Aug 29, 2015

Khushinagar, where Buddha bid final adieu to the mortal world


Japanese monk at Mahaparinirvana temple Khushinagar Uttar Pradesh India
Monk enjoying a walk at peaceful vihara around Mahaparinirvana Temple

After my visit to Ayodhya- the glorious land of Lord Sri Ramachandra, I left for Gorkapur from where I could catch a bus to Khushinagar. It was a journey in the cold, with a grey sky looming over. Khushinagar is 53KM from Gorakhpur. From Gorakhpur I got into a private tempo which was overloaded. Every inch of space inside was packed with people. And hence the frigid morning breeze didn't bother me much. The tempo had boom boxes and the driver had some Indian pop music, specifically an 'item' song (rural Indian cabaret) on for his and the passengers' entertainment. The shrilled voice of the singer was barely audible from those cheap and loud boxes. I got off at the main road and started walking towards the small town yet important Buddhist pilgrimage center. I was unaware of the unexpected experiences I might bump into.

Khush- the son of Lord Rama established the city of Khushinagar on the banks of river Hiranyavati. Then It was known as Kushavati. It was the power center capital of Malla Kingdom sometime in fifth century BC. During the period of its prosperity there were many stupas, pagodas, monasteries scattered here. It is one of the four holy places marking Life of Buddha. Buddha attained mahanirvana here. His mortal remains were cremated here. Other three places being- Lumbini where Buddha was born, Bodhgaya where he was enlightened under the Mahabodhi tree and Sarnath where he gave his first sermon.

Ramabhar Stupa Khushinagar Uttar Pradesh India
Pilgrims and photographers at Ramabhar Stupa

After walking for a while I saw a birla guest house here too. In Ayodhya the guest house run by Birlas was okay and had worked out cheap for me, so I thought of taking accommodation here. I wanted my expenses as lean as possible and so without thinking and 'looking' I took a room, left my backpack and photo-ID at the front desk and left for sightseeing. It was already 2:30PM and thinking about the dark skies by 5:00PM made me rush. I had a rough hand-drawn map of the town and tourist attractions there, and I decided to follow it on foot. My intention was to first see the three ancient sites and then wander around the modern fancy-gaudy pagodas and temples.

I passed some pagodas before reaching my first stop at Mahaparinirvana Temple. It is a huge fenced area with ancient buddhist ruins, a bell, a stupa and a modern temple. It is a beautiful sight to see devotees praying, the monks taking a walk or meditating, people working on excavation, renovation and the peaceful green lawn. Inside the temple, the golden statue of reclining Buddha is grand and beautiful as usual. The usual peaceful face and the beautiful curls in the hair. I saw few tourist kids running around and taking selfies never caring for those few pilgrims who were chanting and praying in that small interior.

Matha Kaur shrine Khushinagar Uttar Pradesh India
Buddha in Bhumisparsha Mudra- Matha Kaur shrine
I went for a walk around the temple and saw a Japanese monk walking around the temple talking to the people who were working on excavation work. And there were pilgrims sitting and another monk addressing them. There were security guards chatting. It is an amazingly peaceful place to relax, introspect and meditate.

From there I reached the deserted Matha Kaur temple and I saw the Buddha statue carved of blue stone of Gaya region in Bhumisparsha mudra (Earth or ground touching pose) through a hole in the mesh door. The pond right in front of the shrine is cool with too many insects zooming around. The existing temple structure was built in early 20th century. This temple was a part of the much bigger complex those days. A short walk from here is the state government museum where many ancient artefacts related to Buddha are on display.  Antique statues carved out of stone, bronze, clay etc are feast to the eyes. From the museum walking about a KM on a deserted road I reached the Buddha ghat on river Hiranyavathi, next to it is the Ramabhar stupa. It was almost 4:15PM and so there were hardly any tourists on the road. Per the guards many tourists are happy to see the gaudy pagodas near the main road, only the Buddhist pilgrims- mostly from South East Asia reach out to the stupa.

Ramabhar Stupa is the cremation place of Lord Buddha. Also called as Mukutbandhan chailtya, this stupa is the biggest in Khushinagar- 50ft high. The garden around the stupa is quite vast and people can spend time, meditate or relax quietly. When I was here initially I saw a Sri Lankan monk in maroon colored robe meditating. There were few more Japanese monks taking a walk. Few tourists were running around with their camera pointing at anything and everything. Then came a group of international pilgrims who went circumambulating and chanting. The cameramen were busy shooting the scene even though it bothered those pilgrims! Yes, for many reasons the Buddhist monks are very photogenic and also favorite subjects for photography. But, it doesn't mean we got to be so insensitive. Yes, I too have clicked many pics of monks, sadhus and tourists. But, there is a way to do it without offending. Use a medium range zoom lens so that taking pictures does not bother them.

