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Showing posts from April, 2008

A Pilgrimage Special: Sakura in Sarnath!

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Sakura in Sarnath?...


I have always been fascinated by photos of cherry blossoms or Sakura from Japan. Accordingly, the blossom which is Japan's unofficial national flower has been celebrated for many centuries and Japanese celebrates with hanami or cherry blossom viewing parties under the blooming trees, something really simple and wonderful, I suppose. In Sarnath, India, just at the entrance of a little quaint Buddhist Temple built by Angarika Dharmapala, there is this lone tree with a profuse of blooms. That was not a Sakura tree of course, but for a minute, I was transported to a make believe world of viewing Sakura. Life is such a delight if you care to imagine!
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A Pilgrimage Special: Performing Dana

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While in Sarnath, we visited a branch of the Mahabodhi Society, The ladies made themselves busy buying fruits and other foodstuff to be brought over for the monks there. As usual, the pilgrims were going to perform dana, a practice of generosity or charity. The Mahabodhi Society was a pleasant white building and we walk into a pleasant compound with shady trees, under which some children were studying under the tutelage of a teacher. We were brought to a hall where several young monks and a lone nun were going to have lunch...
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Shopping in Sarnath...



The Mahabodhi Society in Sarnath...






Children studying...

The hall...
Performing Dana to the monks...






and the lone nun...

A Pilgrimage Special: Broken Souvenir

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Our guide, if I remember right, told us there are thirty two Asokan pillars throughout India. Asokan pillar or pillars of Ashoka are a series of columns built by Mauryan king Ashoka during the 3rd century BCE. These pillars which are dispersed throughout northern Indian are carved with proclamations of Buddhist teachings called the Edicts of Ashoka. The first pillar which we saw during our trip must be the one in Lumbini, the birthplace of Buddha.The pillar here has an elephant capital at the top since the elephant represents the Buddha's conception. The capital however now lies at the base of the pillar and is beyond recognition. The best pillar most probably is the one in Vaishalli where a single lion faces north to denote the direction Buddha took during his last voyage. A lion capital is said to represent the attainment of Buddhahood. At Deer Park in Sarnath, we see yet the most famous of the columns. Strangely, this pillar is in a terrible broken state. The pillar reportedly …

A Pilgrimage Special: Dhamek Stupa

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Where we tread, the serene grounds at the Deer Park - Xuanzang was there in 640 AD and had witnessed over 1,500 priests there. The Deer park houses among its sacred ancient monuments the imposing cylindrical Dhamek Stupa. The lower portion of the stupa is encased in stone with carvings from the Gupta period and when Cunningham bored a shaft through it to look for relics, he discovered remains of an earlier stupa of Mauryan bricks and therefore thought to be raised by King Asoka. A slab with Buddha's creed in the character of the 6th and 7th century discovered here is also used by the Archaeological Survey of India to support the claim that this is the site where Buddha delievered his first Sermon...
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Moving on to Dhamek Stupa...





A Pilgrimage Special: Sarnath Molested Again

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Sarnath, after molested and forgotten for 600 years came again to the notice of the world in 1794 under a tragic circumstance. The Dharmarajika Stupa originally built by King Asoka was desecrated by Jagat Singh. Originally, a 13.4 m mound,this stupa was enlarged twice during the Gupta period. Lord Buddha's bodily relics originally were enshrined at seven stupas and King Asoka had built the Dharmarajika Stupa to enshrine part of these relics when he redistributed them. In 1794, Jagat Singh the minister of Benares aka Varanasi, conveniently dismantled Dharmarajika Stupa to collect bricks and stones for building a housing colony. At a depth of 8.3 m, a stone box containing a green marble casket was found. Jagat Singh consigned the human relics found in the casket, presumed to belong to the Buddha, into the Ganges River...

