Zen and the art of living
Buddhism is spread far and wide in Arunachal Pradesh and going with the all-encompassing nature of the religion, various forms of it coexist peacefully in the mountain state
Arunachal Pradesh, which translates to ‘the land of the dawn-lit mountains’, is home to a kaleidoscope of religious practices, doctrines, faiths and myriad forms of worship. Of the many religions practised in the state, the influence of Buddhism is reasonably widespread. It is estimated that about 13 per cent of the population in the state follows Buddhism.
Coexisting alongside its major indigenous religion called the Donyi Polo, Buddhism is believed to have originated here way back in the 8th century. Practised in varying forms including Tibetan Buddhism, it is spread across the state. While the Tawang monastery, which is also the largest in the country, is unarguably the most famous symbol of Buddhism in the state, the Buddhist temples in the capital city of Itanagar bear great significance and are noteworthy.
Gompa (centre of Buddhist culture)
Consecrated by His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama on Dec 15, 1996, the Gompa is located in the heart of Itanagar. It is not only very popular but also a revered site for locals and tourists alike.
A picture of lustrous hues and serenity, the Gompa’s foundation stone was also laid by the 14th Dalai Lama in 1983. Perched on a hill, very close to the Jawaharlal Nehru Museum in the city, it is accessible by a winding road. A colourful arch greets you at the entrance and bright fluttering prayer flags as well as the canary yellow roof of the Gompa make it visible from quite a distance. The murals on the bright red entrance gate are majestic.
With distinct Tibetan influences in its architecture, the complex also houses a stupa done up in hues of white and gold. The intricate carvings as well as the dome of the stupa are awe inspiring. The main temple houses three main idols of Lord Buddha symbolising the Trikaya doctrine which is the basic premise of the Mahayana school of Buddhism. According to this school, there are three aspects of Buddhahood and Lord Buddha has three bodies — the Dharmakaya (truth body), the Sambhogakaya (enjoyment body) and Nirmanakaya (earthly body).
The inner walls of the temple are covered with paintings that are done in vibrant hues and depict the life and teachings of Lord Buddha.
The circumambulatory path around the temple has bright red prayer bells. There is also a large shrine of Buddha in the open. Given that it is located on a height, the views of the capital city from the temple are extremely panoramic.
Theravada Buddhist temple
Located in Vivek Vihar, this is yet another popular place of pilgrimage for Buddhists in Itanagar. One of the oldest forms of Buddhism, Theravada is believed to have been prevalent in South East Asia and is based on the premise that one can attain liberation through the practice of meditation and concentration.
Situated on an elevation, the Theravada temple in Itanagar is surrounded by lush greenery and exudes an ambience of peace and serenity. The magnificent pair of guardian lions painted in golden hues at the entrance is striking. Established in 1992, its inner sanctum has a domed ceiling and a serene idol of the Buddha in the centre.
A key seat of pilgrimage in Eastern India, the Theravada temple is known to celebrate festivals like Buddha Poornima and the Water festival or Sangken with great fervour. The reverberating sound of prayer drums and the chanting of hymns during the celebration of festivals creates an aura that is rather magical yet calming.
While Buddha Poornima marks the birth anniversary of Lord Buddha, the Water festival is a unique tradition that involves washing all the idols of Lord Buddha and cleansing the entire premises with water. It is celebrated usually in the month of April and the auspicious time lasts for a period of 52 hours.
“Water is a symbol of purity and the festival is not only about physical cleansing but also the cleansing of the mind and soul. It is a celebration of peace, friendship and goodwill,” said head monk of the temple, venerable Ratnadeepa.