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A JOURNEY IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF THE BUDDHA
RAMPURVA – site of the hair cutting and changing to robes of a mendicant PDF Print E-mail
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Tuesday, 18 August 2009 10:27

The Buddha having seen how decay and death eventually ended the life of human beings, became concerned with the circumstances and hoped to find a solution to the problem of aging. I do believe that initially he wanted to find a solution to this malady which had been effecting the life of people. To him: “aging brought illness, misery and finally cessation of life.” His compassionate nature was disturbed and caused him to think; “Why death had not been overcome till now?” On a personal level, I do believe that each time Siddhartha saw his own reflection in a mirror; he saw that he too was aging and was no longer the young boy – playful and adventurous. At the age of 30 years, lines had creased his face and probably his hair had receded. He was convinced that eventually he too would die. Desperate to find a solution to this universal malady, his quest for answers from the sages in the Palace proved fruitless and forced the Prince to leave home one night and seek answers from teachers in the world outside the Sakyan kingdom - and hence he left home quietly, leaving behind parents, wife, son and a life of luxury – all moaning his sudden departure.

Here I was standing on the banks of the River Anoma (now known as Harbora) – now nothing more than a muddy rivulet that had changed its course many times over the centuries. The river is fed by water from the melting snow of the Himalayas. It was at this site, as the Scriptures mention, that Siddhartha Gotama sent back his servant and horse after cutting his hair and having changed from his princely robes of that of a mendicant and began his journey into a world where some of the most famous sages such as Arada Kalama lived. However none of the sages he met could answer or had solutions to overcoming death as all of them had accepted that death was inevitable. This made Siddhartha change his point of view. But yet he needed to have answers of his own as to why people suffered and this led him to continue his journey to other teachers too, from whom he learnt their techniques of meditation, philosophy and rituals. Not satisfied with their limited knowledge, he decided to experiment and find his own answers. Hence he proceeded to Dhungeshwari, only a few miles away from Uruvella (Bodh Gaya) where he would eventually attain Enlightenment. 

I decided to sit under a Sal tree on the banks of the river; everything is quiet with no one around except a few farmers in a distance busy sowing in their fields hoping that the monsoons will be on time. The only sound I can hear is the gentle ripple of the stream as it flowed past me, the hum of the morning breeze and the twitter of some birds who sat in the trees around me - otherwise everything was silent, serene and very conducive for meditation. As I sat here in the shade of the tree, I could not help reflecting on how much the Lord must have had to struggle to establish the Sangha and keep it intact. How many nights, the Master must have spent contemplating on theories that became the foundation of the Dhamma. He was constantly traveling from one kingdom to another spreading the ‘Truth’ as he constantly tested it before ‘teaching’ it. My mind wandered to how Siddhartha who had renounced a life of luxury, parents, wife, son and a secure life as a prince. How he must have lived in abject poverty for 45 years teaching the Dhamma my mind wandered on to modern times as to how easy it was for the Sangha of monks living with all the luxuries of life… and many were far from following the ‘Path’ the Blessed One taught. In my lifetime as a Buddhist, I have met monks with all kinds of negative attributes such as dishonesty, anger, racial hatred and sexual insanity – very few truly live by the Vinaya. Yet they were successful, controlled a large Sangha and traveled the World at the expense of generous devotees. Such is the world today! It is difficult to really follow the path of the true Dhamma. I do believe that on attaining Enlightenment, the Buddha had a fair understanding that ‘death’ could not be overcome – but by living a pious-honest life one could reduce the cycle of rebirth, till it ceased altogether. How many monks or layity who follow the sublime path actually live the sacred formula he prescribed. It is time that another World Buddhist Conference was held not to find ways how to propagate the Dhamma but to look into how much damage monks were causing to the Faith by their errant misconduct and the negative impression they are imparting to the world at large.

