TNN | Updated: May 10, 2017, 11.03 AM IST
KOLKATA: Buddhists in the city have a new reason to rejoice. After decades of appeals and requests to the state government, right through the regime of Congress to Left Front and now Trinamool Congress, this is the first time that a state holiday has been declared on Buddha Purnima on Wednesday. This is the 2561st birth anniversary of Lord Buddha — the biggest annual occasion for those of this faith. The city has a little over 5,000 Buddhists and at least 35 monasteries.
The two oldest Buddhist monastery-cum-congregations are the Mahabodhi Society (established in 1891 by Anagarik Dharmapal, a venerated monk from Sri Lanka), and Bauddha Dharmankur Sabha that was established by Kripasaran Mahasthabir from Chittagong, just a year later. Both have joined hands for a unique celebration that started on Tuesday, also celebrating the 156th birth anniversary of Rabindranath Tagore.
A light-and-sound show was organized at College Square that wove Tagore creations like ‘Malini’, ‘Chandalika’ and ‘Notir Puja’ — that have Buddha as the central theme. The show, designed by theatre group Rupnagar, will be on for the next seven days. The event saw a large turnout of people from the community in the first public programme in Kolkata to celebrate Buddha Purnima. “Now we look forward to the Centre declaring it a national holiday. A large number of South Asian countries have already done that. India should take a cue from Bangladesh, where the heads of state make arrangements to celebrate with senior monks of different Buddhist orders,” said Bhikshu Bodhipala, head of the Dharmankur Sabha.
Members of the community along with monks in the different monasteries participated in the grand preparations for Buddha Purnima ceremonies. Giant brass statues of Lord Buddha were cleaned up and arrangement of fruits, incense sticks, candles and vegetarian food was made for mass feeding. “We encourage people from all communities to visit our monasteries and be part of our festivities. Buddha’s is a message of peace that we are here to spread,” said Hemendu Bikas Chowdhury, general secretary of the Sabha and vice-president of the Society.
Monks and community members will visit Moghalmari, near Dantan in West Midnapur, on Wednesday morning. This is where a 5th century Buddhist vihara is being gradually unearthed by the state archaeology department. The excavation started in the early part of the last decade and it is assumed it might date back to the post-Gupta period.
“This is an extremely prestigious excavation and would have changed the history of ancient Bengal as we know it. However, it is unfortunate that the excavation has stopped because necessary permissions are not coming from the Archaeological Survey of India. On the occasion on Buddha Purnima, we appeal to the ASI to help start the excavation. It is of great significance to Buddhists and we hope that the work starts soon,” Chowdhury added.
A documentary film on Moghalmari, made by Abhishek Ganguly, will be screened thereafter. The celebrations will end with an all-faiths meet in the city.