For over one thousand years, the teachings of the Buddha were chanted daily at the Mahabodhi Mahavihara; the great temple that marks the place where the Buddha achieved enlightenment in the 5th century BCE. The temple was abandoned in the fourteenth century and only rebuilt five hundred years later. Now, as part of a revival of interest in Buddhist culture both in India and across the world, the tradition of chanting from the Pali Tipitaka at the place of enlightenment has been restarted, and a series of great gatherings are held over the winter months every year.
For the eleventh ceremony, over 4000 monks and their followers from Bangladesh, Cambodia, Laos PDR, Indonesia, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Vietnam will join monks from India in chanting from the Pali Canon in a great assembly under the Bodhi Tree, the central focus of the temple. The opening ceremony on December 2nd is particularly colorful, with lay people in the national dress of the countries present escorting their monks in a procession to the main temple, where the whole assembly receives offerings and chants the first sermon of the Buddha in unison. The Sangharajas (Chief of National Sangha) of Cambodia, Myanmar, Bangladesh and India will be in attendance, along with four Tripirakadharas, monks who have learnt the 45 volumes of the Pali Canon by heart. This is the first time in 700 years that the Theravada Sangha have returned to chant the precious teaching and perhaps the first time where the International Sangha have chanted together since the Buddha’s time.
Dharma talks are given every night of the event under the Bodhi Tree, translated into English and Hindi, and screened live on the Internet. On the final day, the assembly will be inaugurating the first of a set of Dharma walks that are planned to directly link Bodhgaya with the ancient capital of Magadha at Rajgir. The ancient pathway skirts a line of hills that join the two sites, and 1000 monks and their followers will walk from the Jethian Valley, the valley where the Buddha met King Bimbisara and walked to his ancient capital, to Javika Mango Grove. This 14km walk will happen on December 13th, and will also be attended by thousands of villagers from the surrounding area.
This resurgence in activity has lead to a remarkable increase in visitors to the Buddhist sites of India. Indeed it is now estimated that one in six visitors to India visit Bodhgaya (source: Indian Ministry of Tourism), and many of these visitors go on to visit the other great sites that formed the ancient pilgrimage circuit. The state of Bihar alone has over 1,600 accredited Buddhist sites, many in a very good state of preservation, and substantial Buddhist remains are spread across every state in Northern India. These large visitor numbers have important economic and social consequences, and initiatives have been launched at both state and federal level to further promote the pilgrimage circuit within the ancient landscape of northern India.
The Light of Buddhadharma Foundation, a California based charity, is dedicated to rebuilding the Buddhist culture of India, and has been the primary sponsor of the International Tipitaka Chanting Ceremony since its inception in 2006 working to promote the chanting ceremony in Nagpur and in Sri Lanka, the beautification of the ancient sites and the training of monks.
As Director Wangmo Dixey explains:
“In Bringing the international sanghas of monks and lay followers together in this way, the Foundation has been active in supporting the Buddhist culture of India, and in demonstrating the vitality and relevance of this ancient religion in the modern world. We feel very inspired by the growing interest in the role of India as the homeland of the teachings of the Buddha, and the positive economic, social and political consequences that will follow a full-scale revival of Buddhism in the land of its origin. Buddhism is the third largest world religion, and a unifying force in South East Asia and the Far East. To see the great country of India playing a role in its development will be a great benefit, both for the region and the entire world.”