Friday, September 28, 2012

Heritage Leaders of Bihar

Tangible and intangible remains of the Buddhist past have attracted lots of attention since the late 18th century. Before India achieved independence, the best pieces of sculpture scattered in and among  villages were removed from their original sites and placed in museums all over the world. It is no wonder that most of these artifacts are not properly documented with their exact place of origin. The beauty of these sculptures has attracted the attention of spurious traders and in the last 50 years the Live-museum of Bihar has literally been pilfered for its precious antiquity. One can see sculptures from Bihar at auctions on Internet. Many sculptures are still found worshiped in the temples and at Goraiyansthan of most villages. But these pieces of beauty lying in open areas are under constant threat. Still Bihar is rich with many antiquities and we keep hearing of a discovery/unearthing of sculptures now and then. This vast heritage in the Live-Museum can’t be protected by enactment alone. It needs awareness about the importance and significance of the heritage we are bequeathed with to be generated among the people.  We have many examples before us where community members have taken up this cause and have contributed much towards the protection and preservation of the tangible and intangible heritage of Bihar.
Dr Atul Verma, Director, Archaeology, Government of Bihar addressing the Heritage Leaders
Dr Umesh Dwivedi, Director, Museum, Government of Bihar, addressing the heritage leaders

Shri Awadhesh Kumar, Heritage leader from Telhada...
Heritage leaders interacting with Shri Umesh Dwivedi, Director, Museum, Government of Bihar and Shri Atul Verma, Director, Archaeology, Government of Bihar

Heritage leader Shri Lal Baba from Noawan shareing his views
Shri Sadhu Saran Singh Ji from Jethian sharing his views

                             Young enthusiastic Heritage Leader Shri Sunil Kumar from Gurpa

A senior Heritage Leader from Jiyar sharing his views
Group photograph of Heritage Leaders with Dr Umesh Dwivedi and Dr Atul Verma
Heritage Leaders engrossed with the Exhibition- Journey through Bihar to Vihara
 Shri Narendra Ji honoured with the Mahākassapa Plaque

We have fine examples of community members who have made contributions towards the protection and preservation of heritage. Most of the time their efforts go unacknowledged. But, Bihar needs these dedicated individuals from its communities who are helping Bihar preserve its glorious past for the posterity of all who follow. Today, to honour and acknowledge their contributions, the RABPB Project has conceived Saṇghassa Patiṭṭhāpako Mahākassapa Yāvajīvam Sammānopādhi. Created in honour of  Mahākassapa, who as magadhaputra became patron of the Saṇgha after the Mahāparinirvāṇa of the Buddha and organised the first Buddhist council to facilitate the compilation of the teachings of the Buddha. He gave much needed leadership and direction to the Sangha after the Mahāparinirvāṇa of the Buddha.

This Second Annual Saṇghassa Patiṭṭhāpako Mahākassapa Yāvajīvam Sammānopādhi is being awarded to Shri Narendra Prasad for his immense contribution towards the protection and preservation of the heritage of Parwati.
Shri Narendra Ji recieving the Mahakassapa plaque from the dignitaries
Shri Narendra Ji making his speech

Shri NArendra Ji with the Mahakassapa Honour Plaque
 Parwati Hill is a place where the Buddha visited many times and gave important discourses. In the early 19th century, British explorers reported more than 13 large and small stūpas dotting Parwati Hill. In the mid-19th century,  many of these stūpas were robbed of their bricks in order to be used to construct an adjacent road. In the 1960’s, the eastern peak of the hill described by Venerable Xuanzang was brought down by miners. Yet, what was left by this destruction was still very important because the cave where the Buddha meditated and the Haṃsa stūpa described by Venerable Xuanzang had survived.  In 1988, Shri Nagendra Prasad joined Parwati High School as the Head-Master. Even before the world learned that Parwati Hill was the same Vediya Parwat mentioned in Pali literature and described by the Venerable Xuanzang, Shri Narendra Prasad realised the ancient antiquities of the hill and made all effort to preserve this site by involving the village community. It was in 2000-2001, when new research suggested that Parwati Hill was in fact the Indasalaguha and the Vediya Parwat. This was a very important find due to the now direct association to the Buddha. Shri Prasad, in realizing his new responsibility, knew sooner or later that the devout followers of the teachings of the Buddha would come to look for their heritage. He embraced to the situation and devoted more time to protecting of the heritage by generating awareness among the stakeholders. In 2004-05 some illegal mining of the hill and a crusher machine was put into the place. But, strong protest by the villagers, facilitated by Shri Narendra Prasad, helped save this sacred hill in its present form. We, the people of Bihar, and the devout followers of the teachings of the Buddha all over the world are grateful to Shri Narendra Prasad  for his sincere efforts. We are sure his efforts will motivate others to follow similar path of courage and understanding.
We also have with us Shri Rampukar Singh ji, whose contribution to the heritage of Chechar is well known. Since 1970’s, he had been advocating for the preservation of the heritage of Chechar. Now Chechar and Rampukar Singh are synonyms. Chechar is situated on the north coast of the Ganges and with the changing course of the Ganges, the mound of Chechar has been eroded to expose many antiquities along the riverbank. Walking along the riverbank for days, weeks, months and years, he has collected some the finest pieces of antiquities that deserve to be placed in the best museums of the world. With his efforts, he has started a museum and it is here that one can see his contribution to the Chechar Museum.

