Dec 142017
 

December 2017

dsc_0714December 13th we walked The Buddha Walk. First organized in 2014 by several Buddhist organizations it is intended to revive and spread the history of Jethian-Rajgir valley.

dsc_0643Before the walk, everyone from the very small village of Jethian gathers to distribute food to monks in observance of Sanghadana, an ancient tradition that stems from the time of the Buddha, who while staying in the village would visit homes to collect food.

waiting to feed the monksThe walk ends 14 kilometers away in Rajgir at the Sonebandhar caves.

Rajgir is in itself, an important pilgrimage center for several religious traditions, mainly, Hinduism, Jainism, and Buddhism.

The hills of the Jethian Valley straddle the jurisdiction of the Nalanda and Gaya districts. This valley contains what is believed to be one of the main routes taken by the Buddha during his 45 years of wandering and preaching in various parts of India. During the Buddha’s time, Rajgir was the first capital of the Kingdom of Magadha, and according to legend, it is believed that King Bimbisara greeted the Buddha in the Jethian Valley and invited him to reside in the area of Venu Van (Bamboo Grove) where he gifted land for the Sangha’s rain retreats.

The streets were decorated in bright chalk patterns to welcome the pilgrims

The streets were decorated in bright chalk patterns to welcome the pilgrims

Every home that lined the main street had members of the family serving food to the pilgrims

Every home that lined the main street had members of the family serving food to the pilgrims

dsc_0627 **dsc_0641 *dsc_0636*dsc_0646

The final stop was this open area where the monks sat to enjoy their food

The final stop was this open area where the monks sat to enjoy their food

Senior monks enjoying the rest before the long walk

Senior monks enjoying the rest before the long walk

Water served from the well by volunteers

Water served from the well by volunteers

Volunteers from around the town

Volunteers from around the town

Selfies are such a huge part of every culture, even in India

Selfies are such a huge part of every culture, even in India

Pilgrims taking photos with the locals. The traditional dress of pilgrims is all white

Pilgrims taking photos with the locals. The traditional dress of pilgrims is all white

dsc_0666

*dsc_0678

*dsc_0686

*

All the school children lined the streets as we left the village waving, saying Namaste, Goodbye, Have a pleasant journey. It was very sweet and heartfelt

All the school children lined the streets as we left the village waving, saying Namaste, Goodbye, Have a pleasant journey. It was very sweet and heartfelt

dsc_0728

*

We encountered villagers for the first 1/2 kilometer as we walked out of town

We encountered villagers for the first 1/2 kilometer as we walked out of town

dsc_0739

The sun was shining throughout the walk

There were approximately 1000 or more monks and lay people that did the walk

It was a very warm day making everyone seek the shelter of the shade from time to time

It was a very warm day making everyone seek the shelter of the shade from time to time

Despite the smog you could catch glimpses of the mountains from time to time.

Despite the smog, you could catch glimpses of the mountains from time to time.

While some of it was beautifully tree lined, planting trees in the valley is a priority for those discussing restoring this historic pilgrimage site

While some of it was beautifully tree-lined, planting trees in the valley is a priority for those discussing restoring this historic pilgrimage site.

Stupas were proposed for the area but the government pooh poohed it, so "kilometer markers" line the path instead.

Stupas were proposed for the area but the government pooh-poohed it, so “kilometer markers” line the path instead.

dsc_0760

*

Many were just too hot to finish, a truck passed by and they hitched a ride.

Many were just too hot to finish, a truck passed by and they hitched a ride.

If you made it all the way to the Sonbandehar caves several ice cream vendors awaited. This fellow was enterprising enough to move his cart 1/2 kilometer up the road to catch all of the business before you reached the caves

If you made it all the way to the Sonbandehar caves several ice cream vendors awaited. This fellow was enterprising enough to move his cart 1/2 kilometer up the road to catch all of the business before you reached the caves.