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A Pilgrimage Special: A Dear Deer Park

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A story from Jataka tales, the voluminous body of folklore-like literature concerning the previous births of the Buddha seemed to came alive at the Deer Park in Sarnath. Deer Park otherwise known as Migadaya or Isipatana is a large site filled with sacred ancient monuments like the Dhamek Stupa, Dharmarajika Stupa, Mulagagandhakuti (Main Shrine), Asokan Pillar, Sunken Shrine of Pancayatana and Mulagandhakuti Vihara. While there, the pilgrims were mesmerised by the deer that roamed free in a nearby jungle...

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A jungle...

where deer mesmerise...





A Pilgrimage Special: Sudden Destruction in Sarnath

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Sarnath is remembered as the place where Lord Buddha delivered his first Sermon, the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta or Discourse on Turning the Wheel of Dharma, and where the Buddhist Sangha came into existence. King Asoka visited Sarnath in 249 BC and erected several monuments here. However, at one time in history, this significant place was forgotten for 600 years. In 1800, Major Kittoe excavated Sarnath and revealed a tragic period of massive and sudden destruction by fire at the hands of an adversary. Remains of ready-made wheaten cakes and wheat and other grains in some of the cells had suggested that the destruction was sudden and rapid. Major Kittoe said that all have been sacked and burnt not once but several times. Monks, temples, idols were burnt together and in some places, bones, iron, timber, idols etc had all fused into huge heaps...

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Ruins in Sarnath...



A Pilgrimage Special: A Different Kind of Stupa

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Stupas are as most people know, burial mounds and serve as a shrine for a relic of the Buddha. Just before entering Varanasi, we have visited the Chaukhandi Stupa which is originally built as a terraced temple during the Gupta period between the 4th to 6th Century to mark the site where Lord Buddha and his first disciples met while traveling from Bodh Gaya to Sarnath. This is therefore an important stupa in Sarnath and to Buddhists. The Chaukhandi Stupa however is a stupa with a difference. Ancient stupas from the time of Lord Buddha usually look like a mound but this one has an octagonal tower at the top, very unlike a candle on a cake! The octagonal tower was actually built very much later to commemorate the visit of Humayun, the powerful Muslim Mughal ruler...

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A Pilgrimage Special: To Sarnath or Varanasi?

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Shortly after leaving Bodhgaya, we were told by our guide that we would be going to Sarnath for an excursion. When we were nearing our destination however, we were told that we would be going to Varanasi. Now, was it Sarnath or Varanasi that we were going to? Four or five years back when I was in Varanasi with some Muslim friends, a local tour guide had asked us if we would like to go for a day trip to Sarnath. A Malaysian Thai couple and I were keen on it but the others were not and the trip did not materialize. I came home thinking that Sarnath is another town. Sarnath is Sarnath and Varanasi is Varanasi and that probably is true since according to a literature I came across, Sarnath is located 13 kilometers north-east of Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh. When our guide told us that we were going to Varanasi then, I had asked then if it was Sarnath he meant. He replied that Varanasi is Sarnath and Sarnath is Varanasi. Now, that was pretty confusing especially since we didn't get to see…

A Piligrimage Special: Moving On

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We left Bodhgaya for Varanasi on 14 December 2007. That was the eight day of our pilgrimage. Varanasi is 250 kilometers or 7 hours away and we left our hotel in the morning with a packed lunch. That must be the second time we had packed lunch and the first time when we were served with moldy sandwiches.The first time we had packed lunch was on day 5 when we were traveling from Kushinagar to Patna via Vaishali. Someone said that the first packed lunch was too big and asked that the second one to be sized down to avoid wastage. While the intention was good, I thought that was pretty insensitive since some of us could really eat. Besides, all the excesses could be given to the poor, children or adults alike, who were always clamoring over us for one thing or another. I remember during this particular trip, some pilgrims gave away their fried rice only to find them in the dustbin a while later. We concluded that the young Indian children did not know how to eat fried rice, this not being…