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Thursday, 10 December 2009 20:06

-The site of Siddhartha’s striving for Enlightenment

In his mid-twenties, Prince Siddhartha encountered the realities of illness, old age and death - the crucial elements that made him conscious of human suffering. From that moment, a burning question arose that could not be stilled "what is the purpose of a human consciousness, which foresees that that all love must end in separation, all joy in sorrow and life in disability and death." Perceiving that happiness around him was based on denial and unrealistic hope, the Prince became determined to find a way to free humanity from this unbearable burden of suffering.

Siddhartha, unable to find solutions to his innumerable questions from the sages and palace counselors, decided to seek answers from the learned men who lived in the world of suffering. So, on a full moon night, he took the lone journey in search of wisdom, leaving behind a grief stricken wife, parents and a life of grandeur. The sorrow of parting from loved ones only strengthened Siddhartha's resolve to succeed. His path led him  to the Hermitage  of the most renowned sages, mastering their teachings, he saw that all of them were limited by denial of reality and illusion of a future happiness, none of them would guarantee freedom from the anguish of old age, illness and death. Hence, he continued his journey till he reached the Mora hills, where innumerable ascetics were practicing various forms of penance to attain enlightenment. Here he too turned to the time honoured practice of hardship, accompanied by five other mendicants who were impressed by his vision and resolve. Here he spent six years experimenting on various forms of self mortification. During this time, he became known as Gautama the Ascetic and as "Sakyamuni" the sage of the Sakyas. The Scriptures refer to the event and Mora Hill is referred to Pragyabodhi Hill.  I do believe that after the Mahaparinirvana of the Buddha, the site was a popular pilgrimage site as well as a place used by many Buddhist Arahants who strove for pure understanding of the Dhamma. The site could have lost its importance during the reign of the Muslim kings, as the name of many places had been changed and pilgrims from other Buddhist countries found it difficult to enter India for the fear of being looted or even persecuted for not following the precepts of Islam. Hence, the landmarks around Pragyabodhi or Mora Hill, like Bodh Gaya and many other Buddhist sites lost its Monks who had lost their Royal Sponsors and felt it necessary to leave their Viharas in search of other livelihoods. The Viharas no longer had anyone to care for them and for lack of maintenance, soon went to ruins. The local people in the surrounding village, quite confident that the Buddhist religion was dead, never to be revived, plundered the ruins of these Viharas, taking with them whatever valuables they found and also carrying away bricks and sacred images. The bricks were used for converting their thatched huts to solid brick walled houses and the images were either sold or pounded to ingredients for cementing the walls of their homes. Metal images were either sold or made into jewellery.

Mora Hill or Pragyabodhi is situated about 5 Kilometers to the north-east of Bodh Gaya on the eastern bank of the river Phalgu. The hill has been identified by Alexander Cunningham with the Pragbodhi Mountain of the Buddhist tradition, where the Buddha lived for six years before he proceeded to Uruvela (modern Bodh Gaya). The identification of the site was made from the fact that half-way up the western slope of the hill, facing the river Phalgu, is a natural fissure or cavern, shaped like a crescent 37 x 5 ½ feet with a small entrance 3x2 ft. wide and 4ft.x10 inches high, where the Bodhisattva Siddhartha is said to have lived. Both Fa Hian and Huien Tsaing visited and described the cave of the Pragbodhi Mountain and their accounts according to Cunningham, would perhaps refer to this cave. In comparison, the height of the cave at the other or southern end is hardly 2 feet and 7 inches; while the width is 1feet and 7 inches. At the back or east side of the cavern there is "a ledge of rock, which probably served as a pedestal for the shadow of the Buddha which was figured on the rock." When Bloch visited the cave in 1902, he saw the entrance "recently closed by a masonry wall, by the Hindu Sadhu who resided in the cave. It now admits access only through a small door. No ancient remains of any importance are to be seen at this place.
I, for one have my doubt whether Cunningham had actually visited Mora Hill, but sent a subordinate officer or an Indian Clerk or Surveyor to inspect the site. His report was accepted by Bloch who believed it to be absolutely accurate and required no further investigation. However, some time later Oldham investigated the site and found the records of the previous Explorers as very doubtful. His extensive survey of the area was quoted by the District Gazetteer. Oldham refers to the central portion of the hill as 'Dhongra Hill' (even today that portion of the hill is known as Dhungeshwari).  He continued to say; "About half way down the north-western slope, quite hidden from below by a wall of rock, is a cave at the base of a precipitous cliff. The entrance is small, and has been fitted during comparatively recent years by some ascetic with a framework of wood to hold a door, the aperture of which is little more than 2 feet square. Within, the cave is of an irregular oval shape, measuring about 16 feet 5 inches from north-east to north -west and 10 feet 9 inches from north-west to south-east. The roof is vaulted and about 9 ½ feet high at the highest point. The roof has been roughly hewn; but centuries of adverse weather conditions, has obliterated any traces of the cutting. A broken stone image of an eight-armed goddess, with a few letters of the Buddhist formulae in Kutila characters of perhaps the 9th or 10th century, lies in the cave. Below the cave on the slope of the hill is a large artificially leveled terrace, about 70 yards square, with traces of the foundations of stone buildings; while round about are other remains of smaller dimensions. Above the cave, along the summit of the hill, are the remains of some seven stupas of different sizes, the largest being about 40 feet in diameter."

I have no interest in going into the controversy of which of the British Archaeologists saw the right spots in and around the hill. My view is quite clear: No one doubts that this was the place that the Buddha spent 6 years searching for the path of Enlightenment and therefore the venue is sacred to the Buddhists. In the last 60 years, neither the Archaeological Survey of India nor the Tourism Department has done anything to preserve or promote it as a site where serious meditators could stay for a long period of time to meditate.  I found the environment serene and the people in the nearby villages hospitable. A Korean Monastery, school and hospital exist below the hill serving the local populace.  Tibetan Monks live on the hill and serve the spiritual needs of the few pilgrims who reach there. The site desperately needs to be developed and the only way the Government could make it possible is to invite the International Buddhist Organizations to develop sites which have been neglected for centuries and till date have not been developed. Such an effort in the 21st Century when Global Companies are making an in-road into sharing business enterprise, it would to the benefit of the State of Bihar if it modified its laws and collaborated with the Buddhist Countries in joint ventures to develop ancient sites and thereby promote the flow of pilgrims/tourists and thereby earn a larger profits through the flow of Foreign income.

Sunrise over Mora(Pragbodhi) Hill from the Phalgu riverside

The Skeleton Buddha enshrined in Mora Hill

Images in the wall of the hill

Top view of Mora Hill

An ancient stupa on the hill

Another view of the hill adorned with prayer flags


References: Cunningham, ASI, pp.105-7; Bengal List, p.296; Bloch, An. Rep., ASI,B.C., 1902, p.11; BDG, Gaya, pp. 225-32, Personal views of Suresh Bhatia on behalf of The Buddhist Heritage.

Last Updated on Sunday, 13 December 2009 13:27