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Mudras are a non-verbal mode of communication and self-expression, consisting of hand gestures and finger-postures. They are symbolic sign based finger patterns taking the place, but retaining the efficacy of the spoken word, and are used to evoke in the mind ideas symbolizing divine powers or the deities themselves. The composition of a mudra is based on certain movements of the fingers; in other words, they constitute a highly stylized form of gestural communication. It is an external expression of ‘inner resolve’, suggesting that such non-verbal communications are more powerful than the spoken word.
Dharmachakra in Sanskrit means the ‘Wheel of Dharma’. This mudra symbolizes one of the most important moments in the life of Buddha, the occasion when he preached to his companions the first sermon after his Enlightenment in the Deer Park at Sarnath. It thus denotes the setting into motion of the Wheel of the teaching of the Dharma.
Literally Bhumisparsha translates into ‘touching the earth’. It is more commonly known as the ‘earth witness’ mudra. This mudra, formed with all five fingers of the right hand extended to touch the ground, symbolizes the Buddha’s enlightenment under the bodhi tree, when he summoned the earth goddess, Sthavara, to bear witness to his attainment of enlightenment. The right hand, placed upon the right knee in earth-pressing mudra, and complemented by the left hand-which is held flat in the lap in the dhyana mudra of meditation, symbolizes the union of method and wisdom, samasara and nirvana, and also the realizations of the conventional and ultimate truths. It is in this posture that Shakyamuni overcame the obstructions of Mara while meditating on Truth.
This mudra symbolizes charity, compassion and boon-granting. It is the mudra of the accomplishment of the wish to devote oneself to human salvation. It is nearly always made with the left hand, and can be made with the arm hanging naturally at the side of the body, the palm of the open hand facing forward, and the fingers extended.
The Dhyana mudra may be made with one or both hands. When made with a single hand the left one is placed in the lap, while the right may be engaged elsewhere. The left hand making the Dhyana mudra in such cases symbolizes the female left-hand principle of wisdom. Ritual objects such as a text, or more commonly an alms bowl symbolizing renunciation, may be placed in the open palm of this left hand.
Abhaya in Sanskrit means fearlessness. Thus this mudra symbolizes protection, peace, and the dispelling of fear. It is made with the right hand raised to shoulder height, the arm crooked, the palm of the hand facing outward, and the fingers upright and joined. The left hand hangs down at the side of the body. In Thailand, and especially in Laos, this mudra is associated with the movement of the walking Buddha (also called ‘the Buddha placing his footprint’). It is nearly always used in images showing the Buddha upright, either immobile with the feet joined, or walking.
A small dusty town in the eastern part of Uttar Pradesh, Kushinagar is the place where Lord Gautam Buddha breathed his last. This is also the place where Lord Buddha preached his last sermon.
There are many places of religious importance in Kushinagar. Rambhar Stupa is the most important landmark of Kushinagar. The stupa is said to have been built on the same spot where Lord Buddha was cremated in 483 BC. Mahaparinirvana Temple is another important attraction in Kushinagar with a huge statue of Lord Buddha in reclining position. Mathakuar Shrine is the place where Lord Buddha had given his last sermon. There are many modern temples, stupas, and shrines in Kushinagar built by various Buddhist countries. A museum here houses objects found during the excavation of Kushinagar.
Kushinagar was an important centre under Mauryan King Ashoka, a great Buddhist follower. Most of the religious structures here were constructed between 3rd century BC and 5th century AD. For a long time Kushinagar remained lost in the jungles and was unknown to the world till 19th century when the British rediscovered it in 1880. Extensive excavations have indicated the presence of a large number of monks here as late as 11th century AD.
Having attained Buddhahood, the supreme state of perfection, Buddha devoted the remainder of his precious life to serving humanity, both by example and precept, without any personal motive whatsoever. In order to deliver his first sermon the Buddha started for Benares.
(The place where his first five disciples greeted Buddha.)
At Benares he met Kondanna and his four companions in the Deer Park, now known as Saranath.
Then he preached them his first great sermon, the Dhammacakkapavattana Sutta, in which he explained the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path. They received ordination and formed the first nucleus of the holy brotherhood of disciples known as the Sangha.
(The place where Buddha preached his second sermon.)
Three months after the first sermon, Buddha gave his second sermon to his first five disciples and they all attained Nirvarna, a morally perfect state.
Sarnath, where the Buddha preached his first sermon in the Deer Park (Migadavon), is 10 km from Varanasi_ the city of Varanasi is situated along the west bank of the Ganges in the north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh;called Benaras by the British_ and it has most impressive remains, as well as a modem temple.
