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Thursday, 10 December 2009 20:19
- The Buddhist Sangha Revive an 'Ancient Sacred Site'

The Archaeological Survey of India, with its redundant laws, dating back to 1861, and its incompetence in excavating, and bringing 'to light' sacred sites that would attract the International Pilgrim, as such the Buddhist Sangha now find it necessary to personally restore sites and with it, attract a larger congregation of pilgrims and help the State of Bihar earn a more lucrative 'foreign revenue' that it badly needs for its development project. Another compassionate gesture of the International Sangha is for the people living around these sites; most of them live below the 'poverty line.' And by their visiting the site will create avenues whereby these people will learn the art of creating innovative products, develop cottage industries etc. The Buddhist Heritage invites more members of the Sangha to explore other sites and we will be happy to extend our cooperation to them.

On the 2nd of December, 2009, the Sacred Sites of Kukkutapada Giri Stupa on the Gurpa Hill was once again revived to its original glory when His Holiness the 17th Gyalwa Karmapa Urgyen Trinley Dorjee Consecrated the two newly built glorious stupas dedicated to Maitreya, Maha Kassapa and Arya Asanga. The Guests of Honour to this magnificent function were Ven. Master Ching Yao of Taiwan, Ven. U. Nyaninda Mahathera of Myanmar and Dr. Ven. Buddha Yano of Thailand. The ceremony and building of the Stupas was organized by Bhikkhuni Sik Tsi-Ying of Shing-Nan-Ting Monastery, Taiwan and Bhikkhu Tsering Tenzin (Ananda) (Ladakh) Founder of the Asian Buddhist Cultural Centre, Bodh Gaya.
The hill also referred to as Kukkitapadagiri is situated about 1.65 Kilometer north of Gurpa Station on the railway line from Gaya to Kolkata or by road via Fathepur. The site on the hill is mentioned in the 'Records of the Archaeological Survey of India' which mention that the caves and the ruins on the hill were first noticed by R.D. Banerji in 1906 with an additional note thereon appended by Bloch in the Bengal Asiatic Society's journal of that year. The caves and the ruins do not seem to have been further described or explored thereafter or any serious research undertaken to identify the site.
According to the Buddhist Scriptures, when Maha Kassapa, the Buddha's successor, realized that at the age of 120 years, his life was drawing to a close, he set out for Kukkitapadagiri, his favourite hill where solitude existed and was conducive for meditation. His feeble body could no longer climb the rocks as easily as before, hence he struck a wall of the hill and it opened to let him through. On arriving at the summit, a cavity opened in the rocks and Maha Kassapa entered, fell into a deep meditative trance and the rocks closed around him.

Legends say that in the distant future when Maitreya, the future Buddha appears in the world, he will come to Kukkitapadagiri, awaken Maha Kassapa, receive the Buddha's robe from him and then begin to announce the new dispensation. Mahakassapa was one of the Buddha's foremost disciples. After Sariputta and Moggallana predeceased the Blessed One, it was Mahakassapa who came to be seen as his successor. Several important discourses in the Pali Tipitika were attributed to him, he was the leader of the ascetic movement within the Sangha, and he presided over the First Council and later, in China, was revered as the founder of the Ch'an School of Buddhism. Another fact referred to in the Pali Scriptures was that just before his final Nirvana, the Buddha exchanged his robe with Mahakassapa's .The legend concludes by saying that in the distant future when Maitreya arises in the world, he will come to this mountain and awaken Mahakassapa, who will pass the Buddha's robe to the Master of the 'future world.'
During the time when Buddhism flourished in India, Kukkitapadagiri was one of the most popular destinations for pilgrims because of its association with both Mahakassapa and Maitreya. The stupa on the mountain's top, said in the Asokavadana to have been built by King Ajatasutta. In fact on all images of the Maitreya one will observe a stupa nestled in his crown (Bu s Ton's History, p.86). One of the statues of Mahakassapa ever found in India has an inscription on it by giving his biography and concludes by saying that "he entered Nirvana on the charming hill of Gurupada." The hill gained the reputation as being the abode of sages and saints. In one account of it we read "On this hill, as of old, there are Arahants abiding. One of the saints who is said to have lived on the mountain was the great Mahayanist philosopher Asanga. Legends say that he spent 12 years meditating in a cave of Gurpa hill hoping to get a vision of the Maitreya Buddha. After 6 years without success, he decided to give up and leave but just as he was about to do so he noticed a bird's nest, and beside it, the rock was worn smooth by the wings of the occupant brushing against it. Observing this encouraged Asanga to continue his practice and eventually attain his goal.
Many of the Chinese pilgrims who visited India between the 4th and 11th centuries went to the sacred mountain. I-tsing says he dreamed fondly of climbing Kukkutapadagiri even before he left China, a dream he was later able to fulfill. Fa-hian and in particular Huein Tsang, both left detailed descriptions of the place. Among Chinese, so strong was the desire to visit Kukkutapadagiri that as pilgrimages to India became increasingly difficult after the 10th century, a mountain in china, Che Chu Shan, in Yunnan province, was considered to be the original. Even today, Chinese Buddhists will express surprise and confusion when told that Kukkutapadagiri is in India, not in their own country. The Gurpa hill continued to attract pilgrims and hermits right up to the twilight period of Buddhism in India. The last reference in traditional Buddhist literature of anyone going there is to be found in the biography of the great mendicant Buddhagupta, who stopped there briefly during his travels in the 16th century. After that, Kukkutapadagiri remained in oblivion till 1906 and was restored to its full glory on the 2nd of December, 2009.

