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Mainstream, VOL LI No 44, October 19, 2013

Trojan Horse in Mahabodhi Temple! Is Babri brewing at Buddhists’ Monastery?

Monday 21 October 2013, by A K Biswas

Multiple blasts on July 7, 2013 in the Mahabodhi Temple, Bodhgaya, Bihar, which is the holiest shrine of the Buddhists and a UNESCO world heritage site, point the finger at the callousness in the security and sanctity of so sacred a pilgrimage centre. The blasts have rightly invited attention of people across the globe in general and Buddhists in particular. The place where Gautam Buddha had attained his enlightenment is visited by tens of thousands of devotees and tourists from home and abroad round the year. They include royalties, Presi-dents, Prime Ministers, besides their envoys, other prominent government functionaries and commoners from Buddhists countries. Visitors to Bodhgaya flow almost like an unbroken stream.

Buddhists have been agitating peacefully for the last 122 years to gain control and management of the Mahabodhi temple and to run it in conformity to their own beliefs and rituals. Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore had way back in 1922, advocated the unfettered right of Buddhists over the shrine, “I am sure it will be admitted by all Hindus who are true to their own ideals that it is an intolerable wrong to allow the temple raised on the spot where Buddha attained enlightenment to remain under the control of the rival sect, which can neither have an intimate knowledge of, nor respect for the Buddhist religion and its right of worship.”1 In 1891, Anagarika Dharmapala, a Sri Lankan Buddhist missionary, launched a campaign for securing control over the Mahabodhi temple held by a Saivaite Mahant. Dharmpala had established the Mahabodhi Society for the revival of Buddhism in the land of its birth.

The Bodhgaya Temple (BGT) Act, 1949 (Bihar Act 17 of 1949) did never recognise or respect the sentiment the Buddhists have for their highest temple under the sun. The temple is actually controlled by their “rival sect” hurting the spirit of secularism as well as fundamental rights enshrined by the Constitution of India. Under the BGT Act, an eight-member Managing Committee (MC) consisting of Indians—four Hindus including “the Mahanth” and four Buddhists, besides the District Magistrate of Gaya, who is the ex-officio Chairman—guide the destiny of the temple. Its stinging proviso unfolds the mindset of the lawmakers of the time that the “Government shall nominate a Hindu as the Chairman of the Committee for the period during which the District Magistrate of Gaya is a non-Hindu”. The lawmakers’ desire for domination of the Buddhists’ shrine by Hindu elements is fully demonstrated therein. “The Mahanth”, according the Act, means the “presiding priest for the time being of the Saivite Monastery at Bodhgaya”.

Interestingly, the Bodhgaya Mahant is an influential local Hindu landlord. The Act intriguingly makes him a permanent fixture of the MC. The management of the Bodhgaya Temple was formally handed over by Mahant Harihar Giri to Dr S. Radhakrishnan, the then Vice President of India, on May 23, 1953.2 Needless to stress, the Mahabodhi Mahavihara was forcibly captured from the Buddhists. So his nagging presence in the MC signifies perpetual Saivite influence in the affairs of the Buddhist shrine even after the BGT Act 1949.

The MC’s duties as per the law are: (a) upkeep and repair of the temple; (b) improvement of the temple land; (c) welfare and safety of the pilgrims; and (d) proper performance of worship at the temple and pindadan (offering of pindas) on the temple land. The law further mandated the Committee (2) to prevent the desecration of the temple or any part thereof or of any image therein; (3) to make arrangements for the receipt and disposal of the offerings made in the Temple, and for the safe custody of the statements of accounts and other documents relating to the temple or the temple land and for the preservation of the property appertaining to the temple; (4) to make arrangement for the custody, deposit and investment of funds in its hand; and (5) to make provision for the payment of suitable emoluments to its salaried staff.

The Secretary is the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the temple. This important office has been held by and large by Hindus save and except on two terms when a Buddhist member was appointed Secretary. Rarely any Secretary has remained free of major scandals and controversies that undermined the dignity and reputation of the shrine, which receives valuable donations/gifts in cash, precious gems etc. from domestic as also overseas devotees. Official reports from Gaya to the government suggested that maintenance of records of gifts and donations was not transperant. The officials concerned with the temple affairs had blatanly abused their power for self-aggrandisement.

