Buddhist monks rue BJP's claim over Mahabodhi temple

New Kerala, Aug 24, 2005

Patna, India -- Angry Buddhist monks have threatened to expose the Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) motive behind its claim over a temple in Bihar's Bodh Gaya, saying that they would not allow another Ayodhya-like incident to recur.

"We would launch a campaign to expose the BJP's attempt to convert the holy Mahabodhi temple into a Hindu temple and mobilise opinion across the country and abroad against the evil design," Bhante Anand, president of the influential monk body Akhil Bharatiya Bhikkhu Mahasangh (ABBM) told IANS Monday.

Buddhist monks were stunned by the attempt by BJP leaders and workers, including a former legislator Prem Kumar, to forcefully enter the Mahabodhi temple to offer "jalabhisekh" (holy water) at the disputed pedestal.

Buddhists believe the pedestal to be the part of a broken Buddha statue, whereas the Hindus claim it to be a Shiva 'linga'. "Buddha is a reincarnation of Hindu god Vishnu and the shrine equally belongs to the Hindus, so we wanted to offer holy water but were not allowed," Kumar said.

"It is an injustice to Hindus and so we would again come to offer holy water," he said.

Anand said BJP's attempt to forcibly enter the temple had hurt religious sentiments of Buddhists worldwide but it was a calculated move by the party.

"The Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), Bajrang Dal and BJP have been trying to project Buddha as reincarnation of Vishnu but this was first time that such an attempt was made that can turn the dispute into an Ayodhya-like situation," Anand said.

He warned the BJP that Buddhists would sacrifice their lives for the sake of the 1,500-year-old Mahabodhi temple.

Bhadant Nagarjun Surai Sasai, president of the All India Mahabodhi Temple Liberation Action Committee (AIMTLAC), has also expressed his shock and condemned the BJP leaders' claim.

"Their (BJP's) attempt to offer prayers was a part of their age-old conspiracy to establish claim over the temple," said P.C. Roy, a Buddhist leader in Bodh Gaya.

Roy, however, lauded the timely intervention of the district administration and efforts of the police that foiled BJP's attempt to enter the temple.

The BJP leaders were taken into custody for violation of prohibitory orders promulgated in view of disturbance of communal peace. The temple ownership is vested with the state government while its management comprises a committee of nine members nominated by the government, with a Hindu district magistrate as its chairman.

Buddhist monks have been demanding that its entire management be handed over to them instead of being headed by a Hindu. As per the 1949 Temple Management Act, a Buddhist cannot become chairman of the committee as the post is reserved for a Hindu. If the district magistrate happens to be a non-Hindu, the state government has to nominate a Hindu.

The site is significant because Buddha is believed to have attained enlightenment under a banyan tree called the Bodhi tree.

UNESCO declared the temple a world heritage site in June 2002. It attracts hundreds of tourists every day from across the world.