It was a lovely day, albeit, way too hot for this California girl.  Walking on a rocky path makes for very tired feet and very tired bones, but to have walked in the footsteps of Buddha is something very special.

dsc_0687

 

Dec 072017
 

December 2017

Wandering the town of Bodhgaya I could spot this old building peaking above the normal height of many of the other buildings, but it took walking down a dirt alley to actually get to it.

I walked through this doorway and down this little dirt pathway to find an odd array of delapidated structures.

Looking back on a set of beautiful wooden doors that led to the little dirt pathway where I found an odd array of dilapidated structures.

It took me some research to find that it was called the Math, which is a word I could not find any meaning or etymology for.  It is also called the House of the Mahant, and it has taken me quite a long time to find much about what I saw.

Hindi ornamental architectural remnants embedded in the doorway.

Hindi ornamental architectural remnants embedded in the doorway.

Essentially the Mahabodhi Temple of Bodhgaya was a very important Buddhist site until the first part of the thirteenth century A.D. and its destruction by Turk invaders. There is no information regarding the temple from the time of the Turkish invasion to the time of the arrival in the area of the temple, of a wandering Sanyasi (Saivite Hindu monk) named Mahant Ghamandi Giri in 1590.

The building that caught my eye. The buildings are occupied by squatters and it is very difficult to find anything about the site

The building that caught my eye. The buildings are occupied by squatters and it is very difficult to find anything about the site

The Shaivaite monastic institution grew to be an extensive landed estate surrounding the Mahabodhi Temple that may have covered as much as 17,000 acres. The Math, rose to prominence during the Mughal and British colonial periods, especially after a royal grant during the time of the late Mughal rulers.

A fun painted arch in one of the structures

A fun painted arch in the small structure that originally caught my eye.

The Math contained the ruins of old temples and many of these were used in the construction of new temples and buildings within the Math. Many of the images, earlier used as decorative panels in the older temples, became objects of worship by the Mahants and the local populace.

These rows and rows of Buddhist images can be found on the votive stupas inside the Mahabodhi Temple complex

These rows and rows of Buddhist images are inside the archway of the structure that originally caught my eye.  Passing through the archway your enter a garden area with more structures beyond

Small Buddhas embedded in just one of many votive stupas inside the Mahabodhi temple complex

The same small Buddhas can be found embedded in many of the votive stupas inside the Mahabodhi temple complex

Dr. Francis Buchanan, an explorer with the East India Company first visited the area in December of 1811 and wrote:

A large courtyard between many of the rundown structures

A large courtyard between many of the rundown structures

“This person in the course of his penitent wanderings came to this place, then overrun with wood and bushes, and finding the temple a convenient shelter, took up his abode in it, until his extraordinary sanctity attracted the notice of numerous pilgrims and he became a principal object of veneration among the powerful chiefs and wealthy merchants who occasionally frequented Gya. From these, he received the various endowments which his successors enjoy.”

“I went to Buddh Gaya, distant from the south end of (the) Sahebganj near six miles, and situated on the west side of the Fulgo. The houses and gardens of Gaya extend about 1.25 miles south from Sahibgunj. The country through which I passed, overloaded with plantations. I was here visited by and visited the Mahant, who received me very civilly, and his principal chelas, who have been very great travelers, were fond of talking on the subject, and had here laid aside the habit of begging; on the contrary, they are here exceedingly charitable or hospitable.”

There is a nice field that serves as a vegetable garden through the archway of one of the still standing structures.

There is a nice field that serves as a vegetable garden through the archway of the building that first caught my eye.

The Building maintains much of the same appearance it had in the times of Buchanan. Buchanan goes on to describe the math:

“The convent is surrounded by a high brick wall containing a very considerable space on the banks of the west branch of the Fulgo, between it and the great temple of Buddh Gya. The wall has turrets in the corners and some at the sides, and has two great gates, the handsomest part of the building.”

On the other side of the open field are these two votive stupas.