The National Commission for Minorities (NCM) communicated the following views to the Bihar Government: “The provisions of the BGT Act, 1949 are not in harmony with the fundamental right enshrined in Article 26 of the Constitution, guaranteeing the right of freedom to every religious denomination to manage their respective religious affairs. Appropriate legal measures should be taken to ensure that all members of the committee entrusted with the management and control of the Bodh Gaya Temple, including the Mahabodhi Mahavira in Bihar, are Buddhists.” This resolution had fallen on the deaf ears of the authorities in Bihar.

Besides Rabindranath Tagore and the NCM, many other sane voices against Hindu domi-nation of the Buddhist temple were raised. Prominent litterateur Rahul Sankrityayan and political leaders tried their influence to bear on the Bihar Government for transfer of the temple to the Buddhists’ hands exclusively. Vishwanath Pratap Singh, Chandrasekhar, Digvijay Singh, Jyoti Basu, Hiren Mukherjee, Somnath Chatterjee, to cite a notable few, had requested successive Bihar Chief Ministers to amend the Act and hand over the temple to its followers.

The Secretary to the President of India, as specifically desired by Dr A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, persistently echoed the sentiments of the National Commission for Minorities in various communications to the Bihar Government. The authorities nonetheless remained unmoved per se. During President’s Rule in 2005, a decisive move was set in motion to amend the Act, involving the Union Government, to redress the grievances of the Buddhists. Ironically the move was stalled by bureaucratic hurdles caused by a former non-Hindu District Magistrate, Gaya.

Bihar’s inability to comply with the provision of the Constitution has eclipsed India’s secular credentials across the Buddhist world. The Bihar rulers have belittled India’s standing as a secular polity in the comity of Buddhist nations. This could cause alarm as well as nervousness in the minds of India’s minorities en bloc. People the world over are least bothered what a provincial government in Bihar does or does not do with respect to the constitutional safeguards of the Buddhists. If Buddhists are denied their constitutional rights to manage and control their own shrine and practise their own religion, the international community would rightly raise the accusing finger at India, not Bihar. And in the face of intransigent vested interests, the authorities have signally failed to enfocre the provision of Article 26 of Indian Constitution in favour of the Buddhists. This justifiably brought a global bad name to the country. And the Indian minorities have, in this background, reasons to feel threatened at the treatment meted out to the peaceloving Buddhists. None of the religious minorities has hitherto submitted to domination in the management of affairs of its religious institutions. The Bodhgaya Temple and Mahabodhi Mahavihara, sadly, are solitary instances without parallel, marked for discrimi-nation. Maybe the peaceful nature of the agitation and amiable character of the Buddhists have been viewed as a weakness to keep them at bay. They do not get the same degree of respect other minorities command. Apathy and neglect of this nature actually, many fail to appreciate, engineers minority militancy.

The Bihar Government has, at long last, amended the BGT Act 1949 on July 31, 2013. The terror attacks three weeks earlier seem, directly or remotely, to have prompted the reversal of the policy. The amended provision authorises the Gaya District Magistrate, even if a non-Hindu, to chair the BTMC. The amendment, however, has fallen short of the expectations of the Buddhists, who have made their dissatis-faction and disillusionment known. The amend-ment is a half-hearted measure. The authorities in the State Government are, however, quite happy over the amendment. The State Govern-ment declared that “the DM is a representative of the government’s secular credentials”. This is a naive assertion. The BJP vehemently opposed the Bill as an unnecessary move.3 This only reiforces the notion that many do not take lessons from history. The room for subversion of the sanctity of the Buddhist shrine remains fearfully wide open.

