Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Barabar Hills continues to bleed..........

"The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." Edmund Burke

27th August-2011
On the 12th August 2011, we informed the Government by writing a brief report regarding the importance of Barabar Hills and how it is being damaged. The revealing story was also published in the Times of India (19th August 2011). I visited the site again on the 27th August, but I found the situation unchanged. This "Heritage for Sale" is occurring during broad daylight. It is very disturbing that those in authority who have an oath to protect such areas are instead contributing to the very destruction at hand. Because the Barabar Hills are an integral part of the Buddhist Heritage of Bihar, this area should be preserved in a most refined way.  The thought of this irreversible loss is very saddening and depressing.

This time I had an opportunity to meet a local man who is part of this illegal trade. He mentioned how the local police station is paid Rs, 1000 per trolley per month and in exchange the police ensure that the community remains a mute spectator. I need not mention that there are more than 1000 small and big trolleys operating fearlessly and destroying the heritage mercilessly. 

Trolleys reaching the base of the Hills...Easy access main reason for the plunder

Miscreants active in broad daylight

Trolley on way .....
Ugly scars reminding the damage of Bamiyan Buddha by Taliban 
Such damage is not possible without Government machinery support
 One way this can be stopped is by destroying access to the hills. The Barabar group of hills is surrounded by villages which have black-top roads and, at some places, even cause-ways for pilgrims. This easy access to the hills is aggravating the situation. If Government is serious about stopping this menace then it needs to present a plan to monitor the use of these cause-ways and black-top roads. In addition, this effort should be coupled by strict vigilance and community involvement. 

Listening to the Local elders......so helpless they are.....
Black-top roads and Cause-ways reaching the hills
Bird's eye view of cause way leading all way to the Ugly scar caused by Mining
Crushing mills in the vicinity.....Government has to do lots of explanations
 As I sadly listened to the local villagers during my last visit to Dakra Village, they told me that they had no faith in the local administration. When they approached the police personnel, they were told, “This cannot stop now, it generates employment. Where will these people now go?”

This explanation by the police personnel is very alarming. It implies that the place has reached a stage where eating away productive resources is the only way left for survival. Why he is saying this probably is not hard to understand but what is more worrying is the “conditioning” of the mind of government officials. This is a downward spiral, a collective failure of various departments of Government to recognize, organise these resources and incorporate it in sustainable way in our livelihood.   This goes against what our constitution says about the primary duty of government, i.e. to secure, build and ensure conditions that are conducive to the creation and maintenance of wealth. Corruption must be stopped in its tracks and replaced by honest jobs that support sustainable livelihoods for all. 

  View of the Barabar Group of Hills from Barki Barabar Hill
 Xuanzang in his travelogue has mentioned about these hills. He approached the hills from North and mentions about two big peaks amid dense forest. The peak on east he says was the place from where the Buddha blessed Magadha Empire, a stupa was erected at that spot. Most probably the mahadeo temple, rests over the top of the Stupa remains. The high peak on the west he says is the place where the Buddha meditated for one night. 
 My objective was to relate the remains at the top of Barki Barabar hill with the Xuanzang's description.
Waters, Thomas (1904), M.R.A.S. On Yuan Chawang’s Travels in India 629-645 A.D. Book- VIII, Page-105-6
The Hills as seen by xuanzang....to the right is Barki Barabar
The Western peak from the base of the hill
My Guide....to the top
View of the Surroundings.......
Kuwa-dol Hill (Kuri Sarai)...far south....
West of Barki Barabar hill
 A Short break.....
South of Barki Barabar hill....
At the Summit.....70 minutes climb!
Eastern peak (Mahadeo temple) .....View from Barki Barabar Hill
North of Barki Barabar
Very dense bushes on the top.......MONSOONS!!!
North-West View
North-West View

Xuanzang traveled 90 Li South-West from Tildhaka Monastery (now Telhada) to reach here. He didn't climb the hill, he said " No one has visited the spot for ages; but looking at the mountain from a distance, one can see different kinds of beasts and snakes turning round it to the right". According to Xuanzang the Buddha entered on ecstatic meditation here.
" Of old, when Tathagata descended as a spirit, he rested on this rock, and entered here the samadhi called "perfectly destroyed" and passed the night so".
Xuanzang mentions about a large and remarkable rock and over it a 10 Ft  high stupa.  He further adds how the gold and silver stupa raised by devas got converted into stone boulders.
And i was surprised to find the place exactly same as Xuanzang's description: a big flat rock at centre and at the top of it stones arranged like a stupa  and the place filled with boulders.
Presently the places is all occupied by dense bushes obstructing the view.  May be month of march and april is the right time to revisit the place.
Stupa like structure at the top of a large rock
Stupas got converted into Boulders.........Xuanzang mentions!
Stupa like structure surrounded by dense bushes

The beauty of Barabar group of Hills helps inspire us to take care of this landscape once walked by the Buddha and followers of his teachings for more than 1500 Years.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Save Barabar Hills...Save the Buddhist Heritage of Bihar