On the other side of the open field are these two votive stupas.

Just past the votive stupas is this beautiful red, very British looking building. It is a home for squatters.

Just past the votive stupas is this beautiful red, very British looking building. It is a home for squatters.

On the other side of the big open courtyard is an entry doorway to the Mahant's residence

Walking back through the Buddha ornamented archway and on to the other side of the big open courtyard is an entry doorway to the Mahant’s residence.

The interior courtyard of the Mahant's Residence

The interior courtyard of the Mahant’s Residence

Inside the courtyard of the Mahant's residence is a raised platform with a marble floor and a Hindi shrine

Inside the courtyard of the Mahant’s residence is a raised platform with a marble floor and a Hindi shrine.

One side of the Hindi Shrine

One side of the Hindi Shrine

Peeking into the rooms of the Mahant's residence you find a Buddhist shrine. These are most likely statues that once stood in the Mahabodhi Temple

Peeking into the rooms of the Mahant’s residence you find a Buddhist shrine. These are most likely statues that once stood in the Mahabodhi Temple

Cows in a stable that looks like it has always been a stable building

Cows in a stable that looks like it has always been a stable building

I have done a lot of research and could find no information as to what this is, what is says or why it is there. It sits inside one of the votive stupas in the garden and has, what appears to be, Sanskrit, Thai and Burmese writing.

I have done a lot of research and could find no information as to what this is, what is says or why it is there. It sits inside one of the votive stupas in the garden and has, what appears to be, Sanskrit, Thai and Burmese writing.

It was a great day tripping upon a very ancient and historic set of buildings, it is sad that they are in such a state of disrepair and in the hands of squatters.  One must, however, realize how many millions of ruins that stand in India, and just one more is obviously just something that would cost money if it were renovated or cared for.
It shows you, getting lost, looking around or just pursuing odd things you see, always makes for a great adventure.

Dec 042017
 

December 2017

The 13th Annual Tipitaka Chanting Ceremony in Bodhgaya began on December 2nd this year.  The first morning starts with a loud, decoration filled walk from the host temple, this year it was the Royal Thai Temple, to the Kalichakra.

The lead is a horse drawn carriage loaded with the Tipitaka chanting scripts.

The lead carriage

The lead carriage

The head abbot and the Thai Temple

The head abbot and the Thai Temple

Before the parade begins, blessings are given by the head abbot, followed by fireworks and dancing.

The drums beat for the opening ceremony.

The drums beat for the opening ceremony.

There was lots of dancing

There was lots of dancing by both Thais and Indians.

dsc_8316

Then the cutting of the ribbon so the parage could begin

Then the cutting of the ribbon so the parade could begin

The funny thing is, the parade had already started.  The parade set up was on a horseshoe driveway, so they just started from the other end.  This meant I ran the course 3 times to get all the entrants and goings on.

It is heartwarming and astounding to see how many countries participate in the Tipitaka Chanting ceremony.

It is heartwarming and astounding to see how many countries participate in the Tipitaka Chanting ceremony.

dsc_8395

*dsc_8392

*dsc_8387

*dsc_8381

*dsc_8370

*dsc_8360

dsc_8236

Some had floats elaborately decorated and others simply walked with lotus flowers, the symbol of Buddha

Some had floats elaborately decorated and others simply walked with lotus flowers, the symbol of Buddha

dsc_8217

*dsc_8508

*dsc_8301

*

The lay dignitaries rode in horse drawn carriages.

The lay dignitaries rode in horse drawn carriages.

The important monks rode in highly decorated tuk-tuks

The lesser lay people and the important monks rode in highly decorated tuk-tuks

The horses were as decorated as the floats.

The horses were as decorated as the floats.

This is Nelson, a member of the BofD of LBDFI and one of my favorite nuns, Meiji Anita

This is Nelson, a member of the B of D of LBDFI and one of my favorite nuns, Maechi Anita.

