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Memories of my travels between 1972 and 1982

Sunday, 3 April 2011

April 3rd: Bodhgaya

On April 3rd 1982 I was still in Bodhgaya.  I have already recorded this, from a couple of weeks earlier.

The Bodhgaya Math:  My picture
One thing I always enjoyed in Bodhgaya was that it was a little Hindu town for all its Buddhist sites.  Vaishnavites visited the Mohabodhi temple as part of pilgrimage tours, but the soul of the town always seemed to be to be Shiva.  There was the Shiva shrine on the island on the river.  Opposite the island were lots of little shrines and lingams, so small you could easily miss them.  And next to these as you first entered from Gaya, stretching from the road down to the river bank near the bathing ghat was the Math.  I had long been interested to find out more about it, but no-one could tell me much.  The gates on the road side were usually open; occasionally I'd seen a car coming or going, but this time I decided to have a look in for myself.  I found the temple hot and white with red Saivite statues and a lovely huge eternal duni (fireplace) at the far end.  The area around, still within the walls, was interesting with cows and the people were friendly towards me.  I sat and read for a while in the garden which was atmospheric and overgrown; I was surrounded by trees and had a black-headed oriole for company.  Finally I walked out through the river gates where they kept the elephants and sat in the shade of the overhanging tree, talking with my Thai friend.

Earlier I'd talked with an English couple who were volunteering at an ashram nearby where local untouchable youths were receiving some education.  I'm not sure where the ashram was but it must have been sufficiently far from Bodhgaya not to have come into conflict with the Math.  The Math was something between a Saivite monastery and a feudal palace.  It was the seat of religious power in the town and the seat of political power in the area; it was also the seat of social power and directly or indirectly responsible for the bondage of many low caste people in the area.  Throughout the Nineties I probably read more about Bodhgaya as a centre of caste war than as a centre of Buddhism.  Eventually the power of the Mohant of the Math was overthrown.  I think the Math also controlled the Mahabodhi temple and was perhaps responsible for all the Saivite statues in the grounds.

David Geary relates the history of the Math and the struggle for free labour in his academic thesis; he also describes the development of tourism and the conflicts engendered.

In the Shiva temple:  My picture
Some days before I had walked to the further branch of the river, at the point where Buddha is reputed to have sat.  Buddha's Seat was rather taken over by the Hindu temples around but the river was pleasant to sit by and the country was lovely there, big trees, including sopme with big red flowers.  I looked in at the Tibetan temple there.  I also visited the Hindu temple along the path which was interesting, the typical plaster and white paint style, and I got a guided tour.  There were some fine images:  Sujata who gave Buddha the bowl of curd was worshipped there as a Parvati incarnation alongside Shiva; this reminded me how Buddhist lore had mingled here with the Hindu folk tradition.  There was also a lingam with a Shiva face built in on the outside which seemed unusual.  The village on the way to the river still looked fine, but the people there were clearly more used to tourists than on my previous visit.

I spent a full month in Bodhgaya this time, staying until the weather was really hot and only a few foreigners remained.  I was content sitting in the temple grounds, especially around the tank where a pied kingfisher was often fishing, or talking to people in Shivanath's, or trying to sit in the Zen temple, or hanging out in the market or around the river, preparing myself in my way to return to England.

The Bodhgaya Math from the river:  My picture

Market Day in Bodhgaya:  My picture

The temple at the river:  My Picture

Bodhgaya:  My picture

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