About half a kilometer from the river, is a mound on which the remains of two broken Asoka pillars. As history portray; they represent the events that happened here. One of the Asoka pillars represent the ‘Hair cutting of the Buddha’ while the other marks the event of the ‘Prince’ changing into the robes of a mendicant.’ After centuries of being lost in oblivion, it was during the reign of the British that the site was noticed again. Before going into the details of the British discovery of the Buddhist sites, I would like to look at another aspect; ‘What caused the destruction of Buddhist sites as we see them today?’ Was it caused deliberately by humans or was it due to monks abandoning their Viharas and Stupas due to lack of devotees not being able to visit the sites for innumerable reasons including the persecution from Brahmins and later the Islamic forces and hence the abundance of food and money had dried up? If such was the case, these monks would have returned to becoming house-holders or even joining the Hindu sect. If such was the case, the creation of the Bhumihar community of the Hindu sect have a history not more than from the 12th Century A.D. While these monks deserted their Buddhist places of worship, it crumbled for lack of upkeep – yet I would say it is actually difficult the identify the exact reason for the ruination of Buddhist sites except that we can do is speculate on what caused the disappearance of sites and Buddhism from India.

Half a kilometer away from the river one can see the remains of two Asoka pillars representing the events that happened here. Both these pillars are lying on the ground, one with a concrete canopy covering a part of a pillar with an inscription on it while the other lies nearby in shambles. No one knows the circumstances which caused the pillars to topple over. Was it that the river at some period of time ran too close to the pillars? Did the soft ground erode the foundation of the pillars? Or was the weight and height of the pillars be too much for the soft ground to hold? Or was the destruction caused deliberately by humans? Over all these centuries it would be difficult to identify the cause – all we can do is presume what could have caused them to topple over.

THE BRITISH EXPLORATION

The pillars were first noticed by Carlleyle in 1877-78 when he discovered the remains of the Asokan pillars and other ruins and mounds close by. Later in 1880-81 Alexander Cunningham, the illustrious Archaeologist inspected and explored the site and having convinced himself of its importance, undertook trial excavations near them. An extensive report was written by the Archaeologist. In 1907-08 Daya Ram Sahni did a more thorough excavation of the site.

According to Cunningham, who wrote about the pillars says, that he excavated the surrounding of the site and disconnected its broken Capital from the shaft. The Capital was fastened to the shaft by a solid barrel shaped bolt of pure copper, measuring two and a half feet long and 5-5/16 inches in diameter at the centre and tapered slightly towards the ends where its circumference was 3-5/8 inches. The bolt projected exactly half its length or 1-1/4 inches from the shaft, and the projecting portion received the Capital; both ends were beautifully fitted into the stone, thus dispensing with any cement substance to firmly hold it together. The copper bolt was an exquisite piece of work, created into shape apparently with a hammer. The bolt is now kept in the Indian Museum, Kolkata and weighs 79 ½ lbs.

In 1907, Sahni made a thorough excavation of the ground around the pillar and dug to a depth of 16 feet below the ground level and found the rest of the pillar resting ‘edge-wise’ on a stone slab. Up to 1913 the pillar was lying in the swamp but in the same year, with great difficulty it was removed and placed in a horizontal position on a brick platform 200 yards to the south of its original resting place. On the central part of the pillar is a well preserved inscription of Asoka containing all the well known six-pillar edicts of the emperor issued by him in the 26th year of his reign. In order to protect this inscription a small brick shed has been erected over that portion of the pillar. Apart from the inscription one will also see some graffiti representing crude figures of peacocks and other birds on the shaft and on the top of the tenon. In the year 1907-8, after a more systematic search, Daya Ram Sahni finally did find the capital of the pillar near the site. It was more than 7ft. in height including the lion figure and is exactly similar to the one surmounting the column at Lauriya Nandangadh and is now kept in the Indian Museum, Kolkata. The other Capital found at Rampurva was an almost life size figure of a bull about 4ft. high and is now kept in the Rasthripati Bhavan (Presidential Palace) New Delhi.

In spite of good roads and all communication facilities, yet Rampurva remains a backward area with a few buses of pilgrims visiting the site each winter. There is a dire need to develop the site with proper amenities such as a guest house, shops and police protection for pilgrims who would like to spend a few days meditating at the site. The Tourism Department of Bihar should take up the task to promote the site as such an endeavor would bring to the State additional foreign revenue.

For more details on the pilgrimage site please email: pilgrims.buddhistheritage [at] gmail.com

Rampurva


Ref: Cunningham, ASI, XVI, pp.110-117; Carlleyle, CASI, XXII, pp.51-57; An. Rep., ASI, 1902-3, pp.38-40; 1907-8, pp.181-88; An Rep., ASI, E.C. 1906-7, p.16; 1912-13, p.36; BDG, Champaran, pp. 172-74. Research and personal references made by the Author
Last Updated on Thursday, 20 August 2009 22:21