PATNA, Bihar state, India - The Bihar government will soon begin mapping the lost and forgotten Buddhist pilgrimage routes in the state with an aim to revive its old glory and promote tourism.
The newly formed Bihar Virasat Vikas Samiti (BVVS) an non-governmental organization (NGO) working as a separate body under the guidance of department of culture and a deemed university Nava Nalanda Mahavihara (NNM) have jointly designed a multi-pronged project to develop these unknown sites.
Experts would be involved to develop these unknown sites spread across the districts of Nalanda, Vaishali, Bhagalpur, Saran, and East Champaran. French archeologist Yves Guichand during his recent Bihar visit took aerial photographs of some of these sites in Nalanda [the site of the world's first Buddhist university].
"The community that has preserved the heritage stands to benefit from it while devising methods to preserve it. Tourism, and more specifically religious pilgrimage, offer a unique opportunity to local people to showcase the culture and heritage and, in the process, generate new avenues of livelihood," says amateur archeologist Deepak Anand, who has been actively engaged in this project for the last few years.
"The pilgrimage routes through villages will give pride to the culture and offer them monetary support to take care of the inheritance and generate awareness," Anand told TOI. This relationship between people and their surroundings would set an example of the Buddha's teachings in the land of its origin.
The vast heritage that is inlaid in most of the villages in Bihar was once part of the pilgrimage for Buddhists all over the world; millions of followers traced these routes for over 1,800 years that saw an unexpected decline [after being targetted internally by Hindus and externally by Arabian-Islamist invasions] around the 14th century AD.
The BVVS and NNM have designed a strategy to develop these sites for the interest of the local community and their heritage. The first phase of the plan would comprise a tour route spanning Bodh Gaya [the site of the Buddha's great enlightenment, where a descendent of the Bodhi-tree he sat under still stands], Pragbodhi, Gurpa, Jethian, Nalanda, Rajgir [a city made famous in countless sutras, the site of Vulture Peak and Jetavana], Parwati, and Checher. The strategy put in place includes a community participation plan focusing on the interdependency of community and heritage termed "[Socially-] Engaged Buddhism."
The process of revitalization of the heritage has many aspects such as field study, exploration, documentation of sites, protection, preservation, excavation, promotion, and showcasing.
The travelogues of two Chinese Buddhist monk travellers, FA HSEIN and XUANZANG, were instrumental in the rediscovery of important sites associated with the life of the Buddha and the events that followed until his final passing into nirvana ("mahaparinirvana").
by Pranava K. Chaudhary
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