Declining Trend Of Vihara Culture In Kathmandu

From The Rising Nepal – The demise of Buddhist Culture in East and North India after the eighth and ninth century AD came as a shock to the adherents and sympathizers alike in the subcontinent. It was a time when the Hindu state of Nepal had strong Buddhist base of both the tradition oriented Theravada and the more ritualistically oriented Mahayana sects. The Licchavi rulers like Siva Deva, his grandson Narendra Deva and their successors had upheld the tradition of protecting the faith through the works of charity and commitment. Many viharas were constructed for the monks, nuns and practitioners. In the so-called ‘Thakuri’ (also known as early medieval) period one normally finds the continuation of the Vihara culture. The frequently used term in the contemporary inscriptions ‘�. samskaarita vihara �’ against the name of the rulers of the period can be construed as a ‘renovated and/or consecrated’ monastic complex. Even at a time when the general polity of the period seems at a low ebb in terms of national unity, integrity and consolidation, both the Hindu and the Buddhist cultures flourished well indicating that people, not the rulers, are the real architect and saviors of a culture.

The sudden fall of the Indian Buddhist culture in India played an important catalytic role in transforming the status of the Viharas of Kathmandu into lively and dynamic academic institutions. Those scholars, students and practitioners came to Nepal in large numbers, many of them crossing the Himalayas to go to Tibet in quest of a new audience. The Nepal/Tibet cultural relation added more feathers in the hat in the form of Nepal-India-Tibet cultural relation under the umbrella of Tantric Buddhism. There were exchanges of visits as religious campaigns and retreats in the Himalayas, teachings, and buildings of cultural bridges across the Himalayas. Nepal always was the platform for the most of these activities.

The Viharas of Kahmandu Valley, mostly of Kathmandu and Patan- became the hub of lively, dynamic and self-sustained academic activities. Mahayana-Vajrayana schools flourished as tantric Buddhist philosophy, rites and rituals and art and architecture progressed unabated.

Whither the past glory?
Whatever happened to the glorious history, tradition and culture of the Viharas of Kathmandu with the coming of the more successful Malla rulers? It is a crucial question. The Vihara culture seems to be on the wane gradually after the coming of the house of Jayasthiti Malla to power. The Mallas were great devotees of Taleju, their tutelary deity, besides Vaishnavite and Saivite deities. The early medieval period saw the viharas under the leadership of highly honored and accomplished scholars and saints of the time. Such leadership did not emerge under the later Mallas. Gradually therefore the viharas lost the dynamic cultural tradition including the exchange of visits by renowned scholars and saints. Tibet already had what it achieved from Nepal in terms of religion, philosophy, art and culture – both tangible and intangible. By the time the Mallas lost their power to the Shah of Gorkha, a religious faith based on non-violence did not add to the aspiration of the new nation. It was in fact the other way round � the ruling elites believed that a nation can be larger and stronger through a sweeping wave of violence � war against the smaller, weaker nationalities, that is.

By this time, therefore, Tibet became the center of Tantric Buddhism with scores of religious centers, the Gompas, a strong religious ruler, and the entire population following him, his decrees and way of life. The West, oblivious or unaware of Nepal’s valuable contribution to Tibet’s quest for Buddhism in earlier times saw the Buddhist faith practiced in Tibet and forgotten in Nepal as ‘Tibetan Buddhism’, the art as Tibetan Art, Tibetan Paintings, and so forth. Today, all the historic viharas of the Kathmandu Valley live only a small percentage of the glory and cultural dynamism with very little or no serious effort to revamp their glory and reconstruction of the past either by the government or by the community of believers. On the other hand, the viharas (gompas) of the Tibetan Mahayana tradition here in Kathmandu are full of activities.

Immediate needs
In order to reorganize the historic Vihara culture of Kathmandu, the Sangha, which the Buddha took great effort to build, drive and direct needs to regain its lost life, and give new life to the culture that was the identity of the Buddhist Newars of the Kathmandu Valley, ONCE UPON A TIME. A fully committed Sangha can make things happen which even the government cannot. Few Viharas are now organizing activities to re-enliven the past activities. This is not enough. What needs to be done, then? The concerned Sangha members must find answer to this question. But one can always suggest, as follows:

– First of all, create an environment that was there in the early times,
– Plan a complete renovation with fitting decoration inside and outside
– Make all preparations for the monks to dwell in them
– Strengthen the vihara-sangha relation in functional manner
– Conduct academic programs in the vihara on regular basis
– Buddhist universities open their research-discussion wings in the premises
– Celebrate their birth anniversary on regular basis and dig the history
– Keep the maintenance in good shape

Finally
It might take a Herculean effort and task to rebuild the glory that was once there and bring back the dynamism these centers once enjoyed and were known for by people and culture far and wide. The lesson learnt is: You do not inherit a culture in the way you inherit paternal property/asset. A culture requires participation, reflection and the attitude of belongingness. But for this you cannot revive a culture.

And for this all to happen in the near future, we should all pray. Because -We need the Buddha, so simple, so charismatic and yet so caring!

We cannot imagine a Buddha with an SLR in hand. For Buddha and his followers, war is obsolete. Buddha was a revolutionary in terms of creative thoughts and their positive impact on human life.

His peaceful fight was against injustice, inequality, discrimination and selfish action. But the war that is waged today is different in dimension and impact. Therefore, it should never come even in the imagination of the people. Faith can win people, guns cannot. The Viharas can protect faith and thus the people.

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