| The Balijan Buddha Vihar. Telegraph picture |
Jorhat, Jan. 24: A golden-coloured religious treatise (dharma puthi), an upper garment of a Buddhist monk (sibar) and a small barrel-shaped wooden box gifted by the Burmese during their invasion of Assam in 1822-24 — treasured by the Balijan Buddha Vihar and a prime attraction for tourists — are no longer on display because of a decision taken by elders of the village, based on “superstitious beliefs.”
Upset by the decision taken about a month ago, Amritananda Mahathera, the Buddhist monk in charge of the Buddha Vihar in the Titabor subdivision along the Assam-Nagaland border, said this would affect tourist flow into the area.
“Last month, I turned away many disappointed visitors from the shrine, among which were a group of 17 students from Central College, Jorhat, who waited the whole day for my arrival and had to leave disappointed late in the evening without being able to view these things as my hands are tied by the decision,” the priest said.
Mahathera, the president of the All Assam Buddhists’ Association, said the decision was whimsical.
“A few persons of the village, who suffered some misfortunes, had visited an astrologer and were told that this was because of some bad omen. The village elders suspected that public display of the religious treatise was causing bad luck and hence, banned its display,” he said.
The priest said the elders had also decided to display the treatise on particular auspicious days, like Maghi Purnima or Buddha Purnima. “But tourists usually don’t know about this, or are unable to schedule their visits on these particular days,” the priest added.
Nandi Shyam, one of the village elders, while affirming this, said, “We would like these things to be displayed in a showcase, and not to be touched by all and sundry. Some provision will have to be made for this.”
The Tai Khamyang Buddhist community, residing in three villages — Betbari Shyam Gaon, Balijan Shyam Gaon and Na-Shyam Gaon — inhabits the area around the vihar.
The government has taken up an ambitious project to attract tourists to the site. A six-bedroom tourist lodge, a library-cum-museum, a conference hall, kitchen, dining room and water supply scheme are under construction within the complex of the Buddha Vihar. The boundary wall has already been built.
The story goes that Burmese soldiers, led by their commander Mini Maha Tilwa, while pillaging every place they crossed in Assam, spared the three villages on coming to know that the villagers were followers of Buddhism, the same religion that the Burmese themselves followed.
The priest of the Buddha Vihar was gifted with a stone statue of Buddha, the golden-coloured religious treatise, the box and the garment.