Historical EvidencesSculptures

Resident Rendezvoyeur: Place for Peace

Sunlight filters in through the branches of the Peepul (Ficus religiosa) tree in the compound of the secluded Buddha Vihar building`est.1907’ in Fraser Town. The foundation stone however, was laid on 17th December 1933 by Sardar Bahadur Captain R Kothandapani, a military man and practising Buddhist. Mr. Mohan of the Bengaluru Buddhist Society explains that “the Sakya Buddhist Society was initially at other locations; Haines Road and near Ulsoor Lake, before being established here in 1907.” He points to an old building in the compound. “The new building came up in 1933.” He adds that his grandfather was the Society’s secretary in 1913. The modest building with Gothic style windows and a pillared portico has a prayer-meditation hall with floor seating and a large serene statue of the Buddha inside. It is now maintained by the Sera Jey Monastery in Bylakuppe. Mohan says that his Holiness, the Dalai Lama visited Buddha Vihar in 2008 to commemorate its centennial anniversary.

Many other significant things happened in 1907. Pandithar C. Iyothee Thass r (1845-1914), prolific Paraiyar writer-reformer, rationalist, Tamil Siddha physician, pioneer of the Tamil Dalit movement and founder of the Sakya Buddhist Society started his newspaper `Oru Paisa Tamizhan’ (later just Tamizhan). Buddhist writer, monk-reformer Srimath Anagarika Dharmapala wrote an introduction for “The Essence of Buddhism” by Prof.Lakshmi Narasu who had lectured in Bengaluru at Mayo Hall in 1927. Colonel Henry Alcott of the Theosophical Society passed away. All three men were closely acquainted with Pandithar Iyothi Thass. All four names feature in the history of South India’s Buddhist revival and the story of this building.

The Mysore Gazetteer, Vol I recorded that early Pali writing and Asokan edicts indicate that Buddhism was established north of Mysore from around 3rd century BC. Asoka’s son, Mahendra and a daughter founded a community of Buddhist monks and nuns in Ceylon, while a cutting of the sacred Bodhi tree of enlightenment was also sent across to the island from Gaya.

According to noted writer-historian AR Venkatachalapathy, the Mylapore born Iyothee Thass (Ayodhi Dassar), originally named Kathavarayan, studied Buddhism intensely during the seventeen years he spent in the Nilgiri hills. While continuing to challenge the prevailing caste system in multiple ways, the fiery activist developed an increasing conviction in the truths of Buddhism. He then sought out Theosophist Henry Olcott in June 1898 and with his assistance, set sail a month later to receive `diksha’ from the Sinhalese monk, Bhikku Sumangala Nayake at Pandura, Sri Lanka. Accompanying him was P Krishnaswamy, a teacher at one of Olcott’s `free schools’ in Madras.

Iyothee Thass returned to found the Sakya Buddhist Society (South Indian Buddhist Association) in Royapettah, Madras. The Society went overseas to Burma and South Africa and was established closer to home by an associate, Pandit Appaduraiar in 1927 at Marikuppam and Champion Reefs, Kolar Gold Fields (KGF) where there was a significant population of Tamil Paraiyar miners. Iyothee’s disciple, Raghavan had been delivering discourses here since 1903.

When Babasaheb Dr.BR Ambedkar toured South India’s Buddhist communities from 7th-14th July 1954 (he was ordained in 1956), his memo dated 19th July, 1954 mentions that Mysore already had three Buddhist centres, including KGF and one in Fraser town that were over thirty-forty years old.

The location in Fraser Town could have perhaps been due to its proximity to the little Bengaluru East station. Trains from KGF passed through on their way to the Cantonment station nearby. But that’s pure conjecture.

What I can confirm however, is that the Buddha Vihar continues to offer space for quiet reflection, even in these conflicted, dissonant times.The writer is a cultural documentarian and blogs at aturquoisecloud.wordpress.com

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