Sunday, October 1, 2017

Dev Nī Morī Relics: From Museum to its Find Spot

  Dev Nī Morī Relic Casket
On 19 August 2017, I had the opportunity of accompanying Ven. Lama Lobzang (Lama Ji), Secretary General of International Buddhist Confederation (IBC), on a visit to the ancient Buddhist site of Dev Nī Morī near Shamlaji in Gujarat. Archaeological excavation in this scenic valley in 1962 had led to the discovery of body relics of Buddha. Those relics are currently kept at the MS University in Baroda under lock and key. Buddhists venerate the relics of Buddha as sacred objects. According to Buddhist tradition, the rightful place for the exposition of the relics of the Buddha is the stūpa. The Government of Gujarat has now decided to bring out the body relics of Buddha from the closets of the museum and re-enshrine them at their find spot. This is welcome news.

After a two hour drive from Gandhinagar we reached Dev Nī Morī. The place is now a large water reservoir (lake) and the ancient Buddhist remains discovered near the village Dev Nī Morī lie submerged under the lake. Local volunteers at the dam site pointed out to us a Buddhist flag hoisted on a vertical pole in the centre of lake believed to be the site of the stūpa where the holy relics of Buddha were discovered in 1962.
                                           Meshwo Lake



Ven. Lama ji requested the dam management to allow us to offer prayers at the spot where the relics were discovered. The dam officials not only agreed but were also kind enough to offer their motor-boat to take us to that spot in the centre of lake.
Ven. Lama Lobzang on his way to spot of the submerged stūpa 

An ancient custom in India is to circle around a person of reverence or a holy object (stūpa, temple etc), keeping the person or the object on the right side. This is called ‘padakkhina’ (Sanskrit: ‘pradaksina’). Ven Lama ji requested the motorboat operator to circle around the pole to be able offer prayers as per this custom and chant Buddhist sūtras. Lama ji also wrapped a Khadda (Buddhist scarf) on the pole installed at the spot of the submerged stūpa.
Ven. Lamaji wrapping Buddhist scarf on the pole installed at the spot of the submerged stūpa














video

Lama Ji felt nostalgic and shared with me how Dev Nī Morī relic project was conceived during his meeting with the then Chief Minister of Gujarat, Shri Narendra Modi ji at the latter’s office in Gandhinagar on 20 February 2013. To realise the project, the government of Gujarat signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with IBC on 12 January 2015, and formed a Working Committee on 8 June 2015. The Committee has met several times since its formation. The project was also discussed with H.H. Dalai Lama on 19 March 2015. Further, at the ‘Global   Hindu-Buddhism Initiative,’ an International event jointly organised by IBC and Vivekanand International Foundation (VIF) on 5 September 2015 at Bodhgaya, the architect Shri Ojas Hirani and officials of the Gujarat Pavitra Yatradham Vikas Board (GPYVB) made a presentation to Shri Narendra Modi, Hon’ble Prime Minister on the holistic development of Dev Nī Morī. The delegates present at this event including more than 400 eminent monks from 26 nations appreciated the Project highly.
Ven. Lama Ji with Hon'ble Chief Minister Shri Narendra Modi Ji

Name of the place

Conjectural plan of Mahāstūpa and Vihāra of Dev Nī Morī (based on excavation finds)  Courtesy: Gujarat Tourism
The remains of many Vihāra-s and extensive litter of brickbats and potsherds indicate that the archaeological site of Dev Nī Morī was a hub of Buddhist activity spread over a wide area. It appears that even after these Buddhist monasteries were abandoned at the end of 1st millennia, the sacredness of the place persisted. Because of the sacredness associated with the place, the population that settled around these monastic remains in later centuries named this area ‘Dev Nī Morī’. The name ‘Dev Nī Morī’ has multiple interpretations because the word ‘Morī’ has many meanings like ‘in Front of’ or ‘a Collective’ or ‘a Drain’. Therefore, Dev Nī Morī could mean ‘In front of God’ or ‘Collective of God.’ Since the River Meshwo flowed by the monastic remains, the name Dev Nī Morī could also mean ‘Drain belonging to God’.

Discovery of the site and construction of the reservoir

        Map depicting the Valley and Meshwo lake

The ancient Buddhist site of Dev Nī Morī was situated in a 16 km long and 2 km wide, bowl-shaped valley surrounded by hills on four sides. These hills, called Danta Hills, are part of the Arawali Mountain range. River Meshwo, a tributary of River Sabarmati, enters this valley from a narrow pass on the northern side and drains out through a 150 metre-wide ridge on the western side of the valley. Shamalaji is drought prone region. As a result, in the mid-1950s, the government of Gujarat planned to construct a medium-scale dam in this region for the purpose of irrigation. Engineers involved in the planning of the dam found the bowl-shaped valley of Dev Nī Morī as the most suited site for collecting the water by constructing a dam at the point where the river drains out of the valley i.e. on the 150 metres wide ridge on the western side of the valley. Archaeological exploration by Shri P A Inamdar in 1936 and later by Dr. H Goetz and Dr. U P Shah reported the existence of a lot of archaeological remains in this valley. Irrigation department requested the concerned government authorities to conduct excavation and documentation of the archaeological remains before the construction of the water reservoir. Six   villages in the valley including the village of Dev Nī Morī were relocated in the process of construction of the water reservoir.

