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From the ancient to medieval times, the cultural and
commercial interaction between countries like China, Persia
and India from Asia and European nations on the
Mediterranean sea coast, mainly took place through a 7000
mile long caravan route. Traders, monks and preachers,
nomadic tribes and soldiers on campaigns, travelled on this
very same caravan route.
Even though the caravans carried all sorts of goods, bulk of the
trade was in the items like silks, musk, perfumes, jewels and
decorative glass. Because of this, the caravan route became
known as the 'Silk Route'. This route was in use for at least
three millennia. The main silk route started from Xian in China
and reached the borders of the Roman empire through
Kazakhstan, Iran and Iraq. Another subsidiary or feeder road
came to India via Iran and Afghanistan. Number of taverns and
water points were built on this route for the convenience of the
A famous Archaeological explorer of twentieth century, Sir
Aurel Stein, led three expeditions on the silk route, between
1900-1901, 1906-1908, 1913-1916. Combining the three
expeditions, Stein and his team walked about 25000 miles on
foot. They crossed places like mountain ranges of Kashmir and
Afghanistan as well as deadly deserts of 'Taklimakan’, ‘Lop-
Nor’ and ‘Gobi’ number of times. He faced number of life
threatening situations in his travels. Nevertheless, he managed
to discover many ancient frescoes, banners, books and other
items of significance. Perhaps his most important discovery
was 'Mogao' or '1000 Buddha' caves near the town of Dun
Huang in Gansu district of China. This town was on the old
silk route. Stein came to know about the ancient caves hare and
befriended the self appointed monk 'Wang Uanlu' in charge.
Stein negotiated with this monk and managed to collect a huge
cache of banners and documents from a sealed room in these
In these artefacts obtained from Mogao caves, Stein found an
old book, which could be considered as the most important or a
masterpiece. This book has been printed and published on 11
May 868 (1143 years ago) on a thick and continuous roll of
paper. The printing was done by preparing wooden blocks and
then pressing these blocks on the paper. The book is a form of
a continuous roll of paper about 16 feet long and contains full
version of Diamond Sutra. This Sutra is considered by
Mahayana Buddhists as perhaps the holiest Sutra that was
preached by Buddha himself. In fact the famous Chinese
monk, Xuen Zang had travelled to India in AD 520 by a land
route to translate and take away with him, Diamond Sutra and
other Sutra's in their original form. However we can not really
say whether the Diamond Sutra found in Mogao caves is a true
version of the book or some corruptions have sneaked in again.
At the beginning of this book, there is a hand drawn sketch of
Buddha guiding one of his disciples, Subhuti in presence of
many other monks.
The book,in its original form in Sanskrit, is called
('वज प र स त ' ).
However in short it is known as 'Vajra' or Diamond Sutra. The
Buddhists Sutras or hymns were supposed to be rote learned
and then chanted. Since these were to be chanted, in the
beginning few lines of the text, express instructions were
given about purifying the mouth and the body of the monk
before Sutra can be chanted by him.
A sutra is a sermon spoken by the Buddha. All sutras begin
with the phrase, 'Thus I have heard', and then describe the
place where the sermon was first given. The Diamond Sutra
was originally preached in a park in northern India. The first
few lines of text here also report that there was a large crowd
present, including over a thousand monks. Among them is
Subhuti who asks Buddha to explain to the crowd how to
achieve enlightenment. In the first section Buddha explains
that learning four lines of this text and teaching them to others
would bring Subhuti more merit than if he filled three thousand
galaxies with treasure and then gave it all away to the poor.
This shows the importance of copying Buddhas teachings in
the Buddhist tradition.
A central doctrine of Buddhism is that the material world is an
illusion, and therefore there are no individuals or objects. This
is called the principle of non-duality. And since there are no
people or other living beings, there is really no suffering. In
this text Buddha elucidates this doctrine by asking Subhuti
questions about the 'world'. One of the questions concerns the
number of grains of sand in the River Ganges. 'Suppose', says
Buddha 'there were as many River Ganges as there are sand
grains. Surely, the total number of sand grains in all these
rivers would be immense?' But this is a trick question. Sand
grains are part of the material world and, as Buddha explains,
the material world is an illusion. Really, there are no sand
grains at all, just as there is no River Ganges and no Subhuti.
