Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Dhauli, Buddhaśarīra and Dhammaghoṣa

I got a wonderful opportunity to participate in an early morning chanting of the Buddhist sūtras and offering of prayers at the Aśokan Rock Edicts site of Dhauli. Dhauli Hills are located on the banks of the river Dayā, 8 km south of Bhubaneswar (capital of Odhisa). The event was organized by Department of Tourism, Government of Odhisa on 12th April, 2017.  More than 100 venerable monks and nuns from Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Tibet, Korea, Laos, Bangladesh and India participated in this auspicious event.  Dhauli has a very special place in the history of Buddhism. It was here the 3rd Mauryan Emperor Aśoka (3rd BCE) in his eighth regnal year (RE-13) fought the Kalinga war that transformed and motivated him to follow the teachings of the Buddha and establish ‘Dhamma Practice’ (RE-IV).
              Pictures from the chanting at the World Peace Pagoda, Dhauli

In 3rd BCE, Mauryan dynasty ruled whole of Indian subcontinent baring a few kingdoms like the Kalinga. With many sea ports on her coast, Kalinga was a maritime power with oversee colonies. King of Kalinga, according to Greek ambassador Megasthenes who lived in the court of the first Maurya Emperor Chandragupta Maurya, maintained for himself a standing bodyguard of ‘60,000 foot soldiers, 1,000 horsemen, and 700 elephants.’  In 269 BCE, Aśoka became the emperor of Magadha Empire. Aśoka sent a letter to Anantha Padmanabha, the King of Kalinga where Aśoka asked for complete submission of Kalinga to the Mauryan Empire. This was refused by the king of Kalinga. The deciding battle was fought on the banks of river Dayā near Dhauli hill. From the side of Kalinga, it was truly a people’s war. The freedom loving people of Kalinga offered a stiff resistance to the Mauryan army.  The battle was fierce and claimed the lives of 150,000 warriors of Kalinga and 100,000 Mauryan warriors. 

                                                   A view of River Dayā from Dhauli Hill

The scene of the war presented a horrible sight, the whole terrain was covered with the corpses of soldiers, wounded soldiers groaned in severe pain, vultures hovered over their dead bodies, orphaned children mourning the loss of their nears and dears, widows looked blank and despaired. It is being said that the battle was so fierce that in aftermath of the battle, Dayā River turned completely red because of the bloodshed.

It is said in oral history that one woman of Kalinga came to Aśoka after the war and said that the battle took away her husband, father and son from her and she has nothing to live for. Miseries of the war deeply affected Aśoka. He declared that hence forth there won’t be Bherighoṣa (sound of the war drums) but Dhammaghoṣa, the resonance of the teachings of the Buddha.  It’s believed after the Kalinga war Aśoka visited Saṅgha (yam me saṁghe upeti) and probably practiced Dhamma for one year (RE-I, Gavimath version). Aśoka visiting the sangha gets further credence because 7th CE Chinese monk I-Tsing (Yijing ) saw an image of Aśoka in a monastery in Magadha where the emperor was attired as a Bhikkhu (Bhikṣu, a monk).

Thereafter, Aśoka dedicated his entire life in promoting Dhamma by sending Dhamma missions to far-off lands (RE II, V, XIII) and paid Dhammayātrā-s (Dhamma pilgrimage) to sacred places associated with Buddha and his prominent disciples.   On his 12th and 26th years of reign, Aśoka worked to spread Dhamma through inscriptions carved on polished rocks and sandstone pillars. Emperor Aśoka called his edicts Dhamma Edicts (RE-I). While his given name was Aśoka, meaning ‘without sorrow’, as mentioned in his numerous edicts, he assumed the title Devānaṃpiya Piyadasī, meaning, ‘Beloved-of-the-Gods, he who looks on with affection.’

       Map depicting Dhamma Missions by Aśoka and places of his Pillar and Rock Edicts
Gradually, in stages, Buddhism came to its ebb in Indian subcontinent by 13th CE. Odisha was among one of the last strong holds of Buddhism in India. Ancient remains suggest that the monasteries of Udaygiri, Lalitagiri and Ratnāgiri in Odhisa continued to flourish till 14th-15th CE. 

