Next morning the kind-hearted monk at the Sri Lankan temple arranged us and a small flock of students also from Sri Lanka to visit a few of the archaeologically important sites located in and around Rajgir.
Rajgir is the first capital city of Magadha kingdom and is filled with ruins and locations connected to stories from both Jainism and Buddhism. A city mentioned in many religious text and stories from the times of Buddha to Mahabharata this city is filled with archaeologically important sites and temples indicating the glory of a by gone time.
Being a child who grew up reading stories about the life of Lord Buddha, The city of Rajgir is familiar to me at a spiritual level- a weird sense of Deja vu. Its amazing how fast your brain tries to connect the dots of a story that happened a few hundred years ago to what is there today in front of you.
The long winding roads of Rajgir is dry (Maybe because it was the peak of summer) and isolated with hardly anyone around. once in a while you will come across a woman dressed in a colorful saree with a clay pot on her heads walking alone the narrow road or a man dressed in traditional attire sitting on the road side- a glimpse in to the beautiful local culture.
First stop in Rajgir was Nalanda Mahavihar or commonly known as Nalanda University.
A large Buddhist monastery , thought to be build in the 5th century AD this magnificent structure stands as proof to the brilliance of the craftsmanship of that period.
A UNESCO world heritage site, this vast complex of building were once Shrines, Stupas, residential and educational buildings. Named as the most ancient University in the Indian subcontinent, a learning hub for many from countries as far as China this magnificent complex was destroyed in 12th century (1193 AD).
After an interesting stroll among the red brick buildings and Stupas of Nalanda and a visit to the Museum that is home to many interesting artifacts from Nalanda we headed out to see the world renown hot water springs of Rajgir.
A scorching delight to our tired bodies (even though we just dipped out feet) this hot water springs and temple complex is a popular religious site for Hindus and is locally known as Brahmakund. The water was unbearably hot but many believe that the water has healing powers owing to its mineral content and therefor a constant stream of pilgrims and visitors are seen here at all times.
Venu Vana or “Veluwanaramaya” in Buddhist religious text, is a park located in Rajgir. It was called Venu Vana because of the bamboo wall surrounding it ( Venu- bamboo, Vana- forest). It is said that King Bimbisara selected this location as Lord Buddha’s residence because of its close proximity to Rajgir and the tranquil nature of the location. Lord Buddha spent his second, third and fourth ” Vassana” (rainy period) here.
Today there is a small lake in the middle of the park and a Statue of Buddha on the bank. Also a Japanese temple has been build on site for pilgrims to visit and pray.
King Bimbisara a prominent character in the stories surrounding lord Buddha, was the crowned king of Magadha and the Father of Ajatashatru. He was widely known as a devoted follower of Lord Buddha and a dear disciple. He dedicated the Venu Vana for the use of Lord Buddha and has done much in the nourishment of Buddhism.
In a later time Ajatashatru (the son) took the kingdom by force imprisoning his father.There are many versions in Buddhist and Jainism text narrating the story of King Bimbisaras’ imprisonment and death. It is said that the king was starved and kept in a dark cell and when this did not kill him the son ordered that his feet should be cut open and salt applied on the wounds (Gee talk about father- son bonding! )
The ruins of the prison are still there in Rajgir, a clear stone base on which the prison might have been.
Next stop- Peace Pagoda,
( Image- Vishvathika Nadarajasharma)
A small cable car ride away is the peace pagoda or the Wishwa Shanti Stupa.
Built on top of a small hill overlooking the magnificent surroundings this Stupa is a recent addition to the Rajgir skyline. The pagoda is a symbol of peace and humanity similar to the other peace pagodas located world wide.
If you look at the valley down bellow, you will see a smaller hill with a rock like formation at the summit, it is the Gijjakuta hill, A well documented location in Buddhist script. The location were Devadatta committed an anantariya sin by rolled a boulder towards Lord Buddha. It is said that while the boulder was falling towards lord Buddha another rock came in course sending the boulder in another direction. But a small splinter that broke at the collision damaged a toe of lord Buddha and it started bleeding.
There are a few caves near the summit of the hill and it is believed that Lord Buddha spent time here in these caves. Also Gijjakuta is where a few of the important sutras were recited by Buddha.
Son Bhandar Caves are two caves carved in to a rock located near the foot of the Vaibhar hill. The walls of the inside are polished and have a few inscriptions dating back to a few centuries ago.
there is a fascinating legend tied to these caves. Son Bhandar means the ” store of gold” inside the western cave wall there is a carving that resembles a door and next to it an inscription. according to local legend this is a door way leading to another cave that holds the treasury of gold and that the inscription is the password to open the door (Si-Fi!!! 😛 ).
Last stop of the day Durgeshwari hill or “Dushkarak krya kanda”
Located close to Boudhgaya this is the place where Prince Siddharta spent 6 year practicing self mortification before enlightenment. According to Buddhist text he was determined to meditate in search of enlightenment and spent 6 years here only eating fruit and leafs that fell at hands reach. After understand that this was not the way to go about Siddharta took the “Middle way” in searching spiritual enlightenment.
The cave where once Prince sidhartha meditated is till now well preserved with a statue resembaling him during his self mortification days.
The inside of the cave is supper dark and you can hardly see anything without a flash light! but its worth it! the inside is fascinating!
Even though Rajgir is not usually on the “must visit list” of many traveling to India I highly recommend it to anyone of any faith because this city has so much to offer in terms of culture and history.
Hope this post will help you get an idea about Gaya and Rajgir and may be make you want to add it on to your must visit list 😛
Until next time,
To read about Bodhgaya and our first day in Gaya – Gaya Adventures – Part 1