Monday, 6 February 2012

Not in Buddha’s Bihar

27 January 2012
Well, this is not the right mood to start a blog post but I am writing this since I have some free time to pass and my writing instinct tells me to do so. I had got dysentery in the morning and I am right now sitting in a lobby of an average rated hotel which is most probably one of the few better ones in Gaya, Bihar. The hotel owner has not allowed me to extend my stay by two hours over the regular check out time in spite of my repeated requests. I have taken medicine and my problem has come under control now. I can manage myself well but my vehicle is going to pick me up after two hours as per the new schedule. Somebody said to me while doing my project visit that in Bihar that people have very little sensitivity towards others especially when they are dealing with strangers or unknown people. My current experience has accorded that statement. I have now developed a firm negative perception of Bihar which I had tried not to carry when I started off.
My work took me first to Bodhgaya. This holy place, where Gautama became Buddha, is a very big international tourist destination and the sight for pilgrimage for Buddhists. The road from Patna to Bodhgaya is the one which gave me my first impression of Bihar. It seemed that whole of Patna is built on the puddles filled with all sorts of garbage. In the alleys were roaming the dirtiest pigs in the country. The children were playing on the street in spite of this filthy surrounding. Majority of the people on the roads were either just idly sitting or seemed to be roaming purposely. The villages which I visited as part of my work also showed the same picture of poverty with no signs of prosperity anywhere. Even the few houses in the villages which were looking better than others gave a sense of decay rather than freshness. The women and men both looked highly anaemic. While on the road, I could see little signs of new development which one sees in majority of the places in India. We drove on bumpy roads which were connected by age old single lane bridges, majority of which were closed for heavy vehicles. Near one of the rail line I came across a railway coach in a derailed and upside down condition. That reminded me of frequent news about rail accidents which we always get from Bihar.
Bodhgaya presented a different mosaic altogether.  This town is visited by tourists from all over the world. At the Buddhist temples and monasteries, it was all dominated by monks in red or saffron. Many of the Buddhist monasteries from different countries were beautifully constructed and with absolutely clean and pleasantly designed courtyards. From Japan to Sri Lanka, Buddhists from many countries have set up their bases at this place. But moment I got out on the streets, I found that peace was turning into disgust. There were beggars running after pilgrims and there were mounds of trash just over the corner. During the evening, just outside the temple I saw drunkards, mostly locals, fighting with each other.
The centre of attraction in Bodhgaya was of course the Mahabodhi temple which presented a sharp contrast to any other pilgrimage sight in India I had ever seen. It was dominated not by the agents of worship but by the devotees themselves. I am not a religious person but I found this sight very spiritual. It was a very cold winter morning. The temple premises were filled with pilgrims and around all the three sides of the temple monks, were sitting systematically in rows and there were guided prayers. However my eye could not miss a huge part of the crowd mostly composed of the locals speaking local Hindi but clad in red clothes trying to disguise themselves as monks and not at all praying but more sitting expectantly like beggars. They were laughing amongst themselves and talking about the food which will be distributed shortly. I realised that I was not any more in Bihar where Buddha was enlightened.
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