Sunday, July 24, 2011

Revival Of the Ancient Buddhist Pilgrimage in Bihar (RABPB)- PRA at Jethian

The "Revival of the Ancient Buddhist Pilgrimage in Bihar" (RABPB) Project formally took off with the first Project Resource Committee (PRC) meeting.
For smooth functioning of the Project we have a  PRC, constituting of  experts and resource person who shall guide the project. Presently there are 8 members in the PRC.

First PRC meeting on 18th June, 2011
 The PRC members met to discuss the action plan of the project and the work to be taken in first quarter of the project.
Shri Rajiv Jha, Dr. Dipankar Lama (Project Coordinator), Dr. Panth ( Project Director), Shri Nanzey Dorjee and Shri R. S Tiiwari ( Sitting from Left)

My self making the Power point presentation to the committee members

Participatory Rural Appraisal ( PRA) at Jethian and Parwati
28th June,2011

An important objective of the RABPB project is preparing a development plan of the Heritage places. We visited Jethian and Parwati, both the places are important places associated with the sublime wandering of the Buddha. We held meetings with the community of village and shared the idea. The community at both the places was very enthusiastic and they took us to all the places of antiquities.
The site development plan for these sites will be prepared by the experts incorporating community's input.

Chaupaal ( community sitting place) at the heart of Village
Discussing the plan  on the Natural Canvas

Jethian High school- Village youth posing with ancient sculpture placed here

One of the many ancient sculptures scattered in the Village
The place, the community feels should be at the centre of any development plan

Shri Morarji Desai,Finance Minister of India (1965), visited Jethian. The village people have still preserved the newspaper clipping
Discussing the development plan of Suppatithya Chaitya with community elders
The Suppatithya  Chaitya
An old tourist information centre in dilapidated condition at Jethian
Water reservoir  after the first Monsoons
The children enjoying the Monsoon ...
Discussion with the community regarding the development of the water reservoirs
A Chai Shop
Ancient Jethain- Rajgir Valley Road - once walked by the Buddha and his disciples
The Buddha Path- The ancient Pilgrimage route to be revived under this project

While returning from Parwati the road got obstructed with a felled tree.It was raining and almost dusk, with help of the youth of the Parwati village we could make a ramp of bricks.
The Helping Hands......making of the Ramp..
Putting the bricks .....
The Ramp is finally  ready!!!

Successfully crossing the obstruction
The Beautiful Hansa Stupa on the Parwati Hill the Sunset
 The Project team visited BTMC office at Bodh Gaya on 2nd July, 2011, to elicit their support for the Project.
Dr. Panth (Project Director) discussing the project with BTMC members

Thursday, July 7, 2011

"Revival of the Ancient Buddhist Pilgrimage in Bihar" Project- Concept Note

Nava Nalanda Mahavihara in Collaboration with Department of Youth, Art and Culture, Government of Bihar, has initiated a Project named “Revival of the Ancient Buddhist Pilgrimage in Bihar” (RABPB).

Background of the Project
 Religious pilgrimage has been a very important aspect of Indian Tradition that has been encouraged by religious and political leaders throughout history. Many regions of the country have greatly benefited from turning commercial on these historic heritages and enticing tourist into their regions. The state of Bihar is rich with the heritage and slowly gaining popularity but the most difficult challenge that lies in front of the policy makers is to resurrect the tradition that seized to exist in the 14th century. Outside elements broke a strong lineage of traditions and after seven centuries, there is urgent need to restart the strategy and to put in place methodology for picking up the reins once again.

It would be yet another challenge to relate these pilgrimage routes with tourist expectation and popularize them for main stream tourism development. Plans and policies need to be formulated that can harness the full potential of tourism from the rich heritage while maintaining the sanctity of the cultural heritage. There methods need to develop the tourism sector in a way that is economically viable, socially acceptable and environmentally sustainable and at the same time, governments organizations, local communities, NGOs and interested parties will have to be ready for newer opportunities and emerging challenges that relate to sustainable tourism development.

Bihar is rich in Buddhist culture and heritage, but there are many gaps and constraints that prevent proper planning and management for site development and promotion of the Buddhist tourism. Access to these sites is not easy because of lack of awareness and underdeveloped and in some cases completely lacking infrastructure. The popular sites do not have the capacity to handle the masses that are drawn to it during festival seasons and there other sites that are still oblivious to the attention of the tourist because of lack of information, exposure and of course no basic infrastructure. There is a need for the development of a flexible system that can effectively implement comprehensive human resources and development strategies, especially aimed at people who might wish to specialize in Buddhist heritage and knowledge and use it for revenue generation and engage more people in the growing tourism industry.

