Buddhism in stone

Stupa 3 which contained the relics of the Buddha's disciples Sariputta and Mahamogalana. Photo:Shashank Shekhar Sinha

Stupa 3 which contained the relics of the Buddha’s disciples Sariputta and Mahamogalana. Photo:Shashank Shekhar Sinha

Frontline, August 19, 2016

The remains of Buddhist architecture and sculpture at Sanchi in Madhya Pradesh tell the story of the rise, flowering and gradual decline of Buddhism in India. Text & photographs by

Located on a hill in Raisen district, around 50 kilometres from Bhopal and 10 km from the ancient trading, religious and art hub Vidisa (Vidisha in modern times) is Sanchi, a site known for its stupas, pillars, temples, monasteries and sculptural wealth. It is a great place to see the beginnings, efflorescence and decay of Buddhist art and architecture from the third century BCE to the 12th century C.E. In a way, Sanchi covers the entire period of Buddhism in India. As the historian Upinder Singh says, it provides a remarkable history of Buddhism in stone spanning some 15 centuries.

Sanchi, a World Heritage Site, has an ancient past. Prehistoric paintings and tools have been found at the well-known Bhimbetka Caves, another World Heritage Site nearby. Recent archaeological and hydrological studies by Julia Shaw and John Sutcliffe have brought to light ancient irrigation works belonging to second or first century BCE. The presence of mud dams and reservoirs indicates the prevalence of rainwater harvesting for drinking water requirements and for irrigation, possibly in rice cultivation. During the Buddha’s time, this area formed a part of the mahajanapada (one of the great states) of Akara in the western Malwa region. Sanchi is referred to as Kakanava or Kakanaya in early Brahmi inscriptions found in the site. In the fourth century, it was known as Kakanadabota, while a late seventh century inscription refers to it as Bota-Shriparvata.

An early Buddhist text, Mahaparinibbhanasutta, says that when the Buddha was breathing his last, he called in his favourite disciples Ananda, Sariputta and Mahamogalana and told them that after his death his body should be cremated, the ashes distributed, and stupas erected over them at crossroads. Following his death (mahaparinirvana), the Buddha’s relics were divided into eight portions and stupas were built over them.

Meanwhile, the powerful Mauryan emperor Asoka was establishing his political supremacy across the subcontinent. However, after the Battle of Kalinga, in which many lives were lost, Asoka decided to transform himself and soon became a devout Buddhist. It is said that out of his zeal to spread Buddhism, he opened seven of the eight original stupas and got the Buddha’s relics redistributed. Stupas were built over the places where the relics were kept. According to legend, he built around 84,000 (some say 64,000) stupas all over northern India and in areas now in Nepal, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. Continue reading

Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche’s Fourth Film Debuts in Switzerland

 Hema Hema, a modern fairytale largely shot in a remote village in Bhutan, examines the themes of identity and the transition between life and death. From tumblr.com Hema Hema, a modern fairytale largely shot in a remote village in Bhutan, examines the themes of identity and the transition between life and death. From tumblr.com

Hema Hema, a modern fairytale largely shot in a remote village in Bhutan, examines the themes of identity and the transition between life and death. From tumblr.com
Hema Hema, a modern fairytale largely shot in a remote village in Bhutan, examines the themes of identity and the transition between life and death. From tumblr.com

By Craig Lewis Buddhistdoor Global | 2016-08-18 |

Described by the trade website Screen Daily as “colorful, exotic, and mysterious,” the fourth cinematic outing by Bhutanese lama, filmmaker, and writer Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche made its world premiere in Switzerland earlier this month. Titled Hema Hema: Sing Me a Song While I Wait, the film debuted at the Locarno Film Festival (3–13 August) to a positive reception.

Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche has previously directed three major feature films: Vara: A Blessing (2013), Travellers and Magicians (2003), and The Cup (1999). He is also the author of the books Not for Happiness: A Guide to the So-Called Preliminary Practices (Shambhala, 2012) and What Makes You Not a Buddhist (Shambhala, 2007).

Continue reading

Myanmar earthquake: One dead and temples damaged

_90915201_699e1976-ffb5-4ec4-a005-be159fda7a9eBBC News
24 August 2016

A general view shows the damage at the Sulamani temple in Bagan, southwest of Mandalay, Myanmar, 25 August 2016.Image copyrightEPA

The Sulamani temple was damaged by the quake

A 6.8 magnitude earthquake has hit central Myanmar, damaging pagodas in the ancient city of Bagan and killing at least one person.