The term maechi has a fascinating history.  It is technically illegal to be ordained as a Buddhist nun in Thailand, so they use the honorific maechi.

The drummers came along to provide noise.

The drummers came along to provide noise.

Nelson with Ahajn Amaro, a highly respected Buddhist monk, originally from England.

Nelson with Ahajn Amaro, a highly respected Buddhist monk, originally from England.

The were major donors to the event, and a wonderful group of people.

The Zen Flower group from Viet Nam were major donors to the event, and a wonderful group of people.

dsc_8142

*

The Royal Thai temple

The Royal Thai temple

dsc_8417

*

dsc_8427

*dsc_8453.

All of this was followed by a long list of speakers at the welcoming ceremony before lunch at the Kalichakra.

Sri Nangzey Dorjee, the Secretary, Head of the exceptionally important Temple Management Council

Sri Nangzey Dorjee, the Secretary, and head of the exceptionally important Temple Management Council

dsc_8873

More dancing was part of the program

More dancing was part of the program

Then we fed thousands.

dsc_8648

After lunch was over these four to five thousand people all headed to the Mahabodhi Temple to sit under and around the Bodhi Tree for more speeches.

Raji Ramanan

Raji Ramanan

The Master of Ceremonies was Raji Ramanan.  I have had the absolute pleasure of getting to know Raji over the last several weeks.  She is a gracious, beautiful and a highly intelligent, accomplished woman.  She is an author, translator for the Dali Llama and a scholar.  She kept the show flowing, even when the power went out and the microphones died.

The District Magistrate

The District Magistrate Kumar Ravi

dsc_9123-001

Dr. Ravindra Panth, Advisor IBC of India and faculty member at GBU. I have had the pleasure to spend time with Dr. Panth over the last several weeks, he is as delightful as his smile, and a true gentleman.

The festivities went well into the night with gift giving and more speeches and finished with chanting.  An auspicious way to open the ceremony.

dsc_9260

I have said before, I do not know what it is about Indian events that require 4 to 5 hours of speeches, but the parade was fun and the program has begun.

Dec 032017
 

December 2017

Where does one start to explain the monumental project that putting on the 13th Annual Tipitaka Chanting Festival even is. Thailand was the host country this year and so therefore, the main organizers. There was a phenomenal group of people that came, just to decorate the site.

The afternoon of the opening ceremony I was actually able to ask the main designer if there was a single orchid left in all of India, they did an over the top job.

There is really nothing more to say, I am just going to share photographs.

When you enter the temple portion of the great property you go under this archway, it was the first portion they began to decorate. They were only allowed to decorate between 4:00 in the afternoon and 9:00 when the temple closes.

When you enter the temple portion of the great property you go under this archway, it was the first portion they began to decorate. They were only allowed to decorate between 4:00 in the afternoon and 9:00 when the temple closes.

The same gate the next morning.

The same gate the next morning.

This altar table was previously decorated by the event before us, these are their decorations.

This altar table was previously decorated by the event before us, these are their decorations.

This is what the Thai team did. The off white flowers are thousands upon thousands of Tuberose blooms, the perfume is alluring.

This is what the Thai team did. The off white flowers are thousands upon thousands of Tuberose blooms, the perfume is alluring.

The main portion of the temple is a small room with the large golden Buddha, there were matching decorations on the two sides of the entry to the chapel area.

The main portion of the temple is a small room with the large golden Buddha, there were matching decorations on the two sides of the entry to this area

The entry to the small room with the Golden Buddha

The entry to the small room with the Golden Buddha

Buddha found enlightenment under the bodhi tree of Bodhgaya. This is the area directly under the tree where people pay homage to Buddha

Buddha found enlightenment under the bodhi tree of Bodhgaya. This is the area directly under the tree where people pay homage to Buddha

This is the focal point of our chanting area. Notice the peacocks on the wall.

This is the focal point of our chanting area. Notice the peacocks on the wall.