Major Markham Kittoe was first to report about the Dhauli rock edicts in 1837. Kittoe noticed that local people of Bhubaneswar and priests in particular were reluctant in sharing about the places of worship. Actually, just a few years before 1837, European antiquarians like Colin Mackenzie and General Stuart had ransacked many places of worship in and around Bhubaneswar and removed many sacred idols. Kittoe almost missed the inscription site when the people living in the vicinity of the inscription decoyed away from spot by assuring him existence of no such place. Fortunately, returning back a mile, he found a person who led him back to the inscription place.
Kittoe noticed that the rock has been hewn and polished for a space of 15ft long and 10ft high and divided into four tablets where the inscription have been deeply cut.   Immediately above the inscription is a terrace that had the fore half of an elephant (4ft). Because of this elephant the place was locally called Aswathāmā (legendary elephant Aswathāmā of epic Mahābhārata).

     Sketch map of Aswathāmā rock (Dhauli Rock Edicts) from the Kittoe’s Journals, 1838
People informed Kittoe that the Aswathāmā was worshiped only once in a year when local priests threw water and besmeared the elephant with red lead.   With a great difficulty Kittoe made a copy of the inscription. He also had to kill a mother bear that was creating trouble.  Kittoe sent the copy of the inscription to James Princep, Secretary, The Asiatic Society of India. One year later, Kittoe had to revisit Dhauli when James Princep requested him to reexamine the transcript and correct the inscription. Kittoe spotted the two cubs of the Bear which he had killed the previous year. The Bear cubs were now grown up and were in no mood to welcome the guests.
Aswathāmā Rock 

Dhauli Rock Edicts

In 1837, James Princep successfully deciphered the Edicts that were discovered from Sanchi, Delhi, Allahabad and Dhauli. We now know these edicts as Aśokan Edicts. In the following decades, more and more edicts were discovered from different parts of Indian subcontinent. The Aśokan Edicts are broadly divided into three categories,
1. Pillar Edicts (PE, set of 7 edicts) inscribed on monolith pillars discovered at 13 places.
2. Major Rock Edicts (RE, set of 14 + 2 separate edicts found at Dhauli and Jaugada, both in Odisha) inscribed on rocks and boulders discovered at 11 places.
3. Minor Rock Edicts discovered at 21 places.

Aśoka's edicts are mainly concerned with the reforms he instituted and the moral principles he recommended in his attempt to create a just and humane society. In his 13th RE, Asoka has mentioned about his conquest of Kalinga involving a great carnage, captivity and misery to the people. Surprisingly enough, Aśoka does not mention in this inscription the name of the King of Kalinga against whom he fought that deadly war. It was customary in those times for a victorious king to record the name or names of the kings whom he defeated. Also, Aśoka has deliberately omitted the 13th RE that talk about the Kalinga war in his Dhauli Edicts. Instead, in its place two special edicts known Kalinga Edicts which are conciliatory in nature meant for the pacification of the newly conquered people of Kalinga are incorporated.

I find it little intriguing that the 7th CE Chinese monk Xuanzang (Hsüan-tsang, Yuan Chwang ) in his accounts has not mentioned about any of the Aśokan Rock Edicts. We know from his travelogues that he visited Girnār, Shabāzgarhi and Oḍra but conspicuously he is silent about the Rock Edicts at these places. Probably, immediately after the collapse of Mauryan Empire, the Rock Edicts got cut off from the tradition and faded into oblivion. Archaeological evidence suggests that Dhauli in 1st Millennia CE had flourishing Buddhist monasteries.  In 1970, Nichidatsu Fujii(1885–1985), a Buddhist monk from Japan and founder of the Nipponzan-Myōhōji Buddhist Order built World Peace Pagoda on the Dhauli hill. After centuries of neglect Dhauli has once again a small Buddhist community living here and that makes Dhauli again a living Buddhist heritage site.

    Lalitgiri stūpa, relics of the Buddha were discovered from here.

