The Bouddha Dharmapithamu, a four-storey building is the brain child of Venerable Andhra Analayo, and apparently is the first Buddhist Centre in a Hindu populace West Godavari District in the state of Andhra Pradesh, about three and half hour drive from Visakhapatnam airport.
The foundation laying ceremony for the construction of the Buddhist Centre on May 12th 2014 was collectively presided by Venerable Andhra together with invited monks from India, Malaysia, Singapore and Sri Lanka. The consecration ceremony was graced by the district legislative assembly members together with local and foreign well-wishers and donors.
The construction progressed with earnest in tandem with funding arrangements. Two storeys were completed within a year and a soft opening ceremony on May 23rd 2015 marked the milestone of the progress targeted to complete in 2017.
With the partially completed but inhabitable Centre six samaneras were adopted and initiated to continue the lineage of the sangha under the tutelage of Venerable Andhra Analayo not only received monastic training but also secular education at the nearby Government Primary School, No: 1 at Undrajavaram.
The Main Shrine Hall and Roof Garden
At the invitation of Venerable Andhra Analayo, Brother Hing Seng Huat and I visited the Centre from November 23rd to 27th 2016. The main agenda was to contribute and share ideas to furnish the Main Shrine Hall on the fourth storey. A five-foot marble image of Lord Buddha was envisaged and to be sourced from Mandalay, renowned for its marble image sculpturing industry.
Venerable Andhra Analayo will visit Mandalay on December 29th 2016 to select and commission the sculpturing of a desirable main image. In addition he will also commission the sculpturing of the image of the twenty-eight past Buddhas for adoption by devotees and well-wishers. They will be installed on the roof garden.
The four- storey building with its mainframe structure completed with the third storey partially furnished, and still in progress. Brick-laying works on the fourth storey for the partition of the main shrine hall and the various rooms like a gallery are well in progress.
Adjacent to the Main Shrine Hall will be a room designated to be a gallery for display of Buddhist artefacts and memorabilia and also serve as a museum, as the Centre will also serve as a resource centre for research and academic works.
The surrounding walls of the Main Shrine Hall and the gallery will be illustrated with murals on the Life of the Buddha and His 45 years’ of ministry. Mr Jeetesh More, a renowned local artist on Life of Buddha paintings has been commissioned to paint the walls with selected scenes, to complete before the consecration ceremony target at the end of 2017.
Our advice was sought on the selection of floor tiles for the Main Shrine Hall for which we recommended white marble slabs as a preferred choice which is cooling and aesthetic.
For floor tiles for the common corridor areas with open verandhas on every floor which are venerable to rain water non-slip tiles with safety concern prevails over aesthetic consideration. It also goes with non-slip tiles for the steps of the stairs.
Basic Monastic Trainings
The six samaneras (novice monks) aged between eight and thirteen, having resided at the Centre for almost a year, are well guided by Venerable Andhra Analayo. They are Kovido (age 13); Aggadhamma (age 8); Revata (age 12); Dhammasukha (age 10) and Mahindo (age 12). Besides daily chanting they do the daily household chores like making tea, cook meals, doing laundry, area cleaning and any other ancillary chores. All of them also attend secular school at various grades at a nearby Government Primary School No 1 at Undrajavaram.
In the evening some of them practise their chanting in the small shrine hall on the second storey.
To help to save costs and to expedite in the construction the six samaneras and Venerable Andhra Analayo, during their free time tasked themselves, helped out in the construction and rendered whatever manual work possible to complete the project.
As the vicinity is predominated by Hindus, going on alms round for food may not yield any fruitful result. However, to keep up with the Buddhist tradition and to create awareness to the neighbours, they perform alms round once a month at 5:30 am. Hopefully over time alms round will be a familiar sight in the new neighbourhood for them to do good deeds.
Reaching out and Rendering services to the Mass
During our stay Venerable Andhra Analayo was invited for blessing and consecration of an image of Lord Buddha by the devotees of the village of Gudimellanka, East Godavari District. The sacred occasion was graced by Mr Gollapalli Suryarao, Member of Legislative Assembly, Rajole Region.
The blessing of the image was done on land which attracted a large congregation. The blessed image was then lifted and placed on a raft and transported to a platform and installed on a pedestal in the middle of a lake. The consecration took place on the platform attended by selected members and VIPs only due space constraint on the small platform. Thereafter, devotees, donors and well-wishers were then allowed on the platform to pay homage to the Buddha.
Steeply entrenched in Hindu tradition, the tying of coloured threads as blessing is a popular ritual and is a desire of every devotee. Venerable Andhra Analayo was very obliging but due the sure magnitude of the congregation did his best, though many were not able to receive it.
Lunch was served to the congregation at the site for the congregation, while our entourage was invited by members of the Assembly to dine at a nearby restaurant. “One who respectfully gives timely food to those self-controlled ones who eat what others give, provides them with four things: life, beauty, happiness and strength. The man who gives life, beauty, who gives happiness and strength, will obtain long life and fame wherever he is reborn.” A.ll.65
It was indeed a noble way to propagate the Dhamma by reaching out to the crowd just as Lord Buddha did during his ministry wandering from places to places to preach the doctrine. “The gift of the Dhamma excels all other gifts. The flavour of the Dhamma excels all other flavours. The pleasure in the Dhamma excels all other pleasures. He who has destroyed craving overcomes all sorrow.” Dhp 354.
Gifts for the School
As the six samaneras who attend the government school free of school fee, it was deemed appropriate to help the children of the school in return.
On a Sunday, they brought stationery to the school for distribution to the children and classmates. Note books, pencils, erasers and sharpeners were among the popular items for them.
It was indeed gratifying to see the glow and happiness on faces of the children and shared the joy with them. It was also a good training opportunity for the samaneras to do dana as part of their monastic training perfecting the first parami.
On our departure day we were invited for lunch at the home of Venerable Andhra Analayo’s parents together with the samaneras. It gave an opportunity to the samaneras to observe and learn the protocol of acceptance of a lunch invitation. The donors having served the food, the sangha will perform a short chanting before consuming the food in silence and mindfully. After having partook the meal Venerable Andhra Analayo delivered a short discourse to the audience.
Invitation for home dana enables the samanaeras to practise and learn the protocol of acceptance.
This was an explorative trip to assist in the furnishing of the Main Shrine Hall and reviewed the progress of the construction target for completing by the end of 2017 and be ready for the grand consecration ceremony.
As the construction is still in progress we would like to thank donors, devotee and well-wishers from Singapore who contributed $10,000 toward the building funds.
We would also like to thank donors, devotees and well-wishers from Medan who contributed US$1,000 towards the expenses for the education of the six samanaeras.
Last but not least a big thank you to donors who contributed 60 kgs of candies, chocolate bars, stationery, beverages , dried provisions and miscellany.
We departed from Visakhapatnam Airport on November 26th on a flight at 10:55 pm and arrived at Singapore Airport on November 28th at 5:50 am.
It was a tiring journey but a well-befitting trip to see the progress of the construction of the Centre and to know the welfare of the samanaeras who are in the good care of Venerable Andhra Analayo. Besides receiving basic monastic training they also attend secular school.
We look forward to visit the Centre in 2017 for the grand consecration of Bouddha Dharmapithaum.
Sadhu! Sadhu! Sadhu!
Contributor: Chin Kee Thou
Date: December 3rd 2016.
N.B. Text, photos and video clips by contributor who takes responsibility for any inadvertence, factual or otherwise.