Nava Nalanda Mahavihara as an organization is taking initiatives to design an overall strategy for holistic development of the Buddhist circuit.  Instead of involving an existing tour operating firm for the tasks, the focus would be to increase local participation and make the community more aware and responsible for the heritage they are holding together and become an active instrument in protecting and popularizing them. 

This strategy would include:
 1.       Documentation of the Tradition of Buddhist Pilgrimage and its scope in present Bihar
Pilgrimage to Bodh Gaya, Lumbini, Sarnath and Kusinara, the 4 places associated with life and events of the Buddha finds mention in Mahaparinibbana sutta the last discourse of the Buddha. He mentioned that visiting these places would give great merit to all and help in the spiritual journey. Emperor Asoka turned a devout Buddhist later in his life and immensely helped popularize the pilgrimage and further establish the Dhamma. He took pilgrimage to the four sacred places and the four places of miracles together known as Atthamahathanani or the Eight Great Places; naming these visits to eight shrines as “dhammayatra” (Dhamma expedition) or a pilgrimage of piety. It used to be the goal of each Buddhist to visit these sites in their life time.

Forthcoming centuries saw tremendous growth in the followers of the dhamma and the pilgrimage slowly extended to all the sites associated with the Buddha where Mauryan, Sung and Kusana kings erected stupa, pillars, monasteries etc. to mark the auspicious events. Once the adverse factors prevented the continuation of the tradition in its own land the local knowledge base died; and a lot of modern day information is based on accounts of monks and pilgrims from neighboring Buddhist nation who have left a detailed description of all such routes, sites and their importance. A changed scenario post the 13th century forced the pilgrimage and the site associated with the pilgrimage to go under the earth till the lost roots of Buddhism was rediscovered by the oriental explorers in 19th and 20th century in our own backyard. Gradually the pilgrimage was restored but was limited to few major sites and the rest of them remained inaccessible and unsafe for most to approach.

Many important sites associated with “The footsteps of the Buddha” trail lies in the present state of Bihar and the time is opportune for the revival of the ancient pilgrimage routes, there is interest in the community, the Buddhist would like to explore more and the international community is eager to join in hands and pave the way for a well showcased and well preserved heritage.

The first steps towards achieving this objective would be to use computer software GIS (Geographic Information System) that can help to document the exact pilgrimage places with reference to coordinate the area on the base map and these places which find mention in the Buddhist literature along with their significance and their probable geographic location. Lack of proper inventory of the existing heritage sites is a bottleneck in the development of overall strategy for showcasing the heritage of Bihar. This database of sites, currently popular and the ones that hold many potential, would be plotted on GIS database depicting the ancient pilgrimage routes that the monks and kings must have under-taken. Once the route is mapped out to a comfortable certainty, the important heritage sites and other details of the sites could be charted out and delivered out to the tourists as a travel package. This GIS database is flexible enough to be shared on World Wide Web platform and that opens up many other avenues contributing to further sustain the initial set up.

2.       Interpretation development

Each heritage spot that is identified to be showcased as a part of the initial travel package comes with its own story of its importance and the legend that it has developed into with the local folklore and all that factors pitching in to make the history of its evolution. It would be a very context sensitive detail to identify how best to use the cultural resources and intangible of the area of each specific site so that it is showcased to the world elucidating its entire dimension.

The ultimate goal of this exercise would be to connect the regional Buddhist pilgrimage circuit routes and conglomerate it to include the entire Bihar which could then be linked with a national Buddhist Corridor while making sure that most important sites of the region will serve as a base node while connecting it to the other close by sites. Each node would have events, fairs, exhibitions and festivals based on the unique character of the site. There are some suttas and very specific events associated with the life of Buddha and his disciples that are very important to various Buddhist sects and sometime they also serve as the foundation of sects. Documentation of such unique features of each individual site will help in collaboration with specific sects and institutions which are more appropriate to the particular site; and that in effect would make  the Buddhist Pilgrimage circuit diversified and in some cases would encompass many other religions of the area that co-existed with Buddhism.

