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While in McLeod Ganj, I also saw the annual Buddha Purnima festival around the Tsuglagkhang complex. It marks the day of the Buddha's enlightenment at Bodh Gaya, Bihar. Since the Buddha is also a member of the Hindu pantheon—a slick retrofitting job by the Brahmins made him the 9th avatar of Vishnu—thousands of pilgrims, ascetics, and other poor Hindus descend from surrounding areas to pay homage or to collect alms. A few even arrive after multiple days of travel. I saw many severely disabled people here, including lepers with festering sores (some had also been cured of this easily curable disease; though leprosy rates have declined in India because of govt. programs, talking to the patients reveals the social stigma that still surrounds leprosy and the sad persistence of misinformation about it). Buddhist monks start their celebrations at midnight with chants and prayers and donate generously with open arms. This vast, deeply affecting, and uniquely Indian drama that unfolds is over by the evening with the visitors returning home. [—23 May 05]
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