The quake struck 25km (15.5 miles) west of Chauk, at a depth of 84km, the US Geological Survey said.

Tremors were felt as far away as Thailand, Bangladesh and India, sending fearful residents into the streets.

At least 66 stupas in Bagan have been damaged, a spokesman from the department of archaeology told the BBC.

A 22-year-old man was killed in the town of Pakokku due to a building collapse.

Videos posted on social media from Bagan show clouds of dust and the tops of some pagodas crumbling as the quake struck.

The ancient capital is a major tourist site, home to thousands of Buddhist monuments.

Earthquakes occur regularly in central Myanmar and the temples have been damaged and reconstructed before, the BBC’s Myanmar correspondent Jonah Fisher says.

Workers rushed out of their offices in Kolkata, India, after feeling the quake

Bagan’s temples were built between the 10th and 14th centuries

There are numerous reports of buildings being damaged elsewhere in the country, including the parliament building in Naypyidaw.

Tall buildings shook in Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city, the Thai capital Bangkok and Kolkata in India, where underground railway services were temporarily suspended.

At least 20 people were injured in the Bangladeshi capital, Dhaka, as they fled a building, local media report.


Talk – Buddhist Art in Dunhuang and the Silk Road in China

Sep 05, 2016
(07:00 PM )

India Habitat Centre (IHC)
Lodhi Road , Delhi

Buddhist Art in Dunhuang and the Silk Road in China Speaker: Dr.Anu Jindal, Artist-Art Historian, shares insights of a recent visit to the Mogao Grottoes in Dunhuang, a UNESCO world heritage site, on the edge of the Gobi desert. Prof. Lokesh Chandra, President, ICCR, will throw light on the Dunhuang artefacts. Chair: Suresh Jindal, filmmaker & writer, will make introductory remarks on Buddhism.


Long Circuit: China-Pak Plotting to Hijack Buddha Legacy

Long Circ

The Sunday Herald
By Ritu Sharma
Published: 31st Jul 2016 09:41:49 AM

NEW DELHI: With China collaborating with Pakistan and Sri Lanka to create a Buddhist trail and claim the legacy keeping in view its geo-strategic interests, India has moved to form a transnational circuit for Buddhist pilgrims and tourists in cooperation with South East Asian countries. To promote itself as the cradle of Buddhism, Pakistan has also started promoting its Gandhara Buddhist Trail.

India’s master stroke to create the Buddhist trail sprawling across Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam is aimed at treasuring the heritage inherited by the country and regaining its place in history as the fountainhead of Buddhism. The initiative, which is commensurating with both India’s soft diplomacy and ‘Act East’ Policy, will be taken under the Mekong-Ganga Cooperation. The Buddhist trail, spread across the South East Asian countries, will be important for India’s identity and tourism.
“The member countries have agreed to enhance tourism cooperation and explore an early harvest ‘Buddhist trail’ as the starting point,” a Ministry of External Affairs’ official said. Myanmar has offered to coordinate the initiative. The decision was taken at the recent meeting of the Mekong-Ganga Cooperation at Vientiane. Observers say that India has been a “late mover” in claiming its rich Buddhist inheritance but is steadily “consolidating” its position.

The move is significant as China also has geo-strategic interests in the South-East Asian countries. It has proposed a Buddhist circuit under its One Belt, One Road project and has been cooperating with Pakistan and Sri Lanka on it. India’s initiative is the second such one after the Modi-led government’s announcement to conduct domestic Buddhist circuits to facilitate Buddhist pilgrims and tourists. In 2014, the government announced to make the Sarnath-Gaya-Varanasi, one among the five circuits in India, a world class one under a `500 crore project.

India’s efforts have been gathering steam after China replaced it as the co-organiser of ‘Vesak’ (Buddha Jayanti) at Gautam Buddha’s birth place in Lumbini, Nepal, earlier this year. Termed as ‘Chinese Lumbini Coup’, China’s move to appropriate Buddhist legacy was preceded by Beijing pulling out of Bihar’s Nalanda University Project. Instead, China developed a rival at Lumbini University under a $3 billion project.

