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October 31, 2006


I hope you don't mind my shamelessly linking to my own blog posts to make a point. But I noted the same reversal of hierarchy of gods in a recent article about Japan:

"I have seen numerous Buddhas in Japan in various moods and poses - even a surprisingly ferocious one (Buddha is the quintessential model of peace and calm) holding up a sword. And astonishingly enough, the Japanese Buddha is always guarded at the temple gate by the twin pair of Hindu gods representing the wind (Vayu) and thunder (Indra). In case of the 1001 Buddhas in Kyoto, a pantheon of thirty three major and minor Hindu gods including the all important Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva and Lakshmi among them, guard the Buddhas from evil forces."

I am curious to know what the attitude of the surrounding Hindu population and the government of Bihar is to the upkeep and safeguarding of Nalanda? Is it a World Heritage site? Is the Japanese government involved in its preservation?

Thanks for your note Ruchira. I am glad you included the link to your earlier post. Buddhism being an Indian export to east Asia, it's no surprise that local religious politics and its iconography got exported too. What’s more fascinating is how it still lives among people who have no context for making sense of it. As I keep saying, if the Buddha came back to earth today, he would be pretty shocked to see what most of his followers do in his name (Mr. Jesus may be in for a bigger shock though). They’ve turned him into a deity, installed golden statues of him, added a plethora of prayers, rituals, and offerings, turned his former haunts into pilgrimage sites, etc. – pretty much the sort of stuff the Buddha rebelled against in the first place!

My strong sense on visiting Bihar, and Nalanda in particular, was that the locals couldn’t care less for these ruins. They have far too many pressing needs and problems. It is quite an irony that the present population around Nalanda, once a leading university of the world, is mostly illiterate. In nearby villages, children with distended bellies abound and the squalor is stark. People advise you to get off the road before dark for fear of armed robberies.

My guess is that most locals see Nalanda simply as a source of tourist dollars, some derivative pride, and some folklore. They probably can't fathom why outsiders visit these mere ruins. If it had an ancient but living temple, they might have taken more interest, if for the wrong reasons. They've resisted further digs, partly due to which only 10 of 108 monasteries have been excavated. There is also apparently a black market for art that the locals have themselves "excavated" in the region.

The Japanese have no evident interest in Nalanda since it is not associated with any big events in the Buddha’s life, only with his visits to the region. They mainly help preserve more important pilgrimage sites like Lumbini, Bodh Gaya, Sarnath, and Kushinagar (Indian and Nepali governments won't lavish on them the kind of TLC a major world religion needs for its sacred sites – thanks to Japan and other Buddhist countries, the inner sanctum of the ancient temple at Bodh Gaya is spotless clean and air conditioned). Nalanda, not a World Heritage site, seems to be run and preserved solely by the ASI, which has done a fairly decent job. The ASI certified tour guides on site were among the best I've encountered in India.

This tribute to the heritage of Nalanda is quite impressive, although just providing a whiff of what it must have been like in Nalanda during its heyday. They're always holding endless fundraisers to raise the last million dollars or so to 'finish' it.Never mind the irony of juxtaposing today's Nalanda and dire poverty in the district with a mini-reproduction costing a gazillion dollars in architects' and material fees.
Your photos are gorgeous, but even more than the remnants of glory past, I loved the naughty twinkle in the eyes of the highly amused 'distended bellied' children. They may be in dire poverty, but are determined to milk the most enjoyment of the fun of being photographed ( or was it baksheesh? :)

Thanks for the link; it made me curious to know more about the Nationality Rooms program. I’m happy that you liked my photos. The twinkle is indeed charming and was offered without baksheesh. :) This neighborhood is so devoid of wandering tourists that the kids haven’t yet learned to pester them.

Yes a good set of information here. Well done. I have been to Nalanda (near Patna) and its amazing.

The images are wonderful. A while back I read the Tang dynasty travelogue of the Chinese Buddhist monk Xuan-Zang (Ping-Yin spelling) who studied at Nalanda for many years. His description of the Nalanda monastery was vivid and detailed. I read the original Chinese book and have not seen a translated version. It would be wonderful to visit Nalanda with a copy of his book in hand to retrace the paths and buildings.

Thanks for your note, Franz. You awakened in me again the desire to read Xuan-Zang (or Hiuen Tsang) on Nalanda. I believe a translation does exist, though I have no idea how it compares with the original. It's now on my Amazon.com wish list.

This is very exciting work you have done. I am so glad someone is compiling these pictures. India has so much beauty to offer to the world but it all gets lost somehow... Great Site!

Dear sir,
Thank you very much posting valuable images of Nalanda Univercity.
Tshering Sherpa
Toyota city, Japan

Japan will be investing in Nalanda after all (another report from the NY Times).

Japan will fund ... an international university in Nalanda, a Japanese diplomat in India has said. Noro Motoyasu said here Monday that the Japanese people were keen to forge closer relations with Bihar because it was the land of the Buddha and Buddhism.

Nobel laureate Amartya Sen will head a panel that will oversee the establishment of the international university in Nalanda. The proposed university will be fully residential, like the ancient seat of learning at Nalanda. In the first phase of the project, seven schools with 46 foreign faculty members and over 400 Indian academics would come up. The university will impart courses in science, philosophy and spiritualism along with other subjects. A renowned international scholar will be its chancellor. (source)

Nalanda may soon also get the long overdue World Heritage Site status. Exciting new excavation opportunities have been uncovered too.

Nice Post. Do you have any idea or reference so that i Can know the books at Nalanda library.It would be really nice of you to help.

it will be a real tribute to the old academic atmosphere offered by Bihar if the government decides to revive all the noted ancient centres of learning in Bihar. Alongwith Nalanda, Vikramshila(in the present Bhagalpur) & Udantpuri(near the present town of Biharsharif) Universities should also be revived. Only then the state of Bihar, lying at the lowest position in the rates of literacy level in India, can advance itself in field of education. The proposed Nalanda University should tie itself with the quality univesities existing in the East Asian nations and elsewhere. Then only, it can maintain & upgrade constantly its level of quality.

By reviving Vikramshila, the age-old bond of India with Tibet, Bhutan, Nepal, etc may be recreated. It will benefit the entire academic arena.

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