Posts Tagged With: Buddhism

Rajgir – The House of the King

Rajgir, a quiet village in Bihar, was once the site of Rajagrih – The capital of the most powerful empire in India during the time of Buddha. Apart from being an important Buddhist area, Rajgir also kinder the past for Jain and Hindus. But the most famous place in Rajgir is Nalanda, where the ruins of the once great ancient University of Nalanda reminds us of the fall of the mighty. And this is the place were I’m gonna take you.

Shanti StupaSo much for the history, let’s get back to the trip. Like I said in the previous post, this day began with an unexpected turn of events. You know, people of  South India are generally prejudiced about Bihar. I must admit, I too had a few preconceived notions about this place. When it comes to trains, I guess I’m right! We considered ourselves lucky to get a Tatkal ticket some 6 hours before the train Tongas in Rajgirdeparture. But it was only when we boarded the train that we realized that, those tickets were available only because no one takes tickets! At 1 am in the morning, we were stranded in a train, with allotted berths, in a jam-packed sleeper compartment. After some argument with the people, we here able to get a seat to at least sit, let alone lie down. Thank God, it was just a 4 hour trip. As my friend put it, “We were like sardines in a can”. Somehow we made it to Rajgir in the morning, and we were still in one piece.

The first thing was to find a hotel room and found one near the railway station. The room rent was just Rs.300 (He initially asked Rs.600, though. We’re good at bargaining) and it was pretty decent. Japanese TempleAfter the usual Poori-sabji breakfast with jilebi, we set out to explore Rajgir. Being one of the most important tourist site in Bihar, Rajgir is a well maintained town. The major means of transport is the horse-carriage or the tongas. And the tonga fares are fair. The first stop was the Venu van which was a small forest garden and had been the favourite resort of Lord Buddha during his stay in Rajgriha. Next we walked to the Japanese Temple which is also a famous buddhist site in Rajgir. The temple as such is simple, but has some exhibits related to Japan and Buddhism.

After a little Buddhist visit, it was time for a Jain site visit. The Veerayatan. It was a non-profit Jain Organisation started by Acharya Shri Chandanaji and as for a tourist, Veerayatan boasts museum, meticulously portraying the life of Lord Mahavir. The museum is a must visit place and the exhibits are extremely beautiful and intricate. We had to honour of meeting Acharya Shri Chandanaji during our visit to the museum.Sonbhandar Caves

Another tonga took us to the Rope-way. It took us up by 400m to the Shanti Stupa. Like all major Hill stations in Eastern India, Rajgir
Rajgir Ropewayalso hosts a Japanese Shanti Stupa located atop a hill. The interesting part is the view from the top of the hill. The remains of the  ancient Cyclopean wall, that once encircled the ancient city of Rajagriha, can been seen from the Stupa.  The single-person rope-way is one of the most important tourist attraction in Rajgir and it is worth the 60 bucks.

The next destination was the historic site of Bimbisara jail. I’d call it an epic troll! No pun intended  but we weren’t expecting a ground with a 2 foot wall as the remains of a jail. Next was the Sonabhandar caveBimbisara Jail ?? which is believed to hold the treasury of King Bimbisara. The legend has it that, the treasure opens to the person who can read the inscription on the cave wall. Guess, no one read it so far.  Near the Cave is the Maniyar Math which is believed to be the Mani-Naga shrine mentioned in Mahabharata.

Next destination was the Ruins of the Ancient Nalanda University. Located some 20km from Rajgir, the ruins are a World Heritage site.  Started in 5th century AD, the Nalanda University was as good as any of the best universities in the world at present. Spread over a sprawling 14 hectares, the Red DSCN1320bricked university attracted scholars and students from all aver the known world during its glorious days. Having met its decline during the Muslim invasion, all that is left of Nalanda are these ruins. It is believed that the great Nalanda library, which contained all manuscripts of ancient knowledge, burned continuously for 3 months after the invaders set fire to it. The planning and the engineering of the University is mind-blowing. The ruins Ruins of Nalandaof the monasteries where the monks stayed, the temples of learning, reflects the engineering ingenuity of ancient Indians. The present ruins were rebuilt by Archaeological survey of India and hence looks new. The entire complex and the associated museum are well maintained and I’d urge you to visit that place.

It was already dark (5 pm) by the time we completed the Nalanda tour. We had our dinner from a Bihar tourism hotel. Since we couldn’t find any tonga or any means of transport, we walked about 3km through the pitch black darkness with the freezing winds blowing on us. From the main road, we boarded a local bus and went back to Rajgir. After a 2 hour rest in the hotel room, we vacated the rooms and went to the Panoramic View of Ruins of Nalanda
railway station. We had a train to Varanasi. All we prayed for was that, the events of previous nights journey did not repeat. Guess, the Gods heard our prayer. I slipped to a deep sleep on the upper sleeper berth of Budhapoornima express.

