I had my three-month secondment in September-November 2015 in India at the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), New Delhi. Looking back from the time distance of more than one year to this period I only can wonder how intensive it was full of academic work, lecturing, visits, meetings, mini expeditions etc. many of the impacts and outcomes only being in the process of developing and maturing.
It was not my first visit to India. Due to my academic interests in Indian religions and culture I have studied and researched some 30 years I had had few trips and expeditions in this country earlier and generally knew what India is and did not face much surprises or culture shock there. But this was my first experience to live a longer period of time in the genuine vibrant Indian urban neighborhood sharing my everyday life with local Indians from which I learned a lot what I didn’t know or even expect before.
As my formal host institution – the Centre of History at the School of Social Studies (SSS), JNU – left me freedom to arrange my time I gratefully used this rare opportunity and made my schedules by myself. Mainly I shared my time between writing and reading and trips outside New Delhi, lecturing, making contacts, sightseeing, and simply enjoying the thousand-faced Indian life.
The height of my time in India undoubtedly was my two-week expedition to Bihar and Varanasi to visit famous historical sites connected with life and activities of historical Buddha more than two thousand years ago. I visited them first time and all of them – Bodhgaya, Sarnath, Rajgir, mountain peak of Ghridrakuta, ruins of ancient monastic university Nalanda – surpassed my expectations. A new exploration for me was the Jethian Valley or Buddha Valley, an ancient pilgrimage road between Bodhgaya and Rajgir, where you literally in every step can stumble on the remains of ancient stupas and artefacts. The day I spent there with my wonderful guide Deepak Anand from the Nava Nalanda Mahavihara University visiting sites and meeting with local people was unforgettable.
From the thousands of photos I shot there I compiled a photo exhibition „Buddha’s Footprints in Bihar“ in my home institute in Tartu that was open more than six months in the first half of 2016. The pictures exhibited there are still available online as well, unfortunately with explanations only in Estonian language: http://www.eao.ee/pildid/buddha-jalajaljed-biharis/
Another valuable contact and co-operation project was established with a private Hindu university – Dev Sanskriti University – in the holy city of Haridwar. I visited that institution twice invited by very enthusiastic pro-vice-chancellor of it Prof. Chinmay Pandya. My deepest bow to him. During my visits, I wondered how profound Hindu religious spirituality has harmonically merged with modern scientific approach in research work and educating people there inspired by the late visionary and holy man Shriram Sharma. I hope this is the most viable vision for the future India. Last, but not least, this private Hindu university is first in India which has established its own Centre of Baltic Culture and Studies in order to advance Baltic studies and I am happy to contribute in this work.
I may continue my story in many pages as all the impressions, meetings, conversations seem to be unnecessarily important to express and share but I stop here and express my deepest gratitude to SPeCTReSS administration, to hosts and colleagues in JNU, to all Indian people I met there for offering me such a wonderful and unforgettable opportunity and experience.