As the passion for photography increased it took me to various places, some enrapturing and some tranquilizing. One such visit was to Norbulingka Institute (Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh, India). It all started on a mistful Sunday morning as I fastened my shoes and decided to roam around Dharamshala armed with my camera. Located on a small hill with serene beauty and alluring cafes, Norbulingka enticed me in a beat. All Tibetan architecture on outside with vibrant red striking a contrast against lush full greenery, the institute is a sight deserving appreciation at once. Since 1988, institute has preserved Tibetan art and culture not only for the displaced Tibetans but for all who are curious to know about it. Named after Norbulingka, the summer residence of the Dalai Lamas in Lhasa, Tibet, institute primarily works towards carrying on Tibetan traditions and heritage by providing training, education and employment to Tibetans in the region.
A buzzing hive of activities ranging from Thangka painting, wood painting, wood carving, metal sculptures (both hammer and mold) that its students (between 3-6 year courses for graduation) engage in makes it even more lively. The sound of a tiny stream was following wherever I went, calming my mind and swooning my heart. It was all I needed to enter the temple and witness the mighty statue of Lord Buddha. Thoughts of home life drift off into the far away distance as I sit in the inner sanctum of the temple grounds under the gaze of His Holiness.
After such an astounding experience, I returned back to my place determined to visit the place where it all started, where Lord Buddha was enlightened – Bodhgaya!
Bodhgaya: Land of Enlightenment
Bodhgaya is a city of tremendous religious and cultural importance, meanwhile Bihar lying along the Gangetic plains is one of the reasons this Buddhist circuit is such a crowd puller. And as I have always advised to do the research about the place you are visiting, I did that too. I got to know about various monasteries, museums and Mahabodhi complex (most important of all) and yes, about some really nice food joints too! I planned my trip for two days and I decided to visit Mahabodhi temple on the first day itself.
After arriving in Patna, capital city of Bihar it took me around four hours to reach Bodhgaya (Gaya is the connecting place between Bodhgaya
and Patna). When I advanced towards the temple in the evening, I found myself confused. Have I reached Tibet instead of Bihar?
The Mahabodhi Temple is believed to be the place of Gautam Buddha’s enlightenment, making it a sacred pilgrimage destination for his followers. And in a place which is brimming with the calming vibe of Buddhism, it is almost impossible not to feel affected deep within. As I entered the Mahabodhi Temple, I was impressed by it magnanimity. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is designed symmetrically, and a walk around it unfolds the history without throwing off the balance. Even with the influx of innumerable people, it never feels suffocating. And the atmosphere around it enchants its visitors. Wandering in the complex with an awed
face and capturing the site, I caught the eye of a monk who smiled at time (possibly, because of my foolishness) but the warmth of his face encouraged me to approach him and I did. I asked him about the place and he looked at me for few seconds. As my thoughts trailed towards my immature act of asking someone such thing, I began to retreat with an apologetic smile just when I heard him saying:
Through zeal knowledge is gotten, through lack of zeal knowledge is lost; let a man who knows this double path of gain and loss thus place himself that knowledge may grow.Buddha
It doesn’t happen usually to me that people speak so much in few words. Before I could respond he asked me if I would like to have a walk around the complex with him. As I nodded and we proceed, little did I know this place would be magical for me, as it has been for some many including Siddhartha himself.
He told me about the great saga of how Siddhartha attained enlightenment by touching the earth, thereby calling it to witness the countless lifetimes of virtue that had led him to this place of enlightenment, he resolved not to rise again until enlightenment was attained. Three days and nights passed and Siddhartha’s intention was realized. He became the Buddha, meaning the ‘Enlightened One’.
The Buddha then spent the next seven weeks at different places in the vicinity. The Buddha is said to have walked back and forth between the location of the Animeshlocha Stupa and the Bodhi tree. According to legend, lotus flowers sprung up along this route and it is now called Ratnachakarma, or the Jewel Walk. I got a lot to absorb in such fewer moments, and I decided to call it day.
Next day, I visited The Great Buddha Statue which looked substantial from the main gate. But as I started walking towards it, I realized how enormous it is! This 80 feet tall statue is made up of sandstone bricks and marble and it shows Buddha in the meditation posture. Even though the statue is magnificent in its own stance, I was equally interested in the eight disciples on either side.
Also, there are many more monasteries and temples that have been built by the Buddhist communities of various Asian countries – Japan, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, China, Vietnam, Tibet, Bhutan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Taiwan. The structures have been constructed in their national styles. All of them are very close to each other and while roaming in rickshaw (it will cost you between 50-80 INR) I got to see almost all of the monasteries, but the one that enticed me to come in was Thai monastery. Its structure is similar to any Thai temple and the back part of it has the Buddha polished with gold water. My trip to Bodhgaya was more like traveling inwards. Visiting the birthplace of Buddhism and sharing the space where Buddha once meditated filled my heart with gratitude. The only thing I remember as a farewell to that place was the thought ‘when will I get to come back here again?’