Train Departed! Last Stop : Varanasi

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Bodh Gaya – Seeking Enlightenment

A day before the full moon day in the month of Vesakha in BC 528, a young noble prince, arrived at the outskirts of the village of Uruvela and saw a beautiful stretch of countryside, a beautiful grove, a clear flowing river, a lovely ford and a village nearby for support. He settled himself under the spreading branches of  a nearby tree and began his meditation. He sat there all night as the leaves of the tree quivered in the gentle breeze and the moon shone bright in the velvety black sky. Eventually the clouds of ignorance dissolved and he saw the Truth in all its glory and splendor.  He was no longer Prince Siddhartha or the ascetic Gotama. He had become the Awakened One, the Compassionate One, the Light of the World, the Buddha Supreme. (Ref: Buddhanet.net)

Nearly 2540 years later, 3 friends set out from IIT Kanpur on the day before the full moon in the month of Mārgaśirṣa (November), to this very place, in search of enlightenment. This is the story of my journey through the heart of 3 religions, along with Ashwin and Rashid, to experience the spiritual India. It all starts from Bodh Gaya – the holiest Buddhist place on the planet.

28th November

The Bodhi TreeLike the previous Nepal trip, this journey too began from Kanpur railway station the previous night and the 8.15 pm Mahabodhi express did arrive on time in Gaya  junction in the morning. One notable fact about most of my journeys is that, the day I arrive at a place, it’s a public holiday there. This time it was Guru Nanak Jayanthi and the Bihar State buses ceased to run. But the auto-rickshaws came to our “expensive” rescue from the Gaya railway station and took us to Bodh Gaya which is about 13 km from the railway station. After a 30 mins ride, we arrived at Bodh Gaya and found ourselves amidst hundreds of foreign pilgrims following the footsteps of Lord Buddha. The basic style of Bodh Gaya is similar to Lumbini, but one of the most striking difference is the cleanliness and the footpath sales aspect of the surroundings. Well, this is India and it’s lively and colourful.Mahabodhi Temple

The 1st destination in Bodh Gaya was  the famous Mahabodhi Temple, which is the spirit of Bodh Gaya. The 55m tall “Temple of Great Awakening”, originally build in the 5-6th century AD is a fine example of Indian Brick Work and uses Dravidian Architecture. The Temple and the adjoining gardens are a sight to behold even if you are not a pilgrim. Heavily restored in the late 19th century, this temple is one of the World Heritage Sites in Eastern India. What struck us first is the halcyon spiritual ambiance of the place. We could see hundreds of Buddhist monks in attires pointing to their motherland, immersed in deep meditation at all corners of the temple complex. We watched the groups of pilgrims as they circumnavigated the temple uttering prayers, in languages that I couldn’t fathom.

There were 7 points in the complex that related directly to the life of Buddha and pertains to each week after Lord Buddha attained enlightenment. We did see all 7, but not in the right order Japanese Templethough. The most important of all is the Bodhi tree under which Lord Buddha attained the Awakening. Well, it’s not the exact tree, but a descendant of the original Banyan tree, that grew in the exact location.The surroundings were so peaceful and calm and we found ourselves meditating near the temple. It was a soothing and refreshing experience and I’d definitely urge you to try it. One good thing about the Buddhist Temples and Monasteries is that, they allow photography everywhere. I tried my best to capture every inch of this beautiful Temple and the gardens.

Like Lumbini, there are numerous Temples and Monasteries build by different nations all around Bodh Gaya. The ones that stand out are theThai Monastery Indosan Nipponji Japanese Temple and the Thai Monastery. It seems there is some “issue” with us and the Chinese as we found the Chinese temples closed both in Gaya and in Lumbini. The Thai temple is unique, ostentatious and on top of it all, beautiful. The 80 ft Giant Buddha statue also formed a part of our Bodh Gaya experience. Since all the monasteries and temples close at 5 pm, we left Bodh Gaya and decided to take a detour to Vishnupadh Temple in Gaya.

Thai Temple - InteriorAn interesting incident occurred during this small detour. After a savari to some junction in between Bodh Gaya and Gaya we boarded a unique auto-rickshaw. You and I both know that an Auto-rickshaw usually carry 3 people and in some cases up to 6. But this was no ordinary auto-rickshaw. It carried 11 people plus the driver. It was an amazing scene to watch 5 people in the front seat of the auto that’s meant for 2. And 3 people where hanging behind the vehicle. That was not just it. This auto had an amazing sound system and flashing disco lights illuminated the interior giving it a feel of a dance bar. I hope, I’ll get a chance to ride this special auto-rickshaw again.

Vishnupadh Temple is old and majestic, but the surroundings are extremely dirty and I guess, we were the only tourists among hundreds of devotees there. I wouldn’t ask you to visit this temple unless you are a devotee of Lord Vishnu.

Now came the hard part. A 7 hour-long wait for the next train. We tricked the railway waiting room keeper to believe that we held AC train tickets and occupied a seat in the much better upper-class waiting room though we were entitled only the lower-class waiting room with our sleeper tickets. The next train to Rajgir was at 1 am and guess what, we just got our penance in a way we least expected. Yes, lest we forget, we were in Bihar!!

I’ll leave the details of that ride to the next post on Rajgir.

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