It is only once in a while that a very ordinary person takes up an extraordinary task and sets on a mission to fulfil it. He may not become an international celebrity like others in the process, but if he believes in his cause and carries on his mission sincerely and honestly, he definitely succeeds in accomplishing it, come what may!
One such person is Siddhartha Gauri, the founder and President of the Buddhist Forum of India. A resident of Yamunanagar, he is engaged in the stupendous task of restoring the Buddhist culture by preserving and resurrecting the Buddhist stupas throughout India, especially in Haryana. His romance with Buddhism started while he was an engineering student at Kurukshetra University. One day feeling very low and depressed, he wandered to a lonely place outside the town to find peace within himself Sitting at a secluded place, a hush descended over him and he suddenly felt peaceful. His attention was drifted and he looked around the area. To his astonishment, he found that the place where he was sitting was not an ordinary one; it had the ruins of an old structure of a Buddhist stupa.Walking through the area, he found more such remains of the Buddhist culture- the crumbling stupas, a few shakily structured pifiars and a wiped out culture. Being a Hindu, he knew nothing about Buddhism. But still, he was fascinated by what he saw over there. “As I moved amidst the ruins, I was taken by utter admiration for the architectural wonder displaying the glory of the past,” says Gauri.
BUDDHISM IN INDIA
Lord Buddha, who propounded the doctrine of truth and non-violence, preached Buddhism in India and Asia, 2,600 years ago. And, these ruins of Buddhist culture, speak volumes about the glory and magnificence of the bygone Buddhist era. After witnessing the vast and elegant layout of the intricately-built-structures, he marvelled at the true grandeur of the golden period when Buddhism was at its peak in India, promoting harmony and peace amongst different faiths. The site of that stupa made him very wistful and left him gasping for more information on such sites in India. While collecting information about such sites, he found too many of them across the country, mostly in Haryana. An idea occurred to him — to revive these degenerated structures to preserve and restore the Buddhist culture and Indian Heritage.
RECAPTURING PAST GLORY
Thus, began his journey to recapture the glory of the past Buddhist culture and restore it by blending it into the present frame. He visited various Buddhist sites of India and saw their historical landmarks which he found in dilapidated condition and met several people, including Buddhist monks, to gather more information about Buddhist culture. But his best findings are in Haryana. He found out that there were as many as 14 such Buddhist sites in Haryana. His research further revealed that Buddhism was in full influence in Haryana from King Asoka’s era tifi the rule of king Harsh Vardhana who ruled over a vast area of North India in the 7th century Buddhism dominated the area and it flourished and prevailed in Haryana up tifi the 14th century.
According to a report, Haryana was an important centre of Buddhism. The foundation of Buddhism in the state was laid by Lord Buddha himself when he set his foot in Sugh village of Haryana, 5 km from Yamunanagar. Lord Buddha delivered his sermon here. Though the structural evidence is lost, but coins and figurines depict a picture of Sugh as a centre of learning as important as Taxlla and Patliputra of that time. Both the Chinese traveller Huen Tsang and Sanskrit grammarian Panini also rated Sugh as one of the highly civilised and developed villages of that time. The highly evolved people of different faiths- the Buddhist, Jams and Hindus, were engaged in their intellectual activities and lived harmoniously.
Siddharatha Gauri’s findings further revealed that nearly 300 forgotten Buddhist relics, including 53 in Madhya Pradesh, 14 in Haryana, 12 In Himachal Pradesh and one in Punjab, were also found. His best findings are In Haryana. There Is a Buddh Vihar at Adi Badri and Buddha stupas and monasteries at Chaneti, Topra and Sandhay villages – all in Yamunanagar district. Buddhists ruins have also been found at Amin in Kurukshetra, Assandh in Karnal district, at Agroha, Bhuna and Fatehabad villages in district Hisar, at Khokrakot in district Rohtak and at village Aherwan in district Palwal. The ancient sites of Amin in Kurukshetra and Khokrakot in district Rohtak have been listed on the official website of the Archaeological Survey of India, New Delhi. Asandh in Karnal has a remarkable history and is one of the tallest Stupas in North India which is 2,000 years old.
SAVE BUDDHIST HERITAGE
Siddhartha vigorously and passionately launched a ‘Save Buddhist Heritage’ campaign and worked feverishly towards it. He made a documentary film on these ruins to draw the attention of the world towards it. The film was shown on Delhi Doordarshan and was widely appreciated. In 2008, he made a forum of like- minded people —‘Buddhist Forum- Voice of Dhamma’. He visited several Asian countries where Buddhism was and stifi is prevalent and met several dignitaries, including Tibetan Spiritual leader Dalai Lama, Samdhong Rinpoche, former Prime Minister of Tthet and Dr AT Ariyaratne of Sri Lanka, a Magsaysay-awardee and founder of an organisation ‘Sarvodya’to garner their support for the cause. He wrote letters to all the Members of Parliament of India and requested them to save the Buddhist Heritage in their areas, besides sending 21,000 signatures to the President of India for saving Buddhist Stupas in India. He launched his website: www.theforum.com which proved a big hit with the international audience. The site is visited by more than one lakh people every month. Gauri’s efforts finally started paying off. Soon he started gaining recognition from the international Buddhist community. He was invited to the celebrations of the 2600th year of Buddha’s enlightenment in Sri Lank? where his documentary film ‘Dhammashetra — The Lost Land of Buddha’ was also screened for the international audience. Recently, the Myanmar’s Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi also joined his campaign and lent her full support to his Buddhist Forum.
SUPPORT FROM FOREIGN LANDS
In order to spearhead the movement, Siddharatha has already ro2ed in 23 organisations in India and abroad to join his campaign. Even Sri Lankan Magsaysay awardee Dr A.T. Ariyaratne has joined his forum. The World Council of Buddhist Universities of Thailand has also lent full support to his campaign. Now he plans to spread his movement in the entire South Asia where Buddhism is still a dominating religion. What a remarkable feat! Not only that; included in his list of agenda is his desire to restore the pristine glory of these Buddhist sites by developing them as centres of learning of yesteryears- pride of Asia. The area around these sites can become a hive of social activity by developing botanical gardens and museums depicting Buddhist culture. Enhanced infrastructure such as roads, railways, airports, markets and hygiene facilities will help in promoting tourism. It will attract not only domestic but also international tourists who are eager to discover India and Buddha, thereby giving a big fillip to the state as well as Central government revenue. Of course, with such rich historical sites in the state, Haryana can truly emerge as one of the most attractive and a much sought-after – tourist destinations of the world — a vibrant state so proud of its roots..
The writer is a freelance journalist