LOTUS & GEMS TRAVELS , BODHGAYA!

BODHGAYA

  • Lotus & Gems Travels Shop No 4 Hotel Tathagat International, Near Jayprakash udhan Mahabodhi Temple Road, Bodhgaya, Gaya, Bihar, 824231, India

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Man’s quest for peace and eternal bliss has been linked invariably with penance and self inflicted suffering. Buddha had to undergo a rigorous experience before he saw the Morning Star and attained enlightenment. The essential point about him and his teaching is that he never claimed any connection with a God. The essence of his teaching is the universal question of suffering and the way to seek its eradication. The solution he advocated was individual effort and not ritual reliance on superhuman or external agency- save yourself by yourself.

¤ Buddha’s–Four Noble Truths Buddha introduced Four Noble Truths as the central point of his doctrine. The first of these is about unhappiness that exists everywhere, the second, that there is a cause of this unhappiness- mainly due to craving, born of ignorance, the third states that there can be an end to unhappiness, the fourth, that is to be achieved by following the Middle course to perpetual bliss. The eight ways are right views, right thoughts, right speech, right living, right exertion, right actions, right recollection and right meditation. The summation of his teaching is to refrain from all evil, to do good and to purify the mind. (202 words) Monks seated on a platform in the centre chant in a vibratory monotone. Periodic cymbals clash and the knock of wooden clappers punctuate the sylvan solitude of Bodh Gaya – the rallying point of Buddhists from all over the world. This sleepy little town in central Bihar appears to have changed very little from what it must have been more than two thousand years ago. Then it was a part of the mighty Magadha empire where the Niranjan river flowed by the small hamlet-Uruvela. Today the river continues its course under the name of Phalgu and the place is reverently referred to as Bodh Gaya.

¤ Gaya– An Excavation Site Archaeologists pride themselves on their recent excavations in this zone that has brought to light the remains of a full-fledged Neolithic culture dating back to 2500 B.C. Going by HIndu tradition, Gaya situated on a rocky bluff, lying just a few kilometres away, is a venerated city. It is a centre of pilgrimage for the Hindus where the Pitrapaksha Mela (a fair dedicated to the dead souls) is held annually. The legend dates back to Lord Vishnu who is believed to have conferred the power of cleansing one’s sins in this holy place. It is said that once there was a demon called Gaya who grew so powerful that the gods themselves felt threatened. As a precondition to his death, the demon demanded that the area covered by his body should be one of the holiest spots of the world! This land is believed to be Gaya.

¤ City Famous For Performing Hindu Rituals In fact, devout Hindus have an obligation to visit Gaya after the death of their parents for certain rites, for Pindan, that ensures spiritual peace and solace of the departed souls.It is incumbent upon every pilgrim, to invoke the gods as witness, so that by completing the prescribed rites of prayers for the peace and happiness he has freed himself from the debt he owes to his dead ancestors. The ceremony can be performed almost anytime of the year but people prefer to do so during the annual fair held in September. Legend holds that Lord Buddha, when prince, performed the first Pindan here.

¤ Vishnupada Temple Round the year people flock to Vishnupada temple built by Rani Ahilyabai of Indore in the eighteenth century. The spot on which it stands is associated with the famous mythological event of Lord Vishnu killing the demon Gaya and leaving his footprints on the rocks. These footprints are main object of worship in the temple. Some consider this footmark to be that of Lord Buddha himself.

¤ Mahabodhi Tree With Divine Power Travel reverently along the ancient path. Begin with the sacred Mahabodhi tree where something strange happened-realisation of truth of spiritual illumination. The tree still appears to radiate an aura of abiding serenity, spiritual solitude and peace. Buddha probably chose this tree following the popular belief that pipal trees were the abode of spirits and deities who helped spirtual efforts. It is believed that the original Bodhi tree sprang up on the day of Siddhartha’s birth and survived for centuries thereafter. It is said that besides the Bodhi tree, Yasodhara- the consort of Buddha, his horse Kanthaka, and his charioteer- Chandaka were born simultaneously. Tradition recounts that the tree was destroyed a number of times and what we see today is the offspring of the original one brought from Ceylon, where a cutting of the tree had been sent earlier by Emperor Ashoka.

¤ Pyramidal Temple–An Architectural Splendor Just adjacent to the Mahabodhi tree is the truncated pyramidical temple soaring to a height of 170 feet, dating back to the second century A.D. which ranks it among the oldest existing examples of sculpture and architecture. A flight of steps leads to the inner courtyard. Right in the centre here stands the great temple, perhaps the oldest and the most venerable of all Buddhist shrines. Various kings, queens, patrons and visitors repaired, renovated and added to the already existing structure till the twelfth century. In fact everyone who was anyone or at least with treasure to spare splurged on construction activities until a flood silted the courtyard of the timple complex which remained buried until 1811. Restoration and excavations were carried out under the Britishers who completed it in 1884. The reorganisation of the temple complex is based on a miniature model of the old building found among its ruins.

