A Travellerspoint blog

November 2009

Pilgrimage to the Seat of Enlightenment

By Becky, Nov. 8-10

So far, we have made one foray out of Bhutan and into India, Nov. 8-10. DrukAir flights to Bangkok stop in Gaya, in the Indian state of Bihar. The tiny airport serves pilgrims on their way to Bodh Gaya, the town that has sprung up around the site where Siddhartha, the historical Buddha, attained enlightenment under the Bodhi tree. We took advantage of this to make the trip our selves. The nearly empty, four-gate terminal may be the only airport in this predominantly Hindu country with a large Buddha inside the main entrance (also the exit) of the terminal. The music from their loud speakers is a very haunting chant; I never was able to figure out what it was.

The tree at the centre of this UNESCO World Heritage site is a Ficus religiosa, or sacred fig, commonly know as the Bodhi tree. A temple complex has grown around it over the years. The first temple was built here about 250 BCE, about 250 years after Buddha, by the Emperor Asoka. Some of the railing around the tree date from this time. Asoka’s daughter is said to have taken a branch from the tree and planted it in Sri Lanka, where another famous temple complex was built. Asoka also placed a stone seat beneath the tree on the spot he thought Buddha sat, which has become known as the diamond throne. Legend says that Asoka’s wife grew jealous of the time Asoka spent at the tree in prayer and meditation and killed the tree by stabbing it with a knife. A cutting from the tree in Sri Lanka was sent for and planted on the same spot, which is believed to be the navel of the world by some Buddhists and Hindus.

The current temple was built on the site of Asoka’s temple in the 6th century and fell into decline in the 12th century when Muslims invaded the region. Although some repairs were attempted, the largest and last renovation occurred in the 1880s. The temple is built of brick and rises to an impressive height of 55 meters. Words really can’t do it justice, so here's a picture:

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Although we had to take our shoes off at every temple, they didn't bother to prevent picture taking because of the large numbers of tourists and pilgrims.

Inside the Mahabodhi Temple

Inside the Mahabodhi Temple

Today both Hindus and Buddhists revere the spot and come on pilgrimages. Flocks of monks are in constant attendance, some chanting around the tree, other doing prostrations in the gardens that surround the temple.

Every Buddhist country in Asia has built a temple or monastery nearby. These are fascinating in themselves, reflecting the culture and style of their home country. We found the Veitnamese temple to be the most peakceful.

Vietnamese Temple courtyard

Vietnamese Temple courtyard

The population of the town includes many Tibetans, who have their own market at one end of town. At the end of the street down from the Tibetan temple, the Dalai Lama built a giant Buddha statue, 25 m high, containing inside 20,000 smaller Buddhas, and surrounded by statues of Buddha’s disciples.

Tibetan Temple

Tibetan Temple

Giant Buddha

Giant Buddha

To see more of my pictures from Bodh Gaya, visit https://www.travellerspoint.com/gallery/users/rsherry/

Posted by rsherry 05:29 Archived in India Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Further Travels in India

The United States-India Educational Foundation http://www.usief.org.in recently held a Fulbright Conference from November 24-26, 2009 in the seaside and French influenced city of Puducherry, India for the approximately 50 U.S.-Nehru and other Fulbright Scholars in India and Bhutan. I was the only U.S. Fulbright scholar from Bhutan at the conference.

The conference included informative and interesting presentations on all of our research findings as well as panel presentations on our Fulbright experiences. I was a member of a panel entitled: Fulbright Fellowships: The Essence is Promotion of Mutual Understanding. Needless to say being the first U.S. Fulbright to Bhutan, I had a lot to report on how this effort has been going in Bhutan. For instance, I provided an overview of my recent discussions with the Prime Minister of Bhutan on Gross National Happiness. I also reported about Becky's separate discussions with the Prime Minister on global climate change. Later, I also presented a short Powerpoint presentation on my newly released monograph on Bhutan tobacco policy and administration.

