Friday, May 15, 2009

Buddha's footsteps

I am back here after a hectic all India tour. Two days each in Chennai, Mumbai, Nagpur, Kolkata, Delhi and Patna. The average temperature at these places was in the mid 40s, and as a result, I slept fatigued for the whole day today, waking up only at 5 in the evening.
I got a chance to visit Bodh Gaya during this trip. I am very wary of visiting temples. It has nothing to do with me being a believer or an atheist. In the past few years, my thoughts on this matter have become really ambivalent. The file named 'God' in my life has got labeled as 'pending for perusal!' But when it comes to temples - I get put off by the commercialization, the jostling crowds, and above all - the total lack of cleanliness.
Bodh Gaya was a pleasant surprise. The fact that temperature was touching 40 and that summer is anyway the off season for tourists may have contributed to the sparse crowds. At the entrance of the temple, we were surrounded by guides and my heart sank. We nevertheless decided that we would hire a guide (I actually said to Parvez that if not for anything else, we can at least have a good laugh about the guide's tall claims afterward) and it proved to be a good decision. Mr. Ramkishan was a really good guide. Firstly, he never made preposterous claims. E.g. he mentioned honestly that most parts of the temple were built in the 19th century after a Englishman Mr. Cunningham discovered the buried ruins of the temple. God bless Mr. Cunningham's soul. OK, I hope God ignores what I have said about Him earlier in this post and blesses Cunningham anyway.

Secondly, he was really good at explaining Buddha's thoughts, his teachings, the reasons behind the split of Buddhist religion into Heenayana and Mahayana, and so on. He was candid in a very nice way about some of his narrative. He told us that Buddha sat in penance with 5 other Brahmins in search of knowledge, and they all had pledged that they would not take food or water till they got what they sought. (Clearly, today's politicians have suitably altered the rules of a fast for their convenience!) Then came along this lady Sujata who saw Buddha's famished condition and offered him kheer (made of rice, specified Mr. Ramkishan). According to our erudite guide, Buddha heard a voice which reminded him that in case he died in this cause, that would be a rather awful waste, wouldn't it? OK, that's not the way Ramkishan told us, but I hope you get the drift. So Buddha decided to accept the Kheer, which predictably annoyed the remaining five famished ones a lot. What Ramkishan said after that was really interesting - "either the Kheer was really nourishing, or because Buddha was not a normal person like you and me, but the reality is he quickly recovered from his skin and bones conditions and gained enough strength to walk to this place in double quick time." That's as candid as you can get.

The temple premises are clean. Absolutely clean. I don't know if only Hindus specialize in creating a mess at their religious places or whether the Bodhgaya temple is maintained by virtue of being a World Heritage site. Whatever the reason, it was a pleasure going around. Yes, outside the temple there are the usual troublemakers. One guy chased us for about 100 mt. trying to sell CDs of Buddhist chants. When we told him we were not interested, he tried with a video CD and also reminded us 'saheb, is mein Buddha ke janam se end tak sara scene dikhaya hai'. No, thanks. Mr. Ramkishan has already taken us through those details, and very well too.


Kadambari said...

Whoa! Must've been freaking hot to actually visit places! Anyway, sounds like you had a great time. Nice! :)

Pushkaraj said...

Kadambari - Thanks for the comment.
If I didn't enjoy myself, I wouldn't have written this post. :-)
On the note of the freaking hot weather - I regret to say that of all the six locations, Chennai was the worst...
Nagpur was another story. I stepped out of the meeting room and overheard the hotel manager say to another staff - "it's a little better today, isn't it?" The other fellow agreed and also mentioned that it was due to some rain in the region the earlier day. I couldn't suppress the question - what's the temperature just now. And if this is better, what was it earlier? The answer was - it is 45 today. day before it was 48.....