Roots of Buddhism in Gujarat State of India
Hardly any commoner knows about the roots of Buddhism or the grace of Buddha in the soil of Gujarat in India. But, the myriad monuments and writings found in this State stand a time silent testimony of the resilience of the ear and the values which Buddha stood for. Gautama Buddha had a truly singular presence among
Gujarat, so far known for Hindu religious places like Somnath and Dwarka, now hopes to attract Buddhist tourists too. The Gujarat government just organised the International Seminar on Buddhist Heritage atVadodara recently. According to Gujarat Tourism Minister Jay Narayan Vyas, as many as 500 Lamas, 350 academics, including 200 followers, participated. The seminar aimed to highlight the contribution of Buddhism and its philosophy. Although numerous literary traditions claim that Buddhism reached Saurashtra during the time of the Buddha itself, the earliest archaeological evidence dates from the time of Emperor Asoka (269-232 B.C.). The Girnar rock edicts were engraved to propagate the Dhamma. The remains of Buddhist establishments have been found in almost every region of Gujarat in the form of rock-cut caves and archaeological sites. The coastal region of Gujarat, stretching from Kutch to Saurashtra and up to Bharuch is dotted with several such caves. These caves were excavated between 2nd century B.C. and 6th century A.D. It is believed that most of them were excavated during the Kshatrapa rule.
Buddhism became a popular religion in Gujarat during the Kshatrapa period (1st to 4th Century A.D.) and it continued to flourish during the Maitraka rule (470-788 A.D.). Hiuen Tsiang, the Chinese traveller and scholar, visited Gujarat in 640 A.D. during the Maitrakas' reign. He records that there were about 200 monasteries with 10,000 monks living in them. These monasteries were located at Bharuch, Atali, Kheta, Valabhi, Anandapura and Saurashtra. Another Chinese traveller, I-tsing, who visited Gujarat around 670 A. D., too observed that the Sammitiya school had the greatest number of followers in western India.
Valabhi was also a renowned centre of Buddhist studies. I-tsing records that the greatest centres of learning in India were Nalanda and Valabhi. The Valabhi University was especially devoted to the study of the Sammatiya school and interested in the Hinayana. It vied with the Nalanda University, which was much devoted to Mahayana.
Gujarat seems to have contributed some eminent Buddhist scholars during the Maitraka period. Dharmagupta, who went to China in the 6th Century, belonged to Lata, the region between the Narmada and Tapti rivers. According to Taranath, Santideva, who distinguished himself as a preceptor at Nalanda University as well as an eminent author of some work on Buddhist doctrines, was born in a royal family in Saurashtra. Archaeological evidence from Taranga hill suggests that this site was a prominent Tantrik Buddhist centre till the 9th century. There is an image of Buddha depicted at Ran-ki-Vav in Patan (north Gujarat) along with other incarnations of Vishnu, which indicates that by the 11th century Buddha was already incorporated in the Dashavatar concept of Hinduism.
According to Taranath, the famous Tibetan historian, the old western Indian school of art was one of the ancient schools of arts that influenced the art of eastern India, Kashmir and Nepal. In north Gujarat, as Hiuen Tsiang records, there were 10 monasteries at Vadnagar.
Recent excavation by the State Archaeology Department has brought to light one of the monasteries along with two votive stupas. Many other Buddhist antiquities have also been recovered from the site. Vadnagar has also yielded a Bodhisattva image, which must have been brought by the Sammitiya bhikshus from Mathura for their Chaitya in the 2nd or 3rd century A.D.
The Buddhist site of Devnimori in the east-central part of the state has yielded the most valuable remains of Lord Buddha in 1963. A large Buddhist establishment datable to 2nd to 7th century A.D. has been excavated at this site. The Mahastupa at the site contained the bodily relics of Gautam Buddha and had about 17 images of Buddha in terracotta.
These relics are now in the Archaeology Department of Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda.
Kutch was another region on the ancient route connecting Gujarat and Sindh, where Buddhists were in significant numbers.
Friday, 27 August 2010 00:00
The state government is not leaving any stone unturned to promote Gujarat as the Buddhist destination. Satyavir Singh deciphers the traces of Buddhism in the state and observes the government's effort to promote them.
