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Old 5th May 2009, 09:56   #1
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Default Trails of Magadh

Traveling to Nalanda University (the Nalanda Excavation site) has been on my wish list for a long time. The Nalanda dream is part of my Indian-ness that I take so much pride of. But the thought of traveling to Bihar is too towering especially when you work in a far off place like Bangalore.

Fortunately, I had to attend a 5 day campus at XLRI Jamshedpur. I realized that this is the closest I can get to Bihar and to fulfilling my long cherished desire. I had made up mind to do this trip as soon as the dates for the campus component were announced by XLRI. I quickly checked with my aunt if she would be interested as well. She too had cherished this dream for more than 30 years now. She agreed. The leave and the tickets were secured as long as three months before the actual trip. Train tickets because I was certain that I will not drive down from Bangalore to Nalanda. Driving alone for 6000 kilometers in 8-10 days is not my idea of fun traveling.

I knew I will be investing some good money and equally good amount of time into this trip. And I may never have the opportunity to return to this trip again. So I wanted to make the most of it. Reading about Nalanda and the Magadhan state means that I have to start dwelling into mainstream history textbooks. I bought books worth 3500 rupees. For more than two months most of my free time (on weekends and weekdays) went in preparing for this trip. And most of the preparation was actually just reading these books. I will provide references wherever required.

The journey for this travelogue begins at Tatanagar (Jameshedpur) on 24th April late evening and completes at Patna on 1st May late evening. At Patna we boarded Sanghamitra Express to Bangalore. It left Patna junction at 20:35 hours (40 minutes behind schedule) and will reach Bangalore after 48 hours at 20:40 hours (if it reaches on time) on 3rd May. This is first time I am taking a train journey that will take continuous 48+ hours. But I have a comfortable seat and most importantly a power connection that allows me to work on my laptop all the time.

Just before I started writing this travelogue, I finished processing more than 1200 pictures that I took in 7 days. When I say processing, I have only done two things – selecting photographs that I believe will help me in sharing this travelogue with all of you and secondly resizing the images from their original resolution of 3264X2448 to 800x600. I have selected some 400 pictures to share with you all. It has been one of the most enthralling trip ever for me and it’s important for me to reflect on the same. I hope as I reflect and recount, the teambhpians will enjoy this as well.

I will let the journey begin just with this broad outline and let the details unravel as the journey follows…

Pataliputra – the last capital of Magadh
(modern day Patna)
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To be continued…
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Old 5th May 2009, 11:08   #2
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Eager to see this wonderful journey of yours !! Will keep watching this space.

abhi
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Old 5th May 2009, 11:14   #3
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Magadh used to be the intellectual centers of India long long time ago. I am eagerly looking towards future editions of this travelogue to see what it looks like now.
A good start my friend!
Cheers,

Prad
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Old 5th May 2009, 11:17   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by akbaree View Post
The journey for this travelogue begins at Tatanagar (Jameshedpur) on 24th April late evening and completes at Patna on 1st May late evening. At Patna we boarded Sanghamitra Express to Bangalore. It left Patna junction at 20:35 hours (40 minutes behind schedule) and will reach Bangalore after 48 hours at 20:40 hours (if it reaches on time) on 3rd May. This is first time I am taking a train journey that will take continuous 48+ hours. But I have a comfortable seat and most importantly a power connection that allows me to work on my laptop all the time.
Were you writing this travelogue from train and posted it after reaching at your destination?
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Old 5th May 2009, 11:41   #5
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Another historical piece, eagerly waiting.

But the weather would have been very harsh at this time!
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Old 5th May 2009, 14:33   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by arindamray View Post
But the weather would have been very harsh at this time!
The weather was extremely hot and almost unbearable. I knew it's off season but I never imagined that it would be that bad.

