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Published: October 10th 2007
Mahaparinirvana Temple, which houses the statue
When travelers in India think about Buddha they mostly think about Bodhgaya, where he became enlightened... But he spent a lot more time in India than just getting enlightened in Bodhgaya... For instance he also died here, on his way back home... And so I decided to take a look at some of the other places of significance in Buddha's life...
First stop, Kushinagar in Uttar Pradesh, this is where Buddha died and amazingly for a place where such an important event took place, hardly anybody seems to visit it... I was the only western tourist around, and most people seemed surprised to see me... Kushinagar is a nice and small village with quite a few Buddhist monasteries, a crumbling stupa said to be the place where Buddha was cremated and a beautiful golden deathbed statue of Buddha...
Apparently, Buddha predicted his own death, three month before in Vaishali, Bihar, during his last sermon... He died of food poisoning, bad mushrooms, so it seems... His last words being something like this: 'Dudes, I am about to bite the dust... Don't tell me I didn't warn you, because I did, three month ago! C'est la vie! If you want to
Deathbed statue of Buddha
reach Nirvana like me, you will have to work out your own salvation, because nobody is going to do it for you!'
His death was followed by some spectacular cosmic events and the moving of the tectonic plates which caused considerable seismic activity... Also heavenly music was heard... Or was that just the mushrooms speaking?
Next I went to Kesariya in Bihar, where Buddha left his begging bowl and where they are uncovering, what the custodians themselves claim is the tallest and biggest Buddhist stupa in the world... I don't know about that, Burubudur in Indonesia seemed bigger to me... Still maybe they are right as there are still 3 stories hidden below the ground... Whatever it may be, it was an impressive sight in beautiful countryside scenery... Bihar is still very much coping with the aftermath of this year’s monsoon and it looked to me as if around 80 percent of the state is still covered in water with only the roads, railroads and the villages being dry... It was like driving through a big lake, with palm trees sticking out of the water and than in the middle of the lake was the stupa at Kesariya...
Monkeys grooming each other on the lawns of the Mahaparinirava Temple complex
On my way to Patna I drove through Vaishali, where Buddha gave his last sermon as told at the beginning of this tale... As I didn't know the bus was going to pas through Vaishali I didn't get of (I only realized later on that we had passed the place)... So Patna it was, the capital of Bihar and not one of the most attractive or friendly cities in India... I had a hard time finding accommodation, as most hotels refused foreigners... I finally got a shitty, gritty little room, which resembled a prison cell for 10 dollars a night! Pissed of, I decided to cool down in the Patna Museum, which is supposed to hold a good collection of Buddhist related sculptures... Unfortunately the entry fee quoted by Lonely Planet turned out to be false... Not 10 rupees, but 250 rupees for foreigners!! That put an end to those plans... I don't know what the Bihari government is thinking... Apart from Bodhgaya, no tourists visit the state and certainly not Patna, except for catching a train to somewhere else... And this is certainly not going to make it more attractive! By this time I got hungry and decided
Ramabhar Stupa, build on the spot where Buddha was cremated
to have lunch at some cheap street stall and promptly had my one good experience in all of Patna... The owner and his friends came over and we had a great conversation... They were highly interested in how courtship worked in the west and if the women showed any initiative where sex was concerned... Because apparently according to them, no sex before marriage (of course) and after that, with the lights turned off and no fooling around.... It all sounded rather boring to me...
Well, one day Patna was enough and I went up to Rajgir... Buddha spent a considerable amount of time around here... And just around the corner are the ruins of Nalanda University... One of the ancient world’s first and biggest universities, holding 10000 monks and students at one time... The ruins are very extensive and set in some lovely gardens and again, surprisingly, no western tourists! Perhaps because Bihar has got a bad name in terms of Maoist violence, banditry and plain poverty... It's a shame because the state has a lot to offer...
Finally and lastly I visited Pawapuri, which is not a Buddhist site, but a sight of major importance to the
Kesariya Stupa, supposedly the world's tallest...
Jains... Who are Jains? Well, around the same time as Buddha, there was a guy called Mahavira walking around and just like Buddha he rallied against the Hindu caste system and decided there must be another way... And he is seen as the founder of Jainism, where they believe one has to follow various austerities to purify once soul... They are for instance strict vegans and peculiarly also don't eat garlic or onions... Which would make them a prime target for vampires... Perhaps this explains why there are only 4 to 5 million Jains left in India... Mahavira died in Pawapuri and there is a beautiful marble temple built over the sight of his cremation, surrounded by a tank of water, which was created, so the saying goes, because the demand for his sacred ashes was so great that huge amounts of soil were removed around his funeral pyre...
Thus I conclude today’s history lessons in Buddhism, Jainism and it's effect on the vampire population... Tomorrow: A secret history of Ventriloquism... How Moses fooled Pharaoh...
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