July 2019, exactly a year after Deuta passed away; we decided to visit Gaya for his pind daan rituals. Deuta always had a wish to perform his father’s pind daan at Gaya. Eventually it didn’t shape up for him. Naturally when the time came we also decided on the same place. The Vishnupad temple by the river Falgu is believed to be the most sacred place for Pind daan as it leads the departed soul towards salvation. Gaya is one of the most desired spiritual destinations in India and it is also the place of enlightenment of Lord Budhdha as we all know. Gaya got its name from the Demon Gayasura . As the story goes, Gayasura went into severe penance and was blessed by Lord Vishnu. He thus became pious and his body got transformed into rocky mountains that forms the landscape of Gaya.
Our holidays started with an interesting twist to our original plan. We had planned to take a flight to Kolkata and from there a connecting flight to Patna. But our original flight from Guwahati got cancelled due to some technical problem and our journey got delayed by a day. Naturally we all were disheartened. However, we were booked into a nearby hotel by the airline for the night and we decided to start our holiday from there on. We reached Patna a day later and from there had to travel by road for another 3.5 hrs to reach BodhGaya where we had booked our accommodation.
Next morning we set early for the temple, to finish with the rituals first. The Falgu River that flows by the Vishnupad temple was almost dry, and the river bed visible at places even during the ongoing monsoons, which was unanticipated. As stated in History, Falgu was one of the major rivers in India, but it got into this dry state because it was bieng cursed by Sita, wife of Lord Rama, when he came there for Pind Daan of his father Dusharath. We hired the help of a priest to guide us through the conventional procedures and the entire ritual was done with by lunch time. Deuta’s desires being accomplished finally brought a feeling of triumph and fulfillment to all of us.
And we realized that we are all starving by now. Our chauffeur cum guide Iqbal drove us to a quaint little place for the palate of North Indian Thali. Sitting over lunch we started planning our next destination when our driver suggested that it is possible to make a quick trip to Nalanda, if we can finish with our lunch a bit fast. We were more than happy to know that as almost half the day was over and we need to travel another 77 kms.
It was a pleasant drive of two hours through the farmlands to Nalanda in the cool Monsoon weather. The wide road with vast green pasture spread out on both sides was a scene to be captured and saved for posterity in our mind. Cattles grazing on the meadows were sights of pleasure. The Rajgir Hills stand beautifully tall on both sides of the road on approach to Nalanda. Modern Rajgir city got its name from Rajagriha the capital of the Magadh. Rajgir also runs India’s oldest single person rope way, which connects to the Vishwashanti Sutpa, a must visit tourist destination.
We were restricted by time therefore had to prioritize our choice of places to visit at Nalanda. We started with the obvious choice of Nalanda University, the archeological complex. The Excavated site is of an area of around 1600 ft in length and 800ft in width. The origin of the Nalanda Mahavihar (the Great Buddhist monastery) dates back to the 3rd Century, and one of the oldest universities in the world. Eleven monasteries and six great temples were excavated at the site .A 100ft wide passage runs between them from North to South. Most structures show evidence of multiple periods of construction with new buildings being raised atop the ruins of old ones. Many of the buildings also display signs of damage by fire.
Nalanda is believed to be a completely residential university. The ability to blend different discourses and embrace knowledge in its entirety made Nalanda attractive for all seekers of knowledge. The archeological components suggest a seamless coexistence between human and nature. The profound knowledge of Nalanda’s teachers attracted scholars from places as distant as China, Korea, Japan, Tibet, Mongolia, Turkey, Sri Lanka, and South East Asia. These scholars have left records about the ambience, architecture, and learning at this unique university. The most detailed accounts have come from Chinese scholars and the best known of these is Xuan Zang who carried back many hundred scriptures which were later translated into Chinese. Buddhism started losing popularity steadily during the time of the Palas, which resulted to the decline of Nalanda. And the final blow came with the Muslim invasion of the Northern India during the 17th Century.
Walking around the excavated ruins was an amazing sight with feelings of gratitude. An unusual intellectual ferment was a characteristic of the Ancient Magadha which left it traces behind on the remains of Nalanda. It is heartening to know that efforts were being initiated by former President APJ Abdul Kalam to revive the university and In September 2014, the University opened its doors for the first batch of students, after a gap of nearly eight hundred years.