Now inhis nineties, Shri Ram Pukar Singh Ji’s spirit and commitment for thepreservation of Chechar heritage is unchanged. For his immense contribution tothe heritage of Chechar, the RABPB awarded the first Saṇghassa Patiṭṭhāpako Mahākassapa YāvajīvamSammānopādhi.

Engaged Buddhism-2012, Workshop

Since centuries, for millions of followers of the teachings of the Buddha, Bihar and Buddhacārikā are synonymous, for it was here that the Buddha started his spiritual journey and it was here that his Journey of Enlightenment took its fruition and he became the Buddha. Rājā Ashoka in 2nd century BC inspired by the teachings of the Buddha made Dhamma the basis of rule and governance. Ashoka defined the main principles of Dhamma (dharma) as non-violence, tolerance of all sects and opinions, obedience to parents, respect for the virtuous, religious teachers and priests, liberality towards friends, humane treatment of servants, and generosity towards all.

Gradually over the century with some interruption here and there this land of the Buddha was governed by Ashoka-Dhamma, this became a sort of unwritten guidelines. The land of the Buddha, after the Mahāparinirvāṇa of the Buddha became Land of Vihāra. The word ‘Vihāra’ refers to the Buddhist monastery, a place to gain knowledge by purifying the mind. In general, it also signifies a place for quietitude of mind and resting space for Buddhist monks. Magadha in the first millennia CE was a conglomerate of monasteries from different traditions offering the true teachings of the Buddha. This Vihāra became a refuge for the seekers of the true teachings of the Buddha for monks and scholars all over the Buddhist world. We get glimpse of this Vihāra from the momentous journey to Bihar taken by 7th Century monk scholar Venerable Xuanzang. He took this arduous journey to pay pilgrimage to the Land of the Buddha and seek true teachings of the Buddha so that Dhamma rule also flourishes in his native country.

Literary sources and excavation suggests that for more than 1700 years Bihar had many flourishing monasteries. The local community and monasteries co-existed for mutual compliment. The community supported the monks practising in various monasteries with day to day requirements and the community were benefited by the Dhamma-guidance and Dhamma-Ambience and this was broadly the same Dhamma-rajya conceived by Rājā Ashoka who ruled vast Indian subcontinent from Patliputra.
Chief Guests on the podium

In 14th Century this Vihāra apparently seems to be coming to its ebb. The process of rediscovering the roots of this long buried culture within the layers of mounds started in the early 19th century by a group of explorers. Thanks to these explorations and excavations over the last two centuries, we are now aware of our glorious legacy.

Read more: Engaged Buddhism-2011 Workshop

Bihar is now waking up to its past and is retracing its footsteps in this journey through Bihar to Vihāra. In today’s perspective to contribute to the Renaissance taking place in Bihar, Nava Nalanda Mahavihara Sanskritik Gram (NNMSG) an arm of Nava Nalanda Mahavihara (deemed university), Nalanda has conceived “Engaged Buddhism”, a platform for stakeholders of this glorious legacy to come together and collectively conceive, design and build this journey through Bihar to Vihāra.

The primary element for this revival process is the vast tangible and intangible remains of the ancient Vihāra that needs to be protected and preserved. These ancient remains spread across the villages of Bihar are part of Buddhacārikā and are very sacred to devouts of the teachings of the Buddha. Present day Bihar is a Live-Museum; these sacred traces of ancient cultural movement may serve as a livelihood opportunity if properly presented to the world. The basic building block of this for us is to recreate this ancient tradition of Vihāra-Community interface through generating sustainable livelihood from this vast heritage bestowed upon us.
Dr. R Panth, Director, Nava Nalanda Mahavihara, Nalanda making welcome address
   Shri Narendra Prasad, recieving the Heritage Plaque for his contributions to the heritage of Parwati
Chief Guest Shri Nanjzey Dorjee (IAS), Member Secretary, BTMC making his speech
Dr. Lama, making the Vote of Thanks
This Engaged Buddhism platform at NNMSG is an effort to make a sustainable way to facilitate the Community-Heritage Interface.