Tag Archives: bodhgaya

5 Holi, Holi

Mahabodhhi Stupa  Mahabodhhi Stupa

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. 

Shopping for Holi

Shopping for Holi

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!

Neranjara River

Neranjara River

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. 

Thai chanting at the Mahaboddhi stupa

Thai chanting at the Mahaboddhi stupa

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.

4 On Board the Poorva Express

5 March 10.00 pm
The train spent it’s time equally between moving and non-moving. 4 hours into the journey, we are already 2 hours behind. Arjit, a nice young man whose berth is above mine tells me. He hopes to get into NTU, the technical university in Singapore, and eventually end up in the aerospace industry. He’s interesting and well-read, and does not seem like a homicidal maniac. I hope we had not been keeping the other passengers up. The thali dinner arrives after Arjit disembarks. A new passenger for the upstairs berth, a middle aged woman has arrived to plonk herself down at the other end of my berth. She stared at me and I blinked at her. After a couple moments of confusion, all on my part, I decided to let it go, and settled into my thali.

6 March, 6.30 am
After an uneventful night, the lady finally left me to my own devices, I wake to the train stopping at what later turned out to be Varanasi (the previous Benares which was previous to being Benares, Varanasi). The station platform at 6.30 in the morning was drab, teeming as usual. Actually it was more like a war zone– you know when the camera pans across the faces of a sea of refugees? Or is it the annual convention of the rag and bone industry? Jokes aside, I fear I feel ill equipped to step onto this platform come next Friday night. Leaving Varanasi station, the train slithers its way slowly through a decayed ghost town and over the river Ganges. There with its face to the rising sun, the oldest city in India appear to be crumbling slowly back into the river.

Streaky Window View 6 March
Mud bricks drying in the sun. Kilns issuing smoke. Padi fields.
Small hamlet with their livestock. Straw roofs superimposed on crumbling brick walls. Here a
mud hut, there a straw hut, men squatting in the fields mooning the train. A family bathing at the water pump.

More crumbling villages. Faces and clothes smeared with colour, some people evidently got a head start on the Holi festival. Cows lying on their bellies chewing the proverbial cud. Ancient buildings, leaning, crumbling. The train passing the station of Kudra by. Cows grazing on the other track. A train passes us on that track heading for the cows.

Kumehu, another non-stop. No more mooners, the mooning time of the morning seems to be over. The train attendant comes to tell me “next stop Gaya, near about 1 hour”, with a little jiggle of the head and index finger pointing. A flock of sheep newly sheared, a river of sand, fluttering saris crossing it. A crippled man with diminutive legs sweep down the aisle with a coconut broom. He doubles back to beg.

2 stops and “near about 2 hours later” the Indian gentleman in the next compartment announced the station of Gaya. After a whiz around the station dodging beggars and taxi-wallahs, I find the main entrance and there was Dick Jeffrey, the director of the Maitreya School for Universal Education, my host in the realm of the historical Buddha, Bodhgaya.