Tradition of Buddha-worship in Mithila, the region of northern Bihar in India

In Mithila, the great philosopher Udayanacharya is credited with refusing Buddhism. It is also said that he eradicated Buddhism from Mithila. There are many stories about this incident of debate between Udayanacharya and Buddhists. Historians have also written this story in a very dramatic language. Reading these fictional stories, the image of a fierce battle between the Buddhists and the Sanatanis emerges.

On the other hand we also see on the basis of written evidence and archaeological evidence that Buddha has got enough respect in Mithila region. Even some fasts and festivals are mentioned in the theological texts in the name of Buddha. Here we will explain those specific festivals, on the basis of which it can be said that even though the anti-Vedic views of Buddhists have been refuted at the philosophical level, but the society had respect for Buddha and Buddhist monks. Here we will also mention those idols which have been found extensively from Mithila.

We should understand from the perspective of history that wherever there are contradictions between two views in philosophy, all those sides are kept only for the investigation of the principle. There are differences of opinion among the various branches of theistic philosophy. Similar differences exist between Buddhists and Sanatanis. Both have mutually opposite views on the existence of the soul. But to imagine intolerance towards each other on this basis would be unfair to history.

In this circumstance we have to assume that such hostile stories were propagated by people who had no concern with the scriptures. They used to accept the common public classical debate in the form of war and later such stories become popular. So to see the reality we will need to look at the written evidence.

In the context of Buddha worship in Mithila, it is clear that in the 8th century Adi Shankaracharya considered Buddha as the ninth incarnation of Vishnu. Since then this concept spread in all the Puranas and the list of Dashavatara changed. Earlier, where Balarama was also recognized as Dashavatara, only Krishna or Balarama remained, and Buddha was recognized as the ninth incarnation. The poet Sriharsha of Naishadcharitam also gave a list of Dashavatars, encompassing Buddha.

Mithila also accepted this concept. In the Karnataka period, Harisinghdev’s Dharmadhikarnika, the chief of religious matter, M.M. Chandeshwara has discussed all the festivals and fasts throughout the year in his magnum opus Kritya-ratnakara, in which he has mentioned two festivals related to Buddha. Although in the rituals given at both these places, Buddha is considered to be an incarnation of Vishnu, but on these occasions it has been said to worship with the mantras of Buddhist canon. The mention of both those festivals is relevant here.

On the seventh day of bright moon in Vaishakh Month

On the day of Vaishakh Shukla Saptami, Buddha idol was consecrated and worshipped. Regarding its method, Chandeshwar has clarified that the worship was done with the mantras of the Buddha and not the Vedic mantras. That is, the method of worship which was prevalent in the Buddhist Mahayana branch was followed in Mithila also. There, on the Saptami date of the Shukla Paksha of Vaishakh month, this festival lasted for three days. In this, temples, chaityas and houses were specially decorated. On the occasion of this festival, a law has been made to welcome Buddhist monks with books, food, clothes etc. Apart from the hospitality of the Buddhists, there was a practice of donating clothes, food etc. to the poor. During this festival, Chandeshwara has also done the law of dancing and singing for three days.

Quotations from Kritya-ratnakara of Chandeshvara

Here Chandeshwara, quoting the Brahmapurana, writes that in the twenty-eighth Kaliyuga, when the Shakyas were corrupted from their religion, then Vishnu incarnated as Lord Buddha and brought the religion into practice again.

अष्टाविंशतिमे प्राप्ते विष्णुः कलियुगे सति।

शाक्यान् विनष्टधर्माँश्च बुद्धो भूत्वाप्रवर्तयत्।

तत्र पूज्यो भविष्योसौ पुष्यादिदिवसत्रयम्।

Aṣṭāvinśatimē prāptē viṣṇuḥ kaliyugē sati.

Śākyān vinaṣṭadharmām̐śca bud’dhō bhūtvāpravartayat.

