The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Southeast microcosm in Bodhgaya

Bodhgaya, Jan. 11: From above, it looks like waves of saffron around a splash of maroon and yellow. Get closer and you walk into a mini “southeast” Asia where more than 50 stalls are dishing out Thai, Japanese, Korean, Indonesian, Malaysian and Chinese cuisine.

On the eve of the Kalchakra festival, the biggest religious gathering of Buddhists worldwide, Bodhgaya has been decked up. Lamas in their saffron and burgundy robes are everywhere, while a giant maroon and yellow shamiana has been erected on the eastern flank of the Mahabodhi temple to accommodate over 10 lakh Buddhists.

In a large podium, the Dalai Lama will conduct “mass initiation” rites with 11 priests from Dharamshala, headquarters of Tibet’s government-in-exile. The 17th Karmapa, Ugyen Thinley Dorje will accompany him.

“The Kalchakra (wheel of time) is an attempt by the spiritual leader to help disciples open up their minds to the teachings of the Buddha through force of prayer, blessings, mantra, devotion and meditation,” said Sonam Dagpo of the department of information and international relations of the Tibetan government-in-exile. At least one lakh Buddhists will be ordained.

Among the guests from Hollywood, Richard Gere has confirmed his participation, though stars like Goldie Hawn and Steven Segal have not. Tibetan officials said Hawn and Segal “might drop in at the fag end of the festival when the crowd thins”.

Tourists from western nations are keeping up the flow along with those from Thailand, Korea, Japan, Indonesia, Malaysia and China. And gorging on the oriental bill-of-fare.

Stall-owners said indigenous variants of sushi (a Japanese dish) are the flavour of the season. Three stalls selling Sri Lankan coastal delicacies are also a hit.

Tight security arrangements have been made for the 12 days of the festival ending on January 22. The Gaya police chief said two paramilitary contingents have been deployed in addition to Bihar Armed Police platoons patrolling the town.

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