This is second of the two-part series by Dr. Monideepa Das on the Golden Pagoda in Namsai, Arunachal Pradesh. The magnificent Pagoda is a majestic monument sitting serenely in the lap of lush greenery
PART – 2
After a quick shower and change we proceeded to the adjacent premises of the Golden Pagoda Monastery. We made our entry through the back gate as it was closer to the resort. I held my breath the moment I caught the spectacular sight of the Golden Pagoda, spellbound by the magnificence of the majestic monument sitting serenely in the lap of lush greenery and basking in the golden glow of the setting sun.
I gazed in admiration at the perfectly maintained lawns and aesthetically landscaped garden with symmetrically laid out beds of vibrant colourful flowers in full bloom, small ponds here and there loaded with lilies and lotus. I was mesmerised by the rich range of roses, some of which were of the rarest colours and by the sheer variety of exotic orchids at the Orchid Centre.
We walked along walkways of the 20 hectare campus which included a shrine hall, a meditation centre, a guest house, a library, living quarters for novices and monks, a monastery for Bhikkhus, an old-age home and a dispensary.
I was so engrossed in the peaceful and calming beauty of the surroundings that I did not realise when day gave way to dusk. With the lights flashing on it, the pagoda glowed brighter as the night grew darker. It was surreal, straight out of a fairytale.
Built in the Thai-Burmese style of architecture, Kongmu Kham, as the Golden Pagoda is called by Tai-Khamtis, is one of the largest Buddhist monasteries in the North-Eastern region. It has become the iconic symbol of Theravada Buddhism and a major tourist destination in recent times. The World Tripitaka Foundation aims at developing it into the first international Tripitaka centre in India.
A bronze statue of Lord Buddha that was received as a gift from Ven Prakhu Pabhavana, the chief monk of Wat Aranjikavas Temple in Thailand blesses the sanctum sanctorum of the pagoda. We spent several precious and peaceful moments in meditation sitting in the calming presence of the beautiful idol of Lord Buddha.
Thereafter, we walked across to the Noi-Cheynam Meditation Centre just in time to witness the Light and Sound Show of the Musical Fountain. Sitting on the steps and watching the colourful sprays of water dancing to the tune of “Buddhang Saranang Gachhami” was delightfully soothing.
The Meditation Centre houses a 45-feet tall Buddha statue which is acknowledged as the World’s Tallest Buddha Statue made from bamboo. We learnt that the bamboo used to make the idol, obtained locally and from Myanmar was treated to ensure that it would last more than 500 years. The idol was completed in a span of two years by a team of 50 craftsmen from Myanmar.
I sat as if in a trance, in an ambience of serenity and tranquillity that was almost tangible, feeling minuscule in the presence of this colossal masterpiece.
We were quite intrigued by the sight of a tall triangular shaped structure standing in one part of the lawn. It was made of three bamboo poles planted apart and tied at the top to support symmetrically piled fire wood, with colourful fluttering flags giving it the semblance of a stupa. We had earlier seen a similar structure at Chongkham. It reminded us of our very own ‘Meji’ of Magh Bihu.
Curious to know more, we asked a young monk who shared that it had been set up to celebrate the festival Mai Ko Sum Fai which falls on the full moon night of the third month of ‘Nuen Saam’ according to the Tai Calendar, which coincides with Maghi Purnima of the lunar calendar. He added that it would be ceremonially lit at around 2:30 am. We felt very excited at the prospect of witnessing the celebration.
Our dinner that night was at the nearby Woisali Dhaba which serves traditional Khamti cuisine. The place was suggested by my nephew who is a foodie just like me. Like the ethnic cuisines of most tribes of north-east India, Khamti-Singpho cuisine too is marked by the use of indigenous herbs, spices and homemade condiments instead of market bought spices; the other common feature being the absence or minimal use of cooking oil. The dishes are mostly steamed, stewed, boiled or chargrilled.
We ordered steamed sticky rice wrapped in Toraa Paat(a leaf abundantly found in that region), boiled yellow lentils, fish cooked in fermented bamboo shoot, chicken boiled with local herbs, pork stir fried with traditional condiments, dry fish chutney along with assorted vegetarian preparations such as mustard greens, potato and mushrooms. Needless to say, we thoroughly enjoyed the meal.
Before retiring for the night, we set the alarm at 2:30 am and woke up accordingly. Fortunately the resort was well lit and we took quick steps to the Pagoda but on reaching we saw the top part of the tall cone was already in flames. We learnt that this had been done by aiming a burning rocket-like thing to the tip of the structure, similar to how the effigy of Ravana is set ablaze during Dussehra. It was worth waking up in the middle of the night and being a part of the celebration of the festival which included the chanting of prayers along with the sound of drums, cymbals, gongs and the bursting of crackers by the monks.
We were fortunate to meet a Bhikkhu (an ordained monastic) who was kind enough to escort us to the gate. He explained that Mai Ko Sum Fai marks the end of winter and the beginning of summer. He added that the festival is observed with solemnity as it entails paying homage to the momentous events of the final ailing years of the Buddha while he was being cared for by the Licchawi people of Vaishali. The main dish served at the community feast which follows the morning function is ‘Khao Yaku’, akin to the rice porridge that had been served to the Buddha during his illness. We thanked the Bhikkhu for sharing these valuable details before taking our leave.
The following day, soon after breakfast we drove through beautiful landscapes of distant hills, tall swaying trees, vast expanses of paddy fields and tea plantations, past the beautiful Kamlang River, across the scenic hamlet of Wakro to reach Parashuram Kund.
The shrine Parashuram Kund, located on the River Lohit which flows down to become the River Brahmaputra in Assam, is thronged by thousands of Hindus on the auspicious occasion of Makar Sankranti for a holy dip in the ‘kund’ as it is believed to wash away one’s sins. According to Hindu mythology, Lord Parashuram, the sixth incarnation of Lord Vishnu had committed the heinous crime of killing his mother Renuka at the command of his father Rishi Jamadagni.
Soon afterward, pleased with his obedience, his father granted Parashuram a boon with which he promptly brought his mother back to life. However, the axe he had used to kill her remained stuck to his hand as a reminder of the odious crime he had committed. The repentant Parashuram travelled across the country from one river to another with the hope of washing away his sin and finally reached this part of the Lohit River where the axe got detached the moment he washed his hands in it. Thereafter the spot came to be known as Parashuram Kund. One has to go down 360 steps to reach the Kund and there is a temple dedicated to Lord Shiva and another to Lord Parashuram.
Some say that one should refrain from taking a dip if one or both parents are alive. Hence we were content to enjoy the panoramic view and absorb the enchanting beauty of lofty mountains, the gushing River Lohit and the holy Parashuram Kund from the bridge over the river.
We finally left Namsai around noon, with deep contentment and many golden memories in our hearts.
Photographs by Sikha Borah
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Dr. Monideepa Das, with a Post-Graduate degree in Medicine from Assam Medical College Dibrugarh, she is a Physician by profession and a homemaker by choice. Penning down thoughts, ideas, experiences and travelogues is her passion. Travelling and cooking are her other deep interests.