A trip to rajgir

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  • 1. A Trip to Rajgir (November 1994) by Jayant DoshiWhen I booked my flight fromDelhi to Patna, the departure was given as 6.30a.m., which would have given me half a dayspare to do some sightseeing in Rajgir. As Iwas staying for only two days, all this extrahours were important. However, on reachingDelhi I was informed that the flight was at10.30 - the new winter schedule. This isIndia! I was told - something one gets used tohearing every now and then when travelling inIndia. I reached Patna at 1.00 p.m. and a carhad come to pick me up and drive me to Rajgir.Though born in Africa, I amIndian by origin - and in my heart. I love India,and over a period of 30 years I have been to many parts of this vast country. I have visited the bigcities of Bombay, Delhi and Madras. I have been on the beaches of Goa and Trivandrum, and I have seen the natural beauty of Kashmir, Mahabaleshwar, Ooty and Kodaicanal. I have travelled through the villages of Gujarat. I have seen the historical monuments of India - Taj Mahal, the Kutub Minar, the Red Fort, Golden Temple of Amritsar and the magnificient palaces of Mysore. I have seen the construction of Dayal Bagh in Agra which one day expects to become the next eighth wonder of the world. I have seen the Vrandavan gardens of Bangalore and the Kanya Kumari, the southern tip of the Indian sub-continent. I have been on the Girnar and Palitana. But I have never visited eastern parts of India, and I have never been to a remote mountainous region of the least developed andthe poorest part of India, which has an impressive historical past and a lot to interest a religiouspilgrim, but little to interest a casual tourist. With its historical and religious background, my visit toRajgir was a different experience for me and I was looking forwards to it. I spent just two and ahalf days there, but I saw a lot and experienced a lot, and I would like to share my experiencesand thoughts with my readers. Rajgir, or Rajagriha as it wasknown originally, is situated in the State ofBihar, and is 65 miles south-east of Patna, thecapital city of Bihar. Rajagriha, which literallymeans the residence of the King, has beenassociated from time immemorial with mightyempires, which once held sway over the entirelength and breadth of India and beyond. It hadalso the privilege of association with great andmighty men, who though long dead, are eventoday influencing the mind and spirit of a fairlylarge portion of humanity, spread over the

2. entire civilised world. Amongst these are thenames of Lord Mahavira and Buddha, who areassociated with the two great religions ofJainism and Buddhism respectively. Rajagriharemained the capital of the great MagadhaEmpire for centuries.Mahabharata has the earliestmention of Rajgir which had the powerful KingJarasandha who married his two daughters toKing Kansa to form and alliance, and who tooksides with the Kauravas in the Mahabharatawar. While driving in his chariot to the war ofMahabharata, his chariot wheel got stuck onone of the hills of Rajgir, and it is said that themarks made by the wheel can be seen today also. Magdha Kingdom extended all over India andAfghanistan, and the capital Rajagriha became famous throughout India for its wealth andmagnificence. Its vastness is indicated by the boundary walls - it had 32 main gates and 64 minorones. The city was a large centre of trade and commerce, and many merchants went on seavoyages and many foreign merchants visited Rajagriha. Rajagriha was also the chief centre for thepropagation of religious and philosophicalthought. Buddha passed many years of hisministrations at this place, gave many sermonsand it was the scene of many important eventsof his life. Lord Mahavira, the last of the JainTirthankars passed fourteen rainy seasons inRajagriha, gave his very first and very lastsermon and achieved Nirvana nearby to thiscity. Rajagriha was also regarded as the birthplace of Muni Suvrata, the twentieth Tirthankar.All of the eleven Gandharas, the chief disciplesof Lord Mahavira, died on the hills of Rajgriha.The modern religious importance of the place islargely due to the Jains, who, with acharacteristic fondness for heights, have builttemples at the top of almost all the hills. Buddhists also have great reverence and importance tothis historical site. However, as Buddhism is now practised only in Japan, China and other FarEast and South Asian countries, this area is important place for pilgrimage by the followers ofBuddhism from those countries. Japanese Government has spent considerable amount of money todevelop facilities in this area, and have built some impressive Buddhist temples also. With this historical background, the place had lot of significance and I was keen to see what it was like today. Ashok, the employee of Veerayatan, had come to pick me up from Patna airport. The drive to Veerayatan was 3 hours, but the time passed quickly as we both got talking about various subjects. Ashok comes from a religious family background and his knowledge of the subject was impressive, while being a sceptic myself I had some critical questions which livened the discussion on the way, and the three hours whisked away without being aware of the long and tedious journey on rough roads. 