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Taking hint from Traditional Buddhist Architecture, Architect builds Buddhist Learning Centre in Maharashtra

Designed by ‘sP+a’ – Sameep Padora & Associates, this half-acre holistic Jetavan has been constructed by employing authentic and local artisans, villagers and naturally acquired materials

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Inside Jetavana Learning Centre, Maharashtra Source: Wikimedia Commons
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Mumbai, August 19, 2016: A Mumbai-based architecture firm Sameep Padora and Associates have recently completed building a Buddhist Learning Centre in Maharashtra. The architect wanted to renew the lost traditions that went into making Buddhist learning and meditation centres.

“Our approach looks to extend the idea of the regional paradigm whilst separating it from the pervasive image of what defines the local,” said the architect to a news portal. The centre was built keeping in mind that not a single tree is harmed at the site or cut down during the construction. The centre was hence split up into 6 buildings, situated between gaps of heavy trees, , mentioned dezeen.com.

Such learning centres in Buddhism are also called Jetavan. A Jetavan is one of the most integral spaces of meditation in Buddhism. It was earlier a monastery donated to Gautam Buddha, outside Savatthi an ancient Indian city in Uttar Pradesh. The remains of Buddha’s hut in Jetavana are still prevalent today.

A lit up evening of discourse and exchange of ideas. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Designed by ‘sP+a’ – Sameep Padora & Associates, this half-acre holistic Jetavan has been constructed by employing authentic and local artisans, villagers and naturally acquired materials. It also has a butterfly roof. The traditional architecture also has dung flooring done by the local community, which also has antiseptic virtues. The walls were built using volcanic stone dust, in an attempt to revive traditional Buddhist architecture.

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Buddhist art has its deep roots in India, which also influenced ancient Indian infrastructure, architecture, and heritage. The emperor of Magadh, Ashoka built his monuments in traditional Buddhist architecture and established Buddhism as the homogenous or state religion in his empire, as an endeavor to spread Buddhism across his land. The most famous forms of this style are Stupas (topes), Stambhs (pillars), Chaitayas (caves) and viharas (monasteries).

Disciples at the serene Mahabodhi Temple
Disciples at the serene Mahabodhi Temple. Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Major rock-cut temples in ancient India, especially during the rise of Ashokan School, were built by workers and artisans, who had made temples of other religions too. So Jain, Hindu, and Buddhist temples more or less have similar kind of architecture. The oldest and the most famous example of such architecture is Mahabodhi Temple in Bodh Gaya, near Patna, Bihar. It is a Buddhist temple which is famous for the legend that Buddha attained enlightenment here.

Headless figure of Gautam Buddha at Sanchi Stupa, Madhya Pradesh. Source: Wikimedia Commons
Headless figure of Gautam Buddha at Sanchi Stupa, Madhya Pradesh.
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Another recognized model of Buddhist art and architecture is Sanchi Stupa, Madhya Pradesh. Built in the 3rd century BC, it is the oldest structure of India made with stones. A less complex hemispherical structure, it is built on the remnants of Buddha. The umbrella-like parasol at the top of the stupa is suggestive of high significance.

Ashoka Pillar, Sarnath Source: Wikimedia Commons
Ashoka Pillar, Sarnath. Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

On the other hand, they have often been caught the attention of the figure on Indian currency, which illustrates three lions. This illustration is taken from the Ashoka Pillar, another Buddhist example of a creative building. The Ashoka Pillar was erected in Sarnath, where Buddha had his first discourse and talked about the four noble truths. It is the symbol of the national emblem of India. It carries high symbolism too – it symbolizes ‘axis mundi’ (celestial axis). The interpretation can be made from bottom to top because this represents a transition from unknowledgeable to enlightened living:

  • Lotus represents the dark mud of the dull world, where the lotus still blooms nevertheless.
  • The four animals symbolize the never-ending cycle of life despite one’s own fears, insecurities, losses and pain of this materialistic world.
  • The lions are suggestive of positive energies, inner confidence, to guard one from evil, and are often interpreted as Buddha himself. And it is from these lion figures that one can attain moksha, which is symbolized in the chakra.

– prepared by Chetna Karnani, at NewsGram. Twitter: @karnani_chetna

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Spiritual Ideas Sore At The World Hindu Congress

A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new -- when an age ends, and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance.

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At its best, speeches at the recently concluded World Hindu Congress echoed the soaring spiritual ideals evoked by Swami Vivekananda in Chicago 125 years ago.

Even Mohan Bhagwat, Sarsangchanalak of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), focused essentially on the need for unity and patience among Hindus while fighting obstacles, of which, he said, there would be many. The burden of excavating implied accusations in Bhagwat’s speech fell to his critics.

At the plenary session, the moderator requested speakers to address issues of conflict without naming the speakers or their organisations in the interest of harmony. Other speakers sought to unite the followers of all the great religions that took birth in India — Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism and Jainism.

