A Trip to Rajgir (November 1994) by Jayant Doshi When I booked my flight fromDelhi to Patna, the departure was given as 6.30a.m., which would have given me half a dayspare to do some sightseeing in Rajgir. As Iwas staying for only two days, all this extrahours were important. However, on reachingDelhi I was informed that the flight was at10.30 - the new winter schedule. “This isIndia!” I was told - something one gets used tohearing every now and then when travelling inIndia. I reached Patna at 1.00 p.m. and a carhad come to pick me up and drive me to Rajgir. Though born in Africa, I amIndian by origin - and in my heart. I love India,and over a period of 30 years I have been to many parts of this vast country. I have visited the bigcities of Bombay, Delhi and Madras. I have been on the beaches of Goa and Trivandrum, and I have seen the natural beauty of Kashmir, Mahabaleshwar, Ooty and Kodaicanal. I have travelled through the villages of Gujarat. I have seen the historical monuments of India - Taj Mahal, the Kutub Minar, the Red Fort, Golden Temple of Amritsar and the magnificient palaces of Mysore. I have seen the construction of Dayal Bagh in Agra which one day expects to become the next eighth wonder of the world. I have seen the Vrandavan gardens of Bangalore and the Kanya Kumari, the southern tip of the Indian sub-continent. I have been on the Girnar and Palitana. But I have never visited eastern parts of India, and I have never been to a remote mountainous region of the least developed andthe poorest part of India, which has an impressive historical past and a lot to interest a religiouspilgrim, but little to interest a casual tourist. With its historical and religious background, my visit toRajgir was a different experience for me and I was looking forwards to it. I spent just two and ahalf days there, but I saw a lot and experienced a lot, and I would like to share my experiencesand thoughts with my readers. Rajgir, or Rajagriha as it wasknown originally, is situated in the State ofBihar, and is 65 miles south-east of Patna, thecapital city of Bihar. Rajagriha, which literallymeans the residence of the King, has beenassociated from time immemorial with mightyempires, which once held sway over the entirelength and breadth of India and beyond. It hadalso the privilege of association with great andmighty men, who though long dead, are eventoday influencing the mind and spirit of a fairlylarge portion of humanity, spread over the
entire civilised world. Amongst these are the names of Lord Mahavira and Buddha, who are associated with the two great religions of Jainism and Buddhism respectively. Rajagriha remained the capital of the great Magadha Empire for centuries. Mahabharata has the earliest mention of Rajgir which had the powerful King Jarasandha who married his two daughters to King Kansa to form and alliance, and who took sides with the Kauravas in the Mahabharata war. While driving in his chariot to the war of Mahabharata, his chariot wheel got stuck on one of the hills of Rajgir, and it is said that themarks made by the wheel can be seen today also. Magdha Kingdom extended all over India andAfghanistan, and the capital Rajagriha became famous throughout India for its wealth andmagnificence. Its vastness is indicated by the boundary walls - it had 32 main gates and 64 minorones. The city was a large centre of trade and commerce, and many merchants went on seavoyages and many foreign merchants visited Rajagriha. Rajagriha was also the chief centre for thepropagation of religious and philosophicalthought. Buddha passed many years of hisministrations at this place, gave many sermonsand it was the scene of many important eventsof his life. Lord Mahavira, the last of the JainTirthankars passed fourteen rainy seasons inRajagriha, gave his very first and very lastsermon and achieved Nirvana nearby to thiscity. Rajagriha was also regarded as the birthplace of Muni Suvrata, the twentieth Tirthankar.All of the eleven Gandharas, the chief disciplesof Lord Mahavira, died on the hills of Rajgriha.The modern religious importance of the place islargely due to the Jains, who, with acharacteristic fondness for heights, have builttemples at the top of almost all the hills. Buddhists also have great reverence and importance tothis historical site. However, as Buddhism is now practised only in Japan, China and other FarEast and South Asian countries, this area is important place for pilgrimage by the followers ofBuddhism from those countries. Japanese Government has spent considerable amount of money todevelop facilities in this area, and have built some impressive Buddhist temples also. With this historical background, the place had lot of significance and I was keen to see what it was like today. Ashok, the employee of Veerayatan, had come to pick me up from Patna airport. The drive to Veerayatan was 3 hours, but the time passed quickly as we both got talking about various subjects. Ashok comes from a religious family background and his knowledge of the subject was impressive, while being a sceptic myself I had some critical questions which livened the discussion on the way, and the three hours whisked away without being aware of the long and tedious journey on rough roads.
