A Key Site of Buddha’s Journey Found in Hazaribagh, Jharkhand

by April 23, 2018 0 comments

In Hazaribagh, Jharkhand, a key location related to Buddha’s journey has recently found by the historian Benoy K Behl.

Hazaribagh district in Jharkhand is set to become a part of the existing Buddhist circuit with the discovery of the Itkhori region, which marks the last journey of Gautama Siddhartha before he became a Buddha at Bodhgaya.

The recent find was made by Buddhist historian and scholar Benoy Behl, who was invited by Bulu Imam, convener of INTACH Hazaribagh Chapter to Hazaribagh. Hidden in the middle of extremely remote fields near Bihari village, close to Itkhori, were a sprawl of Hindu, Jaina and Buddhist sculptures. Behl also found many other sculptures in other villages around. These were found in deep, old wells. He dated these sculptures, ranging from the 2nd century BCE till the 12th century CE.

It is believed Gautama Siddhartha travelled from Itkhori to Bodhgaya before he gained enlightenment. This is also very close to Kauleshwari where it is believed that the Buddha had his head shaved. Says Behl, “In India, we are living on heritage. If you were to excavate the earth under many of our dwellings, we would find cultural remains from our past. Therefore, in parts of India which are a little remote and less developed, there is still a great cultural treasure which can be found.”

The Last Journey of the Bodhisattva

Gautama Siddhartha attained enlightenment and became a Buddha at Bodhgaya. According to a tradition, his last journey as a Bodhisattva, while he was seeking the truth, was from Itkhori in Hazaribagh district to Bodh Gaya. This journey would most probably have been along the banks of the Mohana river which flows down about 30 km from Itkhori, meeting the Niranjana river and going to Bodh Gaya.

Imam and Behl were alerted about this last journey of the Bodhisattva by a poem about the Buddha written by Sir Edwin Arnold, published in 1879. In the sixth book of the poem, Arnold writes:

“Thou, who would see where dawned the Light at last,

North-westwards (the direction from Itkhori to Bodh Gaya) from the “Thousand Gardens” (Hazaribagh) go…

On the green hills where those twin streamlets spring,

Nilajan and Mohana; follow them,

Winding beneath broad-leaved mahua-trees,

Till on the plain the shining sisters (rivers) meet

In Phalgu’s bed, flowing by rocky banks

To Gaya and the red Barabar hills…

Uruvela (ancient name of Bodh Gaya site) named in ancient days,”

Tradition has it that Gautama’s maasi (mother’s sister) Prajapati Gautami came looking for him during his period of meditation. When she could not find him, she said “Iti khoi”, in Pali, meaning “I have lost him”. It is said that Iti khoi became Itkhori, which remains a deeply revered site for Buddhists, Hindus, and Jains till today.

Many hundreds of sculptures have been found here and 700 such pieces are kept in a simple site museum which has been made. These sculptures belong to all three faiths and span a period of time from 2nd century BCE till the Pala-Sena period in the 12th century CE. Imam has been researching this ancient site for many decades now. Behl says that the sculptures indicate a high quality of art.

About 8 km from Itkhori is the Kauleshwari temple, which is deeply revered. Many Indians and even Buddhist pilgrims from abroad come here to have their heads shaved. This is on account of the tradition that the Buddha had his head shaved at this site before he meditated at Itkhori.

Major Buddhist destination

The Government of Jharkhand is planning to develop the region around Itkhori as a major Buddhist destination. With these rich treasures being unearthed by Behl and Imam, Hazaribagh is poised to become a significant place of Buddhist art and culture. Behl has made dramatic and significant contributions to highlight India’s Buddhist art before the world.

A rare lesson in Hindu philosophy

Behl’s research in the Itkhori region, revealed a remarkable object under the dark sanctum of the Kanuni Ya Mai Temple, about 2 km from Itkhori. This is an ancient, carved stone slab with a unique depiction on it. The simple style of the art, as well as the turban and hairstyle of the figures made on it, date it to between the 1st and the 3rd centuries BCE. This makes it one of the oldest Hindu objects under worship in India. It is unknown to the outside world and unpublished.

Even more fascinating is the Upanishadic philosophy clearly delineated in it. In the bottom section is  a linga (the symbol, or ‘mark’ of the ‘Formless Eternal’). It is being worshipped by a male and a female figure, made in a very simple style.

Emanating from the linga and placed above it is a depiction of the universe. The universe has the moon and the sun and above it is the Kalasha, or ‘vase of plenty’, or Purna Ghata. In ancient Indian art this is the vessel from which springs forth from the numerous forms of the world, including all the living beings.

This early representation is one of the clearest depictions in Indian art of the philosophic concepts of the Upanishads. The linga is the symbol of the Nirguna, from which come forth the multiplicity of the forms of the world. When you pull aside the curtains in front of the linga, there is nothing to be seen. This is the invisible, Nirguna representation of the Eternal.

Writer: Pioneer

Courtesy: The Pioneer

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