Some of the speakers from Bhagwat to Swami Swaroopananda of the Chinmaya Mission, framed the issues before Hinduism in a moral paradigm. Ashwin Adhin, the Vice President of the Republic of Suriname, began his speech in chaste Hindi, later quoting cognitive scientist George Lakoff: “Facts matter immensely. But to be meaningful they have to be framed in terms of their moral importance.”

Hinduism
Buddhism relates sins to the characteristics one adopts. Pixabay

The dissonances, between the spiritual and the mundane, were to emerge later on the fringes of the seminars which were part of the Congress. Many of the delegates appropriated to themselves the mantle of a culture besieged by proselytising faiths. There were speakers who urged Hindus to have more children to combat their ‘dwindling population’. Posters warned Hindus of the dangers from ‘love jihad’ (Muslim men ‘enticing’ Hindu women).

In one of the sessions on the media, filmmaker Amit Khanna noted that religion had always played a prominent part in Indian cinema, starting with the earliest mythologicals. “Raja Harishchandra”, the first silent film, he said, was made by Dadasaheb Phalke in 1913. He sought to reassure the audience on the future of Hinduism. “Over 80 percent of Indians are Hindus,” he said adding: “Hinduism has survived many upheavals for thousands of years. Hinduism has never been endangered.”

Other speakers, lacking spiritual and academic pedigrees, drew on an arsenal of simulated anguish and simmering indignation.

The nuances of history pass lightly over the ferociously devout and it took little effort to pander to an aggravated sense of historical aggrievement.

Hinduism
Swami Vivekananda used to stress upon the universal brotherhood and self-awakening. Wikimedia Commons

At one of the debates, the mere mention of Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister, elicited sniggers and boos. The speaker hinted at ‘Nehruvian socialism’ which had made the Indian economy a non-starter. He concluded with a coup de grace, to a standing ovation: “Nehru did not like anything Indian.”

The poet Rabindranath Tagore, who composed the Indian national anthem, had spoken of his vision of a country where the “clear stream of reason had not lost its way”. At some of the discussions, even the most indulgent observer would have been hard put to discern the stream of reason.

The image of a once great civilisation suppressed by a century of British rule and repeated plunder by invaders captured the imagination of many in the audience. Hanging above it all, like a disembodied spirit, was the so-called malfeasance of Nehru, the leader who had won the trust of Hindus only to betray them in the vilest manner.

These tortured souls would have been well advised to adopt a more holistic approach to Hinduism, and history, looking no further than Swami Vivekananda, who once said: “The singleness of attachment (Nishtha) to a loved object, without which no genuine love can grow, is very often also the cause of denunciation of everything else.”

Hinduism
The Hindu population in Pakistan is about 1.8% according to the 2018 census, 0.2% more than that of the 1998 and the 1951 figures.

Historians have informed us that Nehru preferred his father’s intellect over his mother’s tradition but he was never contemptuous of religion. While he undoubtedly felt that organised religion had its flaws, he opined that it supplied a deeply felt inner need of human nature while also giving a set of values to human life.

In private conversations some delegates spoke of how their America-born children had helped persuade them to drop their pathological aversion to gays and lesbians. Despite their acute wariness of perceived cultural subjugation, the irony was obviously lost on them that Article 377 of the Indian Penal Code,(which criminalises gay sex) recently overturned by the Indian Supreme Court, is a hangover from the Victorian British era-embodied in the Buggery Act of 1533.

In the face of the upcoming elections in the US, Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi’s decision to speak at the conference was a political risk. With a newly energised political Left, even the perception of being linked with “fascist” or sectarian forces could be political suicide in the critical November elections. Despite vociferous appeals to disassociate himself from the Congress, Krishnamoorthi chose to attend.

“I decided I had to be here because I wanted to reaffirm the highest and only form of Hinduism that I have ever known and been taught — namely one that welcomes all people, embraces all people, and accepts all people, regardless of their faith. I reject all other forms. In short, I reaffirm the teaching of Swami Vivekananda,” Krishnamoorthi said.

Given the almost pervasive abhorrence of anything remotely Nehruvian among a section of the delegates, it was a revelation to hear the opinion of Dattatrey Hosable, the joint general secretary and second-in-command in the RSS hierarchy. Speaking on the promise of a newly-resurgent India, Hosable said in an interview to Mayank Chhaya, a local journalist-author-filmmaker: “A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new — when an age ends, and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance.”

Also Read: Triple Talaq Now Banned in India

The quote is from Nehru’s famous Tryst with Destiny speech delivered to the Indian Constituent Assembly on the midnight of August 14, 1947 — proof, if any is needed, that the force of Nehru’s ideas can transcend one’s disdain of him. (IANS)