Saturday, May 17, 2008

Konch

Apart from the more well-known places, Bihar has hundreds of other Buddhist sites virtually unknown to anyone except the local people. Ferreting out such places is one of my hobbies. Last year during my annual trip to India I decided to go to Konch which has been on my list of ‘must sees’ for a long time. Viraj, I and a couple we had just met in Bodh Gaya, Frank and Kateri, set off early for the long drive to Konch which is about 35 kilometers north west of Gaya. It was a lovely morning and I saw lots of birds - several Indian Rollers, milk-white herons and for the first time a pair of Open-billed Storks, sithilahanu in Pali. The village of Konch is built on the top of a low mound which is highest on its eastern side. We took the car as far as we could through the village until the streets became too narrow and then parked and got out and walked. A crowd of curious villagers gathered and followed us down the road. Soon we arrived at the edge of the village where the temple is. I have only ever seen one photo of the temple, taken in approximately 1870, so it was a bit of a shock to see it now. Like so many of India’s architectural treasures, it has been ‘renovated,’ destroying much of its original appearance. The pujari was busy doing his daily devotions and when finished he came out and talked to us. Unusually, he proved to be well-informed about the history of the place and was delighted that strangers would come such a long way to see it. His polite and respectful attitude towards us meant that none of the more mischievous village boys would get rowdy, something which can happen in more remote villages and which can be a real problem. After chatting with him for a while we had a look around. Other than its curving lines, the temple’s spire is very similar to that of the Mahabodhi Temple. The triangular opening in the spire is identical to the one in the Mahabodhi Temple as is the arched ceiling in the inner chamber. Some people, me included, believe the temple was originally a Buddhist one and represents a later evolution of the Mahabodhi Temple. Inside the temple’s first chamber are two dozen Hindu images, some of them very fine and all dating from the Pala period. But what interested me most was outside around the outer wall of the temple – a dozen or so Buddhist images, mainly Buddhas, but one of Tara and several of bodhisattvas. All of them dated from between the 9th and 13th centuries and had been badly damaged, probably sometime after the Islamic period. There are lots of carved fragments too. Whichever iconoclasts came this way certainly did a good job. I have been unable to identify Konch with any of the place names mentioned in the Tipitaka so it probably has no association with the Buddha. However, it is on one of the two ancient roads (the northern one) that led from Gaya to and Varanasi and Garjanapati (modern Ghazipur).

3 comments:

PeterAtLarge said...

Yes, SD, an interesting site. I'll plan to check in more often when I return from my month away, on a busy trip to Europe. Meantime, I've left word for my assistant to include you on my blogroll. Thanks for stopping by at The Buddha Diaries!

footiam said...

Interesting place, this conch. Wish I was there. The present looks so new. I wonder if it will fall into ruins if it is not renovated.

Jayarava said...

Hi

Above you say "Open-billed Storks, sithilahanu in Pali."

I'm translating the Cūla-Māluṇkyaputta Sutta (M 63) and trying to find a source for equating sithilahanu with the stork. Ñāṇamoli and Bodhi also translate it as 'stork'. But the word only occurs here and neither MA or MṬ help. It's not in PED as this, nor in DOPN. The Sanskrit equivalents do not seem to mean 'stork' either. So in what source does sithilahanu mean 'stork'?

Hope you can help.