Quote:
Originally Posted by akas_chauhan View Post
Were you writing this travelogue from train and posted it after reaching at your destination?
Yes, I did started writing the first post then but didn't made much progress. There were a lot of kids due to summer vacation rush. Plus there were some laptop trotting kids (supposedly IT professionals) who were playing movies and what not. The compartment had become a mobile theater. The worst part was you can watch multiple movies as you move from one niche to other.
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Old 5th May 2009, 16:50   #7
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Default Arriving at Bodh Gaya

24th April 2009

We have to board the Neelanchal Express at 19:20 hours to reach our first destination - Bodh Gaya. The last session at XLRI completed at 18:30 hours. I and my aunt (who had reached Tatanagar from Ahmedabad this morning) hurriedly leave for the railway station. It’s almost 19:20 hours when we reach the station and the tension about the thought of missing our train continue to build as we run towards the platform. In all this rush, I stop a coolie to enquire the platform from which Neelanchal leaves and alas, he replies: platform # 3, gaadi aaj 3 ghanta late hai sir. Following this anticlimax, I am happy about two things
  1. the fact that I stopped over at the Bistupur Café Coffee Day to buy some burgers; I was actually cursing myself for the same before the anticlimax
  2. I will now not reach Gaya at an unearthly hour – 3:20 hours.
Bodh Gaya is 11 kilometers south of Gaya. One can hire an auto rickshaw from the Gaya railway station for 100-150 rupees depending on the time of arrival and negotiation skills.

I had already spoken with the Tourist Bungalow fellows from Jamshedpur. As we arrived at Siddharth Vihar, it was a simple check in. All thru this trip I have stayed in hotels run by Bihar Tourism. Online booking (I didn’t do online booking) and information (including contact information) is available from their website: Welcome to the Official Web-Site of Bihar State Tourism Development Corporation
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A quick bath & breakfast and we are ready for the day's exploration. The tourist information center is in the same campus as my hotel. The only information it could provide me was an Eicher tourist map of Bihar (@ rupees 75).
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The tricycles that you see parked in front of the tourist information center belong to a NGO who rents them to the locals for 40 rupees a day. As we have arrived in off season, they were all huddled up here.

To be continued...
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Old 5th May 2009, 17:03   #8
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Very nice descriptive travalogue with some nice pics.
The first pic is captivating..i wonder what height it was taken from
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Old 5th May 2009, 21:12   #9
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Good write up and pics. I do always like historical journeys (travelogues). Waiting for more of the same. Also do inform us some history in your each and every pics. It will help understand visualize better.
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Old 5th May 2009, 22:32   #10
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Thanks everyone for showing interest in this travelogue. This is again going to be a long and slow one. Please bear with me. I will try to keep it as short as possible though.

Quote:
Originally Posted by snaronikar View Post
Also do inform us some history in your each and every pics. It will help understand visualize better.
I am sure snaronikar that you will be bored of history when I complete this travelogue.
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Old 6th May 2009, 16:30   #11
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Default International Monasteries - I

The trend of international collaboration in Bodh Gaya is more than two millennia old. The earliest recorded evidence is that of Sanghamitra, daughter of emperor Ashoka, taking the scion of the Mahabodhi tree to Sri Lanka in 249 BCE. Then king of Sri Lanka, Devanampiyatissa, planted it in Anuradhapura, his capital. Till date it stands in Anuradhapura (Mahameghavana Park) and is considered by the faithful as the southern branch of Bodh Gaya’s Mahabodhi tree.

The history of Mahabodhi temple at Bodh Gaya is replete with support of Kings and Buddhist monks from Sri Lanka, Burma, and Java. Inscriptions found at the Bodh Gaya temple and travelogues left by distinguished travelers from China, Burma, Tibet, and Sri Lanka further corroborates this fact.

If we think that making models is contemporary art, we need to think again. Model making, as per current findings, is at least 2 millennia old. The oldest model of the supposedly Mahabodhi temple was found from Kumarahar. It is a terracotta replica. I saw this model in the Patna Museum. I saw various such models in stone in the museums that I visited on this trip.

Historians have identified at least 7 full scale temples outside India (2 in Burma, 2 in China, 2 in Thailand, and 1 in Nepal) that have been modeled around the Mahabodhi temple at Bodh Gaya. The earliest of them was constructed in 1131 CE in Began, Thailand and latest one was constructed in the 18th century. Some temples were constructed based on the models that foreign pilgrims took back or Indian travelers to these countries presented them.

Bodh Gaya has been given World Heritage Status on 26th June 2002. Oxford University Press has a series – Monumental Legacy - that intends to cover the 22 cultural World Heritage sites in India. They have a book on Bodh Gaya titled “Bodh Gaya” by Frederick M. Asher. It is the only book that you will need if you want to visit Bodh Gaya. It’s an excellent work although may not be perfect.