Government of Odisha is now working towards creating awareness towards the Buddhist past of Odisha. Excavation and explorations in last 100 odd years has revealed that Buddhism flourished in Odisha region since 2nd BCE till 15th CE. Excavations in 1985-92 at Lalitagiri hills have yielded three caskets containing relics. The Lalitagiri relic casket has no inscriptions but we know many of the relic caskets discovered from different parts of the Indian subcontinent don’t have any inscriptions. Archaeological and circumstantial evidence suggest that many kings in Indian subcontinent reopened the Buddha relic stūpas made by Aśoka and redistributed the body relics of the Buddha.  The Lalitagiri relics are most probably Buddhaśarīra (body relics of the Buddha) that were enshrined by some king or prominent monk in 2nd BCE. Unfortunately, all the Buddha relics discovered from India are currently kept in Museums under lock and key. But fortunately, Government of Odhisa is now creating an infrastructure to bring back the relics kept at Bhubaneshwar Museum back to Lalitagiri. 

             Map depicting places of discovery of relics of the Buddha 

Odhisa has one of the most fascinating Buddhist monastic remains in the World. Monastic remains of Ratnāgiri, Udaygiri, Langudi and Lalitagiri are the ideal place to visit and gain an appreciation for the Buddhist iconography. 
                           Some pictures from Ratnāgiri and Udaygiri 

I am thankful to Department of Tourism, Government of Odhisa for inviting me to 4th Kalinga International Buddhist Conclave. I am especially thankful to Dr. Sunil Kumar Patnaik for all his hard work to make the tour memorable and also for offering his latest publication Buddhist Heritage of Odisha to me. 

Dr. Sunil Kumar Patnaik  holding his book.


Patnaik, S; 2012, Buddhist Heritage of Odisha, Mayur Publications, Bhubneswar,
 Kittoe, M.; 1838, Notes on the Aswastama inscription at Dhauli near Bhuvaneswar in Orissa, Journal of Asiatic Society of
 Bengal, Vol-VIi, Part-I, (Edited By-James Princep), Printed by  Baptist Mission Press, Calcutta. 

 Takakusu, J.; 1998, A Record of the Buddhist Religion by I-Tsing, Munshiram Manoharlal
 Publishers, New Delhi, (Originally published in 1896 by the Clarendon Press, London).

Dhammika, S; 1994, The Edicts of King Ashoka, Buddhist Publication Society, Kandy, Sri Lanka.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

The case of missing 'Tetrāwan Avalokiteśwara'

Bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara in the temple shelf before the theft

An ancient sculpture of Bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara in the form of Jaṭāmukuṭa Lokeśwara was stolen from a community temple in Tetrāwan (Nalanda District) on 26th January, 2013. The sculpture is 24 inches (2ft) long and 13 inches wide. Generally, such theft of ancient sculptures from villages in Bihar goes unreported.  Also most of the time the ancient sculptures kept in the village collectives are undocumented hence even reporting the matter to appropriate authorities is not of much help. In Tetrāwan, luckily, Shri Rajiv Pande a heritage volunteer from the village, had taken photographs of the stolen sculpture from his mobile phone just days before the theft.  In recent years we have surveyed many villages of Bihar to document the neglected heritage and facilitate awareness among villagers towards its protection and preservation. Our awareness generation efforts have started paying results. Now there are several examples from Maher and Lohjarā (both in Gaya district), where the participation of heritage volunteers led to the recovery of stolen images of Buddha.  These examples are encouraging other villagers and heritage volunteers like Shri Rajiv Pande to come forward and report the thefts.  The Tetrāwan sculpture was stolen four years ago. Stolen sculptures exchange many hands and go through auction houses like Sotheby’s, Bonhams, Christie’s etc before reaching their final destination - usually museums. Reporting the theft of the Tetrāwan Avalokiteśvara in Art Loss Register, London will help in tracking the sculpture in auctions and collections of international museums. 

Tetrāwan is situated 20kms east of ancient Nalanda University. Artefacts and ancient remains in Tetrāwan suggest it to be a very prominent Buddhist monastic centre in ancient times. This village finds mention in survey reports of all the prominent explorers and archaeologists of 19th CE like A. M. Broadley, Sir Alexander Cunningham etc. 

