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Buddhists fight for control of Mahabodhi temple
Anand Mohan Sahay in Patna
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April 17, 2008 11:34 IST

The holiest shrine of Buddhism -- the 1,500-year-old Mahabodhi temple in Bihar's Bodh Gaya town does not have a panel to look after its management for the last over seven months.

Delay in formation of a new panel of the Bodh Gaya Temple Management Committee's by the state government led by Nitish Kumar raised eyebrows among Buddhist monks, who have been fighting for Buddhist control over the management of the temple at Bodh Gaya , about 110 km from Patna, where Gautam Buddha attained enlightenment 2,550 years ago.

In the absence of a proper panel to look after its management, the temple has been facing difficulties in coping with day today affairs.

This has led to anger among Buddhist monks at Bodh Gaya. "The state government was deliberately delaying the formation of a new panel. That itself shows its concern for the holiest shrine of the Buddhists" Bhadant Anand, president of the Bodhgaya Mahabodhi Vihar All-India Action Committee, said.

The BTMC's three-year term got over on September 10, 2007, but the state government has yet to issue a notification for the formation of a new panel.

At present the Gaya district magistrate, who is ex-officio chairman of the BTMC, and was appointed to act as the administrator till the formation of a new panel by the government, is running the temple.

Anand told over telephone that the government was delaying formation of a new panel under pressure from the Hinduvta forces to mismanage the temple for its vested interests.

He said that Bharatiya Janata Party, which is ruling ally of Chief Minister Nitish Kumar in Bihar, was behind delaying the formation of a new panel. "The government is serving the cause of Hinduvta forces by delaying the formation of a new panel because they don't tolerate the presence of Buddhists in the panel," Anand added.

Anand demanded the immediate formation of a new panel by the state government. "The government should come with fresh nomination of members of the BTMC," he said.

Anand leads the Bodhgaya Mahabodhi Vihar All-India Action Committee, a pressure group of Buddhist monks agitating for over one and a half decade to hand over the management of the temple to Buddhists by amending the Mahabodhi Temple Management Act 1949.

He said it was a conspiracy that the management of temple was 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 the issue differently by lobbying, mobilising and protesting for Buddhist control over the management," he said.

He blamed non-Buddhists for mismanagement and corruption in the temple. He also charged that rare idols and relics had been stolen and a branch of the Holy Bodhi tree was chopped off.

According to the Mahabodhi Temple Management Act 1949, a management committee comprising four Buddhists and the same number of Hindu members is constituted for a three-year period with Gaya DM as its ex officio chairman and the Mahanth (presiding priest) of Shankaracharya Math (Saivite monastery, Bodh Gaya) as ex-officio Hindu member.

The state government nominates a Hindu as chairman for the period when the DM is a non-Hindu.

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

Despite repeated attempts, Gaya DM Jitendra Srivastava was not available for comment over the matter.

However, it was learnt from official sources in the Gaya district administration as well as in the temple in Bodh Gaya that a senior official of the district had been deputed as incharge to look after the temple management.

The BTMC has over 75 staff including 35 daily wagers, who are engaged in cleaning and maintainance of the temple premises.

The Mahabodhi Temple was declared a World Heritage Site in 2002 by the UNESCO. Thousands of tourists including foreigners, particularly from Buddhist countries, throng the temple annually.

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