The Buddhist connection of Hajo in Assam

by S Balakrishnan, The Sangai Express, Jan 5, 2017

Assam, India -- Hajo, 24 kms from Guwahati in Assam, a quite little spot, is said to have connection with Buddhism.

There are various legends associating Hajo with Buddhism. Some claim it to be place where Lord Buddha attained Nirvana and a temple there is believed to contain His relics. Another source says that it could be the last resting place of Guru Rinpoche, Buddhist Guru of Tibetan Buddhism, revered next only to Sakya Muni the Buddha.

Giving credence to the first belief is the name Hajo itself. Hajo could be the corrupt form of Ha-ju which means ‘setting of the sun’. As the belief goes, Gautam Buddha attained Nirvana in this region; pained by His departure from this mortal world, His disciples wept aloud shouting ‘Ha-ju’ (setting of the Sun), and hence Hajo. This is disputed and Hajo is claimed to be a Bodo name, Ha meaning land and Gojou meaning high, as it is a hilly region. It is presently called the Manikuta Hill range.

Another version is that this place is the ancestral home of Hajongs, who are of the Suryawanshi (Surjo bungshi in Hajong), the descendants of Sun and are Kshatriyas. It is believed that they belong to the Indo-Tibetan group of the Mongoloid race and had come down from Tibet to the North-Eastern area of India. Or do they belong to the Indo-Burmese group of the Mongoloid race, as others claim? Hajong could mean ‘descendants of Hajo’.

Hajo is dotted with a number of ancient temples as well as other sacred artifacts. The Hayagriva Madhava Mandir is the most famous temple of Hajo. According to the Tourism Department of Assam Government, this temple was built by the Pala rulers in the 6th century AD on Manikuta Hill.

The present structure was erected by the Koch king Raghudeva Narayan in 1583 after it was destroyed by an invading army. The sanctum sanctorum enshrines the Pancha Madhav, or the five forms of Vishnu. The image of the main deity, Hayagriva Madhab, is at the centre and is flanked by Jagannath and Garuda to the right and Radha Govinda and Basudeva to the left.

Apart from Hindus, Buddhists also consider the temple sacred.
Some scholars attribute a Buddhist origin to the temple based on the row of caparisoned elephants sculpted along the plinth. These, they say, are reminiscent of the animal figures at the Buddhist caves of Ellora in Maharashtra. Except for this semblance, there is no other evidence that this temple was once a Buddhist monument.

Of course, there is a statue of Lord Buddha on the outer wall of sanctum sanctorum, but this is just one of the ten avatars of Vishnu (as it is a Vaishanavite Temple) and no special significance can be attached to it. A few statues have resemblance to the artistic style of Nepal and Tibet, but otherwise there is no concrete, sorry, stony proof to say it is a Buddhist monument. Probably the earlier structure was completely remodelled later at various stages, as indicated above. Some Buddhists are of the opinion that the temple is the site of Buddha’s parinirvana.

Interestingly, I also read from another website that Hajo is the last resting place of Guru Rinpoche (Padmasabhava), the founder of Vajrayana (Tibetan Buddhism). According to this source, Nagarjuna, another disciple of Mahayana Buddhism, is said to have erected a stupa (caitya) in memory of Guru Rinpoche in Hajo around the 1st or 2nd century AD. This memorial, it is believed, was converted into a Hindu temple around the 3rd or 4th century AD.

Whatever be the belief, a visit to Hajo is worth the climbing!