Bodhgayanews One Year Old Today!
Melbourne, Saturday, 15 March, 2003. (Peter Friedlander). Today marks
one year of the Bodhgaya news website. Its been quite an eventful year
as well in Bodhgaya it seems: the Maitreya Statue Project seems to have
relocated to Kushinagar; World Heritage Listing has brought new attention
to Bodhgaya; the Dalai Lama attracted thousands of people to a great
Kalacakra Puja and the Ambedkarite monks attracted widespread attention
to their claim to the temple. One way or another its fair to say that
a years local events clearly show how fast things are changing in Bodhgaya.
How much the hardships and travails of the local people have been changed
by these developments is much harder to say, but it doesn't seem from
following the local news that much has really changed in this regard.
A couple of notes on the website itself, I have renewed my website subscription
and hope to continue the site for another year. Over the last year there
have been over 37,057 requests to view pages on the site, thats an average
of about a hundred pages a day. Another way to look at it is that the
visits have come from some 7,734 or so unique hosts, which is roughly
equivalent to the number of different visitors to the site. So thanks
to all of you who visited and please do keep on visiting as I hope to
continue to provide a similar perspective on Bodhgaya news during the
coming year again.
Tuesday, 2 April 2002. It sometimes seems that people regard Bodhgaya
as a kind blank slate on which development projects and religious activities
can be drawn.
This is far from the case, there are numerous stake holders with an
interest in the future of Bodhgaya.
The following is a brief attempt to illustrate the complexity of the
situation on the ground in Bodhgaya in terms of who has an interest
in the Mahabodhi temple.
The Ambedkarite Buddhists are Indian Buddhists who are followers of
B. R. Ambedkar who was the leader of the untouchable Mahar community
of Maharashtra. He, along with most of his supporters, converted to
Buddhism in 1956. Today there are about seven million Ambedkarite Buddhists.
They control the everyday management of the Mahabodhi temple but now
want outright control.
There are also many Indian Buddhists who are not Ambedkarites. There
are a number of non-Ambedkarite Indian Buddhists in Bodhgaya who draw
their inspiration mainly from South East Asian Buddhist traditions.
There are also non-Ambedkarite Indian Buddhists who are the followers
of S. N. Goenka. Their interests in the temple are in the freedom to
practice in the temple.
There are also many international Buddhists and there are about 26 monasteries
in Bodhgaya from Buddhist countries. These act as guest-houses for the
pilgrims visiting from those countries and support a small group of
monks and nuns who live in Bodhgaya. These include monasteries from,
Burma, Thailand, Japan, China, Korea, Bangladesh and Vietnam. The main
interest of these groups in the temple is ensuring access for pilgrim
groups from their countries.
The Mahabodhi Society was founded by the Sri Lankan Buddhist reformer
Anagarika Dharmapala in the 1890s. Today the Mahabodhi Society acts
as the monastery and guest house for Sri Lankan Buddhist monks and pilgrims.
The Mahabodhi society facilitates access for Sri Lankan pilgrims led
by Sri Lankan monks to the temple compound and is, I imagine, interested
in maintaining this practice.
Many Tibetan Buddhist groups have institutions in Bodhgaya: such as
the main monastery of the Dalai Lama, the Sechen Institute, the Sakya
monastery, the Darjeeling Monastery and the Bhutanese temple. The Root
Institute is the local centre for the Federation for the Preservation
of the Mahayana Trust (FPMT) which is the proponent for the Maitreya
Statue Project. The Tibetan Buddhist community institutions represents
a wide diversity of Tibetan traditions. The main Tibetan interest in
the temple is the desire to practice in its grounds.
In around 1600 or so wandering Shaivite ascetics settled in Bodhgaya
and worshipped at the Mahabodhi temple. For a long time the Shaivite
Monastery (Math) was the dominant landholder in the area and although
since the 1950s it has lost this role the Monastery is still an important
factor in local affairs. The Monastery still runs a number of temples
in the temple compound and has an interest in maintaining this practice.
Gaya is the most auspicious place in Northern India to make offering
for the fortunate rebirth of one's deceased ancestors and hundreds of
thousands of Indians come to Gaya each year to make such offerings for
their ancestors. The traditional Brahmin families who lead the pilgrims
in their rituals are the Gayawal Brahmins. The Mahabodhi temple is one
of the sites at which offerings can be made. The Gayawal Brahmins interests
in the temple centre on the continued use of it as a site for rituals
for the ancestors.
The majority of the inhabitants of Bodhgaya are from the Scheduled Castes
(also known as untouchables or Harijans or Dalits). The Scheduled castes
have little direct religious interest in the temple but are concerned
that the economic benefits it brings to Bodhgaya should reach them as
well as the higher caste communities.
The dominant political group in Bihar at the moment has a power base
in the Yadav communities who were traditionally identified with pastoralism.
Lalu Prasad Yadav, the leader of the RAJD is the most prominent of the
Yadav leaders. The main interest of this group in the temple is in terms
of maximising its potential as a driver for economic development in
There are a large number of members of the Muslim community in Bodhgaya.
The main mosque in Bodhgaya is situated at the South East corner of
the Mahabodhi Temple compound and the main graveyard is to the North
of the Temple. As Muslims they have no direct interest in the temple
but they are concerned that their own sacred sites in the village are
Naxalite is a term used in India to refer to Maoist groups who support
armed struggle to overthrow the state. They are named after the district
of Naxalbari in which the movement began in the 1960s. The main Naxalite
group in Gaya district is the Maoist Communist Centre (MCC) they are
allied with, but not united with, the Peoples War Group (PWG) which
is active in Andhra Pradesh. The press regularly reports on MCC activity
in terms of attacks by them, campaigns against voting and against alcohol,
gambling, prostitution and other activities. They are predominantly
a low caste and untouchable community based movement. They generally
regard religion as a vestige of feudal society which is to be opposed.
High Caste Armies
On the other side from the Naxalites are the high caste armies such
as the Ranvir Sena who are notorious for their massacres of low caste
villagers they suspect of being supporters of the Naxalite movements.
In areas as near to Bodhgaya as Rajgir and Nalanda the conflict between
the Naxalites and the High caste armies leads to massacres but in Bodhgaya
area this does not seem to be the case as yet. It is unclear what attitude
they have to the temple.
Temple Management Committee
All of these groups have interests in the Mahabodhi temple and who controls
it. At present the temple is governed by a 1949 act according to which
there are nine members of a managing committee: four Buddhists, four
Hindus and the District Magistrate who must not be a Buddhist. Any change
in the delicate balance of power in Bodhgaya threatens to upset this
uneasy compromise, and it is within this context that any ideas about
development of Bodhgaya need to be situated.