Mythical Geography of Dwarka

Modi in Dwaraka

Our indefatigable Prime Minister,not content with being the ‘only Rockstar politician on the international arena’,has now taken one step closer to being elevated to the Hindu Pantheon in popular imagination by meditating on his full Brahmic nature in diving gear deep under the sea.We observe him with gaping mouths,awe-struck with his audacious and unfathomable ways.

A more mundane approach to the place,and presumably also to such places bathed in holy history  as present-day Ayodhya, might undermine their claims to sanctity.The Government of India must act in a hurry to forestall such damage from colonial subversion.

(I had better make it clear that I believe in two truths of two different worlds inhabited by us Indians like our great ISRO scientist Dr Somnath.He too dedicates his work to the Lord of Tirupathy as also to the principles and techniques of modern science. Likewise a far lesser being like myself both  believe fervently in Rama and Krishna as human deities and subscribe to the findings and methods of secular archeology and Geography emanating from the Yavanas of the West.Also I find no contradiction in Modiji having a mundane rockstar existence and a transcendent spiritual proximity to divinity.)

I here propose to extend a path-breaking work in legendary Tibetan Geography by German Scholar Dr Tony Huber,formerly  of The Humboldt Institute of Asian and African Studies in Germany and author of THE HOLY LAND REBORN:Pilgrimage and Tibetan  Re-invention of the Buddhist India(University of Chicago Press,2008) with whom I had some transient contact through a third party.I was interested in finding out the secret behind the customary association of certain Hindu pilgrimage centres like the temples at Hajo and Kamakhya which up to my days of youth used to draw seasonal crowds of Buddhist pilgrims from Sikim,Bhutan and outlying Tibet.

Intrigued by this Buddhist association of Hindu temples I had sounded the depths of the Buddhist  Lama Taranath’s famous HISTORY OF BUDDHISM IN INDIA,a celebrated medieval Tibetan book on the history and Geography of Buddhist India.And I had drawn a blank.Huber’s book of which he had kindly presented me a copy, ended my confusion.Lama Taranath’s work had been written after centuries of eclipse of Buddhism in India and it used to guide later Buddhist pilgrims on their renewed visits to the land where the Lord Buddha had been born and had propagated the faith and creed Tibetans held.

Dr Huber showed that after centuries of amnesia the Tibetan scholars were hard put to identify places like Saranath,Vaishali, Shravasti,Kushinagar etc.Most of those places had different names then. Modern scientific Geography was then a far cry.So Tibetans were reduced to following traditional Indian leads by depending solely on their imaginary negotiations with popular religious lore for identifying and locating  places mentioned there.There was little scope for using tools of verification and proof associated with modern sciences. Ayodhya, Dandakaranya,Mathura, Vrindavan, and many other places of pilgrimage,perhaps first occurring in myths,Puranas and sacred epics might thus have been given a local habitation and name  by this semiconscious process.Or the changed place-names might have naturally occurred in course of history.But Tibetan Buddhists followed Taranath’s lead in identifying their places of pilgrimage.And it continued till historical times until the introduction of modern science of Geography by Europeans.It was in this way that Hajo in Assam became Kushinagara,the place of the Buddha’s Great Nirvana or Final  Extinction of the Cycle of Rebirth, to them.

Hajo in Assam was thus identified by Lama Taranath and others following him as the ancient Kushinagara,the place where the Lord Buddha had breathed his last.Hence the founding of an original Buddhist temple later converted to a Hindu holy place by a Brahminical Hindu upsurge.That explained the mystery of annual flocks of  Buddhist pilgrims gathering there.

That may explain the origin of many current names in the map of India.Incidentally that must have been the method of Buddhist and Hindu colonizers in South Eastern Asia when they laid the foundations of civilization in those regions and started naming places settled by them.The practice survived in the culture of natives who succeeded the Indian colonizers in later times.That might explain origin of such place names in Myanmar as Ayothia and the belief of Burmese forces as they swept down on Assam in early nineteenth century that Assam was in fact the Vaishali familiar to them from Buddhist lore.

Now coming to Dwarka, the only tangible palaeographic and archeological evidence in the region are the remains of structures and Indus Valley script identified as such by famed Tamil scholar Mahadevan.Dr Alok Tripathi of ASI, accordinng to an explanatory piece in INDIAN EXPRESS of 28th February this year; has been unable to date the structures under the sea which reportedly had been swept under water by tides or encroaching sea-waves.Thus the place had only indisputable link to Indus Valley civilization. Interesingly recently sites in Tamilnadu  that once had both Tamil Brahmi script and a script closely resembling the Indus Valley script have been discovered and excavated by ASI according to several reports in the FRONTLINE magazine.

 It may therefore be reasonably conjectured that as the area in which the Indus Valley civilization once flourished had rapidly dried up owing to a great climate change and led to its gradual extinction  in the region if its origin.But some natives of that area might have migrated southward to areas where the climate still remained favourable and hospitable.In course of time climate change spread to such areas too and had been abandoned.That would be around 800 BCE to the 1st or 2nd century BCE.

A later stream of Indo-Aryan speaking migrants then came upon the scene and named the places after some in the Mahabharata.And that is how the region might have received both the name and the associations of Dwarka.

Likewise there could have been a similar process that resulted in names of places like Ayodhya in the region once known as Saket in Buddhist times.Following the decline and fall of Buddhism which flourished in India for a millennium at least. The region in North India once known as the heartland of Buddhist religion and culture was swamped by the onset of Brahminical Hinduism flourishing under the Gupta dynasty.It might have been then only that  the present Ayodhya had acquired the name as well as the sacred credentials.The temple buried underneath the now defunct Babri Masjid was not dated and there is no knowing if it was as ancient or venerable as claimed by devotees.As  for its precise identification as the Lord Rama’s birthplace there had been several other contenders for that honour.And when we had visited the area in late 1980s we had got confused by conflicting accounts of several officially appointed guides.

So the furious debates and contentious claims before umpteen courts have their origins in accidents and flukes of history.It would be a pity if these excited people to unnecessary passion and unwise violence.

Can somebody who is already an emanating of God meditate on Himself?

Hindu theology has a few examples to help us.The ‘great god’ Mahadev is usually imagined as in deep meditation,though he shares the being of God.He is no Buddhist to meditate on Nothingness (Shunya). What does he meditate on then?He must be meditating on his full nature as Brahma.

Hiren Gohain is a political commentator

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