¤ The Temple Artistry The temple is built on a slightly raised terrace paved with granite stone slabs with large size bluish bricks plastered all over. The exterior walls of the lofty spire are covered with horizontal rows of niches, each holding a stucco image of the Buddha, gilded in gold. At the four corners of the temple are replicas of the central spire believed to be later Hindu influences. This is evident from the Shiva Lingam installed by a local ruler within the sanctum sanctorum. This Shiva Lingam also makes the place equally significant for the Hindus. In fact the temple is jointly managed by the Buddhists and the Hindus, who worship Buddha as the 9th incarnation of Vishnu.

¤ The Exquisite Carvings The richly carved massive stone railings around the temple are the oldest remains of Bodh Gaya. The railings with carvings such as sculptured panels, medallions and other ornamental patterns were constructed in two parts. The sandstone part, dating back to the first century B.C., consists of inscriptions while the granite portion, embellished with scenes from Buddha’s life, is a later addition of 7th century A.D. What we see today is a mixture of the original panels and recent reconstructions in its original design. The railings represent the best of the Sunga art and architecture of Bihar. Some of the Jataka scenes are delicately sculptured and as in all periods of high culture, the art lies in the daring, not in the repetition. The different Rashis have been artistically expressed, besides there are sculptures of Sri Ma and Gajalakhshmi that illustrate the beauty and grace of the female form. In the depiction of Salibhanjika the artist seems to emphasize more on female beauty and its sensuous appeal rather than realistic anatomy. Some of the love scenes are simply impressive. Entry to the temple is through a Buddhist gateway, on the east, consisting of two ornamental pillars supporting an architrave. At the entrance of the temple hangs a huge bell that is customarily rung by everyone upon entering. Giant lamps illuminate the entrance before the sanctum sanctorum, housing the massive gilded image of Lord Buddha in the earth-touching pose. This is the meditative posture in which he attained enlightenment with one finger touching the earth, calling it to witness his awakening. Steps from either side (now closed) lead to the top chamber which houses a figure of Buddha’s mother, Maya Devi. A passage runs round the tower, ornamented with rows of panels with images of Buddha and small shrines containing smaller figures of the Buddha. ¤ Vajrasana Between the temple and the tree is the diamond throne, Vajrasana, made of grey sandstone, which marks Buddha’s seat of meditation. The surface is carved with geometrical patterns and the sides with animal and floral motifs. It is very likely to have been gifted by Ashoka who raised the stone railings around it, besides the monolithic pillar that lies not far away, The site of the Vajarasana is held in highest veneration and sanctity. It’s aura is considered to be so powerful that no celestial being can fly over this point. Closeby is a large stone with Buddha’s footprint.

¤ Buddhapada Tradition states that Buddha stayed in Bodh Gaya for seven weeks after his enlightenment. Each week was spent in a different part of the temple complex. The first week was spent under the Bodhi tree. For the next seven days he remained standing and gazing uninterruptedly at the tree for having helped him in his quest. This spot is marked by Animeshlocha Stupa (unblinking shrine) in the north east which houses a standing figure of the Buddha with his eyes fixed towards the tree. The third week was spent in meditation, walking to and fro from the tree to the unblinking shrine spot. Lotus flowers are said to have sprung up in this place, which came to be known as the

¤ Ratnachakarma Ratnachakarma or jewel walk and is marked by a recently made brick platform containing the 18 lotus flowers representing the footsteps of the Buddha. Down below can be seen the earlier flowers which are now unfortunately in damaged condition.

¤ Abhi-Dhamma Naya The next week was devoted by Buddha to attain higher modes of exposition, i.e. Abhi-dhamma Naya or deep meditation where the Buddha sat cross-legged. He emitted dazzling light from his body which can be seen incorporated in the Buddhist flag of white, yellow, blue, red and orange. The fifth week of enlightenment was again spent in meditation under another tree. the sixth takes us to the Muchalinda Lake where the serpent king, Muchalinda, dwelling at the bottom of the lake, rose out to protect the master from a severe storm created by Maya, the god of chaos, to distrub the meditation. The Rajata tree marks the last week where Buddha decided to preach and thus save human beings from further sufferings. For those willing to make the effort, a 6km ride by car followed by an hour’s trek across the river Phalgu and the hill can lead to the silent cave where Buddha had spend most of his ascetic life prior to enlightenment. Another off distance spot of interest is Sujata asthan which marks the site where a yound village woman approached Buddha and offered him a bowl of rice pudding. Soon Buddha was transformed into rich golden colour and white light emananted from his body.

