Lone man searches for 2600-yr-old Buddha spirit in north Indian ruins

by Sanjay Sharma, Times of India, May 17, 2011

CHANDIGARH, India -- A rural Hindu boy found peace sitting in Buddhist ruins around historically important Yamunanagar, his hometown, when he felt low during his engineering pursuit from Kurukshetra University.

Sidhartha Gauri, 35, like the Buddha, found hope thinking of revival of degenerated structures around his town. Prince Sidhartha-turned Buddha`s spiritual quest started when he saw death, disease and old age and the Buddha got answers to his quest 2600 years ago on this day.

While collecting pictures of such sites, an idea occurred to Gauri of making a documentary to capture the plight of the historically important sites. It took three years to make the 22 minute long documentary "Dhammashetra The Lost Land of Buddha".

As he started researching on the ruins, he found too many of them across the country, mostly in Haryana.

Gauri was, however, shocked to know that nothing much was happening for conserving the heritage that is so important for world peace, tourism, diplomatic and economic ties of India.

Despite his film being shown on Doordarshan international, he launched a website "thebuddhistform.com" to attract attention of the world towards the plight of Buddhist heritage in India. The website is attracting one lakh visitors every month, mostly from America and Russia.

His efforts to draw attention of Indian government brought him disappointment as nothing has happened on the ground.

Gauri, however, started getting recognition from the international community as last month he had a meeting with Magsaysay award winner Sri Lankan Gandhian Dr A T Ariyaratne to save Buddhist heritage in north India. Barely managing funds from family and friends for his cause, the Yamunanagar youth is planning to visit all Buddhist countries to drum up support for his cause. First international screening of his film was done in Sri Lanka last month. He was invited to the celebrations of the 2600th year of Buddha`s enlightenment in the island nation.

"My name and my work on stupas have almost made me a Buddhist in the eyes of the world despite retaining my Hindu belief close to my heart," Gauri told The Times of India.

Gauri has already written letters to all 700 MPs to save Buddhist heritage in their areas and sent 21,000 signatures to the President for saving stupas.

Whether there is a controversy on Chaneti stupa being spoilt during the conservation or villagers demanding return of the Ashokan pillar from Delhi to Topra village, Gauri is in the forefront.

Talking to TOI, Gauri said, one of the biggest challenges for his campaign came when he found out that Jammu and Kashmir has a large number of Kushan period remains and it was from here that Buddhism went to Bamiyan in Afghanistan. But one courageous Kashmiri Muslim Siraj-ud-din Salam of Kashmir Humanity Foundation stood by him and launched a signature campaign in Kashmir to save the Buddha.