Early in the morning on the full moon day of Vesakha, as he was seated in deep meditation under the Bodhi Tree, unaided and unguided by any supernatural agency but solely relying on his own efforts, Siddattha Gotama attained bodhi_ by bodhi is meant an ideal state of intellectual and ethical perfection, also known as Buddhahood.
Buddhagaya or place of Buddha’s enlightenment is situated on the banks of the river Niranjana, Buddhagaya was originally a part of the Uruvela village (presently Urail). Its geographical location is at 24o 41′ 45” N. Latitude and 85o 2′ 22” E. Longitude and is located in Bihar.
The Buddha’s experience at Uruvela not only resulted in the location changing its name to Bodhgaya or Buddhagaya; it has also meant that this, otherwise an obscure village, has been the focus of attention for millions of pilgrims. It became very early and remains even today, the most important place of Buddhist pilgrimage. The exact place where the Buddha sat, when he was enlightened, was called Vajrasana meaning ‘Diamond Throne’. The Vajrasana was also, sometimes, called the Victory Throne of all the Buddha’s (Sabbabuddhanam Jayapallankam) or the Navel of the Earth (Pathavinabhi). The Vajrasana which was also called Sambodhi by King Asoka but the most widely used and also the most enduring of Buddhagaya’s names was Mahabodhi meaning ‘great enlightenment’.The Mahabodhi Temple has been built where Lord Buddha got divine light.
Buddhagaya remained the cynosure of the Buddhist world upto the 13th century, thereafter due to the sudden political upheavals that took place in and out of India, activities at Buddhagaya were also interrupted and disrupted. The place was deserted and became desolate and it remained neglected and forgotten for several centuries.
The Buddha – Siddhartha Gautam was born into the Shakya royal family in Lumbini in south Nepal. Using historical records referring to Alexander the Great and Emperor Ashoka, the Buddha’s birth date is usually given as May 563 BC.
His mother, Queen Maya Devi was on her way to her parent’s home at Rangram for the birth as was the tradition at that time. Before reaching her destination, she went into labour at Lumbini. There, she bathed in a bricked pool called Puskarni and then walked 25 paces to deliver the baby. The Buddha was born as she leant against a sal tree. Sadly, Maya Devi died seven days after his birth and he was brought up by her younger sister and the second wife of Suddhodan, Pajapati.
Lumbini grove (above), the sacred site of Lord Buddha’s birth is today a small village in Nepal, 27 km from Sonauli on the Indo-Nepal Border.
Emperor Ashoka’s pillar, though broken, still remains at the site. It is known as the Rummendei Pillar after the earlier name of the place (modern name Rupandhei) in Nepal.
Air: Nearest airport is Varanasi (323 km) and Bhairawha, Nepal.
Rail: The nearest railway station is Gorakhpur 123 km away.
Road: Buses ply up to the Indian side of the border, from where the passengers have to disembark and take another bus after crossing the border check post.
The Maya Devi temple (above), a stone relief (probably 2nd century AD) shows her giving birth to the Buddha watched by the two Hindu gods Brahma and Indra. The area is currently being developed into a Sacred Peace Garden spread over 8 sq. km. along with the building of several stupas and monasteries by Buddhist traditions from all over the world. The Ashokan Pillar stands out quite clearly and is surrounded by the ruins of four stupas.
Three hundred years after Buddha’s death, Emperor Ashoka visited Lumbini and erected a pillar there.
In AD 636, Chinese pilgrim Huian Tsang described the place thus “where the lord was born is a piece of heaven on earth and one could see the snowy mountains amidst a splendid garden – embedded with stupas and monasteries”. He also noted a stone pillar broken in two surrounded by four stupas.
In 1896, at Lumbini Dr Fuhrer re-discovered the stone pillar erected as a mark of respect by Ashoka, the Indian Emperor and a follower of the Buddha’s teaching. The pillar is inscribed “Twenty years after his coronation, King Devanampiya Piyadasi (Ashoka) came here and paid homage, because the Buddha, the sage of the Shakya clan, was born here. He ordered a stone relief to be made and a stone pillar to be erected, to indicate that the Blessed One was born here. He exempted the village of Lumbini from taxes and reduced its toll of produce (from the usual quarter) to one eighth.” The inscription was made in the local dialect Magadhi, using Brahmin script.
In 1995, an international team uncovered a commemorative stone resting on top of a platform of bricks under the Maya Devi temple. The stone dates back to the time of the Emperor Ashoka who visited Lumbini is 249 BC. Ancient Buddhist texts which describe the place of his birth as being 25 paces from the pool where his mother bathed have been validated by this discovery.