihara, to document 50 such Buddhist heritage sites with his kite photographs.

Yves fixing the camera to the kite
Ever dependent on the wind, kite photographers face the challenge of timing site visits with the cooperation of Mother Nature. Some years have been less than ideal with little to no wind at the opportune times of the visits. The last two years, however, 2010 and 2011 have been particularly fruitful. In these two years, more than 25 Buddhist heritage sites have been documented.
Aerial photography provides the bird’s eye view necessary in order to understand the shape of the structure, its placement with respect to other structures, as well as the damage to the structure itself. Besides the archaeological value of aerial photographs, these aerial pictures also provide an aesthetic value, one that allows us to realize the full scope of many large Buddhist structures from the top down.

The camera is programmed to capture images at a fixed interval. The wind needs to be strong and stable enough to carry the camera, without waving it too much. On average, the kite stays up in sky for 30 to 45 minutes and clicks an average of 150 to 200 pictures. As per the requirement, the best pictures were chosen. We share with you a few of the best shots at a few select places.

The Kite and the Camera
Yves designing a kite
The making

A prepared  kite
Cradle to hold the camera
A special camera, with an interval timer function, fixed to the cradle

The long stretch of mound in the Village Dharaut

Aerial view of the remains of Bari Pahari (Bihar Sharif)
A bird's eye view of the Stupa mound at Keur Village
Nandangarh Stupa
Rivulet between the stupas at Rampurwa, exactly as mentioned by Xuanzang
Top view of Nandangarh Stupa (the Diamond Shape)
A Stupa shaped mound (Top left) amidst agricultural fields
Two Ashokan Pillars over the Stupa Mound at Rampurwa
Vedic Stupas in the center of city
Top cap of the Keshariya Stupa
"Vedic Burial Stupas" of  Lauriya Nandangarh
Group of stupas in Bakhra Village (Vaishali)
Besides the usefulness of the activity of kite photography, the visits themselves have proved to be a big attraction for many villagers in these rural areas. As you can imagine, a Frenchman with a big kite is not your typical visitor to rural Bihar. Villagers welcomed us with enthusiasm wherever we traveled. Their excitement was contagious and kept us motivated to work hard for two weeks straight. Many new associations were formed with village leaders working to preserve the heritage in their areas. Here are some pictures many cheerful people we came to be acquainted with.
The excitement of the onlookers captured by the kite camera from the top
Inquisitive villagers surrounding Yves

Curious children
Yves flying the Kite
The Pied Piper .....with the followers
All eyes spotting the kite
Kite being played in the field

Heritage Leaders and the Buddhist Sites

In the course of our exploration travels around Bihar in search of ancient Buddhist heritage sites, we have had the opportunity to meet several dedicated people who are working on generating awareness for the preservation and appropriate use of Buddhist heritage sites. Krishna Kumar, Deepak Kumar Dangi, and Shailendra Kumar, are three such heritage leaders who are doing their part to educate the people of and visitors to their villages.

Krishna Kumar, whom we met at Vaishali, is working for the development of Buddhist sites in and around Vaishali. He guided us to a few known and unknown sites of Vaishali, especially sites around Bakhra, an area with stupas mentioned by Xuanzang and Fahein that were associated with important events related to Buddha and his disciples. Presently, modern Bakhra is densely populated with people living over the remains of the ancient Buddhist past.
Krishna Kumar, Yves and others at Alar
Ancient terracotta ring wells of Alar
Krishna Kumar also took us to a place called Alar, which according to the local belief, was the place where Buddha met Alar Kalama. Alar Kalama was the first teacher whom the Buddha met after the great renunciation (i.e., when he left Kapilavastu). The whole Alar village is settled over a mound with antiquities and stories everywhere. We were shown by Krishna Kumar an ancient terracotta ring well and several similar wells still in use. Unbeknownst to the people using these wells, their antique value would be lost if it were not for Krishna Kumar and his awareness generation work to ensure that these antique pieces are not damaged.

A closer view of punch marks and design on the rings
Krishna Kumar explaining the importance of the ancient well
A resident of Alar took us to an ancient well that was recently destroyed to construct a small bridge over a water channel. A sad event to witness, this piece of heritage was lost due to a lack of sensitivity toward ancient Buddhist heritage. Krishna Kumar did what he could to prevent any further damage to such heritage in future. In the past, he has generated awareness by organizing a few small exhibitions at Patna to showcase the heritage of Vaishali.

Broken pieces of another ring well done by a local contractor

Krishna Kumar collecting the broken pieces
The destroyed ring well pieces in the ditch
Contractor who made this culvert destroyed a piece of heritage

Myself, local press reporter and Krishna Kumar
Another heritage leader we met during our exploration trip was Deepak Kumar Dangi of Dharaut Village. He is a post graduate and grocery shop owner in the village. Dharaut is big village with antiquities spread everywhere. With his keen eye, Deepak Dangi spotted us moving around the village with a kite and taking pictures.  He rushed to us and made the necessary enquiry as to our purpose. In the past there have been instances where strangers have visited a village, and subsequently, idols were found missing, possibly stolen from their places. With reassurance to our good intent of documenting heritage sites, Deepak Dangi then took us around the village personally and told us many stories associated with the ancient heritage.

Deepak Kumar Dangi at a village collective
Over the past few years, he has found antiquities in the area and collected them all together for safe keeping. He has also collected information about the village from different literary sources collaborating some of his finds. Deepak Dangi has facilitated generating awareness regarding the significance of his village through various mediums, such as, research journals and newspapers.

Deepak with his collection
Terracotta seals collected by Deepak Dangi
Myself with Deepak Dangi

Another heritage leader we met during our travels was a local villager, Shailendra Kumar. Meeting him at the Keshariya Stupa, he informed us that he was part of the excavation effort of the “World’s Biggest Buddhist Stupa” at Keshariya in 1998-99 under K.K. Mohammad ( Archaeological Survey Of India).
Shailendra Kumar with Yves
To generate awareness about the Keshariya Stupa, Shailendra Kumar has made efforts such as seeking political leader involvement, asking questions of parliament, and initiating media campaigns.  He has prepared a conjectural design of the stupa’s possible original shape in order to restore it to its glory of ancient times. He is the best person to take you around and tell you about the local folklore associated with the stupa, its excavation process, and how it should be restored. He is also making efforts to involve the Buddhist community in setting up monasteries in the locality.

The sketch for the restoration of  Keshariya Stupa

Shailendra with the Stupa's conjectural sketch prepared by him

With the vastness of the Buddhist heritage in Bihar, government agencies alone cannot take care of the many needs of this heritage. Only with community involvement and cooperation can such needs be met. Last year, Nava Nalanda Mahavihara Sanskritik Gram (NNMSG) provided a platform to acknowledge a few of these important heritage leaders during NNMSG’s “Engaged Buddhism” workshop.  This year NNMSG is designing a special recognition in the name of Maha Kassapa to recognize one heritage leader who has gone “above and beyond” in her/his work toward generating awareness and preservation of Buddhist heritage in Bihar.

Read more- Engaged Buddhism Workshop by NNMSG in 2011