Every aspect of Gujarat has a strong Hindu identity be it history, places, beliefs, politics or people. But, probably, most of the people are clueless about the fact that Gujarat has been a significant place for Buddhism too. The recent excavation in Vadnagar has again thrown light on the strong links of Buddha with the state. Although, archeologists have unearthed many evidences earlier, the recent one could unravel many my stories.
The traces of Buddhist establishments have been discovered across Gujarat in the form of carved-out caves, stupas and monuments. The coastal region ofGujarat, stretching from Kutch to Saurashtra, and up to Bharuch is dotted with several such caves. It is believed that most of the caves were excavated between 2nd century B.C. and 6th century A.D, mostly during the Kshatrapa rule.
However, the most startling evidence found till date is the ashes found in a casket at Devni Mori site near Shamalaji. Many historians and archeologists are claiming it to be the ashes of Lord Buddha himself. The excavation was carried out by a team from MS University in 1963. Since then, this incredible discovery was in the possession of the University's department of archaeology and ancient history.
In account to this finding, Buddhist scholars suggest that Lord Buddha on his deathbed had asked his disciples to erect stupas over his remains. Later, as per his discretion, his relics were distributed and stupas were constructed over them. Then, the famous Buddhist patron and the great Mauryan emperor Ashoka reopened seven out of the eight original sharirik stupas, in a bid to erect more stupas across the region. A major portion of relics were distributed among 84,000 stupas that were built by him throughout his empire. This was about the previous breakthroughs. Now, fresh excavations carried out in Vadnagar region, has found a monastery dating back to the Buddha era. In fact, two stupas have also been recovered along with many other antiques. Vadnagar has also revealed a Bodhisattva image, which is assumed to be brought by the monks from Mathura in the 2nd or 3rd century A.D.
In account to the new excavations, the Gujarat tourism department has realized the prospect of promoting the state as Buddhist pilgrimage destination. Therefore, to acknowledge the Buddhist community about these findings, a three-day international seminar on Buddhist heritage was held in Vadodara's MS University campus from January 15-18. Many Tibetan lamas and Buddhist scholars from all across the world gathered here. The seminar was inaugurated by the Tibetan leader His Holiness the Dalai Lama and presided by the Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi. During the seminar, a proposal to set up a center for religious studies in MSU campus was approved by the CM along with His Holiness. Modi also ensured to build a Buddhist temple and an academy for Buddhist education.
Anjlee Pandy a, a prominent NRG and coordinator of the event said, "This great event is the beginning of a new era of Buddhism in Gujarat. Gujarat will soon become a significant Buddhist pilgrimage and a major tourist attraction. The proposed Buddhist Temple and a Center for Buddhist Studies, a new BuddhismInstitute will further the study and understanding Buddhism worldwide."
These plans imply that the Gujarat government is leaving no stone unturned to highlight the recent archeological breakthroughs. Besides, casket of ashes has already become a subject of interest among the patrons worldwide. Hence, considering all these developments together are pointing out that Gujarat is all set to become a new signpost on the Buddhist map of the world.
Buddhism strikes its roots in Gandhidham
DNA India, Jan 3, 2012
Bhuj, India -- Gujarat has many Buddhist heritage sites but it can now boast of a ‘live’ site at Gandhidham in Kutch district. It is in the form of a sapling from the original Bodhi tree at Bodh Gaya under which Lord Buddha attained Enlightenment 2,600 years ago.
The sapling on Monday was planted on the premises of the sprawling port colony here by the Gandhidham-based chapter of Buddha Light International Association (BLIA).
However, before planting the sapling, the BLIA took out a peace march in the town with the sapling.
The holy sapling was planted in the presence of renowned Japanese Buddhist monk, Therasavji, who is also a UN ambassador for world peace. Therasavji is currently
touring the country and had especially come to Gandhidham for the event.
Rupa Bhaty, noted architect and president of Gujarat chapter of BLIA, said that the sapling had been planted on the premises of the port colony temporarily. It will be shifted to the BLIA Park that is to be built in the port town soon, she said.
“We are happy that by planting in Gandhidham a sapling from the original Bodhi tree, we are in a way restoring the state’s Buddhist heritage. We received the sapling a month back from the Global Buddhist Congregation, New Delhi,” she said.
Bhaty further said that Bodhi tree saplings from Anuradhapura (in Sri Lanka), and Bodh Gaya and Sravasti had been distributed in all countries where Buddhism is practiced as a religion. She further said that a large number of Dhamma practitioners and ordinary people had taken part in the peace procession on Monday.