We reached Veerayatan at 4.00p.m. I was welcomed by Shubhamji, one of theSadhvis (Jain Nun) who run this place. I wasshown to my room. The place including my room,were neat and clean. The living accommodationwas comfortable and cosy. A double bed withmosquito netting, a chair and a table formed thebedroom, and a large bathroom and a washarea in the back room comprised the totalaccommodation. In view of its location in aremote area, I considered the facilities weregenerally excellent. After freshening up, I wentto see Subhamji, who took me around theVeerayatan to show me all the facilities andservices. One has read and heard about Christian missionaries who have gone to farawayplaces to preach and establish missions in uncivilised parts of the world. We have also read ofheard about these missionaries providing medical facilities and education, and converting them toChristianity at the same time, to those uncivilised people in parts of Asia and Africa where suchthings were unheard of. We are also aware of the wonderful work done by Mother Teresa inCalcutta. But one has rarely heard of any Hindu or Jain sadhus or priests or nuns doing such work. That some Jain Sadhvis are doing exactly such humanitarian work in Veerayatan got me interested, and which drew me to this place. Veerayatan is developed on a plot of 40 acres of land at the base of one of the hills of Rajgir. There are rooms for visitors, a kitchen and dining hall on one side of the area. There is a prayer assembly hall, and accommodation for Sadhvis and some staff members occupying the central area. At the other end is an eye hospital and quarters for hospital doctors and other staff. The whole place is nicely maintained with well laid out gardens with flower beds. I was shown the prayer hall and then taken to the museum thathas the story of Mahavir and other tirthankars depicted in exhibition form, depicting importantevents by model creations. The exhibition now made in Leicester Jain Temple is based on thesame. Then I was taken to the hospital.The hospital was remarkably clean and neat, Ithas 100 beds between two wards. People fromnearby and faraway places come here forchecking their eyes and for after treatment oroperation as necessary. Eye-sight problems andeye diseases are a major ailment in all thirdworld countries including India, and there arelots of charities all over India providing freecheck-up and operations to thousands of suchpeople. Veerayatan is possibly one suchorganisation in Bihar which not only providesfree check-up and operations, but also after-care in the hospital. Another extension is being
built (almost completed) to allow for extra space for the hospital, and create space for treatment of polio and cancer, and for making artificial limbs. During my stay no operations were taking place and as such I was unable to see the operations in person. After dinner I attended evening prayer meeting where I met lot of other visitors. Two girls in their early teens sang the prayers in very beautiful voices, and their singing was very impressive. As I had not slept the previous night at all, I went to bed early. I woke up feeling fresh and lively. The air outside was mountain fresh and cool. Iwas invited for breakfast with a touring group from Poona. After that I went to see AcharyaChandanaji. Acharyaji is the founder of Veerayatan, the soul and inspiration of the wholeorganisation, and at the helm of the day to day working of the place. She took me round to see thelibrary which contained books on all different religions of India, and some of the books were rareeditions. Then I was shown museum containing some rare artefacts. I rented a horse drawn cart to tourRajgir. As is normal in such places, the onlyplaces of interest to visit are temple - andnormally they are in big numbers in relation tothe size of the town. I visited few of them -including Hindu temples, and Jain temples(representing the two main sects of Svetambersand Digambers). But the highlight of this tour,and the most impressive were two Buddhisttemples. Compared with the other temples, theywere all well built, spacious, well maintainedand impressive to visit and worship or meditate,or walk around in the temple and surroundinggardens. They were in complete contrast to theother temples I visited. One Buddhist temple is on top of a hill, and it is connected by an aerialropeway, which is the chief attraction of present day Rajgir. The Buddha temple, called the VishvaShanti Stupa (World Peace Memorial) was constructed at a cost of over Rupees 22 Lakhs by Rev.Fiji Guruji of Japan. After destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki by atom bombs, Guruji , in hisanxiety to prevent a recurrence of such disaster, decided to propagate the Buddhist Philosophy ofworld peace and he started constructing Vishwa Shanti Stupas in different countries, and the onein Rajgir was 22nd in the series. There is a modern Jain temple constructed on the ruins of an ancient temple which had been exposed and repaired. The temple consists of a central chamber facing east, surrounded by a court which is flanked on all sides by rows of cells. The central chamber as well as these cells are provided with niches in the walls to contain images. Most of these images are now missing. However, statute of Mahavira with inscription from 5th century A.D. is still in the temple. I hardly came across any
