Sunday, August 28, 2022

Jainas and Buddhists in Ayodhya

(Pragyata, 16 August 2022) The recent upheaval about a Hindu temple for Thalaivetti Muniyappan (“Muni Baba with the broken head”) in Salem TN, apparently a patched-up and restored Buddha statue, and therefore taken away from its worshippers by Court order with the prospect of giving it to the Buddhists (see ch.25), reminds us of a similar line of argument in the Ayodhya debate of 1990-91. Then, the anti-temple party claimed that, if at all there had been Islamic aggression against Hinduism, surely the Hindu repression against Buddhism had been no better. Some even argued that the destroyed Rama birthplace temple had itself been built in replacement of a Buddhist temple. This was just the typical tactics of the Eminent Historians or their less scholarly followers in those days: absolutely any claim (including mutually contradictory claims) that could serve as a hurdle to the Hindu rights to the site would do. They never mustered any evidence for a Buddhist or Jaina presence at the contentious site. The wealth of archaeological evidence dug up on multiple occasions since then does not contain any such evidence either. The resulting picture is that Vaishnava, Shaiva, Jaina and Bauddha places of worship existed peacefully side by side. And all of them were destroyed on the same footing by the Islamic invaders. Thus, one of the main Jaina sites, the birthplace temple for Ādināth, the first Tīrthaṅkara, was destroyed by the general who had conquered the city in 1193, Shah Zuran Ghori. For Islam, all non-Muslims, whatever the fine distinctions between them, are equally fodder for Jihad and hellfire. This stark equality in the Kāfir (unbeliever) status and the concomitant treatment is another fact that the mendacious nitpicking about a Brahmanical-Buddhist conflict seeks to cover up. The Jaina and Buddhist sites in Ayodhya are largely the topic of a book by archaeologist Lalta Prasad Pandey: Ayodhyā, the Abode of Rāma and the Dharmakṣetra of Lord Buddha and the Jaina Tīrthaṅkaras. A Historical and Critical Study. Published in 2009, it never received the attention it deserved. So, inspired by recent events in Salem, we will now look into it. As an expert, Pandey is aware of the limitations on our knowledge of the city: "Archaeology depends also on chance discoveries. Therefore, without having the entire city of Ayodhyā dug on a larger scale, its antiquity and full period of life can never be known. Archaeological excavations of the bed of the Sarayū are also required, because the city, situated on the bank of a turbulent river like Sarayū, may have been washed away. (...) An aerial view of the site and its surroundings gives an impression that the course of the river has certainly shifted from its old site inundating the city situated on its bank." (p.6) Indeed, “it is difficult to prove the exact place where Rāma was born (…) As a historian, the author would not like to stress upon this point too much. Rāma was born no doubt in Ayodhyā (…) different localities of a city move from one part of the city to the other. Constructions are destroyed by time and they are rebuilt, but they may change their places.” (p.90) So, don’t conclude too fast that this cannot be the city that contained the Solar Dynasty’s palace, where prince Rama must have been born. There’s still so much to discover in Ayodhya. From the Śatapathabrāhmaṇa onwards, when the Vedic horizon widens from Haryana into wat is now eastern Uttar Pradesh and western Bihar, the late Vedic literature regularly mentions the kings of Kośala (Ayodhyā and Śrāvastī), starting with Para Atnāra and Kṣemadhanva in the sixty-eighth Solar/Aikṣvāku generation after Manu, or seven generations after Rama. But the city of Ayodhya itself is already mentioned in the AtharvaVeda 10:2:32 (quoted p.83, repeated in the Taittirīya Āraṇyaka), where it seems to function as the city par excellence, here serving as a model for the human body: “Nine gates (navadvārāḥ) and eight crossings (aṣṭacakrāḥ) has Ayodhya, city of the Gods.” For this proverbial usage, it already must have been a prominent city. The Buddhist literature speaks of a flood at the site, causing emigration, and then the construction of a new town on the outskirts of Ayodhya, Sāketa, at the command of the young king of Kośala, Prasenajit, a friend of the Buddha. The renewal of a city by building a new city on its outskirts in a common event in history, e.g. Old Delhi expanded to New Delhi. Once the city was flourishing, “the association of the Buddha with this city is also known. It is stated that he had lived in its garden, called Añjanavana, many times. It is here that he had delivered his sermon called the Sāketasutta.” (p.16) Other Buddhists too lived or visited there, already during the lifetime of the Buddha. It’s where he had discussions with Kakudha Mendasīra, Kuṇḍalīya, Sāriputta Moggalana, Aniruddha and the nun Jaṭilagāhikā. Later Buddhist philosophers who worked there include Aśvaghoṣa, Asaṅga and Vasubandhu. Similarly with the Jainas: “The Ādipurāṇa and the Vividha Tīrthakalpa, texts of the early medieval period, describe it as one of the great centres of Jaina religion” (p.16), locating at least the first (Ṛṣabha or Ādināth, p.68) and the fourth Tīrthaṅkara there, probably five of them, while Pārśvanāth and Mahāvīra visited the town. Jaina philosophers like Acalabhānu also lived there. Prof. Pandey details the town’s general history, like how it was occupied by the Indo-Greeks and liberated by Puṣyamitra Śuṅga, or how Kaniṣka, both I and II, waged war against the king of Sāketa. He also gives all the archaeological information, such as the apparent decline and revival of Ayodhya, or how Sāketa goes as deep as the Northern Black Polished Ware, one layer younger than the Painted Grey Ware characterizing the Mahābhārata sites and Ayodhya proper. For those prosaic data, we refer to the book itself. Let us rather focus on what this says about the interaction between the different sects of Hinduism broadly defined. One thing we learn is how the supposedly superstitious Brahmanism is confirmed by the supposedly rational Buddhism. The Jātaka stories about the Buddha’s past life famously contain his embracing of Rama as an earlier incarnation (as well as an older relative within the Solar dynasty, the Buddha himself being a royal prince) of the Buddha. Here we see, by the way, the origin of the integration of the Buddha into the series of Vishnu’s incarnations together with Rama: far from being some Brahmanical concoction swallowing the Buddha against his will, it is actually suggested by the Buddha himself. If he is a reincarnation of Rama, and Rama is reinterpreted as Vishnu’s incarnation, then automatically he too becomes Vishnu’s incarnation. (p.35) Less well-known is the Māndhātājātaka: the Buddha had also been the Ayodhya king Māndhātā in a past life. This Solar king militarily helped the Lunar Paurava tribe against the Druhyu tribe shortly before the oldest hymns in the ṚgVeda. This is about as deep as you can get into the Indian past. But by the Buddha’s day and later, he had merely become a proverbially powerful king and serves as such in the Puranic literature as well as in the Buddha’s own narrative. Several other kings of Ayodhya also figure in earlier-incarnation stories. This confirms that at least the Buddhist tradition was always in dialogue and interaction with the Vedic and Itihāsa-Purāṇa traditions. To make a long story short, the really striking part of this book is what remains absent. Though Jainas, Buddhists, Vaishnavas and Shaivas lived cheek by jowl here, their debates never spilled over into violent conflict. The destruction that Salar Masud Ghaznavi, Shah Zuran Ghori and Zahiruddin Babar brought to Ayodhya over a mere religious doctrine was new to them. Lalta Prasad Pandey: Ayodhyā, the Abode of Rāma and the Dharmakṣetra of Lord Buddha and the Jaina Tīrthaṅkaras. A Historical and Critical Study, Munshiram Manoharlal, Delhi 2009.

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