¤ Foreign Temples and Monasteries 1956 marked the 2500th anniversary of Buddhism. It gave impetus to resurgence of activity at Bodh Gaya. Buddhist temples and monasteries began to mushroom in the surroundings. The earliest one, Mahabodhi Sangharama, built by the king of Ceylon in 4th century A.D was discovered on excavation. On the west of the Mahabodhi temple is the Tibetan monastery housing the image of the Buddha together with a huge prayer wheel, weighing 20 tonnes. It is believed that anyone rotating it will thrive and be absolved of all his sins. The Thai temple, built in 1956 by the King of Thailand, is set in the middle of a beautiful garden. It depicts the distinctive pagoda style reflecting the traditional decoration of the country. The Japanese temple contains a pictorial illustration of Buddha’s life. Likewise, the temples from Bhutan, China, Sikkim and Tibet reveal the architectural features of the respective nations. Japanese craftsmanship can be seen at its best in Daibutsu or the Great Buddha, built in the open. Recently erected by the Daijokyo sect of Japan, it depicts Buddha in meditation, seated on a lotus. The beautiful golden curl on the forehead glitters in the sun while the 80 feet statue in sandstone conveys the message of peace. Through squinted eyes, the Buddha calmly regards the lower world and between his long, arched eyebrows there is the mark of white curl – the beacon of brilliant light, according to tradition.

¤ Archaeological Museum At Bodh Gaya In the Bodh Gaya complex one should not miss the archaeological museum that houses the relics of the old temple, sculptures and objects excavated from the site. The best time to visit the place is during winter when thousands of Buddhists from all over the world pour in. The Dalai Lama, spiritual and temporal head of the Tibetans, migrates to Bodh Gaya and takes up residence for two months. The environment is phenomenally calm and quiet. The extremely disciplined monks robed in various colours (Tibetans in burgundy, Sri Lankans in saffron, Burmese in amber, Japanese in black) contribute to this atmosphere of mysticism and an almost tangible love for mankind. Buddha’s message preached thousand of years age can still be seen and felt. Chantings echo. “May all beings be happy.” (2125 words)

¤ Around Bodhgaya – Resources 1. Gaya in Bihar is an important railway junction. Bodhgaya is 12 kms away, which can be reached by regular buses, tangas and other road services. The nearest airport is Patna, 109 kms away. 2. Besides tourist hotels and rest houses one can also consider staying in various foreign guest houses for which special permission is required. Hotel Siddharth Vihar and Hotel Buddha Vihar are the two B.S.T.D.C hotels 3. Heavier wools should be kept in mind if travelling in December or January. the best time to visit. 4. Buddha jayanti is celebrated in May. It marks his birth anniversary. 5. Around Bodhgaya, one can consider Rajgir hills and the adjoining Nalanda, the ancient seat of learning. (117 words)

¤ Ajivikas Bihar in the sixth century B.C offered a veritable platform to hundreds of religious orders and their philosophies to flourish. Some of them were strongly opposed to the Vedic system (especially the element of Brahamanical sacrifice and the monistic theroies of the Upanishads). Next to Buddhism and Jainism, the creed of Ajivikas had a large following.

¤ Founder of Ajivikas Little is known about the Ajivikas or their founder Makkhali Gosala, who was a contemporary of Buddha and Mahavira. He claimed himself to be the 24th tirthankar of his order and claimed to have attained the jinahood two years before Mahavira. Some historians trace the Ajivikas to still earlier period. Unfortunately, one is solely dependent on references found in Jain and Buddhist literatures where all attempts have been made to defame rather than appreciate the merits of Ajivikas. Buddha is believed to have dubbed Makkhali as a stupid man and his doctrine as the worst, while Mahavira is said to have confronted Makkhali with unpleasant exchange of words.

¤ Ajivikas refer to Lives on Charity It can also mean an ascetic who ate no living or animal food. In fact, their reputation for asceticism had reached far and wide. Chinese and Japanese Buddhist literature describe the severe penanaces of the Ajivikas who bury themselves upto the neck, remain shelved in large jars, maintain silence and fast for extraordinary long lengths of time, even starving themselves to death. Their virtues are depicted in the sculptures of Borobodur, frescoes of Ajanta and a Ceylonese king is said to have built an Ajivika house in Anuradhapura.

¤ Makkhali Vision The Ajivika ascetics went completely unclad like the Jains but always carried a bamboo staff. Though Ahimsa was an element of Ajivikas, the core of their doctrine was Niyati (destiny). According to Makkhali, destiny was the sole agent of all changes, sin and suffering were without cause, similarly escape from evil was without basis. Everything is pre-determined and pre-decided. There were six inevitable factors in the life of every individual, gain and loss, joy and sorrow, life and death. Human actions are incapable of altering them. It is destiny that controls, regulates and rules the affairs of the universe. What is to happen, does happen, and what is not to happen, never happens. Makkhali believed that the world was an ever moving cycle without a beginning or an end. The Ajivikas slogan was “Human effort is ineffectual.”