During the 19th century a number of British Archaeologists interested in exploring India's Buddhist past relied on the writings of the Chinese pilgrims and modern survey maps to try to identify ancient sites including Kukkutapadagiri. Initially they made a number of surveys of a number of sites - none tallied with the accounts of the Chinese pilgrims. It was only in 1906 that Sreegopal Bose and Rakhal Das Banerji brought to the attention of scholars yet another site some 20 miles from Bodh Gaya, suggesting that it might be Kukkutapadagiri. Its alternative name Gurpa was a shortened form of the Prakrit name Gurupada. On the hill there were Buddhist Sculptures and inscriptions and it was still held sacred by the local inhabitants of the area, and most significantly it had all the geologic features mentioned by the Chinese pilgrims. Though the British Archaeologists differed in coming to a conclusion. Yet one cannot deny that the site is the original place where the Maitreya Buddha will awaken Mahakassapa and that no matter how the Government takes a stand in allowing the Buddhists to restore the site .For the believers of this Faith, this is a 'Sacred venue' and if other religions are given the freedom to worship and restore their ancient sites, I do not see any reason why we need to be treated differently. Buddhism spread to a number of Countries because of the profound philosophy of its Founder Gautama Buddha, who travelled through the length and breadth of what is now Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. It is because of His teachings that Kings and devotees from other Countries accepted the faith, as such the Government of India as well as the State Government should not only accept Gurpa as a Buddhist site belonging to the devotees but also help in developing proper roads, guest houses and even a 'rope-way' for the convenience of the pilgrims.
There are other sites too in Bihar that too are of immense relevance to the Buddhist Faith. Since India attained Independence, nothing has been done to restore these Sacred sites, hence the devotees feel the need to revive these sites and I personally feel that there should be no obstruction of objection from the Government as such an endeavor will bring to the State of Bihar additional Foreign Revenue it so badly needs for its development project as well as provide to the local people innumerable opportunities to earn a livelihood.

The Gurpa hill in the morning fog

Pilgrims climbing the modern stairway up the hill

Modern Stupa dedicated to Ven. Maha Kassapa

Pilgrims at the Innauguration Ceremony

The modern stupa dedicated to the Buddha

Inscription marking the Restoration of the Site

Pilgrims Chanting

His Holiness the 17th Gyalwa Karmapa Urgyen Trinley Dorjee along
with Tibetan Monks chanting at the Gurpa Hill

References: Banerji,B.R.D."An Account of the Gurpa Hill in the District of Gaya, the probable site of Kukkutapadagiri, Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal (NS) Vol.II,1906; Beal. S., Si-Yu Ki, Buddhist Records of the Western World, 1884; Cunningham, Alexander, Ancient Geography of India, 1871; Keith, A.W., "Notes on some Buddhist Remains in Magadh", Bengal: Past and Present, Vol. VI.1910; Stein, Aurel, "Tour of South Bihar and Hazaribagh", Indian Antiquary, Vol.XXX, 1901.

Last Updated on Thursday, 24 February 2011 10:06