Not all of my trip was business though as I was able to also tour some very interesting and important sites in India. My first tour with a group of my fellow Fulbright scholars included a six hour round trip bus ride to Thiruvannamalai, India. Our first stop was the famous ashram of Sri Ramanasramam.

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India is famous for its mystics and charasmatic religious leaders. The Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi is definitely one of them and you can view his picture and see his teachings particularly all over southern India. The ashram that we visited is quite well known and modern day devotees of Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi visit this Hindu religious site to meditate and for spiritual insight and enlightenment. The web site of Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi has much more information (and meditative Hindu music on the home page): http://www.sriramanamaharshi.org/

Our next site was the architectually elegant and important Hindu temples of Thiruvannamalai, India. As our Fulbright group toured one of the largest Hindu religious sites in India, several large and remarkable temples came into view.

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As is true for Buddhist monasteries and temples in Bhutan, all who entered these temples were required to remove their shoes and no photos were allowed. The inside of the largest temple contained very high ceilings and etched pillars with Hindu deities such as Shiva and Ganesha and contained numerous statutes dedicated to Hindu Gods and Godesses. Very interesting and quite amazing.

My next stop over the weekend while I waited for the Drukair flight back to Bhutan on Monday was a trip to the important city of Agra, India where the Taj Mahal and Red Fort are located. The Taj Mahal, which has been called one of the seven wonders of the world is located on the right bank of the Yamuna River. The building is made of white marble. The structure is a merger of Indian and Persian architecture. The structure was built in loving memory of the then Empress of India--Arjumand Bano Begum. I did not know this--but this famous structure is actually a giant mausoleum and the then emperor and empress now lie side by side in this mausoleum seven meters below the structure. A tribute to true love if there ever was one. Below are some pictures I took of the Taj Mahal.

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Apart from the Taj Mahal, Agra also contains the famous Red Fort constructed by Mughal emperor, Akbar the Great.

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The large structure is located on the right bank of the Jamuna River. The structure was constructed of thick walls of red sand stone. Construction began in 1565 A.D. and was completed in 1573 A.D. The fort is surrounded by two moats and was populated with crocodiles. The purpose of the fort was to preserve Mughal rule.

On the way home, we were stuck in a traffic jam for about an hour. At one point, I was able to snap this night photo of a large Sikh temple. Lots of people were milling about in and out of the temple for a religious ceremony.

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In New Delhi, I also visited the memorial grave site of Mahatma Gandhi and the Gandhi Smriti Centre which is a memorial and museum of this advocate for non-violent political tactics and founder of modern India. Gandhi's philosophy is quite important in modern political discourse particularly with respect to non-violent movements for political change such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the U.S. Civil Rights movement.

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The Gandhi Smriti Centre is high quality and well worth visiting and includes a very informative book store. The memorial monument to Gandhi is simple much in the spirit of Gandhi's later life. The site is also quite solemn and peaceful.

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I think that when I return to the U.S., I am going to explore with my students Gandhi's important philosophy, history, and tactics in appropriate class settings. Modern students need to learn about this world leader who along with his social movement brought about independence in 1948 and ushered in the dawn of modern India.

Posted by mgivel 04:15 Archived in India Tagged tourist_sites Comments (1)

Press Coverage in Bhutan on New Tobacco Report

A major newspaper in Bhutan--Kuensel--has just run a great story on my newly released tobacco report: http://www.kuenselonline.com/modules.php?name=News&file=article&sid=14055

The article is entitled: Non-criminal approach recommended, Beating the smoking habit will require a more holistic plan of attack

The report has come out before the current Session of Parliament in Bhutan where amendments to the current tobacco law are being considered. The full report is located here: http://faculty-staff.ou.edu/G/Michael.S.Givel-1/Bhutan%20Tobacco%20Monograph8.pdf

Posted by mgivel 18:55 Archived in Bhutan Tagged events Comments (0)

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