We urge like minded people and institutions to help us find and restore this beautiful statue to its find spot i.e. Tetrāwan. 

Temple shelf after the theft

Community temple in Tetrāwan

Shri Rajiv Pande with fellow villagers

Registration with Art Loss Register, London
                                   Art Loss Registration Number- R00009019

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Stolen 'Lohajarā Buddha' restored to villagers

Shri Rajesh Pande (Right) with the Buddha Statue.
The Buddha statue (9th-10th CE) that was stolen from Lohajarā village (Wazirganj block in Gaya district) in 2014 was brought back to its findspot finally on 30th January 2017. The statue was recovered from a house in Sithaurā village in Nalanda district in August 2016 by the Nalanda police. 

People of Lohajarā had very little hope of finding the stolen Buddha statue. Their apprehension was not without reason -- thousands of ancient statues went missing from the villages of Bihar in the past few decades, of which very few were recovered. This particular statue from Lohajarā, fortunately, was documented in 2011 by me.  When the statue was stolen, without wasting any time, I registered the theft in the Art Loss Register, London. The registration of the theft played a key role in its recovery. The complete story of the statue's recovery can be found on my  blog (Recovery of stolen 'Lohajarā Buddha' Sculpture).

After recovery, the statue was kept in the Rajgir police station. Villagers of Lohajarā produced the all the evidence required to claim that the statue belonged to their village. However, since the statue was stolen from in Gaya district and recovered from the Nalanda district, to get possession of the statue, the villagers of Lohajarā needed permission from the District Court of Nalanda. Hence, restoring the statue was a complex procedure taking up to several months because it involved the authorities of both Gaya and Nalanda districts.

Shri Rajesh Pande, a heritage volunteer from Lohajarā took the initiative and pursued the matter with the concerned officials in both districts. On 30th January, after submission of all the requisite permissions, the villagers of Lohajarā finally received the lost statue and brought it back to their village. The villagers realize that safeguarding the Buddha statue is very important. They now plan to build a temple where the ancient statue can be housed.  They hope to find some Buddhist donors who would contribute in the making of the temple. 

From Telegraph, Patna edition, 1st February, 2017.
Dainik Bhaskar, 1st February, 2017.

Dainik Bhaskar,  31st  January, 2017

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

7th Sāriputta World Peace Walk

International Buddhist Confederation (IBC) with support of Nava Nalanda Mahavihara (Deemed University), Nalanda and Bodhgaya Temple Management Committee (BTMC) successfully organized 7th Sāriputta World Peace Walk at the base of Giriyak Hill, Rajgir on 14th November, 2016. Venerable Bhikkhu Saṅgha, important dignitaries, community of Nalanda and staff and students of NNM assembled at the start point of the Walk at 2.30 pm. Following the walk to the base of the hill, Venerable Bhikkhu Saṅgha chanted Sammaditthi Sutta.  The chanting was followed by   the speeches by the distinguished guests who spoke about contributions of Arhat Sāriputta. Objective of the event was to pay rich tributes and to generate awareness towards the legacy of Sāriputta on occasion of his parinirvāṇa anniversary on Kartikā Pūrṇimā (full moon day of Oct-Nov).  

Venerable Sāriputta is one of the most prominent disciples of the Buddha who is considered to be the right hand of the Buddha. For centuries, the followers of the teachings of the Buddha inspired by the contributions of Sāriputta to the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Saṅgha paid tribute to the stūpas built in his native village.
Tradition maintains that Sāriputta attained parinirvāṇa six months before the Mahāparinirvāṇa of the Buddha.  Sāriputta was born and he attained parinirvāṇa in a village near Rajgir and Nālandā. Pāli literature mentions the village Nālaka (also Nāla, Nālaka, Upatissagāma and Nālagāmaka) (SA.ii.172; ThagA.i.108; ii.93; ThigA.162), where Sāriputta attained parinirvāṇa.  5th CE Chinese monk-scholar Faxian (Fahein) corroborates this by mentioning the name of the village Nāla (Beal 2005), while 7th CE Chinese monk Xuanzang (Hsüan-tsang) mentions the name, Kālapinaka (Beal 1969). Identification of Sāriputta’s village based on Xuanzang and Faxian’s descriptions has led to village Naṇand (Prasad 1988: 175) and Chaṇdimau (Broadley 1979: 51), both in the proximity of Giriyak Hill. Our effort is to promote the whole area consisting of Chaṇdimau, Naṇand and Giriyak as Sāriputta Parinirvāṇa Zone.