Tatra pūjyō bhaviṣyōsau puṣyādidivasatrayam.

Mentioning the ritual further on this, he says-

Sarvauṣadhaiḥ sarvagandhaiḥ sarvvabījaiśca sarvvadā.

Bud’dhārcāsnapanaṁ kāryaṁ śākyōktairvacanaiḥ śubhaiḥ..

Arccā pratimā

सर्वौषधैः सर्वगन्धैः सर्व्वबीजैश्च सर्व्वदा।

बुद्धार्चास्नपनं कार्यं शाक्योक्तैर्वचनैः शुभैः।।

अर्च्चा प्रतिमा

That is, with all kinds of medicine, with all kinds of sandalwood and with all kinds of grains, the image of Buddha should be anointed by the Buddha with the above words-mantras.

This legislation was not limited to worship only.

सुविचित्राणि कार्य्याणि चैत्त्यदेवगृहाणि च।

पूज्याः शाक्याश्च यतयः पुस्तकाहारचीवरैः।।

पुष्पवस्त्रान्नदानञ्च देयं दीनजनस्य च ।

त्रिदिनञ्चोत्सवः कार्य्यो नटनर्त्तनसंकुलः।।

Suvicitrāṇi kāryyāṇi caittyadēvagr̥hāṇi ca.

Pūjyāḥ śākyāśca yatayaḥ pustakāhāracīvaraiḥ..

Puṣpavastrānnadānañca dēyaṁ dīnajanasya ca.

Tridinañcōtsavaḥ kāryyō naṭanarttanasaṅkulaḥ..

That is, chaityas and temples should be decorated. Buddhist saints should be respected by giving books, food and chevar clothes. The poor should also be given flowers, clothes, food etc. and this three-day festival should be celebrated with dancing and singing.

M.M. Chandeshwara himself has explained this after quoting this verse of Brahmapuran-

अत्र वैशाखशुक्लसप्तम्यामित्युपक्रमात् पुष्यादिदिवसत्रयमित्यभिधानात् पुष्ययुक्तवैशाखशुक्लसप्तम्यां बुद्धार्च्चादि गङ्गापूजा तु केवलायामपि।

Original Sanskrit quotation from the said book

Atra vaiśākhaśuklasaptamyāmityupakramāt puṣyādidivasatrayamityabhidhānāt puṣyayuktavaiśākhaśuklasaptamyāṁ bud’dhārccādi gaṅgāpūjā tu kēvalāyāmapi.

It is stated here that on the date of Vaishakh Shukla Saptami, if there is a sum of Pushya Nakshatra, then Buddha Saptami festival will be celebrated for three days from that day. But the worship of Ganga will take place on the pure seventh day even without the constellation Pushya. Both the worship of Ganga and the worship of Buddha took place on the seventh day, so removing the doubt, Chandeshwar explained it. This proves its prevalence in the society.

The 12th day of the bright moon in Shravana month

In addition to M.M. Chandeshwar, Vachaspati Mishra has also prescribed the worship of Buddha in the context of Dharani fastival on Shravana Shukla Dwadashi, i.e. the 12th day of the bright moon in Shravana month. Here the method of worship has also been given, in which the law has been made to worship the each part of Buddha with different chants. According to Vachaspati, this method is quoted in the Varaha Purana. At the same time, he has written that the same method has been given in Bhavishya Purana as well.

Confusion created by modern Historians

Here historians have spread confusion saying that in Mithila the Buddha was not worshiped by Brahmins but by Shudras. It is just a runoff to spread tension in the society. There is no indication in the above quote to suggest that Buddha was not worshiped by Brahmins. In fact this Buddha-worship was spread among all sections of the society. So much so, that the respect of Buddhist monks was also an important part of this three-day celebration.

This analysis proves that the worship of Buddhadev was prevalent in Mithila in the 14th century. Therefore, we cannot consider the Buddha-statues found in the archaeological surveys as a wonder.

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