Buddhists seek control over Mahabodhi temple management

IANS, Mar 28, 2008

Patna, India -- Buddhist monks are upset with the Bihar government for 'deliberately' delaying the formation of a panel for running the Mahabodhi temple in Bodh Gaya, Buddhism's holiest shrine, and want control to be vested with Buddhists.

The Bodh Gaya Temple Management Committee (BGTMC) has been without a head for more than six months. Monks say this is hampering the day-to-day functioning of the 1,500-year-old temple at Bodh Gaya, located about 110 km from here where the Buddha attained enlightenment 2,550 years ago.

The BTMC's three-year term ended Sep 10, 2007, but the Bihar government has not yet issued a notification for forming a new panel. The Gaya District Magistrate, who is ex-officio chairman of the BTMC and was appointed to act as the administrator till a new panel was formed, is running the show.

Bhadant Anand, president of the Bodhgaya Mahabodhi Vihar All-India Action Committee, says the delay is a 'conspiracy' by the government to keep the management under the control of non-Buddhists. 'We fail to understand why non-Buddhists have the control over the holiest shrine of Buddhists. We have decided to take up the issue by lobbying support to demand Buddhist control over the management,' Anand told IANS.

Anand has been leading a pressure group of Buddhist monks for over a decade and a half favouring an amendment to the Mahabodhi Temple Management Act 1949 so that management can be handed over to Buddhists.

'The state government is deliberately delaying formation of a new panel, which shows the level of their concern for the holiest shrine of the Buddhists,' Anand alleged.
He claimed the Bharatiya Janata Party, an ally of the ruling Janata Dal-United of Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, was behind the delay in forming a new panel. 'The government is serving the cause of Hindutva forces by delaying the formation of a new panel because they can hardly tolerate the presence of Buddhists on the panel,' he said.

'If the management of temples, churches, mosques and gurdwaras are not under control of other sects, then why not so in the case of the Mahabodhi temple? Buddhists have been given little role in managing the affairs of the temple since 1949,' Anand, who is also president of the Akhil Bharatiya Bhikkhu Mahasangh (ABBM), an influential body of Buddhist monks, said.

He claimed the non-Buddhist control on the panel was the reason for mismanagement and corruption in the temple. He also charged that rare idols and relics have been stolen and a branch of the holy Bodhi tree had been chopped off.

Another Buddhist monk Pragyadeep, who is associated with the All India Monks Association, said the delay in re-constitution of the BTMC was not good. 'The government should take the matter seriously. After all, the Bodh Gaya temple is sacred to millions around the world,' Pragyadeep said.

Anup Brahmachari, a Hindu monk, supports the demand of Buddhist monks that a new panel be set up. 'I fail to understand why the government is delaying announcement of a new panel,' said Brahmachari. He had filed a criminal complaint against BMTC officials in June last year alleging that they had ordered a branch of the holy Bodhi tree be cut off.

According to the Mahabodhi Temple Management Act 1949, the panel should comprise four Buddhists and the same number of Hindu members for a three-year period with the Gaya district magistrate as its ex-officio chairman and the Mahanth (presiding priest) of Sankaracharya Math (Saivite monastery, Bodh Gaya) as ex-officio Hindu member. The state government nominates a Hindu as chairman for the period when the district magistrate is a non-Hindu.

Despite repeated attempts, Gaya district magistrate Jitendra Srivastava was not available for comments over the reason for the delay.

It has been learnt from official sources in the Gaya district administration as well as the temple that a senior district official has been deputed as in-charge to look after the temple management.

The BTMC has over 75 staff, including 35 daily wagers, who clean and look after the temple.

The Mahabodhi Temple, declared a World Heritage Site in 2002 by Unesco, is visited annually by thousands of tourists, especially from Buddhist countries.

From the 3rd century A.D, Buddhism began to spread outside India, travelling first to Ceylon, now Sri Lanka, and later to Burma or Myanmar, Cambodia, China and Indonesia. It also spread to Korea, Japan, Thailand and Tibet. In 1991, the number of Buddhists in India stood at 6.4 million.