Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Super Stupas

News from Nalanda

Holy Coolness! New stupas on the Bihari block!
This time it's near the famed former Nalanda University in a place called Ghorakatora.

Imposing Buddhist stupa discovered in Bihar

New Kerala Mon, 09 Feb 2009 06:09 AM PST
Patna, Feb 9 :
A huge Buddhist stupa has been discovered in Bihar's Nalanda district and archaeologists Monday said it could be the second largest such structure in the world.

Two winters ago (2007) after the Kagyu Monlam, I took a wild ride through the Bihar countryside to see the ongoing excavation of Kesaria stupa (one of my photos shown below).

Kesaria is huge - about 10 storeys. Some sources say it's the largest stupa in the world (and just think - there is not one tourist facility there and it's not even completely excavated).

Within 11 of the star-shaped niches are 11 seated Buddha statues. Every one of them has had its head lopped off. If I were in India, I would be too politically afraid to say "Muslim invaders did it." But I am in Nepal, so I can say it. It's true.

Amazingly, there is another almost identical to it in Bihar and even lesser known, called Nanda Laharia. I would imagine this "new" (old) stupa is very similar to both Nanda Laharia and Kesaria.

Since my visit to Bihar I have raved that the entire state is a treasure-trove of barely discovered Buddhist ruins. I think this is still just the tip of the iceberg.

Nalanda was at one time a world-renowned university for Buddhist studies, as well as a monastery. It would be politically incorrect to say what happened to it. In fact, you can visit the site yourself, see the destruction, and not see one single sign indicating what happened. Some mean nasty people tore it down and beheaded hundreds of monks. But we can't say who they were or where they came from. Then we might not get certain votes in the next election.

Nalanda was not the only one of its kind. Taxila (now in Pakistan), Odantapuri and Vikramashila were all major centres of religious education.

Even if it's for primarily commercial purposes, I am glad to see Indians rediscovering their Buddhist history and heritage. Vikramashila (in what is now Bengal) is once again in the news:

Vikramsila (Bhagalpur), Feb. 8: Another festival to celebrate the glory of the ancient university has come to an end today, but without any sign of reviving the seat of Buddhist learning. Governor R.L. Bhatia attended the inaugural ceremony of the three-day Vikramsila Mahotsav at Antichak near Kahalgaon on February 6, raising hope among local people for possible inclusion of the ruined university in the Buddhist tourism circuit.

...Excavated remains represent the ruins of Vikramsila Mahavihar, the celebrated university founded by Pala king Dharmapala in the late 8th or early 9th century. Vikramsila, one of the largest Buddhist universities spread across the bank of the Ganga, was six times bigger than Nalanda.

The story goes on to say how locals are eager for the Mahavihar (Great Monastery) to be restored and linked to what is called, in India, the "Buddhist Circuit" (historical and living pilgrimage route; read: Spiritual Tourism).

As an opportunity for India to increase tourist dollars without opening itself further, as some complain, to the sex, drugs and rock'n'roll decadence of the "evil west," Spiritual Tourism would seem to be ideal.

And back here in Nepal, Buddhist ruins from the 12th century are still being discovered. Here's a story about the site of Kakrebihar.
.... Kakrebihar, a site in remote Surkhet district in mid-western Nepal that during excavation by the country's archaeological department yielded a treasure trove of sculptures and stone carvings.
... the findings established the area as an important centre of Buddhist art.

The Kakrebihar mound is probably the biggest instance of rock architecture in Nepal. The ruins suggest a temple built in layers and decorated with images that illustrate the life of the Buddha, the founder of Buddhism, and his teachings.

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