3. We reached Veerayatan at 4.00p.m. I was welcomed by Shubhamji, one of theSadhvis (Jain Nun) who run this place. I wasshown to my room. The place including my room,were neat and clean. The living accommodationwas comfortable and cosy. A double bed withmosquito netting, a chair and a table formed thebedroom, and a large bathroom and a washarea in the back room comprised the totalaccommodation. In view of its location in aremote area, I considered the facilities weregenerally excellent. After freshening up, I wentto see Subhamji, who took me around theVeerayatan to show me all the facilities andservices.One has read and heard about Christian missionaries who have gone to farawayplaces to preach and establish missions in uncivilised parts of the world. We have also read ofheard about these missionaries providing medical facilities and education, and converting them toChristianity at the same time, to those uncivilised people in parts of Asia and Africa where suchthings were unheard of. We are also aware of the wonderful work done by Mother Teresa inCalcutta. But one has rarely heard of any Hindu or Jain sadhus or priests or nuns doing suchwork. That some Jain Sadhvis are doing exactlysuch humanitarian work in Veerayatan got meinterested, and which drew me to this place. Veerayatan is developed on a plotof 40 acres of land at the base of one of thehills of Rajgir. There are rooms for visitors, akitchen and dining hall on one side of the area.There is a prayer assembly hall, andaccommodation for Sadhvis and some staffmembers occupying the central area. At theother end is an eye hospital and quarters forhospital doctors and other staff. The wholeplace is nicely maintained with well laid outgardens with flower beds. I was shown theprayer hall and then taken to the museum thathas the story of Mahavir and other tirthankars depicted in exhibition form, depicting importantevents by model creations. The exhibition now made in Leicester Jain Temple is based on thesame.Then I was taken to the hospital.The hospital was remarkably clean and neat, Ithas 100 beds between two wards. People fromnearby and faraway places come here forchecking their eyes and for after treatment oroperation as necessary. Eye-sight problems andeye diseases are a major ailment in all thirdworld countries including India, and there arelots of charities all over India providing freecheck-up and operations to thousands of suchpeople. Veerayatan is possibly one suchorganisation in Bihar which not only providesfree check-up and operations, but also after-care in the hospital. Another extension is being 4. built (almost completed) to allow for extra space for the hospital, and create space for treatment of polio and cancer, and for making artificial limbs. During my stay no operations were taking place and as such I was unable to see the operations in person. After dinner I attended evening prayer meeting where I met lot of other visitors. Two girls in their early teens sang the prayers in very beautiful voices, and their singing was very impressive. As I had not slept the previous night at all, I went to bed early. I woke up feeling fresh and lively. The air outside was mountain fresh and cool. Iwas invited for breakfast with a touring group from Poona. After that I went to see AcharyaChandanaji. Acharyaji is the founder of Veerayatan, the soul and inspiration of the wholeorganisation, and at the helm of the day to day working of the place. She took me round to see thelibrary which contained books on all different religions of India, and some of the books were rareeditions. Then I was shown museum containing some rare artefacts. I rented a horse drawn cart to tourRajgir. As is normal in such places, the onlyplaces of interest to visit are temple - andnormally they are in big numbers in relation tothe size of the town. I visited few of them -including Hindu temples, and Jain temples(representing the two main sects of Svetambersand Digambers). But the highlight of this tour,and the most impressive were two Buddhisttemples. Compared with the other temples, theywere all well built, spacious, well maintainedand impressive to visit and worship or meditate,or walk around in the temple and surroundinggardens. They were in complete contrast to theother temples I visited. One Buddhist temple is on top of a hill, and it is connected by an aerialropeway, which is the chief attraction of present day Rajgir. The Buddha temple, called the VishvaShanti Stupa (World Peace Memorial) was constructed at a cost of over Rupees 22 Lakhs by Rev.Fiji Guruji of Japan. After destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki by atom bombs, Guruji , in hisanxiety to prevent a recurrence of such disaster, decide