Another mind blowing peacock

Another mind blowing peacock

They came in the middle of the night and put up this three part flowered archway at the top of the stairs. In this case, they are silk, not real

They came in the middle of the night and put up this three part flowered archway at the top of the stairs. In this case, they are silk, not real.

The finished second archway

The finished second archway

There is a wall around the Bhodi tree that serves as a walkway for pilgrims to chant and walk, they decorated with cloth, and then came in and placed silk flowers completely around the two archways that allow access to other areas of the grounds

There is a wall around the Bhodi tree that serves as a walkway for pilgrims to chant and walk, they decorated with cloth, and then came in and placed silk flowers completely around the two archways that allow access to other areas of the grounds

Looking down into the walkway gives you just a small glimpse into the work put into the decorations.

Looking down into the walkway gives you just a small glimpse into the work put into the decorations.

The banner for the entryway to the complex

The banner for the entryway to the complex

They were able to enlist the monks to help. I have found so many of the monks so very, very talented.

They were able to enlist the monks to help. I have found so many of the monks so very, very talented.

Building the peacock tails

Building the peacock tails

 

There is just no way to show how grand these decorations were, but I can end with a photo of the team that put it all together, the woman on the right, in front, was the lead designer. (The team are the first nine all dressed in white)

dsc_9265-001

 

Nov 282017
 

November 28, 2017

We arrived in Bodh Gaya on November 21st. The time has been spent preparing for the 13-day Tipitaka Chanting ceremony held at the Mahabodhi Temple Complex, beginning on December 2nd.

Making Kefir

Making lhassi. I love the stuff, but I will only drink pre-packaged ones.

I will admit that 95% of my time has been spent in the loud and uncomfortable lobby of our hotel, as wifi does not spread throughout the building.

I attended a meeting of all the most important monks in the area. Just like any board meeting, it had pads of paper, lots of discussion , and not much accomplished

I attended a meeting of all the most important monks in the area. Just like any board meeting, it had pads of paper, lots of discussions, assistants taking notes, and not much accomplished.

My thinking is regularly interrupted by entire busloads of people coming in, talking in loud voices in a room with marble floors, and carrying suitcases down a stairway to the rhythm of click, clack, thump, thump.

There is a minimum of 3 buses every day that roll in around 7:00 pm and roll out around 6:00 am the next day.
The, as ever, unimaginative food, services these large crowds, not the one or two of us that are there for 2 weeks.

This is reportedly a terrific Japanese restaurant, I have not eaten there, as you must order well in advance.

Outside of a reportedly terrific Japanese restaurant, I have not eaten there, as you must order well in advance, and my schedule has not permitted that kind of planning.

Fortunately, Stefanie Schur, a landscape architect from San Francisco, joined our group. She is here to work on the gardens at the Mahabodhi Temple complex and has been my guide to exterior restaurants and general overall, get out of the hotel moments. She has been a godsend.

There is not much to talk about, but I have had a chance to get out and get a few fun shots. Enjoy!

This fellow carves the items he sells

This fellow carves the items he sells

There are vendors everywhere, selling every imaginable item, most appropriate to the area, and others that make you go huh?

There are vendors everywhere, selling every imaginable item, most appropriate to the area, and others that make you go huh?

Do they produce good students, or remove their brains?

Do they produce good students, or remove their brains?

Gotta love the legs on this guy.

Gotta love the legs on this guy.

A fellow repairing his wares before selling them.

A fellow repairing his wares before selling them.

A delightful Thai monk, here to do the more important decorations for the ceremony. He spent 5 years in Texas so his English is pretty good.

A delightful Thai monk, here to do the more important decorations for the ceremony. He spent 5 years in Texas so his English is pretty good.

Can this Buddha get any bigger?

Can this Buddha get any bigger?

