How's my Luck now?

Reflections, views and descriptions during my stay at IIM Lucknow from July 2004 to March 2006

Location: India

Friday, January 07, 2005

ek yaatraa - V

Day 2: Varanasi/Sarnath/Allahabad, 29 Dec. 2004, Wednesday

To Sarnath

The weather in Varanasi was not very cold, it was less cold compared to Lucknow. It was another good sunny morning when the same auto-wallah picked us up from the hotel and took us to Sarnath - only a few kilometres and half-an-hour away, albeit with a stretch of very bad road on the way.
We took a guide to take us through the sights of Sarnath. This man was on the payroll of the Weavers' Co-operative Society of Sarnath, consisting of local people who wove and sold very light, handloom silk saari-s for a living. Sarnath, as the guide told us, is the place where the Buddha delivered his first preaching to his first five disciples under a peepal tree. The sites to see here consist of a historic stupa, a temple, the above-mentioned tree, and an archaeological museum. The way to the gate of the temple complex was lined by shops of all kinds, but the place was relatively clean.

Dhammik stupa

Ashok the Great built the great Dhammik stupa here, which was the first thing we saw. We looked at the stupa, located in a vast park, from a distance inside the temple complex. It is a huge structure, 160 ft. high and 100 ft. in diameter. As stupa-s go, this one too is closed from all sides, and has no entrance. There is another way into the park down the road, from where devout Buddhists enter and make circumambulations of the stupa.
Islamic rulers had later tried to break into the stupa, as it was said that Ashok's treasure lay inside. They were unsuccessful in breaking in, and the bottom part was rebuilt later, so the colour of the bricks is different in the upper and lower parts.

Bodhi tree

This is not the Bodhi tree under which Buddha gained enlightenment, of course (that is in Gaya). But the Buddha first gave his message to five of his disciples under the peepal tree here. And it was from here that Ashok's son and daughter - Mahendra and Sanghamitra - took the message of the Buddha to Sri Lanka.
Under the big tree is a circular roofed structure housed by big statues of the Buddha and the five disciples in semi-circular position around him. The message that the Buddha gave - called the Dhamma Chakka Pavattana Sutra (possibly in Pali; we would call it the Dharma Chakra Pravartana Sutra in Sanskrut) - is spelled out on granite plaques around the tree in all the languages which the major Buddhist communities speak - English, Thai, Vietnamese, Sinhalese, Burmese, etc. Also, small statues of Buddha in little shelves are present around the tree, each bearing a different name of the Buddha (e.g. Dipankar).

Temple to the Buddha

This is a modern temple built in 1931 by a Sri Lankan Buddhist monk - Anagarika Dhammapala, whose statue is also present in the temple compound. The temple's inside walls are fully covered by murals depicting incidents in the life of the Buddha. The statue of the Buddha is gold-plated. A book counter was also present where there were several good books on Buddhism, but they were quite expensive.

While seeing all this, we constantly felt the difference between the temples we had visited the day before in Varanasi and this complex. Here, there was so much order and quiet. There, chaos reigned. Here, there is no extortion of money in the name of offerings or panda's fees. It is not difficult to see why the Buddha must have thought that the Hindu religion, even as it existed in his time, needed a new path.


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