I’ve arrived in Bodhgaya at the start of Holi, the festival of colours. The locals wear new white clothes to be suitably stained. Holi is more ancient than Hinduism, so there are different stories, all rather splotchy in details. Here’s my abridged version: Once upon a time, there was a giant King who wanted to kill his son but failed repeatedly …. his demon sister Holika who was immune to fire took the young prince in her lap to kill him, but it was a sin, she lost her power to him, he survived and she died. So this is a celebration of good over evil, and also of renewal. In the day people annoint each other with colour with good wishes. At night bon fires are lit to celebrate the dealth of demon sister, which appeared to me quite fool hardy, being that there are lots of flammable material (hay stacks, straw roofs) around the arid landscape with not a cloud in sight.
I am staying at the Maitreya Project premises. The project’s objective is to build a statue of the buddha Maitreya to last 1000 years in Kushinagar. It will follow environmentally sound principles. Inside the huge statue will be various chapels and auditoriums. In the vacinity there will also be park, a hospital, a school or hopefully several schools. The school that I am visiting and hopefully helping is the pilot school and based in Bodhgaya. It is not a Buddhist school per se. The currilum is organized along the lines of holistic or integral education. Besides achedemic subjects the kids learn how to be a decent human being, and understand the totality of their human experience. The curriculum integrates meditation, yoga, moral philosphy & mythology with conventional subjects.
Please click here to learn more about the Maitreya Project school.
Click here to learn more about the Maitreya Project.
As Dick took me for a whizz around town earlier this afternoon, I got my first look at Bodhgaya, a dusty little village with an abundance of buddhist temples. The livestock and dogs wandered freely, competing for the same space as beggars, vendors, bicycles, rickshaws, pony carts… A thriving market scene in progress in the midst of medieval filth. The air of neglect and decay, the stench of unwashed humanity and clogged drains, the wafting insense.. ahhh…. India!
There was the river Neranjara where the ex-ascetic Siddartha/Gautam accepted his first meal of rice pudding and had his first bath. It was described as a beautiful river with shallow parts where buffaloes crossed. Now here’s what appears to be a landfill, a river of sand, of piles of garbage, of plastic bags, of rummaging pigs, scavenging goats and scratching chickens, except during the monsoons when it turned back into a river and drown a few people….
We sat down at a tea stall amidst a mesmerizing flurry of flies. 2 friendly dogs came to put their heads on Dick’s lap and lick my ankles. Everyone seemed to know Dick, it was namaskar all around. I’d taken a few photos and noticed the dust on my camera, even under the LCD. I worried about my lens. Looking through the camera, I watched one guy and his motorbike, recently drenched in navy blue paint, looking upset. There were some yelling and much waving of arms. The conflict appeared to be amicably resolved. It was Holi after all.
After dinner: It is the night of the full moon, always auspicious in the eastern calender. At the Mahabodhi stupa, the Thai buddhist pilgrims were out in force. Thai chanting is very beautiful. The stupa was built and wrecked a few times in it’s long history. It’s a site of pilgrimage for buddhists and hindus both. The stupa sits infront of and dwarfs the decendent of the legendary pipal tree under which the buddha attained enlightenment. Between the tree and the stupa is a structure called the diamond throne. It supposedly marks the site of the aforementioned enlightenment. The place has a special energy as holy places of most religions do. But, for me personally, it would have been better without all the other construction around the tree. I wonder what the buddha would say about the diamond throne. I suppose people need to venerate their heros and gods, regardless.
That night, Holi night, far from being a silent night, a huge rukus was heard passing by the Maitreya Project compound where I was staying. Fireworks were being set off, perhaps shots were being fired as well. People were twirling balls of rags soaked in kerosene, drinking, visiting different bonfires. It sounded like a bit of a riot to me. I figured with the gurkha guards in place, there was no danger of any trouble. But Bihar State is not the safest in the land. It is reputed to have a weak government and a strong mafia. I was alarmed to hear a scuffle, some shouting and running feet. I looked out to see 2 members of staff racing toward the gate. After listening for a while I drifted off to sleep. The rukus had gone on all night.