Monk addressing devotees at Mahaparinirvana temple Khushinagar Uttar Pradesh India
Monk addressing devotees at Mahaparinirvana Temple 

It was not even 4:00PM and looked like the Sun god had already called it a day without even showing up for a moment on that day. Just for a couple of minutes the hovering dark grey clouds parted and the sun peeped out of the window  giving away a burst of lemony light. I walked back visiting the temples and viharas. As all of us know the Buddhist temples are rich in art and color. I did see these beautiful temples in a fast forward pace because it was getting dark even before 5:00PM. After checking in to the room I realized I had made a mistake and I didn't want to go around to look for another accommodation at that time in the dark. I hadn't seen or might not given much attention to the hotels in the frenzy of visiting the artistic temples. Why would I? I was thinking I already had a place to stay!

I was tired to the bones and was reluctant to sleep on that bed. When I opened the rusty door wintry air was blowing hard. And the light fixture dangling from the ceiling swayed violently and the low wattage bulb flickered. I was worried the bulb may fall off and so shut the door. And then the power was gone! I came out only to see the seamless darkness, there was not even a flickering light anywhere. I could only listen to the relentless rude howling of the wind. That sound kind of robbed couple of hours of my sleep later that night. I cursed myself for not checking the room properly beforehand. It was very cold. I crawled into the bed and I had to wrap myself in the dirty blanket which smelled very strange. I think it was never washed after it was commissioned for work here ages ago. After some time, the power was back. (Note- the hotels, lodges, guest houses and hotels periodically renovate the amenities. I have narrated my experience. It could be different experience at different time of the year).

Meditating monk Khushinagar Uttar Pradesh India
Meditating monk on the ruins of ancient monastery at Mahaparinirvana Temple

I was hungry. I had squirreled away the cookies which I had bought in Lucknow. Those cookies were my life savers in Ayodhya and Khushinagar. I dont know if there are any decent restaurants or not. I didn't see any easily accessible restaurants other than some upscale hotels. It didn't bother me much because the travel has become my appetite now. I survive eating cookies, cashew nuts and dry fruits like khajoor and anjeer. And hot chai is available anywhere and everywhere in India! And my dinner was 4 coconut cookies, a banana and half litre water. It was stiff cold outside and I finished my dinner dreaming about steaming hot sweet corn soup :)

I struggled to sleep that night. I heard some whispers through the walls. Since there was no window I had to open the door to check. When I opened the door I saw around 7-8 people sleeping on the verandah floor curled up inside torn blankets. It was icy cold!! I didn't know who they were and their intensions, but anyway I prayed god that they get a good night's sleep and me too. I was a bit tensed, sat on the bed with my eyes wide open and also I was tired. Fatigue won the battle over the tensed mind and I dozed off! I woke up suddenly to the loud howl of dogs right beside the wall. Oh! I cursed the pack of dogs for selecting the wall of my room to gather and howl. Later, I was happy to see the dim light after the longest night!

Grey sky and the dim sun at Ramabhar stupa Khushinagar Uttar Pradesh India
Only glimpse of sun on that day!

Next morning, I waited for the bus under a sun faded plastic tarp on the roadside. Some people were squatting on their heels around a small fire smoking beedis spitting the 'gutka' frequently. Gutka is an addictive substance which is manufactured in India using areca nuts, tobacco, paraffin wax and more. It is responsible for the oral cancer in India. A boy aged somewhere between 8-10 with an infant on his waist came to beg. He was unusually muscular at that age, wearing a shirt with no buttons and the infant was almost naked in that bone stiffening cold. I gave the last couple of cookies of my squirreled stash to the boy thinking that he might be hungry. To my astonishment the boy threw those delicious cookies into the gutter beside while he bad mouthed something which I didn't understand. He came back, started pulling my bag, jacket demanding for money. Now, I was furious not because my precious cookies landed up in the gutter but, for his attitude. I angrily shouted at the boy to get lost! The men squatting around the fire watching us shooed the boy away and one of them told me that the boy is not a boy as I was thinking and is an addict not hungry. He also added that I wouldn't find such an ungrateful one anywhere else in this world. And I agreed!

Burmese Pagoda Khushinagar Uttar Pradesh India
Statues of monks at Burmese pagoda

And then I got into a crowded tempo going towards Gorakhpur. From there got into an UPSRTC bus to Varanasi from where I was planning to head south. The road was bumpy and bus took around 12 hrs to cover 201 KM! My plan was to stay in Varanasi for a day or two before I left to Patna, the capital city of Bihar. 
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Scrapbook- A Travel Blog by Kusum Sanu is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

5 comments:

  1. Lovely read of your experiences, Kusum.

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  2. Hello Kusum, lovely post and information. Your photos are wonderful. I love the sky shot and the monk statues. Happy Friday, enjoy your weekend!

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  3. Such a spiritual place with much beauty.

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  4. I like the misty sun and the monk statue photos!

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