Friday April 20, 2018

Stupa Architecture: Tracing Hindu-Buddhist Influence and Indo-Cambodian Relations

South East Asian regions like Indonesia, Cambodia, Malay Peninsula etc. came to be under the influence of the Indian culture from as early as the 3rd century BC

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Bayon Temple, Cambodia. Image Source : Wikimedia Commons
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  • Stupas form an integral and inseparable part of Buddhist architecture and culture
  • South East Asian regions like Indonesia, Cambodia, Malay Peninsula etc. came to be under the influence of the Indian culture from as early as 3rd century BC
  • The most significant Indianized state that existed was Funan, which is now a part of Cambodia
Part of Dhamek Stupa of Sarnath. Image Source : Wikimedia Commons
Part of Dhamek Stupa of Sarnath. Image Source : Wikimedia Commons

In Sanskrit, stupa means “heap”. Stupas form an integral and inseparable part of Buddhist architecture and culture. It stands as the burial ground or a place to hold religious objects and artefacts. But, what is interesting is that it has a connection to Hinduism as well.

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South East Asian regions like Indonesia, Cambodia, Malay Peninsula etc. came to be under the influence of the Indian culture from as early as the 3rd century BC. Broadly speaking, it was the time during which there was an amalgamation of Buddhist and Indian culture. In fact, till  the 15th Century AD, a lot of the parts of South East Asia were ruled by Indians. It is remarkable how India was able to approach and consolidate the branches of their civilisation is such a way without military conquest. There is a debate regarding the architectural influences that the South East Asian countries drew from India but not much has been talked about how in the later period, there were instances of Indian stupas being inspired from that of the South-East Asia. The votive Stupas of Sarnath in Uttar Pradesh are examples of such an impact, mentioned Ancient Origins Website.

Ruins of Sarnath Temple in Uttar Pradesh, India. Image Source : Wikimedia Commons
Ruins of Sarnath Temple in Uttar Pradesh, India. Image Source : Wikimedia Commons

Sarnath is located near the confluence of Gomati as well as Ganges in Uttar Pradesh. The structures of the stupa are mostly built with bricks, mud, clay, stone and dry masonry. According to researchers, stupas are also built of terracotta and other materials but none of that can be found in this particular stupa at Sarnath.

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Actually, at that time, a lot of Indians travelled to these places in Thailand, Cambodia, Indonesia and this resulted in a cultural influence, mentioned the Ancient Origins Website. That was how both Hinduism and Buddhism was successfully spreading from India to these parts of the world- via traders, scholars and rulers, who were travelling through sea routes to these remote places. Over the time, strong relations were established between India and the South East Asia.

A statue from the walls of Angkor Thom, Cambodia. Image Source : Wikimedia Commons
A statue from the walls of Angkor Thom, Cambodia. Image Source : Wikimedia Commons

The most significant Indianized state that existed was Funan, which is now a part of Cambodia. Legend has it that, the ties between Indians and the Khmer or the native people of the land, was strengthened when an Indian Brahmin’s daughter married the local chief. Funan carried on trade with India and had series of kings who attempted to repress the rising tide of Buddhism and patronised Hinduism. Thus, the Indo-Cambodian relationship was in existence since then. Not only trade relations or personal relations but cultural ties were also strong between these two. The instances of Hindu and Buddhist influences can be found in the architectural manifestations of Angkor Watt Temple, Angkor Thom, Bayon, Baphuon temples in Cambodia.

Prepared by Atreyee Sengupta of NewsGram.

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Right of Nature: Are Rivers Living Beings?

Should rivers be considered Living Entities?

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Right of Nature
Many cultures across the globe believe that rivers are living beings or Gods/Goddesses and they just take the form of water bodies.

By Dr. Bharti Raizada, Chicago

Science says that water bodies are not living entities, as water does not need food, does not grow, and reproduce. Water is required for life, but in itself it is nonliving.

However, many cultures across the globe believe that rivers are living beings or Gods/Goddesses and they just take the form of water bodies.

The Maori tribe in New Zealand considers the Whanganui River as their ancestor and the Maori people fought to get it a legal status as a living being. In 2017, a court in New Zealand gave this river the status of living being and same rights as humans, to protect it from pollution. Thus, now if someone pollutes in it then it is considered equivalent to harming a human.

ALSO READ: Worshiping mother nature part of our tradition: Prime Minister Narendra Modi

Right of Nature
Rivers are sacred in many religions, including Hinduism. Image courtesy: Dr. Bharti Raizada

Rivers are sacred in Hinduism also. Hindus believe that the Ganga descended from heaven and call her Ganga Maa. A few days after New Zealand’s court decision, Uttarakhand high court in India gave the Ganga and Yamuna rivers and their tributaries the status of living human entities. The Court-appointed three officials as legal custodians. However, the court did not clarify many aspects related to this decision.

After this verdict some of the questions, which naturally came to mind, were:

Can Hindus still do rituals of flowing ashes, leaves, flowers, diyas in river or no? Can a dam be built on the river after this judgment? If some damage, to a person, animal, plants, or property, occurs because of river e.g. overflow, hurricanes, flooding etc., how the river will pay the liabilities? What if all rivers, oceans, ponds etc. are given the status of living beings? Will drinking water from river become a crime? What about taking water and using it for routine needs,  agriculture or building structures? Will it be illegal? If a child throws a stone in water, will it be a criminal act? Will fishing be considered stealing? What about boating? If someone is using heat near water and water evaporates, is it equal to taking the body part of a human being? What about taking a bath in the river?

Right of Nature
If the river gets a living status, as human, then we cannot use it for anything without its permission, so everyone has to stop touching the water. Image courtesy: Dr. Bharti Raizada

ALSO READ: Decoding supernatural: What is the nature of entities and gods who influence human behavior

Other queries, which arise, are:

Will animals and plants get the same status? What if you kill an ant or a chicken etc. or cut a tree? Will all animals and plants get a legal custodian?

Where is all the waste supposed to go? It has to go somewhere back in nature, right?

Uttrakhand state government challenged the judgement in Supreme Court and the latter reversed the judgment.

Right of Nature
So where do we stand? In my opinion, granting living status to nature is a different thing than giving protected status or preserving nature. Image by Dr. Bharti Raizada

ALSO READ: How nature destroys the negative tendencies in a positive manner

Ecuador’s constitution recognized the Right of Nature to exist, specifically Vilcabamba river, in 2008.

Then Bolivia passed the law of the right of mother earth and granted Nature equal rights as humans.

Many communities in the U.S.A. passed the Right of Nature law.

These laws are creating a dilemma or quandary also, as people need to use these resources. We cannot live without using natural resources. However, there is a difference between using natural resources and afflicting or destroying these. So, please use natural resources very diligently. Try not to vitiate nature.

On World Water Day (March 22), please start taking care of rivers, so that there is no need for future celebrations. It should not be a one-day celebration anyway, we should scrupulously look out for nature all the time.

Dr. Raizada is a practicing anesthesiologist.