kalachakra 2006
Sermon by the river

Amaravati, tucked away on the banks of the Krishna in Andhra Pradesh, is the venue for Kalachakra 2006, an event of great spiritual significance for the Buddhists,
Ramesh Kandula

Amaravati is closely associated with Dhanyakataka, where the Buddha first revealed the Kalachakra
Amaravati is closely associated with Dhanyakataka, where the Buddha first revealed the Kalachakra

An ancient carving depicting a scene from Buddhist scriptures
An ancient carving depicting a scene from Buddhist scriptures. — Photos by P. Anil Kumar

Kalachakra is a Buddhist tantric practice, the empowerment for which has traditionally been given in Tibet to large gatherings of people. People who wish to engage in meditation during the Kalachakra ceremony need to be initiated into the practice by receiving guidance from a qualified teacher and practitioner, who can ‘empower’ the audience. The Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, will be giving the empowerment for the 30th time in his life at Amaravati in January 2006.

Amaravati, 45 km from Vijayawada and 330 km from Hyderabad, is closely associated with Dhanyakataka, where, the scriptures record, Gautam Buddha first revealed the Kalachakra. The location of grandest stupa in Southern India, Amaravati has a long association with Buddhism, since the times of Ashoka’s reign till its decline in the 14th century. When the Chinese monk Hieun Tsang visited the area in the 7th century, the stupa and the elaborate structures surrounding it, were already decrepit, but he observed about 20 Buddhist monasteries in the area with about 1,000 monks in residence.

Nagarjunakonda (Nagarjuna Hill) near Amaravati is associated with the great Indian Buddhist master Acharya Nagarjuna, whose teaching was crucial to the emergence of the Mahayana Buddhism. The nearby Nagarjuana Sagar Dam and the Nagarujuna University are an acknowledgment, in the modern times, of the Buddhist influence in the region.

Kalachakra was first taught in India the year following the Buddha’s Enlightenment. Kalachakra empowerment is traditionally given on request of groups. In view of the sanctity of the venue for the Buddhists, the Busshokai Centre of Kanazawa, Japan, had requested the Dalai Lama to give the empowerment at Amaravati. Busshokai, which means ‘Buddha Nature’, is a small Japanese group focused on the study of Tibetan Buddhism, especially the Tantric tradition.

The last Kalachakra Empowerment was given at Toronto, Canada in March, 2004. The main organiser of the Kalachakra is Norbulingka Institute, which is based in Dharamsala, Himachal Pradesh. Norbulingka Insitute is dedicated to the preservation of Tibetan culture in its artistic forms. The Institute is named after the Norbulingka in Lhasa, Tibet, which was the Summer Palace of the Dalai Lamas and the venue for the first Kalachakra given by His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama in 1954.

A statue of the Buddha from the ruins
A statue of the Buddha from the ruins. — Photo by P. Anil Kumar

While the event started on January 5 and will run till 16, many programmes during this period will largely concern the Dalai Lama and his assistants from the Namgyal Monastery and will often take place privately within the Kalachakra Temple tent. However, there are events almost every day, wherein the public can participate.

Thousands of Buddhists and followers of the Dalia Lama, including Hollywood actor Richard Gere, are expected to attend the event from all over the globe. Delegates are expected from 48 countries — from Argentina to Uruguay — for the 12-day ceremony. In view of the relatively remote location of the site, a temporary city of tents is being erected at Amaravati to accommodate the pilgrims. The temporary city will include a wide variety of accommodation from very simple to luxury air-conditioned models and will also feature medical centres, shops and restaurants.

While prices start from Rs 2,600 for a budget accommodation for 14 days, the luxury tents will cost as much as Rs 1,24,000 per person. Styled on tents from the colonial era, the luxury suites have spacious interior including a tastefully furnished bedroom, private bathroom complete with towels and toiletries and verandah. Camp attendants will be on call to attend to the needs of the occupants. Facilities in the camp include 24-hour security, power backup, traditional Tibetan physicians and also conventional medical support.

There is a registration fee of US$10 to offset the costs involved with the organisation of this event. However, Indian residents and the Himalayan region can register at the subsidised rate of Rs 5.

"We are expecting 1,50,000 devotees from all over the world, all of whom can be accommodated here," said Karma Ngobud, the deputy project manager at Amaravati.

The Government of India, the state government and the Central Tibetan Administration are investing substantial funds and resources to facilitate arrangements for the Kalachakra 2006. The Andhra Pradesh government has acquired 180 acres on lease for the smooth conduct of the event at Amaravati, and is spending about Rs 50 crore for various facilities in the area including connecting roads, road widening, sanitation, electrification, medical services and drinking water. A helipad is being prepared for use of VIPs.

Even as the event is underway, Amaravati is buzzing with activity with Tibetan artists and artisans engaged in erecting many-coloured tents, while the government officials are busy in creating basic infrastructure for the global event.

The highlight of the Kalachakra 2006 at Amaravati is the magnificent tented structure, designed and created by the Norbulingka Institute. It is from this holy tent that the Dalai Lama will give the Kalachakra Empowerment. Never before has a Tibetan-style tent been attempted on this scale, say the organisers. This is believed to be the largest and most impressive Tibetan tent to be constructed until now.

The tent will be raised over a three-tier stage, measuring 67ft x 55ft. The frame will be hung with 1100 metres of waterproof canvas and the 13 roof panels will be decorated with traditional Tibetan appliqu in 11 colours. The whole construction will be topped by a 35-ft-high golden roof fabricated from wood and gold canvas. The finials on the roof will be gold-plated and the traditional Buddhist deer and dharma wheel on the lower canopy will be of painted wood.

The Dalai Lama will transmit the Empowerment from a carved wooden throne, made from intricately carved wood by artisans at Norbulingka Institute. The throne took 15 people three months to make. The Kalachakra Temple will be open to the public on the final day for a brief viewing before it is dismantled.

The state government hopes to create awareness about the Buddhist heritage of Andhra during the event, utilising the presence of thousands of Buddhists at the event. "We are showcasing the Buddhist trail during the Kalachakra as the state has 104 Buddhist sites that would attract a large number of tourists from South-East and Far East Asia," said Geetha Reddy, Minister for Tourism.