Monday, July 11, 2016

Learning and Growing with Dr. Ravindra Panth

After serving as the Director of Nava Nalanda Mahavihara (Deemed University, NNM) for 16 long and fruitful years, Dr. Ravindra Panth retired on 31st May 2016. Among his many contributions as the Director of Nava Nalanda Mahavihara, I would like to mention a few initiatives made by Dr. Panth of which, fortunately, I was also a part.

Dr. Panth took over as the Director of Nava Nalanda Mahavihara in year 2000.  Interactions with local community and visiting many of the neighboring villages, he realized that hundreds of villages of Nālandā and other adjoining districts like Gayā, Jehānābād, Seikhpurā, Patnā, Aurangābād that makes the ancient Magadha is replete with unprotected and undocumented ancient remains. This tangible heritage in forms of sculptures, artefacts, mounds etc from Buddhist period were under threat. Community living with the heritage was helpless and ill equipped to protect the vast heritage. At the same time the policy makers, government agencies and other stakeholders were ignorant about the ground realities.
Dr. Ravindra Panth (extreme right) explaining the exhibition to Hon'ble Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi (Bodhgayā, 5th sept, 2015). Also in the picture, H.E. Governor of Bihār Shri Ram Nath Kovind &  Hon' Minster, GoI, Shri K. Rijiju  
In 2007, Dr. Panth initiated ‘Mapping of Nālandā, Rājgir and around’ (Mapping) project. The project was conceived to document the tangible and intangible Buddhist heritage of Bihār.  He felt that documentation alone was not sufficient for its safeguarding; there was also a need to create awareness locally and worldwide towards this sacred heritage. In year 2010, NNM initiated Engaged Buddhism, a platform for the stakeholders to join hands to protect and preserve the Buddhist heritage of Bihār. More than 200 heritage volunteers from villages of Bihār are now part of this initiative.

Another important project initiated and shaped by Dr. Panth was the revival of the legacy of 7th CE Chinese Monk Scholar, Xuanzang. In 1950’s, India and China Government jointly conceived setting up of Xuanzang Memorial at Nālandā with the dual objective of commemorating the visit of Xuanzang to ancient Nālandā University and establishing a research institute to research and promote the works of Xuanzang.  The construction of the Memorial was started in 1960’s, but due to unavoidable reasons it could not be completed. In 2007, with efforts of Dr. Panth the Memorial was finally completed. Dignitaries from India and China jointly inaugurated it on 12 February, 2007.

In 2010, Dr. Panth gave a proposal to Department of Art, Culture and Youth, Government of Bihar to revitalise the ancient Buddhist pilgrimage in Bihar (RABPB Project). The objective of the Project was to extend the existing Buddhist pilgrimage to many other lesser known Buddhist places mentioned by Xuanzang. The Buddhist pilgrimage in Bihār was limited to few prominent places like Bodhgayā, Rājgir, Nālandā and Vaiśālī. Bihār has many other very important places like Jeṭhian, Buddhavana, Pārwati, Silāo etc. associated with sublime wandering of the Buddha and his prominent disciples Sāriputra, Mahāmoggallāna, Mahākashyapa and Ānanda. The Buddhist world was ignorant about these places and the people living in these places had little awareness about the importance of their villages.   

In a very short span of 5 years, the Mapping and RABPB Project has many achievements to its credit.  In acknowledgement of awareness generation efforts by NNM, Government of Bihār in 2012 marked the parinirvāṇa days of Sāriputra and Mahāmoggallāna as State days. An ancient Buddha trail connecting Jeṭhian and Rājgir that was unknown to its stakeholders is now being promoted as a Walking Pilgrimage trail. Similarly, a dedicated Buddha trail connecting sacred sites like Jeṭhian, Buddhavana, Prāgbodhi and Pārwati conceived under the project is very well received and appreciated by the Buddhist world. NNM has initiated Dhamma Walks to revitalize the places associated with Sāriputra, Mahāmoggllāna and Mahākashyapa. The Dhamma Walks has elucidated a very good response from the local people and the Buddhist pilgrims. The works done under the Projects has also been published on Google Cultural Institute (the link).

I consider myself to be extremely fortunate to have had this wonderful opportunity to work on these projects under the guidance of a wonderful human being and a great visionary, Dr. Panth. In year 2016, Nava Nalanda Mahavihara published two books,   A Journey through Bihār to Vihāra and The Pilgrimage Legacy of Xuanzang highlighting the achievements and the documentation work done under its projects.

Cover image of the Book
H.E. Governor of Bihār, Shri Ram Nath Kovind, Hon'ble Minister of Culture, GoI, Dr. Mahesh Sharma, Chair Person, ICCR, Shri Lokesh Chandra, Dr. R. Panth,  Shri M. L. Srivastava and  Dr. U. C.  Vyas  releasing the Book.
A news item regarding the book published in The Telegraph.
The book A journey through Bihār to Vihāra has three sections. The first section ‘Rise of Vihāra-s in Magadha’ is an effort to present the deep connection of the Magadha Empire with the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Saṅgha. The second section, ‘Decline of the Vihāra-s in Magadha’, is an effort to present the tangible heritage of Bihār lying neglected in its village. This section also has a note on how international network of artefact smugglers in last 50 years robbed the sculpture from the villages of Bihār and how these sculptures now adores Museums and private collections in Europe and USA. 

The third section ‘Revitalisation of the Buddhist heritage of Magadha’ is depicting the activities taken-up by NNM to facilitate awareness generation and revitalization of the tangible and intangible heritage of Magadha.  Several maps, sketches and images have been used to facilitate better understanding about the heritage. 

The book The Pilgrimage Legacy of Xuanzang is an attempt to reproduce in a readable, understandable and concise manner, the life and works of one the rare persons of world history, Master Xuanzang. Xuanzang was a Chinese monk and scholar who lived in the 7th century. He is known in history as the young monk who travelled from China to India to study Buddhism at the ancient Nālandā University and discover the true teachings of Buddha. This book is motivated towards regenerating interest in the vast and varied contributions of Xuanzang and emphasising their relevance in present-day archaeological exploration and restoration of Buddhist heritage of the Indian subcontinent. The book contains a narrative of Xuanzang’s early life in China, and his initial encounters with Buddhist teachings. It covers the major events that occurred in his journey from China to India and back. It describes the literary contributions of Xuanzang, namely a travel account called Ta Tang Hsi Yü Chi (Records of the Western Lands of the Great Tang Period) referred to in this book as Travels and a biography written by Shaman Hwui Li (The Life of Xuanzang) referred to as Life. The book finally discusses the difficulties encountered in interpreting Xuanzang’s works, and some of the advances made in archaeological explorations based on Xuanzang’s works.

Cover image of the Book.
H.E. Governor of Bihār, Shri Ram Nath Kovind and Dr. Ravindra Panth releasing the Book.

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