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 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

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