In the next section, Buddha names his sermon. He tells Subhuti
that their dialogue should thereafter be known as 'The
Diamond Sutra of the Perfection of Wisdom'. The diamond -
'vajra' - is a symbol of indestructibility and power over illusion.
'The Perfection of Wisdom' refers to a larger group of sutras,
all preaching the doctrine that the world is illusory. Of course,
naming the sutra is also part of the illusion, as Buddha points
out. Subhuti is moved to tears on hearing this and
understanding the Buddha’s teaching.
After his return from central Asia, this book was handed over
by Stein to British Museum as per previous agreement between
Stein, Government of India and British Government and has
been lying in their collections for last 100 years. Few days
back, British library has made few of such invaluable books
available in digital form on the internet. Diamond Sutra is one
book from this collection. The original book has been printed
on a paper roll and is to be read by unrolling from left to right.
On the internet this book is available in form of 5 slides. At the
end of the book the publisher of the book 'Vang Jie' has
mentioned that he has published this book " Reverently made
for universal free distribution by Wang Jie on behalf of his two
parents on the 15th of the 4th moon of the 9th year of Xiantong
[11 May 868]".
7 January 2012
Kabul Museum recovers one of the
priceless artifacts from Germany
A sculpture, carved in white limestone and measuring about 12
inches high and 10 inches wide, has been returned to Kabul
Museum in Afghanistan by German Ambassador. It is believed
to have been stolen from the museum during Afghan civil war.
The sculpture is made up of eight figures with two rows of four
figures standing abreast, one missing torso and others without
noses. All the faces are shown turned to left possibly an
audience for Buddha sitting on a throne. The sculpture is
believed to be from 2nd century AD and from the Land of
Gandhara is a mountainous region located below the meeting
point of the Hindu Kush and Himalayan mountain ranges
situated between India, Central and Western Asia, the
geographical location of Gandhara was very favourable for the
development and promotion of cultural interactions across
these regions of the Old World. Gandharan country was rich in
water resources and had dense forests in its various valleys.
The celebrated Chinese pilgrim Xuen Zang, who traveled in
India in 629-647 A.D., mentioned that Gandhara encompassed
the area located on the west bank of the Indus River and
included the Peshawar Valley as well as present day Swat,
Buner and Bajaur. According to Beal’s translation of Xuen
“the kingdom of Gandhara was about 1000 li from east to west
and 800 li from north to south. On the east, it bordered on the
River Sin (Sindhu or Indus). The country was rich in cereals
and produced a variety of flowers and fruits; it also abounded
in sugarcane, from the juice of which they prepared ‘the solid
sugar.’ The capital of Gandhara was Purushapura, now
Peshawar, which was 40 li in circuit in those”
Gandhara was ruled by Chandragupta Maurya, (305 BC), King
Ashoka (272 BC) and later by Kushan kings like Kanishka I
The Gandharn art is almost exclusively religious art devoted to
Buddhism. In Gandhara the great stupas were erected as
shrines for Buddha’s relics and these stupas were profusely
ornamented with Relief panels of Buddhist images, scenes in
the life of the Buddha, stories of the Buddha’s previous lives
(Jataka stories), and ornamental work were attached to the
Gandhara art was very cosmopolitan and a likely product of
cultural interactions because of invasions, immigration,
emigration, diplomatic links, and trade communications
between Greek, Roman, Byzantine,Persian, Central Asian,
Chinese and Indian traditions and styles.
The sculpture recovered by the Kabul museum is a fine
example of Gndhara art showing in minute details the facial
expressions, attire and personal effects of the figures.
Kabul museum is believed to have lost 70% of its original
collection or about 70000 pieces. Afghanistan Government is
making an effort to retrieve as many artifacts as possible.
Too little; Too late!
Anyone, who knows something about Cambodian history,
would heave a sigh of relief, as United Nations backed trial of
Khmer Rouge leaders finally began in Cambodia on 21st
November 2011 after a long delay of 13 years since the death
of the Khmer Rouge supreme leader, Pol Pot, who died in
Mock up of a Khmer Rouge outpost; Mines museum near
The heinous and horrifying war crimes and atrocities of this
regime on the innocent people of Cambodia are unparalleled in
history and would put even world war 2 war crimes committed
by Nazis on innocent Jews, to a lighter shade. Approximately
1.7 million people or 25 % population of Cambodia was
murdered or died of starvation, exhaustion or lack of medical
care as a result of the Khmer Rouge’s brutal regime in one of
the worst genocides of the twentieth century.
