buddha’s bodh gaya: the sacred hidden treasures of mahabodhi temple complex

“Is there some festival or special event taking place here today?” I whisper to the Buddhist monk seated next to me.

I am confused, and overwhelmed.

The entire Mahabodhi Temple Complex in Bodh Gaya, in the Indian State of Bihar, is draped with marigolds, lotuses, and roses. Hundreds of ochre and red-robed shaven-headed Buddhist monks and nuns prostrate in prayer in the grounds, and around the main temple. A handful of tourists quietly join the circumambulations around the main temple. I see pilgrims from Bhutan, Burma, Cambodia, China, Japan, Korea, Thailand, Tibet, and Sri Lanka in deep prayer. Most are dressed in their traditional attires. I see a few pilgrims from the West as well, no less in the purity of their faith. Groups chant with micro precision around me, not one voice out of sync, their mantras punctuated with the crescendo beats of rattle drums.

“No. Nothing special. It is like this every day all winter.” And he goes back to his meditation.

Nothing special. Just the extraordinary experience of being part of, and witnessing Buddhists from all corners of the world come and pay homage to the place where Buddha received enlightenment. 🙂 Continue reading

global travel shot: nalanda, the world’s first residential international university

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When writing the title of this post, I found myself in a bit of a quandary. Should I call it a global travel shot or an Indian travel shot? The former won.

The above image is of the red brick ruins of the world’s first residential international university—Nalanda Mahavihara—built in the Indian state of Bihar in the 5th Century AD. To be more specific, it is an image of the stupa marking the nirvana of Sariputra, Buddha’s famed disciple, within the university. A Sanskrit name, Nalanda means giver of lotus stalks; mahavihara translates to great monastery.

For 800 years, Nalanda, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, attracted the brightest brains from all over the ancient world, from as far afield as Central Asia, China, and Korea. Hungry for knowledge, these scholars flocked to Nalanda’s doors to be met by a rigorous oral examination by its gatekeepers. Only those who passed were allowed to study inside the coveted walls. Many were turned away. Continue reading

cambodia: the sacred and ugly of divine rule

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[My below post first appeared as a travelogue in Hindustan Times, one of the largest newspapers in India, on 6 March, 2016 in both its print and online editions. The online edition can be read here]

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From Angkor Wat to the killing fields of the Khmer Rouge, Cambodia reveals that civilisations hold within them, both, the seeds of greatness and those of depravity

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nala sopara: mumbai’s ancient buddhist stupa and mythical temples

The historical and artistic magnificence of India never fails to amaze me. Take a step in any direction and one is flooded with the country’s inordinate rich past and culture. Which does not always work in its favour for it lends to the Indian populace a nonchalance towards their own heritage.

Medieval sculptures which audiences lust over in international museums lie covered with petals and incense soot in temple nooks here. Millennia old crumbling edifices stand forgotten, holding on to time in desperation in an attempt to evade being razed down. And because they are in the multitude, one more or one less, sadly become irrelevant.

No part of this country is immune to its own cultural excess. Not even an uber metro like Mumbai. In fact even less so, for I have discovered and experienced sights here across centuries and religions, coexisting in uncanny innate ease. Continue reading

mumbai’s csmvs sculpture gallery: where stones speak of art and god

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Inspired by Mumbai’s rock-cut cave temples, I set out this afternoon to explore the sculpture gallery at Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya. Yup, it’s a mouthful. 🙂 Formerly known as the Prince of Wales Museum of Western India, it is one of the finest museums in the country. The quiet, tasteful sculpture gallery—a crash course in Indian history, religion, and art all rolled into one—is its highlight. Continue reading

mumbai’s ancient rock-cut cave temples

“Let’s explore the rock-cut cave temples of Mumbai this Sunday,” a friend suggests excitedly.

“Caves? I have been to Elephanta and Kanheri. Even written about them! Read my post. 🙂 ”

“Hey, there are more, a lot more in the city itself.”

More? I am confused. Where can there possibly be caves in Mumbai. The city is packed with concrete and people, with little space to walk, least of all millennia old caves to have survived. I am wrong.

Hidden within the crevices of Mumbai’s urban jungle is a pulsating vein of its ancient past. A series of rock-cut temples, connected to each other with tunnels and hidden passageways, lace the city’s basalt bed rock. Continue reading