Ancient Magadha was a major centre of learning for seekers of the true teachings of the Buddha. The Magadha was abundant with Buddhist monasteries up through the 13th century CE, and most likely the place was collectively called “Vihara.” The contribution of this “Vihara” to the larger mankind, as we understand it, is in the very nascent stage. Because of the vastness of this heritage and its long history it is impossible to predict how long the research may take to estimate its contributions, and whether research of the “Vihara” can ever be considered “completed”. Hill ranges and isolated hills dotting the landscape of ancient Magadha are scattered with ancient remains of the sublime wanderings of the Buddha. Chinese monk scholar, Venerable Xuanzang (7th century CE), provided description in his travelogue of some important places and events associated with the Buddha; many of these are associated with these hills.
The social, economical and political compulsions of recent times have put this long preserved and cherished heritage landscape under threat of extinction. “Legal”, illegal, “planned” and unplanned mining activities have created irreversible damage not only to the physical character of heritage places, but also to the social and economic structure of the area where the mining is happening. Hills are integral components of this landscape of the “Vihara”, and damage to these silent witnesses of cultural past of the “Vihara” will result in the loss of integrity and authenticity, thus diminishing the significance of the ‘Vihara.”
Beautiful landscape of Barabar hills.......Landscape integral part of Heritage
The Barabar Hills.....where the Buddha made his sublime wanderings
1-       Barabar Hills and its surroundings
25° 0’ N, 85° 3’ E
 Mahadeo Temple on the summit of Chhoti Barabar Hills is a very important pilgrimage centre for Hindus. In ancient times Badi and Chhoti Barabar Hills were part of the Buddhist pilgrimage as suggested by the Venerable Xuanzang’s travelogues. Xuanzang further talks about Gunamati Monastery and Shilabhadra Monastery which are identified with the ancient remains of Dharaut and Kuri Sarai Villages (Ref. Buddhist Records of the Western World- S. Beal, Book-VIII P-104). Kuri Sarai site is also a protected site by Archaeological survey of India.  Apart from this, the Hill has seven rock-cut caves (Protected Sites of Archaeological Survey of India) and numerous important inscriptions. The Barabar group of hills and its surrounding area has many villages with documented and undocumented Buddhist remains. All together this makes the Barabar group of hills a unique heritage landscape. The rampant mining activities carried out in many of the hills of the Barabar group of hills have damaged the heritage fabric of the place and the once beautiful landscape is now replete with ugly scars. The cracks have already appeared in the rock-cut caves. The mining activities are only going to further aggravate the situation. These rock cut caves are the oldest polished caves in the world and a legacy of Ashoka the great (3rd BCE).

The Hills are traditional pilgrimage place for Hindus
Bird's Eye view of the heritage of the Barabar group of Hills

Xuanzang's route through the Valley
Heritage villages in Barabar valley
Buddhist remains of village Dakra
Buddhist remains of Village Makhpa
Buddhist remains of Village Kharauna
Rock Cut caves.....an Ashokan Legacy (3rd BCE)
Cracks in the cave....Mining activities going to further aggravate the situation
Ancient Stupas at Village Dharawat
                                      Damages to the Hills Spots 3 and 4 in map below

                                           Damages being done at spot-3

                                          Damages at Village Dakra
Helpless community of Dakra village
   Bodhgaya-Rajgir hill range
        24° 47’ 57 N, 85° 8’ 23 E (Lat- Long of the place in Fig-7)
     Bodhgaya- Rajgir Hill Range has many important places connected with the sublime wanderings of the Buddha. Bodhgaya, Pragbodhi, Tapobana, Buddhavana, Jethian, Rajgir and Giriyak Peak together make a perfect “Footsteps of the Buddha” heritage trail dotted with antiquities mentioned by Venerable Xuanzang. The mining activities here have permanently defaced these hills, leaving ugly scars. If these mining activities continue, some of these hills will disappear from the scene within a few months.

Xuanzang route through the Bodh Gaya-Rajgir Hills......replete with Buddhist remains
The Hills will disappear in few months

Hill at the Kari Matokhar village (Seikhpura District)
  25° 7’ 49 N, 85° 48’ 28 E
The Seikhpura Hills as mentioned by Xuanzang should be the site of Kapotika Monastery (Ref. Buddhist records of the western world- S. Beal, Book-IX P-183,).The ancient remains of the Village Kari Matokhar suggest this place to be an important Buddhist centre in ancient times. The mining activities have completely destroyed the landscape of the place.
Xuanzang's pilgrimage route through the Shiekhpura Hills

Stupa Remains on the top of the Hill....
Buddhist Remains in the Village....

We should not forget that this landscape was a pious pilgrimage for the Buddhists from all over the world for more than 1500 years. These tangible and intangible remains of the “Footsteps of the Buddha” shall always be very sacred for the followers of the teachings of the Buddha. These remnants hold importance in forming not only the Bihar's heritage but also that of the World. Even the present knowledge and understanding about the Buddhist heritage of Bihar is compelling enough to protect, preserve and conceive a long-term, holistic, sustainable livelihood plan weaved around these heritage resources.  What we have lost is now lost for ever, there is a need to estimate the losses and defining the heritage zones that should be protected and preserved at any cost. Heritage zone doesn’t necessitate moving the local communities to another place but implies a long-term sustainable integrated development plan for such areas. We should remember Heritage is what we have been bequeathed with and it’s our collective responsibility and carries an obligation to pass it to posterity in most refined manner.

Hills of Magadha....are integral part of the Buddha's Footsteps
This Beautiful landscape needs to be preserved in most refined manner..
Illegal Mining Reported in the Times of India