It all began in 1975 when Chinese backed Khmer Rouge or the
Communist party of Cambodia captured power in PHNOM
PENH under leadership of Pol Pot. During next four years the
poor people of Combodia were subjected to leave their homes,
work in fields and were tortured at the slightest suspicion of
being anti communist.
If we have a brief look at the Cambodian history of last sixty or
seventy years, we can not record anything else but civil war. In
second world war, Japan captured this country from France.
After the war French returned and were defeated by the
Vietnamese army in Vietnam. Cambodia declared
independence around this time. In 1965 Cambodia broke all
diplomatic relations with USA and allowed Vietnam to open
secret bases to supply ordinance to Vietnamese soldiers
fighting US. This aggravated US and American air force
started bombing targets in Cambodia after 1969.
In 1970 Pro Chinese Government of Prince Sihanouk was
defeated by the forces under control of general Lon Nol and he
captured power. Prince Sihanouk took refuge in China and
formed Khmer Rouge or Communist party to fight the forces
of general Lon Nol, who continued their fight with Vietnamese
forces in Cambodia as well as Khmer Rouge. American war
planes continued to bomb Cambodia. In 1975, Khmer Rouge
defeated Lon Nol forces and assumed power in Phnom Penh.
In 1978 Vietnamese forces again entered Cambodia and
defeated Khmer Rouge. The Vietnamese continued their
occupation for next 10 years and left only in 1989, under
international pressure. In 1991 elections were held and first
civilian Government came to power. During all these civil war
years (1945-1979) Cambodian people continued to suffer
because of battles between various forces, bombings and
landmines. Out of this period, Pol Pot years could be
considered as the worst.
‘Aki Ra’ is an ordinary Cambodian citizen. He was conscripted
by Khmer Rouge at the tender age of 10 as a child soldier. He
says that his parents were killed by Khmer Rouge soldiers in
front of him and he grew up in the Khmer Rouge army camps.
He says further that “ As soon as we were conscripted, we were
given AK-47 rifles with live cartridges. We considered these
rifles as some kind of play things and we had to handle this
dangerous weapon continuously all along our training. These
rifles were of about same height as me at that age and I found it
very difficult to handle these. I learned using these rifles by
targeting fruits on trees and fish in the rivers. Many of my
friend got killed by their own bullets or bullets from the rifles
of their friends because we were not properly able to handle the
rifles. Later I learned to use weapons like Rocket launchers and
mortars in the same fashion. “
‘Aki Ra’ fought along with Khmer Rouge soldiers first and
then against them with Vietnamese soldiers.
Child soldiers of Khmer Rouge with their AK 47 rifles
Having seen with his own eyes the horrors and the anguish of
ordinary innocent Cambodians, he set up an organization for
de-activation of land mines. Along with this his organization
also helps in rehabilitation of children disabled because of land
Mines exhibited at the Mines museum Siem Reap
He has set up a museum of land mines near Siem Reap in
Cambodia and is well worth a visit.
Having suffered so much at the hands of the communists,
Cambodians today show remarkable patience when talking
about this horrific regime. Yet, while talking to them, an
occasional remark of frustration and anger is always heard in
any conversation. At least this was my experience during my
visit to Cambodia last year. Returning again to the trial of the
close confederates of Pol Pot, which began this week, all those
Cambodians who lost their near and dear once, must have
heaved a sigh of relief no doubt. The trial began this week of
85-year-old Nuon Chea, the Khmer Rouge’s chief ideologist
and No. 2 leader; 80-year-old Khieu Samphan, an ex-head of
state; and 86-year-old Ieng Sary, the former foreign minister. A
fourth defendant, 79-year-old Ieng Thirith, was ruled unfit to
stand trial last week because she has Alzheimer’s disease.
When the Khmer Rouge took power in 1975, they sealed off
the country to the outside world. Intellectuals, entrepreneurs
and anyone considered a threat were imprisoned, tortured and
often executed. The charges against the surviving inner circle
of the communist movement include crimes against humanity,
genocide, religious persecution, homicide and torture.
Even though a ordinary Cambodian would be happy at the
commencement of the trial, his true feelings are bound to be “
Too little and Too late” without any doubt.
24 November 2011
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