Excavations and discovery of the Buddha Relics

The stūpa mound (‘Bhojrajā no Tekro’)



















 Inscription on the Relic Casket of Dev Nī Morī
The excavations at the archaeological site of Dev Nī Morī were conducted by Prof. B. Subbarao, Dr. R. N Mehta and Shri S. N Choudhary of the Department of Archaeology and Ancient History of the Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda from 1959 to 1963. The excavations revealed the remains of a big Mahāyāna Buddhist Stūpa and Vihāra-s belonging to early centuries of Common Era. The highlight of the excavations was the discovery of a circular reliquary casket from 120 feet wide and 40 feet high canonical stūpa mound known locally as ‘Bhojrajā no Tekro’ meaning ‘Hillock of King Bhoj’. The relic casket of stone bore an inscription reading ‘dashabala sharira nilay,’ in other words ‘the abode of the Body Relic of the Buddha’. The main body of the casket bears an inscription which records an account of the construction of the stūpa and the installation of the Buddha relic casket there. It indicates that the Mahāstūpa (great stūpa) was erected during the reign of King Sri Rudrasena on the 5th day of bhāḍrapada in the year 127 of the Kathika Kings (i.e. 206 century CE). Following the Mahāparinirvāṇa of the Buddha in the 6th century BCE, his body was cremated and its ashes were divided into eight parts which were then preserved as holy Relics in eight śarīra stūpas (constructed over the Buddha’s relics). As mentioned in Aśokāvadāna, King Aśoka (3rd century BCE) who ruled from Pāṭaliputra collected the Buddha’s śarīra from seven droṇa stūpa (seven of the original eight stūpas constructed over the Buddha’s śarīra) and enshrined it in 84,000 stūpas throughout his realm of Jambudvīpa (Indian Subcontinent). Archaeological and circumstantial evidence suggest that many kings in the Indian Subcontinent reopened the Buddha relic stūpas made by Aśoka and redistributed the body relics of the Buddha. The Dev Nī Morī relic of the Buddha is probably one such Buddha relic that was enshrined by the King Rudrasena (probably from the Kushana dynasty). As mentioned in Buddhist literatures including the travelogues of the 7th century CE Chinese monk-scholar Xuanzang, this region of Vaḍnagar had hundreds of flourishing Buddhist monasteries. This has been corroborated with the excavation and exploration in this region done by the team of excavators from MS University who excavated the Relic stūpa.

Importance of the Buddha Śarira (body relics) to the Buddhist World
Relics have been a focus of veneration for the Buddhist since, it would seem, the passing of the historical Buddha himself. As mentioned in Mahāparinibbana Sutta (Chinese: Nièpán Jīng; 3 Japanese: Nehankyō; Tibetan: myang ‘das kyi mdo), on the final journey to Kuśīnagara to attain Mahāparinirvāṇa, Buddha asked his followers to erect stūpas over his remains and also endorsed the worship of these holy edifices. This is believed to be the origin of the practice of building stūpas at which lay followers could pay homage and earn good karma-s. Archaeological investigation at reliquary sites such as Vaiśālī and Piprāhwā has confirmed that the practice of relic veneration existed prior to the time of the Aśoka. The Sanskrit version of the Mahāparinirvāṇa Sūtra refers to the Buddha’s remains as Asṭhi and specifies that they are collected and placed in a golden urn. These reliquaries were often placed in larger receptacles and nesting receptacles made of gold and precious metal which in turn were put inside stūpas. In symbolic terms, when a king constructed stūpas to house relics, he and his kingdom became a kind of living reliquary. In the 1st millennium, with the gradual spread of Buddhism, the body relics of the Buddha were carried throughout the Asian subcontinent. Imperial patronage of relic veneration in China, Sri Lanka, and other areas of Asia constituted both a demonstration of the largess of the ruler and a response to the fervour of local Buddhists.

Throughout his travel in the India subcontinent, Chinese monk-scholars Faxian (5th century CE) and Xuanzang (7th century CE) witnessed how the presence of Buddha’s relics attracted devotees and strengthened their belief in the Buddha’s historical existence. Many of the relics were also thought to possess miraculous power. Xuanzang noted that a large number of pilgrims and local people paid homage to these relics showing they had deep faith in the miracle-working power of these relics. 

The decision of the government of Gujarat to bring out and enshrine the Dev Nī Morī relics is a historical move to preserve and promote the relics of the Buddha as per the wishes of Buddha recorded in the Mahāparinibbana Sutta. The Project for exposition of the relics in the stūpa — at the very place where they were discovered — rather than keeping them in the museum has made Gujarat the first state in the country in enshrining Buddha’s relics in their rightful place. Taking inspiration from the Gujarat government, I believe that the government authorities in Bhattiprolu, Vaishali, Sopara, Nagarjunakonda, Lalitagiri and others places which contain body relics of the Buddha should also enshrine the relics in their find spots.


Special Thanks to Aparajita Goswami

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.


Bibliography

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