The government can deliberately appoint a Hindu officer as the District Magistrate for Gaya.4 Besides, a non-Hindu officer as the District Magistrate of Gaya is no guarantee to soothe the frayed feelings of the Buddhists. A non-Hindu, who worked as the Gaya District Magistrate, did not favour the move, as noted already, during President’s Rule in 2005 to amend the BGT Act, address the Buddhists’ aspirations and honour their constitutional safeguard. The succession board shows that 38 officers in Gaya held charge as the District Magistrate between 1949 and 2013. Only five of them were non-Hindus—two Muslims (one held charge for a month), two Christians and one Sikh. During the tenure of K.M. Zuberi (August 1, 1964 to April 4, 1967) the government notified a local Hindu MLA as the chairman of the MC.

The Act has provision for an Advisory Board with a majority of Buddhists “who may not all be Indians”. The Ambassadors of the Buddhist countries like Japan, Korea, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Mayanmar, etc. find place therein. The Board has no power nor is its advice treated with the importance in the management of the temple it merits. The Board’s recomendadtions are not mandatory.

Dark Shadow over Bodhgaya Temple:
Is Repetition of Demolition of Another Shrine in the Offing at Gaya?

Media reports emanating from Bodhgaya are extremely disturbing, to say the least. Gyan Jagat was the chief priest of the Mahabodhi Temple for a long period. A Times of India report says: “The organisation (Vishwa Hindu Parishad) suffered a setback when Gyan Jagat, the Mahabodhi Temple’s superior priest, mysteriously left Bodhgaya in 1992. Gyan Jagat had been part of the VHP think-tank and a member of its Marg Darshak Mandal. Gyan Jagat’s departure was caused by the revelation made about his VHP connections, as till then his VHP association was a closely guarded secret. And ever since Gyan Jagat’s departure, the VHP could not consolidate itself in Bodhgaya.”5 It hardly needs elaboration that the VHP has been heavily breathing down the necks of the Buddhists over their holiest shrine. Their design is monstrous as installation of a rival mole was the result of a conspiracy that awaits full exposure.

The Telegraph, Calcutta in February 1997 reported that “at least 1000 precious artifacts had been stolen from the temple”. According to one researcher, “pseudo-Buddhists, sympathisers of the Hindutva camp […..........] dominate the cultural and spiritual affairs of the Mahabodhi Temple pertaining to Buddhism that has resulted in the theft of precious artifacts from the temple”. Noted Buddhist monks have complained that “most of the idols and stupas were smuggled out when Gyan Jagat, alleged to be a Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh man,........ was the Superin-tendent of the Temple’s Management Committee. Several Buddhist idols and stupas are still being kept in the mutt of the Bodhgaya Mahanth, who happened to be the caretaker of the shrine before the enactment of the Bodhgaya Temple Act, 1949. They also alleged that “Hindu Brahmin priests are responsible for the defiling and looting of some of the original statues of Lord Buddha from the Mahabodhi Mahavihara and that accounts of donations and gifts received have not been maintained properly [….. …..] Moreover, Hindu chauvinists have installed idols of some Hindu gods inside the Mahavihara, including a Shiv linga, in order to dilute and defame Buddhism. All sorts of Hindu rituals and rites are followed inside the Mahabodhi Mahavihar so as to Hinduise and defile Buddhism..... Criminal elements,..... encouraged by the Brahmin priests, misappropriate donations and gifts offered by visitors.”6 This can be overlooked only at the cost of the huge humiliation of the Buddhists. This was possible with the connivance and conspiracy involving high-ups in the local administration.

Jaganath Temple inside Mahabodhi Temple?

If a Shiva linga stealthily installed inside the shrine already is not serious enough an offence to the sentiments of the Buddhists, a VHP apparatchik sometime back unfolded a monstrous plan targeting the Bodhgaya shrine. He wanted a Jagannath Temple built inside Mahabodhi Temple complex on the sly for “bringing the two sects closer”.7 This proposal owes its origin to a retired IPS officer of Bihar cadre, who is the administrator, Bihar State Board of Religious Trusts. He is vested with full Cabinet ministerial rank since 2006. The world’s tallest Hindu temple, that would dwarf the Angkor Vat in Cambodia, is under construction at village Kesaria, East Champaran as a consequence of his initiative. His idea of a Jagannath Temple inside the Mahabodhi Temple is not only shocking but portends danger if history is any guide. “….. the temple of Jagannath is an old Buddhistic temple,” said Swami Vivekananda. “We took this and others over and re-Hinduised them.” Building a Jagannath Temple in Mahabodhi Temple only means a re-run of history. It may be a matter of time.