The trend of this international collaboration from the countries that have sizeable Buddhist population continues till date. China, Japan, Tibet, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Thailand, and Burma – all have their monasteries in Bodh Gaya. These monasteries, apart from a temple, have residences for the traveling monks, and pilgrims from these countries. Some monasteries provide stay facilitied to Indians as well.

All the monasteries open at around 8:00 hours and close at 18:00 hours. Additionally they remain closed between 12:00 noon and 2:30 pm. Plan accordingly. These monasteries also have prayer timings but they differ from monastery to monastery.

We started our day at 9:00 hours. The Thai monastery is next to Siddhartha Vihar. So it became the first monastery that we visited. It was constructed in 1957 and is one of the most beautiful ones.
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Some exquisite paintings on the windows…
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The exquisite glass work on the pillar…
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The guesthouse at the monastery…
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Then we move to the second monastery – Bhutanese monastery
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The Buddha’s idol in the Bhutanese monastery was my favorite among all the monasteries that we visited in Bodh Gaya.
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This monastery is popular for the embossed clay images on the walls depicting scenes related to Buddha’s life. The pictures are not just equipped to show the beauty of these.
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The guesthouse at the monastery…
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Both these monasteries had hardly anyone present. So we probe with the few people around if it’s always like that or if people are indoors (in the monastery residence). The reply was – it’s off-season now, the monks have gone back to their respective countries and will return in September or October.

However most of these monasteries bore a festive look during Buddha Purnima (this year, it’s on 8th May). All the monasteries have prayer gatherings and many visiting monks and tourist to celebrate the birth of Buddha.

As we reach the third monastery – Japanese one, we found the gates closed. Its 12:00 noon and monastery will now open at 2:30. So we decide to take a tricycle to the Mahabodhi temple. It opens at 7:00 hours and remains open till 21:00 hours.

To be continued…

Last edited by akbaree : 6th May 2009 at 16:33.
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Old 7th May 2009, 00:43   #12
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Default Mahabodhi Temple - I

The expanse of Bodh Gaya is just 1.5 kilometer in length and less than 1.0 kilometer in width. It took us less than 10 minutes to reach the Mahabodhi temple from the Bhutanese monastery. The temple area is well maintained by the Bihar Government. The World Heritage Status has its advantages.

You can see the gates on the right
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As you can see, there were almost no tourists who would brave the summer noon heat of the Mahabodhi temple. A few people that you see are all locals crossing between north and south gates.
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After you enter the gate, the temple is towards your right
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Let me tell you this, no amount of pictures, description, or history can prepare you for the grandeur of the Mahabodhi temple. I too had seen the temple in pictures and had read extensively before arriving, but when I was in front of the temple, I was taken aback by the beauty and serenity. Frankly speaking, I realized it’s dauntingly hot only after we came out for lunch. And from three hours that we were inside the temple complex, we were inside the sanctorum only for couple of minutes.
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The history of Mahabodhi temple is extremely checkered. At around 5th century BCE, Siddharth Gautam found his enlightenment at this place underneath a Pipal tree and became Gautam Buddha. For almost 800 years, the main object of veneration at this site was the Pipal tree and perhaps the seat of Buddha (also called as Vajrasana). It may have been between 2nd century and 5th century CE that the object of veneration would have shifted to a temple and most probably to Buddha. Actually I am yet to come across any Buddha idol dating prior to 2nd century CE. The earliest Buddha idol found from the Mahabodhi temple site is from 4th century CE and is presently in Kolkata museum.

The precursor to present day Mahabodhi temple would have been in place by 6th Century CE. This can be corroborated by the travelogue left by Chinese pilgrim Xuanzang (early 7th century CE) and also some Sinhalese inscriptions of Mahanaman dated 588/89 CE. Xuanzang observed in his travelogue that to the east of Mahabodhi tree, there’s a vihara measuring between 49 to 52 meters. The height of vihara of present day temple is around 50 meters.

Temple as seen today has undergone substantial repairs during late 19th century CE. Sir Alexander Cunningham (a British archaeologist) who is considered to the father of ASI is also considered to be the architect of the extensive renovation that the temple has undergone. I have zoomed into one of the niches of the vihara and you can see a broken idol which indicates the nature of repair. You can make various such cites.
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The Mahabodhi tree that we see today is considered to be 5th incarnation of the original tree. The original tree has been desecrated 3 times. 4th time the tree died a natural death in 1876. It was replaced by a sapling generated from a seed of old tree and planted at the same location. But today, it has bloomed to magnificence.
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You get unbelievably serene feeling under this Pipal tree. The location of the original Pipal tree could have been where Buddha’s idol is seated today (inside the temple sanctorum).
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The Buddha’s idol dates to 9th or 10th century CE (Pala dynasty). It’s actually a black stone image, painted the way it appears in the picture above.

