Kushinagar—where Buddha entered mahaparinirvana Part-02

    • Kushinagar, Kushinagar, Uttar Pradesh, India

Kushinagar—where Buddha entered mahaparinirvana Part-02 Continue from Part-01


For seven days, offerings were made by gods and men, after which, amidst flowers and incense, the casket was carried to the place of cremation in great procession. Some legends say that the Mallas offered their cremation hall for the purpose. A pyre of sweetly scented wood and fragrant oils had been built but, as had been foretold, it would not burn until Mahakashyapa arrived. When the great disciple eventually arrived, made prostrations and paid his respects, the pyre burst into flames spontaneously.


After the cremation had been completed the ashes were examined for relics. Only a skull bone, teeth and the inner and outer shrouds remained. The Mallas of Kushinagar first thought themselves most fortunate to have received all the relics of the Buddha's body. However, representatives of the other eight countries that constituted ancient India also came forth to claim them. To avert a conflict, the brahmin Drona suggested an equal, eightfold division of the relics between them. Some accounts state that in fact Shakyamuni's remains were first divided into three portions—one each for the gods, nagas and men—and that the portion given to humans was then subdivided into eight. The eight peoples each took their share to their own countries and the eight great stupas were built over them. In time these relics were again subdivided after Ashoka had decided to build 84,000 stupas. Today they are contained in various stupas scattered across Asia.


In later times Fa Hien found monasteries at Kushinagar, but when Hsuan Chwang came, the site was almost deserted. Hsuan Chwang did see an Ashoka stupa marking Kunda's house, the site of Buddha's last meal. Commemorating the mahaparinirvana was a large brick temple containing a recumbent statue of Buddha. Beside this was a partly ruined Ashoka stupa and a pillar with an inscription describing the event. Two more stupas commemorated former lives of the Buddha at the place. Both Chinese pilgrims mention a stupa where Shakyamuni's protector Vajrapani threw down his sceptre in dismay after Buddha's death, and some distance away a stupa at the place of cremation and another built by Ashoka where the relics were divided.


Kushinagar was rediscovered and identified before the end of the last century. Excavations have revealed that a monastic tradition flourished here for a long time. The remains of ten different monasteries dating from the fourth to the eleventh centuries have been found. Most of these ruins are now enclosed in a park, in the midst of which stands a modern shrine housing a large recumbent figure of the Buddha. This statue was originally made in Mathura and installed at Kushinagar by the monk Haribhadra during the reign of King Kumaragupta (415-56 CE), the alleged founder of Nalanda Monastery. When discovered late in the last century the statue was broken but it has now been restored. Behind this shrine is a large stupa dating from the Gupta age. This was restored early in this century by the Burmese. Not far away a small temple built on the Buddha's last resting place in front of the sala grove has also been restored. Some distance east a large stupa, now called Ramabhar, remains at the place of the cremation.


 


On one side of the park a former Chinese temple has been reopened as an international meditation centre. Next to it stands a large Burmese temple. On the south side of the park is a small Tibetan monastery with stupas in the Tibetan style beside it. Thus also at Kushinagar one can see dharmic activities alive even today.

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