¤ Main Characteristics of Ajivikas Some of the strange characters attributed to the Ajivikas include their rejection of invitation, they never accepted alms from those who invited them or requested them to sit; they ate and drank standing. Some of the Ajivikas went without their begging bowls and received alms of sticky rice direct into their hand,while others made use of lotus leaves as their begging receptacles. They refrained from begging during thunder and lightening. Unlike Jains or Buddhists, Ajivikas were not averse to the company of women, whom they openly used for their preaching and propaganda; they remained as sons with those women who had lost their children. The following of Ajivikas continued upto the 13th century A.D as evident from South Indian inscriptions.

¤ Spiritual Urge of Unusual Nature Sixth century B.C. is characterised by a mental stir and spiritual urge of an unusual nature. Despite a gamut of religious dogmas, doctrines and disciples, people lived in harmony and the role of the kings was laudable. The Jains believe that King Bimbisara was a follower of their order while Buddhists claim that he was converted to their faith. Chandragupta Maurya is believed to have abdicated his throne and joined the order of Jain monks but his son Bindusara extended patronage to Ajivikas while Ashoka was inclined towards Buddhism. However the brahmans and Jains were equally favoured. He went on to dedicate the Barabar hill caves to the Ajivikas and so did his grandson, Dasratha. In fact, Ashoka’s greatness had been predicted in the royal Magadhan court by an Ajivika ascetic. Chanakya is believed to have escaped from the Nandas (who were great patron of Ajivikas) in the guise of a nude Ajivika mendicant but in his political treatise, Arthashastra, he gives no concession to the Ajivikas and imposes a fine on anyone inviting them;

¤ Attraction of Rock Cut Caves The Barabar and Nagarjuni hills, 24 kms from Gaya by road and closer through Bela railway station, offers a series of India’s earliest rock cut caves. The Mahabharat refers to this hill as Gorathagiri and depicts it as rich in flora and fauna. The epic relates that Krishna, Arjuna and Bhima ascended the hill to have an idea of Rajgir before sneaking into the Magadhan capital to fight the mighty Jarasanda. They extol the virtues of Mauryan craftsmen who excavated these hard granite hills, polished the interior walls with mirror like effect and graced the stone doorways with sloping jambs which are highly ornamental with wood like finesse. Precisely the Loma Rishi cave is believed to be India’s earliest surviving religious edifice.

¤ Satgharva Four of the Ashokan caves in Barabar hills have seven chambers and collectively referred to as Satgharva. The Sudama or Nigrodha cave (banyan tree cave, as mentioned in the Brahmi inscription) is the earliest in the series dating back the 12th regenal year of Ashoka (252 B.C), giving an impression of a beehive hut with double chambered halls with hemispherical roofs. The word Sudama (a poor but close friend of Krishna) stems from a local legend suggesting his stay in this cave. Equally well polished is the single celled Karna Chaupar cave or Supriya cave, which appears to be incomplete with only the pedestal and other unfinished elements. Vishwa Zopari cave is another twin chambered cave, some distance away. However the most attractive among them all is the Loma Rishi cave, symbolic of the Chaitya arch depicting a row of elephants.

¤ Gopika Caves The largest among the three caves on the Nagarjuni hills is the Gopika cave, approached through a flight of steps. The cave is replete with inscriptions that refers to its excavation in 214 B.C. when King Dasratha ascended the throne. The other two caves are Vapiyaka: (with a dried up will nthe front) and the double chambered Vedathika: entered through a cleft. Another remote Mauryan cave, considered to be the oldest can be visited at Sitamarhi, 40 kms east of Gaya. Most of these third century B.C. Mauryan caves give an impression that the aritsts left them unfinished. Had they been favoured with time, they would have created exquisite doorways with pictoraial representations. The interiors would have been polished uniformly. These caves are believed to have been occupied later by the Jains who expelled the Ajivikas and finally in the fifth century A.D the original inscriptions appear to have been obliterated to make way for engravings by the Guptas. Kharvela, the Chedi king of Orissa, during his invasion of Magadh carried away a Jain statue from one of these caves. The epigraphic records substantiate the advent of Brahmanism in Magadh. With the arrival of Muslims, the saints and faqirs considered it to be an ideal hideaway for prayer and meditation. The first archaeological report by Cunningham appeared in 1868. A century earlier when Hodgekins went to study the antiquarian remains he was murdered here. Even now an element of fear looms large among these deserted and desolate caves. However, the district administration is trying to develop and promote the site. They have now placed a police post, opened a four roomed Siddarth Rest House and built a Nagarjuni museum. Best of all, an impressive gateway called Vanavar Dwar has been erected on the Patna-Gaya road with indications to drive 16 kms in order to reach the historic caves.