The earliest monument at the Mahabodhi temple is the slab belonging from Ashoka’s reign. The slab is placed at Buddha’s seat underneath the Mahabodhi tree.
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The metal grill placed around the Mahabodhi tree obstructs the view of Vajrasana and the Vajrasana itself remains covered with a silk cloth.

The other monument that is believed from Ashoka’s period is a pillar discovered standing south of the Mahabodhi temple just outside the Muchilinda lake.
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Then come the stone railing enclosing the Mahabodhi temple. The stone railing have been identified as belonging to Shunga period (185-72 BCE). Originally this railing might have been built to enclose the Mahabodhi tree. But the area was large enough to have the temple enclosed as well.

The stone railing generally depicts decorative elements, but some of them have Buddha’s life events engraved.
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Some historians believe that the face images may be of the people who donated the respective railing.

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Some of the interesting depictions (including one railing depicting Shiva with a trident) has been moved to Bodh Gaya ASI museum.

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All the images that you see around in the first peripheral row are works of Pala dynasty dating between 8th and 10th centuries CE. In the original temple, there were stucco images that have completely eroded. During the 19th century restoration, the stucco images were replaced with these black stone images and painted golden. The images are that of Buddha, Bodhisattva(s) and gods from Buddhist pantheon.

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To be continued…

Last edited by akbaree : 7th May 2009 at 00:47.
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Old 7th May 2009, 10:11   #13
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Default Mahabodhi Temple - II

There are many votive stupas doting the landscape of Mahabodhi temple. A votive stupa means a stupa built by a faithful as an obligation to his wish fulfillment. However some of these may be relic stupas of any of the thousands of monks who stayed here. Xuanzang and other texts also describe monasteries around the Mahabodhi temple which are yet to be discovered.
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I have circled one of my observations that tells me that even these have undergone renovation.
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Some other interesting monuments at the Mahabodhi temple are related to the 7 weeks that Buddha spent at Bodh Gaya after attaining enlightenment. Early historians had identified these places based on Xuanzang’s description. However only couple of them are placed today as identified by the early historians. I am sharing a few monuments that historians are most certain.

Buddha spent his first week underneath the Mahabodhi tree itself in contemplation. Buddha spent next 7 days (2nd week) gazing at the Mahabodhi tree without blinking (animeshalochana). There’s animeshalocahana temple (also known as Tara temple) to mark this event.
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I believe this image is also from the collection dating back to the Pala dynasty. The image is identified as Bodhisattva Manjusri. I have no idea why it is called Tara temple than; may be the image was identified as Tara initially and no one want to change the name now.

Then there’s Jewel Walk. In his third week, Buddha continuously walked up and down (around 10 paces).
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The right side row signifies his foot falls. And the left row (at the bottom) is that of pillar bases indicating that there might have been a covered verandah in earlier times.

During his 6th week Buddha is identified to have sat in meditation in a pond created for him by Lord Indra. During this week he was protected by serpent king Muchilinda. The original idol discovered from this site is in Indian Museum, Kolkata.
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We visited Muchilinda lake during our 2nd visit to the temple later in the evening. I included those images (and that of Ashok Pillar in my previous post) here for the sake of relevance.

We were hungry and it was 15:00 hours. We decided to have lunch and carry with monastery gazing before coming back to the Mahabodhi temple later in the evening.

As we came out, the gate on the west is not as well maintained as compared to the east gate.
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We had our lunch at Om Restaurant (just outside the east gate). It has recommendations from many travel books including lonely planet. The restaurant flaunts those recommendations on the main placard itself.

Coming up: Monastery gazing and visit to the Math
To be continued…
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Old 7th May 2009, 10:13   #14
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akbaree, Amazing pics. I am speechless, never knew that Bodhgaya has so much serenity.
Abhi
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Old 7th May 2009, 15:28   #15
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Quote:
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akbaree, Amazing pics. I am speechless, never knew that Bodhgaya has so much serenity.
Abhi
I am glad you liked the pictures. Thanks.
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