If you were ever of the opinion that Buddhist art was all about asceticism and restraint, think again. The caves at Ajanta, in the Indian state of Maharashtra, are a lavish statement to the contrary as I discovered earlier this month on a five-day trip exploring the region in and around Aurangabad. But then, isn’t that what travel is meant to do? Break perceptions. 🙂
Imbued with sensuality borrowed from its sibling, Hinduism, ancient Buddhist art in its parent country is filled with nudes performing graceful mudras, figures wrapped in erotic embraces, and faces marked with raw emotion. Interspersed in this human carnival are serene, silent, meditating Buddhas, perfectly at peace in their company.
The mix of spiritual with secular, ordinary with sublime are common traits in Indian aesthetics. Why then should Buddhist art have been any different! Continue reading →
Auto-rickshaw driver: Which temple would you like to see? Tibet or Japan? Or Thai? [All the rickshaw drivers in Bodh Gaya, I realise by now, speak impeccable English.]
Me: All of them. Oh, and yeah, Sujata temple too. 😀
I see his eyes light up. I can almost read his mind: This woman will pay me well. She is the wandering types.
Auto-rickshaw driver: It will be Rs. 1,000!
I bargain my way down to Rs. 500 plus a hundred-rupee tip. We shake hands and embark on a six-hour camaraderie which survives through the rattling by-lanes to Bodh Gaya’s far corners, in search of Buddhist temples and monasteries from Tibet to Japan. I say “search” because some of our stops I had merely wisps of information of, and he was completely clueless about. Continue reading →
“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 →
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 →
Let’s face it, Bhopal does NOT appear high up on travel bucket lists or itineraries. Why, even when considering to visit it, you may well be asked “What for???” I was, and that too repeatedly.
At the most, the capital city of Madhya Pradesh is seen as a stepping stone for Buddhist Sanchi. On its own, it is a bit of an enigma, its secrets veiled from casual inquiry. Which is a good thing, for it means you will have the “City of Lakes” to yourself, with very few tourists, and be in the company of locals instead. Continue reading →
Sanchi. The little town in the heart of Madhya Pradesh had been calling out to me since as far back in time as I could remember. From before I moved back to India. Before I even knew the immensity of its import in the bigger scheme of things.
I would fantasize wandering around the 2,300-year-old Buddhist stupa built by Ashoka the Great, in the company of birdsong and golden rays of sunshine. It epitomized all my soul was constantly hungering for: a space which was closer to nirvana. Don’t get me wrong. I am a hard-core city person. I love the rat race, of ambition and success. But within a mantle of purpose and intention. Of meaning and depth. Sanchi, I believed could help me put the pieces, which I knew as my “life,” into some semblance of balance. For is that not what Gautama Buddha preached about. The Middle Way.
After many a planned trip crumbled to dust as a result of life’s unpredictability, I finally found myself this past month on a rickety bus, driving through ripened wheat fields. I was on my way to ancient Sanchi. Continue reading →