The festivals are usually seasonal based on lunar calendar and last for many days, planning events and exhibitions alongside these religious activities would draw art and culture patrons to the site developing in a cordial and multicultural experience.  Mapping out these activities over the entire seasonal cycle at each site would help develop an annual calendar of events and festival along the entire circuit. This concept could be drawn out to greater extent by connecting stories at each site and figuring a possibility of a re-enactment of the past creating a confluence of art and culture.
To reach the wider audience, followers of the Buddha in Srilanka, China, Taiwan, Korea, Japan, Thailand and Burma, we propose to translate the interpretation material in the languages of these countries.

3.       Site and the Buddhist corridor development plan

A planned route along important sites would require a Master Plan including its surroundings that would be sustainable and environmentally viable; and the development of structures and services should be based on the inherent architecture and of the given area and be context sensitive. Setting a direction to guide policy towards maintaining environmentally friendly context sensitive design would have a long term impact of preserving the heritage.  A detailed survey and in depth study at all the identified sites would help estimate the requirement and availability of land, the archaeological preservation and restoration needs, required buffer zone, water bodies, inherent plant species, green zone along the corridor,  Signages, Public Conveniences, community  interaction space etc. Once these specifications are identified, a detailed site plan would be developed.
To begin with the NNM proposes to prepare a suitable Master-Plan for Pragbodhi, Jethian, Rajgriha, Parwati and Gurpa, Nalanda and Chechar. 
4.       Participation of Buddhist Institution

The heritage is vast and the damage that has been done is even large; and it would be impossible to restore it all through tax-payers money within a given time frame-work and that instigates a need for public-private Participation. The followers of the Buddha play a very significant role in this collaboration as this vast Buddhist heritage holds same value to the Buddhist all over the world as it means to the local community. Bihar is a very special place which is the origin of a great spiritual movement and now that the ripples of this movement have spread to the far off corners of the world, the attention is once again shifting towards the epicenter. Devouts from many Buddhist nations have been making pilgrimage inspite of the difficulties for more than 1500 years and so it is very hard to imagine a revival of the route without the participation of these devout.

With the changing scenario of the world, it is important to facilitate a platform where the mutual benefits of this association takes root and the plan to revive the history and preserve it becomes self sustainable. The policies have to be oriented to extend beyond the monetary benefits to the stakeholders and include the maintenance of the eco-system. The scope of participation may include setting up monasteries, temples, meditation centers, schools etc. to facilitate knowledge exchange and also to promote economic development through setting up service industry, organizing fairs for promoting art and culture and contributing towards ongoing festivals. The guidelines for these policies would be site specific and should be developed through a public inclusive process and acceptable to all stakeholders.

5.       Engaged Buddhism- Community Involvement Plan

Since the hoary past, the land of Bihar has been aptly providing the right environment for many spiritual movements to grow and develop. The serenity of the place and the support provided by the kings made it conducive for spiritual leaders to preach and expand their knowledge-base but it was the continued patronage of the community that led to the vast expansion of the activities that survived 18 centuries.  There aren’t many scriptures left today which describe and narrate these activities but the culture that developed as a result of this is still evident in the modern generation. The few literary references found in the Pali commentaries and that of the travelogues left by travelling scholars reinforce the fact that it is the generous contributions from the community both morally and financially that led to the existing of many schools of thoughts.

Now after many centuries it is the community that has come together to bring the focus back to its long traditional lineage and they are the most active component of the revival of this pilgrimage route. The Buddha’s teaching was all inclusive and he never alienated the surrounding and nature from the human existence so keeping in sync with the golden rule of co-existence. “Right Understanding” and “Right Livelihood” is the basis for “Engaged Buddhism” the program that is developed to have an array of projects for capacity building of the community that can be utilized towards the tourism industry and related services.

Some of the components of the “Engaged Buddhism” program would be:

1-       Youth as Tourist Guides and Escorts
2-       Home-stay and Local cuisine
3-       Development of site specific souvenirs
4-       Cultural experiences for the visitors
Nava Nalanda Mahavihara is an organization dedicated to improving community by assisting in generating sustainable livelihoods and tourism industry is one of the avenues that seem to hold many potential.  Many initiatives are already underway to involve the community for tourism and related service industry. It is continuing to forge forward with new initiatives within the Nalanda region and is willing to prepare a comprehensive framework and design for the Capacity building program encompassing the entire Buddhist circuit  for the state for Bihar.