History holds out a painful illustration how bureaucratic profligacy pandered to communal forces for the installation of idols of the Hindu deity inside the Babri mosque in Ayodhya in 1949 defying all norms and propriety. The Hindu Mahasabha, RSS and their leaders, for example, V.D. Savarkar, N.B. Khare, V.G. Deshpande, Syama Prasad Mookerjee, and the RSS führers had the company of mahants like Digvijainath who is said to be “politically the most cunning sadhu of the twentieth century”. He issued “an open call on January 27 (1948) to kill the Mahatma, at a meeting held in Connaught Place by the Hindu Mahasabha, barely three days before the latter was murdered”. Madanlal Pahwa had made an abortive assassination bid on Gandhiji a week before January 30, 1948 when he fell to the assassin’s bullets.
K.K.K. Nayar, the District Magistrate, Faizabad, virtually betrayed the secular foundations of independent India by colluding with the communal conspirators.8

The District Magistrate himself was present at the site when the idol was about to be installed inside the Babri Masjid in the chilly night of December 22-23, 1949. “He saw to it that the conspirators did not panic and run away, and ensured full police support, throwing all laws, duties and caution to the winds. He even shouted at them to smother any vacillation. He stooped so low as to create conditions so that the Muslims were forced to leave not only Ayodhya but also India itself! He was deprived of his rights to serve in the official posts for the rest of his life. He actually turned up in his true colours in the Hindu Mahasabha conference and later even became an MP on the Jana Sangh ticket.

“The dutiful Faizabad District Magistrate’s telegram to Govind Ballabh Pant, the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, however, read: ‘A few Hindus entered Babri Masjid at night when Masjid was deserted and installed a deity there. District Magistrate and Superintendent of Police and Force on the spot. Situation under control. Police picket of 15 persons was on duty at night but did not apparently act.

“The furious Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru repeatedly wrote to the UP CM to get the idols removed but the local District Magistrate, K.K. Nayyar, did not budge. He later resigned and joined the previous avatar of the Bharatiya Janata Party, Jana Sangh and became a Member of Parliament.” Justice V. R. Krishna Iyer felt the role of judiciary was very suspect, ‘the judiciary will be described as the villain of the piece’.9

Just 43 years after that fateful night, the Hindu fascists razed the Babri Masjid on December 6, 1992 to the ground leaving no trace.

Footnotes
 
1. Abdul Qadir, “Tagore favoured Buddhist control over Bodh Gaya shrine”, The Times of India, March 6, 2013.
3. The Hindu, August 1, 2013, “Amendment allows non-Hindu to head Bodh Gaya temple committee”
4. The Times of India, op. cit.
5. “VHP regains lost ground in Bodh Gaya” by Abdul Qadir. The Times of India, November 22, 2004.
6. Sanjay Kumar Chaudhary, “Buddhists Denied Justice: The Law And The Mahabodhi Temple At Bodh Gaya”, The Telegraph, Calcutta, February 17, 1997.
7. Countercurrents.org, Faizan Ahmad, ‘Artifacts disappear from Buddhist shrine’, July 24, 2011.
8. Anil Rajimwale, Mainstream, Vol. LI, No. 31, July 20, 2013, Book Review, “Ayodhya: The Dark Night, The Secret History of Rama’s Appearance in Babri Masjid” by Krishna Jha and Dhiren K. Jha; Harper Collins.
9. Asghar Ali Engineer, “Ayodhya: Masjid-Mandir Dispute, Towards Peaceful Solution, An E-Digest”, Dainik Jagaran, [Hindi daily], Patna, June 17, 2007.

The author is a retired IAS officer and former Vice-Chancellor, Babasaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar Univrsity, Muzaffarpur, Bihar. For comments and observations, if any, he may be contacted at atul.biswas@gmail.com

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