The Archeological Museum of Nalanda our next destination lies across the road from the Nalanda ruins, and charges an entry fee of Rs 5 per head. The museum is maintained by the Archeological society of India and it gives an insight to the art and sculptures of the Gupta and Pala eras. It protects and display the antiquities that have been excavated from the ruins. The Museum has rare and beautiful collection of Buddha’s bronze statues, copper plates, manuscripts, stone inscriptions, pottery, coins and images of various Gods & Goddesses. Majority of the sculptures excavated from Nalanda have been carved on Basalt stone but some are made of stone, bronzes, stucco, terracotta etc. The existence of this Museum immortalizes the richness of Ancient Nalanda culture.
Time seems to be zipping by and we are yet to visit the Hiuen Tsang Memorial Hall. This memorial, built in memory of the Chinese traveller, is an architectural masterpiece. The memorial is located 2 km from the Nalanda Archeological ruins, and we took an e-Rickshaw to travel faster on the narrow road. This memorial is a distinct reminder of the Chinese architectural style. One will find multiple writings of Tsang preserved here. He was warmly welcomed in Nalanda where he received the Indian name of Mokshadeva and studied under the guidance of Shilabhadra. Besides Buddhist studies, Hiuen Tsang also attended courses in grammar, logic, and Sanskrit, and later also lectured at the Mahavihara.
Tibet too inherited and preserved the vast wealth of Indian Buddhism almost in its entirety, encompassing the three main “vehicles” of teaching, Hinayana, Mahayana, and Vajrayana. The Dalai Lama refers to himself as a follower of the lineage of the seventeen Nalanda masters.
Sunset approaching, it was time to head back. It was indeed a tight trip around but we returned satisfied with our accomplishments and looking forward to our compulsory final destination the Mahabodhi Temple at Bodhgaya, hoping to make it on time before the gate closes for the day. The Temple is one of the earliest Buddhist temples built entirely in brick; still standing in India, from the late Gupta period.This property is considered the cradle of Buddhism in the history of mankind. Mahabodhi Temple Complex is of great relevance as it marks the most important event in the life of Lord Buddha, the moment when Prince Siddhartha attained Enlightenment and became Buddha, an event that shaped human thought and belief.
From the east, a flight of steps leads down through a long central path to the main temple and the surrounding area. The temple faces east and consists of a small forecourt in the east with niches on either side containing statues of the Buddha. A doorway leads into a small hall, beyond which contains a gilded statue of the seated Buddha (over 5ft high) holding earth as witness to his achieved Enlightenment.
The Giant Bodhi Tree, to the west of the main temple, is supposed to be a direct descendant of the original Bodhi Tree under which Buddha attained enlightment. Next to the Bodhi Tree is the Vajrasana, a platform attached to the main temple made of polished sandstone to mark the spot where Buddha sat and meditated There are six other sacred sites of Buddha’s enlightenment, in the Temple complex and numerous ancient Votive stupas, The Lotus Pond, located outside the enclosure to the south, is considered sacred as well. Both the temple area and the Lotus Pond are surrounded by circulating passages at two or three levels and the ensemble area is 5 m below the level of the surrounding land.
After completing a round of the premises we sat down under the Giant Bodhi quietly for sometime experiencing the stillness and calmness of the surroundings. People sitting together into meditation in pin drop silence, under the sacred tree was a heavenly moment to experience. I quietly sent a prayer of gratitude to the Almighty for this wondrous day in my life.
Visiting BodhGaya is not only about an immense feeling to pray and feel the inner peace at Mahabodhi Temple but it is also a great occasion to go around and visit the different monasteries built by the countries of Japan, China, Bhutan, Thailand, Sri Lanka, and Vietnam, Myanmar and Nepal. There are monasteries built by SIkkim and Tibet as well. Each monastery reflects the diverse Buddhist culture of the region and their architectural styles. They also reveal how far Buddhism has expanded from the place of its conception.
It was quite late in the evening and we had to get back for dinner at the hotel. By the time we reached back to our rooms all of us were thoroughly exhausted by the rollercoaster day. Next morning was departure to Patna to catch our flights back home. Bodhagaya too has an International Airport which is about 5 kms from the Temple city. The airport can handle 250 incoming and 250 outgoing passengers at a time. This airport is mainly seasonal and primarily caters to Buddhist tourists coming from South East Asian countries.
Finally while switching off the lights for the day, I sent a big Thank You to Deuta for the incredibly delightful trip and the moments that would linger on with us for a very long time ,of which he was also a part from far.