6.       Documentation, Marketing and Promotion

The Buddhist pilgrimage has been popular amongst the regions of China, Japan, Taiwan, Mongolia, Tibet and also in the South and South-East Asian regions that follow Buddhism for many centuries; actually it was one such expedition that led to the initial exploration of the Buddhist history and gradually over the past few decades such pilgrimages once again picked up the momentum. Besides the number of tourists that have increased there is an elevated general interest in the heritage of the area and the sites that are visited by tourists have gone up in number. The awareness is growing in the community and among the visitors but there is a vast gap that still needs to be filled. The education of the people through various mediums and introducing them with the importance of the heritage and the delicate balance between exploring and exploitation is very necessary. Again NNM, with the distinct advantage of being situated in the heart of Nalanda, is working on preparing an all inclusive blue print for marketing and promotion of the sites and the wonderful culture surrounding them. It would include a GIS based map which would be available through the internet to visitors and explorers; and efforts are being made to make it multi-lingual so that the knowledge is not bound by the barriers of language. Along with the information base there are plans to create a unique traveling exhibition about the Buddhist pilgrimage in Bihar and its significance that can be displayed around the world in international events, trade fairs and Museums. Literature in the form of pamphlets and booklets can be further utilized to launch Nalanda and each other sites with distinct logo and a brand name establishing the sites; these would encompass the description about the Buddhist pilgrimages in spoken languages of the major countries following Buddhism. 

7.       The revenue model and Site Management Plan

There are many sites that are being planned to be developed as a part of the Pilgrimage route and not many sites can exist on their own and would depend on each other as well as the surrounding community for financial and social support. In addition to the support the community provides a wide range of visitor services and cultural experience that are essential to complete the full visitor experience. Each site should be developed with definite revenue model with a set of Income avenues and expenditures outlet as a part of effective site management plan.
The site management plan must take into account the symbiotic relationship between the site and its surrounding community and accommodate its multifaceted needs and various stake holders. An efficient management plan would thus include even representation and opportunity for participation so that concerns of the society are met and incorporated into planning and management exercise.
Training and proper education about the long-term impacts need to be communicated to local people so that they can make their own wise decisions and actually be involved in the implementation and management of tourism in the community. This is important in order to reduce leakages of revenue, to enable trade in substitutions and generate employment.

NNM proposes to conduct PRA exercise at all the Node of the proposed heritage trail so that a site-specific program can be developed and the local committees are effective mangers of a suitable site management plan. With assigned committees and sub-committees for managing various aspects of the overall tourism, a sustainable strategy would emerge that can include the planning scope, terms of reference, and key responsibilities of each unit that would ensure implementation of sustainable tourism practices to include economic incentives for local ownership and local control of tourism, education, and training of locals to participate in the tourism industry, and equitable access for residents to tourism facilities and activities.
8- Documentation for Mahaparinirvana Sutta and Rajgriha for the World Heritage Status

“Mahaparinirvana Sutta” as per the Pali Commentaries is the narration of events and discourses associated with the last days of the Buddha. The “Mahaparinirvana Sutta” contains the last words of the Buddha. As per the Sutta, the Buddha began his Mahaparinirvana Journey from Griddhkuta (Rajgir), and finally attaining Mahaparinirvana in Kusinara. This walk, the final journey of the Buddha for centuries inspired emperors, patrons and the followers to take this pilgrimage path. The entire path is replete with Buddhist monuments built to mark the great event.
This trail holds special value to the followers of the Buddha all over the world. Mahaparinirvana Sutta has both the Tangible and Intangible heritage components and these needs to be protected, preserved and propagated as any World Heritage Site deserves.

Ancient Rajgriha is another important place that deserves a world heritage status. Rajgriha was the capital of the powerful Magadhan Empire. The place is associated with all the major religions and is also part of Hindu mythological epic Mahabharata and Ramayana. As per the Buddhist literature, the Buddha delivered many important discourses here. Many a discourses became the basis of several Buddhists sects all over the world. Many important events associated with the Buddha took place here and the description of that is scattered throughout the literature and all the places within Rajgriha which find mention in Buddhist texts are very much lively. Whole of the Rajgriha is an archaeological park from the Buddhist time and this place too needs to be given a World Heritage Status.