Friday, 19 September 2014

Gap between Promise and Ground Reality: The State of Buddhist Ruins in Vadnagar

During the course of my video recorded conversations with Narendra Modi in 2013 while he was still the chief minister of Gujarat, he had talked with great feeling about the influence of Mahatma Buddha in his life. To quote him:

In Buddhism, I see dharma entrenched in karuna (compassion). I believe compassion is the most valuable essence of life. When I formed the government, these values got ingrained even deeper. What attracts me about Buddha is his inclusive philosophy; secondly, his modernity; and thirdly, his belief in the importance of Sangathan—the idea of Sangha. This underlies all his philosophy. I would often wonder how Buddha managed to reach all over the world. What was it about him that lit sparks everywhere he went, took ordinary human beings towards their kartavya (duty) and appealed to the lower status groups as well? Buddhism does not have too much tam-jham or celebration of big utsavs. There is a direct connect of the individual with the Divine. That entire thought system touches me deeply. Moreover, wherever Buddha went, the region witnessed prosperity. Even though China had a different belief system but Buddha has maintained his influence on China as well.

Thereafter, he went and described the Buddhist heritage in his village Vadnagar and in Mori.

Hiuen-Tsang lived for a long time in the village where I was born. He has written about a hostel in that village where 1,000 student monks resided. After I became chief minister, I got the area excavated and found archeological evidence of things described by Hiuen-Tsang. This means Mahatma Buddha’s philosophy would have had some influence on my ancestors.

We found similar evidence at Devaki Mori near our village. During excavations, they found a gold box, which contains Bhagwan Buddha’s ashes. These are lying in M.S. University at Baroda. It occurred to me that nowhere in the world can you hold the ashes of Lord Buddha in your hand. We alone have this treasure. Therefore, we are planning to construct a big temple of Lord Buddha here at the exact spot from where the box of ashes was excavated. It won’t be built by the government; instead we will motivate private bodies to do it. I want to create an institutional frame work in collaboration with Taiwan, Japan, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Singapore. Its architecture should also have a global appeal, not be limited to traditional Buddhist temples….

We signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Sri Lankan government that they would bring Buddhist tourists from Sri Lanka and we would take Gujaratis for their Ram Trail. This is just the beginning of our attempts to develop the Buddhist heritage and build close links with Buddhist countries.

Ahead of Chinese president Xi Jinping’s visit to Gujarat, an article was posted on PM Modi’s website in English and Mandarian, talking at length about the “Buddhist heritage in Gujarat.”  During Jinping’s visit Modi personally took the Chinese president to a photo exhibition which displayed all that the excavated sites had yielded.  

There is no denying that Buddhism has left a deep imprint on PM Modi’s life.  The enthusiasm with which he talked about the excavation of Buddhist sites led me to take a special trip to Vadnagar to go and see them for myself.  This ancient city with a 2500 year old known history was the earliest capital of Gujarat. It is referred to as Anartpur in Mahabharata and has numerous historic sites, monuments and ancient temples in and around the area.

But instead of feeling uplifted I got one of the biggest shocks of my life witnessing the pathetic plight of the excavated Buddhist ruins. The excavation may have started with much fanfare but the place is so neglected that there wasn’t even a signboard to mark the site.  The excavation itself is incomplete since people have built houses over the site where the Buddhist monastery once stood.

But even the part that is excavated lies in a sorry state with wild grass growing in the dug up portions.  There was a filthy drain flowing right outside the excavation site.  No effort had been made to protect the site. All one saw was a pretense of a fence with broken down bamboos demarcating it from the gali in which it is situated.  These videos clips speak for themselves.

Today (September 19, 2014) I called some people in Vadnagar to find out if things had changed since I first visited the site in June 2014. I was told the place was cleaned up in anticipation of the visit of the Chinese premier. A Chinese delegation had come a few days prior to Xi Jinping’s visit to inspect the historic place. Some amount of cleaning was undertaken in honour of their visit. The wild grass that had grown following the monsoon was removed and a guard appointed to watch over the place. People of Vadnagar are convinced that things will improve now that Chinese and Japanese collaboration is being sought in developing the Buddhist heritage sights of Gujarat. 

However I do wish India showed capability to protect its heritage on its own strength as well. I would be ashamed of showing such a shabbily maintained site to foreigners and pleading with them to do justice to its lost glory.

The open drain bang outside the excavation site

There wasn't even a signboard to mark the excavation site when I visited the place in June 2014

Excavated ruins remained neglected since they were dug up 5 years ago
The immediate neighbourhood of the excavation site

Madhu Kishwar

Madhu Kishwar
इक उम्र असर होने तक… … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … …اک عمر اثر ہونے تک

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