One of the bigger projects for this ceremony is the tent where everyone eats and then listens to Dharma talks in the evening.

dsc_7581

*dsc_7572The tent is called the Kalachakra, a term used in Vajrayana Buddhism that means wheel of time or “time-cycles”.
“Kālacakra” is usually used to refer to a very complex teaching and practice in Tibetan Buddhism. Although the teaching is very advanced and esoteric, there is a tradition of offering it to large public audiences. Thus the name for this huge tent.

dsc_7564

*dsc_7587I was completely blown away by the construction process. They bring in thousands upon thousands of bamboo poles and then erect this huge structure by tying them together with cloth strips.  Since there were workers climbing all over it, I must assume it is far stronger than you can imagine, but it is still a WOW moment, a far cry from steel poles and canvas covers.

To add to the fun, these boys all found pieces laying around and turned this soccer goal frame into a swingset.  They were having so much fun as their knots failed and they fell to the ground laughing.

dsc_7575

I have become somewhat of an expert on masala tea, much to the chagrin of my sugar intake and waistline.  This guy at the Royal Thai temple makes some of the best.

dsc_7615

I had the chance to stop by the farmers market for a stroll, the vegetables are lovely and so are the people

This is Sanjana, she is a friend of Stefanie's and was shucking peas when we ran into her and her lovely smile

This is Sanjana, she is a friend of Stefanie’s and was shucking peas when we ran into her and her lovely smile

dsc_7593

*

My favorite street sign in town.

My favorite street sign in town.

Feb 222015
 

Varanasi in the Morning

February 2015

Up before dawn to catch the river as it wakes. It was truly amazing to be in an Indian city where it is quiet and the streets, while not deserted, were empty but for the sleeping cow and early worker.

Ganges in the Morning

Once at the river however, it was the beginning of the day. People are out, washing clothes, performing yoga asanas, offering flowers and fire to the river and also going for a swim.

day 5-2

Ganga “supermarkets” are floating along side happy to sell you whatever you may need, playing cards, post cards, malas, and even candy bars.

Ganga Supermarket*

day 5-7

Today we passed many fabulous buildings, several funeral ghats and various religious temples doing morning prayers.

day 5-21

*

Ganges in the Morning

Here is our guide serenading us as we float down the river.

A quick breakfast and onto the bus for a six hour ride to Badh Gaya.

It is harvest time for some type of grain so, at 50 miles an hour, a painting of the process opened before our eyes.

Grain Harvest in India

*

Grain Harvest in India

The straw left from harvest is put to many uses in India included bio-fuel

*

A beautiful form of storage for the straw

A beautiful form of storage for the straw

BODH GAYA

Bodh Gaya

Bodh Gaya is where the Buddha is said to have obtained enlightenment under the Bodhi Tree (Ficus religiosa).

For Buddhists, Bodh Gaya is the most important of the main four pilgrimage sites, the other three being Sarnath, Kushinagar, and Lambini.

Bodh Gaya

Next to the Bodhi Tree there is a platform known as Vajrasana, or the Diamond Throne. This was originally installed by Emperor Ashoka to mark the spot where Buddha sat and meditated.

Bodh Gaya

Buddha’s Footprints

In the shrine are the footprints (Padas) of Buddha carved in black stone that date from the 3rd century BC when Ashoka declared Buddhism to be the official religion. He had thousands of these footprint stones installed all over the kingdom.

Bodh Gaya 1

 

Apparently the architecture is a mystery. It appears to have been constructed with the intent of being a monument but later became a receptacle for relics of the Buddha. The temple is one of the few early monumental brick structures to have survived in eastern India.

The base is approximately 50 feet square and the tower, a 19th century construction, rises 170 feet.

Bodh GayaInside the temple there is a huge image of the Buddha in the bhumisparsha mudra “touching the ground pose”. This image is purported to be 1700 years old and is facing east exactly at the place where Buddha obtained enlightenment.

We arrived as the sun was going down and evening prayers began, it was absolutely magical.

Here is a small sample of that magic-