Large stūpas were built at the native village of Sāriputta by King Ashoka and the place was part of the Buddhist pilgrimage as mentioned by Faxian and Xuanzang. Illustrations from life and contributions of Sāriputta were discovered in numerous frescos from the Tang Period (7th -9th CE) at Dunhuang Caves in China. Sāriputta is also depicted in ancient Thangka paintings from Tibet. Sāriputta is often seen flanking the right of the Buddha in many Buddhist temples around the world.

The government of Bihar has marked the day of the parinirvāṇa of Sāriputta as "Sāriputta Divas”. This Day is in line with the Vesak Purnima, celebrated as “Vesak”, to mark the day on which the Buddha attained enlightenment and also his Mahāparinirvāṇa. Speaking on the occasion, Ven. Lama Lobzang eminent monk and the founder of the IBC thanked Government of Bihar for declaring the nirvāṇa day of Sāriputta as State day. He said he will now urge the Government of India and Government of other Buddhist countries like Sri Lanka, Burma, and Thailand etc to mark the nirvāṇa days of Sāriputta and Mahāmoggallāna as National Days. He further added that from coming year the event should also take place in the probable villages of Sāriputta i.e. Nānand and Chaṇḍimāu.

Dignitaries present on the occasion,
1. Venerable Lama Lobzang, Secretary General, International Buddhist Confederation.
2.   Shri. Chandrasen Kumar, Hon’ble MLA, Islampur.
3.  Shri. Nanzgey Dorjee, IAS (Retd.), Member Secretary, BTMC.
4.  Shri. S P Sinha, Registrar, NNM.
5.  Ms. Wangmo Dixey, Executive Director, LBDFI.
6.  Shri. Subodh Kumar, DCLR, Nalanda.
7.  Shri Rajiv Ranjan, Dy Collector, Rajgir.

Ven Lama Lobzang , Shri Nanzgey Dorjee, Ven Dhammajyoti and others

Ven. Lama Lobzang leading the Walk.
The Assembly after the Walk at the base of Giriyak Hill.

Venerable Monks reciting Sutta

Dr Sunil Sinha, Registrar, NNM giving the Welcome Address

Ms. Wangmo Dixey sharing her views

Shri Chandrasen ji, Hon'ble MLA sharing his views.

Shri Raj Kumar Singh a heritage volunteer from a local villager sharing his views
Ven. Lama Lobzang sharing his views

Dr. Rana Purrushottam, Assistant Professor, NNM

Dr Vishwajeet Kumar, Associate Professor, NNM giving the Vote of Thanks.

A group picture of the participants
Message of Hon'ble Chief Minister published in all the leading Newspapers of Bihar


Beal, S. 1969. Si-yu-ki: Buddhist Records of the Western World, Translated from the Chinese Of Hiuen Tsiang, New Delhi: Oriental Books Reprint Corporation.

Beal, S. 2005. Travels of Fah-hian and Sung-Yun, Buddhist Pilgrims from China to India, New Delhi: Low Price.

Broadley, A. M. 1979. The Buddhistic Remains of Bihar. Varanasi: Bharti Prakashan.

Prasad, Chandra Shekhar. 1988. “Nalanda vis-à-vis the Birthplace of Śāriputra”. East And  West. Vol. 38. No. 1-4. Rome: Istituto Italiano Per Il Medio Ed Estremo Oriente.

 Abbreviations of Bibliography:

 P.T.S.    Means published by the Pāli Text Society.
 SA.        Sāratthappakāsinī, Saṃyutta Commentary.
ThagA.  Theragāthā Commentary, 2 vols. (S.H.B.).
ThigA    Therīgāhā Commentary (P.T.S.).