historical or ancient temple. All the temples seemed to have been built in the last thirty years or so. While the Buddhists built two temples, they have produced quality temples. It is a pleasure to visit those temples, and one feels like spending some time there and enjoy the atmosphere. The Hindus and Jains have built numerous temples, but the quality does not exist. They are poorly maintained, and badly managed. The aim of those who spent the money on those temples was to have their names imprinted on the temple walls. The question of maintenance did not seem to occur to anyone, and temples built only a few yearsback seem more like ancient ruins. The priests pester the visitors, and the atmosphere in the templeis not conducive to stay there longer then absolutely necessary. After lunch, I tried to sleep but could not and decided to walk around Veerayatan,and see the hospital. After a while I decided toclimb the hill right in front of the Veerayatan.Accompanied by a local man, I went on top ofthe hills. There were lots of small Jain templeson the hill - mostly in pairs representing the twosects. The hill has a few well carved out caveswhich are used for meditation by the Sadhvis atVeerayatan. Of course, it is believed that thesame caves were built and used by some of thereligious thinkers and leaders who were knownto have spent a lot of time in Rajgir. From top of the hill one gets apanaromic view of Rajgir and surrounding areas- and being completely flat land, one could seefor miles and miles. But the view of Veerayatanwas impressive and gave a clear idea of how it had been developed over the 40 acre site. The coolfresh air on top of the hill was invigorating. At the base of the hill is a large Hindu temple, and thetemple has hot springs. There is no indication as to the source of the hot water which keeps flowingcontinously, and the water is regarded as very sacred and a gift of nature. The mineral water hasa high curative value, and tests have shown that the water is radio-active. Many people come thereto bath in these waters, and they seem to benefit people suffering from rheumatism and alliedtroubles. After dinner and the prayers, a couple from London and a couple from USA and I sat and talked till midnight. I went to sleep, with the satisfaction that I had an interesting day of the trip. As I seemed to be interested in walking, and Ashok liked that also, we arranged to go hill climbing next day starting at 4.00 a.m. I woke up at 4.00 a.m. Ashok and I started our walk just before 4.30 a.m. We were accompanied by another person who was to be our guide. It was cool and pleasant, the air was fresh and invigorating and it was dark
but the moon throwing some light in that pitchdarkness. Ashok carried a torch which lightedour path through the rough terrain. A fewpeople were awake, and a few stray dogs werewandering around. Otherwise, the earlymorning silence was pleasing and magical. Thetrees were still, and the moon light spread theirshadows across our path. That darknesssometimes created frightful images. It was myfirst time walking at such an early hour in amountainous area - and I was enjoying everymoment of it. When I planned the visit to Rajgir,this was the last thing I expected. Ashok, an asthma sufferer fromchildhood, had tried all types of medical treatments for his ailment without any success. Fromalopathy to homeopathy, and from ayurvedic to any other cures he was offered, he tried them allbut without any success. Then he met someone, who, while living like an ascetic, did not profess tobe a sadhu. He suggested to Ashok to change his diet - and since doing that he has been cured ofasthma. I soon realised how well he had been cured. While climbing those steps on those hills, Iwas sweating and out of breath - huffing and puffing all the way - Ashok was climbing two stepsat a time and showed no signs of breathing problems. We climbed the first two hills with little effort, but the third hill was high and steep. When we reached the top of the first hill, the dawn had just broken and the sun had just emerged from the horizon, shedding its rays along the horizon at a distance, and making the sky orange. The scene was fabulous, and we sat there for a while enjoying this marvellous natural beauty. We had no water or food and having sweated a lot , I found it hard going on the third hill. I kept pushing myself, assuring myself that only a few steps remained. Every time I came at the base of a steep row of steps I thought that this must bethe last lot of steps. But when I reached the top, I saw another lot of steps. It was hard and tiring,but I ultimately made to the top of this highest hill. The panaromic scene from the top of the hill wasworth my efforts. Fresh mountain air very soon removed the thought of those tiring steps I hadalready climbed, or the walk to go down. Nowadays, these hills are hardly frequented by anyone. Actually, the local populacewere advising us not to go on these hills. Ashoktold me that I must be the first pilgrim he knowsof who has walked on all the five hills of Rajgir.These hills, at one time in history, were coveredwith thick forest, but the only signs of that forestwhich remain are a few isolated trees. When onesees wood cutters and people carrying cut woodon their heads, one immediately realises howthese forests have disappeared over time. Butbecause of their religious past, all the hills hadscores of temples on them - mostly Jain templesbuilt in the last 10 to 30 years. While all thosetemples have been built to good modern
standard (marble and ceramic tiles), they are all completely neglected. Besides the name of donors written boldly on the walls, the only other thing one could notice is a stray cow or broken doors, and temples with no statutes (very likely stolen). Every spot had the temples in pairs - representing the two factions - as if they were competing with each other. Next to a Svetamber temple there always was a Digamber temple and vice versa. While I had expected to do see some ancient and historical temples and building, only thing I noticed that each one those temples was built in the last 10 to 30 years - no historical buildings were to be seen. We arrived back at Veerayatan at about 11.00 a.m. After a shower, and lunch, Irented a taxi to visit the historical sites nearby. I was accompanied by a couple from U.S.A. and ayoung man, called Lalan, from Patna. Lalan came from a rich , non-Jain family, who had justcompleted his graduation and was desirous of doing something on his own efforts rather than relyon his father’s business or wealth. He also enjoyed working in places like Veerayatan and help outin any way he could. Though not a Jain, he was well impressed by the story of Lord Mahavirawhen he was a child, and he came to Veerayatan every now and then and spent a few weeks at atime helping out in any way he could. The couple from U.S.A. represented the normal enigma of anIndian family - a very devout wife and a cynical husband.