The legacy of Gautam Buddha has become a bone of contention between the two neighbours for over a decade now and the “One Road, One Belt” is also going to further Chinese appropriation of the Buddhist heritage. China has also developed a China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) passing through PoK as part of the One Road, One Belt project that is also intended to fuel movement of Buddhist pilgrims. India has objected to the plan.

In April 2016, Pakistan had invited 40 Sri Lankan Buddhist monks to showcase its heritage and promote the Gandhara School of Art and Takshila Museum. Pakistan has been working towards creating an image of “a Muslim country” that has preserved world’s richest Buddhist sites and artifacts.

Buddhism was the official religion in India during the Mauryan Empire (321–185 BC), Pala Empire (750–1174 CE), as well as Kushan Empire from the first to the third centuries CE. In imperial China, it was adopted by the Sui (589–618 CE), Tang (618–907 CE) and Yuan (1271– 1368 CE) dynasties. With the arrival of Islam, Buddhism was pushed to Central Asia.


‘Kubo and the Two Strings’

Filmmaker Travis Knight talks about the Buddhist elements in the just released animated movie, ‘Kubo and the Two Strings’:

“Q: There’s a strain of Buddhism throughout the film — this idea that lives don’t end with death and live on in memories. Apart from it being set in Ancient Japan, where did that come from?
Knight: My mother-in-law and her family are Buddhists. That kind of spirituality is not something you typically see in film. I think it spoke to the basic idea about losing something that matters to you, which is a fundamental part of life. You don’t get through life unscathed. Being able to explore those ideas through the prism of fantasy and animation really allows parents and children to experience those things together, in a way they can understand. Sometimes these ideas are difficult to articulate, but in a film, if done in a poetic way, those things can make sense and you can talk about them.”



An equal music

Caste is never far from Dalit pop. Young musicians like Thenmozhi Soundararajan say their music is inspired by and rooted in struggle. Photos: Special Arrangement

Caste is never far from Dalit pop. Young musicians like Thenmozhi Soundararajan say their music is inspired by and rooted in struggle. Photos: Special Arrangement

The Hindu
August 20, 2016

A hip young generation of singers is putting Dalit pop right on top of the charts

“I don’t want to talk of caste, I want to break it,” declares Ginni Mahi, the 17-year-old Punjabi folk-cum-pop singer from Jalandhar who has been making waves. Her latest track ‘Fan Baba Sahib Di’ (‘Ambedkar’s Fan’) proclaims her admiration for the architect of the Constitution and his emancipatory thoughts and writings. “I sing of Guru Ravidas, Guru Nanak, Kabir and Ambedkar. Their message was of equality and they called for an end to caste discrimination.”

Mahi is just one of a new generation of performers who are reinventing the music of the Dalit movement by mixing existing folk traditions with Western genres and attracting newer and younger crowds of listeners.

The Dalit movement has, down the years, given birth to many shairs (poets), folk musicians and balladeers, who sing paeans to Babasaheb, spreading his message across the country, speaking of breaking the shackles of inequality and exploitative Brahminical structures. Much of this revolutionary music, for example, the vast repertoire of ‘Bhim Geet’ (Ambedkar songs) in Maharashtra, has been the lifeblood of rights agitations from the start. Today, the singers have bigger dreams. Mahi, for instance, dreams of becoming a playback singer in Bollywood. They see themselves as having a far more universal appeal than their older counterparts did. Not so long ago, playback singers and musicians were known to hide their caste identity. The new lot flaunts it. Their lyrics are from their history, their videos replete with Ambedkar photos and Buddhist iconography.

“Folk songs and poetry were the old methods of spreading the message of equality. Ambedkar praised poets for putting ideas across so easily,” says singer-musician Kabeer Shakya from Navi Mumbai, who, in 2011, founded Dhamma Wings, which he calls an Ambedkarite Buddhist gospel band. “Today, you have to convey the same thing in a modern way. The Buddhist community is well-educated. That’s why we have started composing music in English. We perform in colleges; rock and pop work. Even non-Buddhists like my music.”

But caste is never far away from Dalit pop. As Shakya says, “Our whole identity is because of Ambedkar.” Pointing to his single ‘Deewana Buddha Bhim ji ka’, he says, “I am from a backward community. Someone injected a sickness [of caste] in our community. A doctor [Ambedkar] came and cured it. I represent the cured generation. Naturally, I will be his fan, his deewana. You will find the same sentiment everywhere. Ambedkar is a symbol of struggle.” Continue reading