The true situation inside the Mahabodhi temple in Bodhgaya

by Bhiksuni Ratana, The Buddhist Channel, December 18, 2007

I would like to comment on the forced resignation of the head monk of the Bodh Gaya Temple Management Committee (BTMC), Ven. Bodhipala, and on the suspension of Public Relations Officer Bhajju Yadav, in the article "Priest accused of chopping Bodhi tree forced to resign" as published by IANS on December 16, 2007.

I would like to do this by drawing attention to the activities of the president of the Akhil Bharatiya Bhikkhu Mahasangh (All India Monks Association - AIMA), Badant Anand et al and will give a rough outline of events as of the year 2002, from which year onward I gathered some information.

This saga begins on March 19, 2002(1) when Abdul Qadir hastily writes a very lucid contribution for the Times of India on an upcoming "three-day conference of monks between 23-25 March, 2002" organised by Bhadant Anand (1983, the year of my first lower ordination) and his organisation (that changes name over time).

To understand Anand's position though, we must go to a 21 November 2002(2) contribution to the Times of India by the same Abdul Qadir. In this article Qadir writes that Bhadant Anand, issuing from the Ambedkarite Buddhist Community in Nagpur, entered the Bodh Gaya Temple Management Committee (BTMC) "in the early nineties", that is, probably after October 1992 when Anand's organsation held a "Mumbai - Bodh Gaya (via Delhi) rath yatra" in order to further their stand on the Mahabodhi management issue. Subsequently Anand is appointed as a member of the BTMC together with two friends: the Japanese Surai Sasai, a former member of the lay movement the Soka Gakkai - who ordained himself into a Theravada style monkhood, and another Nagpur monk Bhadant Prayasheel. Qadir spreaks of "the troublesome trio". The Nov 21 article indicates that Anand by that time is no longer on the BTMC board.

The Times of India, the March 19 article, reminds the reader of the fact that Anand's organisation's raison d'Ítre is a refutation of the Mahabodhi Temple Management Act of 1949 that states that the Mahabodhi Temple shall be managed by a nine member body in which 4 Buddhists and 5 non-Buddhists (i.e. Hindus). Anand and his friends desire that the Mahabodhi Temple shall be managed by Buddhists only. Bhadant Anand's honeymoon in the BTMC seat is therefore soon over. He recognises that he

"literally (has been) taken for a ride" by the then chief minister Lalu Prasad Yadav in accomodating the trio into the BTMC", and thus silencing them - they're in the plot and cannot possibly agitate against their own BTMC management position.

Anand breaks free, and makes up for his perceived error by militating with ever increasing fervor for the handover of the temple to Buddhists, i.e. to him and his brethren. On September 14, 2004(3) the same Abdul Qadir mentions the removal of Bhadant Prayasheel from the BTMC. On that occasion Anand accuses "former Bihar CM Lalu Prasad Yadav of betrayal, and accuses him of appointing "his own casteman (Kalicharan Yadav) to the prestigious post of the secretary", a post held by Anand's ousted friend Prayasheel.

Back to Nov 21, 2002.(2) On that day the mentioned Qadir says that "Bhadant Anand, general secretary of the All-India Monks

Federation and the Bodh Gaya Mahabodi Vihar All-India Action Committee, has threatened to disrupt the proposed Kalachakra puja, tentatively scheduled for the second week of January next year, if the demands of the neo-Buddhists are not met. (Neo-Buddhists is the Indian media mantra when it comes to Ambedkarite Buddhists.) "The demands" are a handover of the management of the temple to Buddhists solely, "an effective ban on footwear entry into the shrine and rehabilitation of the monks who were relieved from temple duty last January following a scuffle between two groups of monks."

On July 31, 2004(4) IANS reports "a non-bailable warrant for the arrest of a top official of the Mahabodhi temple," administration secretary Kalicharan Yadav, "on a private complaint of cheating and criminal breach of trust filed by a hotelier." The hotelier in question is not mentioned by name, but we may be assured that Bhadant Anand et al are behind the arrest, and that they are after a management crises in the heart of the BTMC.

Then in 2006/2007 we see the blown out of proportion case around the alleged chopped off branch of the Bodhi tree behind the Mahabodhi temple. An IANS report of December 16, 2007 says that "A Buddhist monk, Arup Brahmachari, had filed a criminal complaint against officials of the BMTC in June this year alleging that they had ordered a branch of the tree to be cut.
The name brahmachari generally is used for a cultivator who's position is somewhere between laymanship and monkhood.

In a published email, by Bodhgaya News, somewhere around july 2007, a monk who calls himself Priyapal Bhante, writes to "Ven. Dr. Lam, President of the International Buddhist Federation" in Lumbini, Nepal, and says that:
"this is to inform you that a case has been filed by Arup Brahmachary, a young roaming Hindu monk / novice, in the court of the hon'ble Chief Judicial Magistrate, Gaya, in connection with illegal cut of a live branch of the holy Bodhi Tree a few months ago. Arup is about 31 year old, may be originally from West Bengal, and residing in different places of Bodhgaya for the last a few years. He also raised a voice of protest in the recent past against the NGO activities in Bodhagaya, specially about their financial mismanagement.

The DM of Gaya, Secretary, Sri K. Charan Singh Yadav, Bhante Bodhi Pal & PRO of the Bodhgaya Temple Management Committee [BTMC], are the named accused in the case. However, the news got now widely covered here by the local media. This is for your information. Yours Priyapal Bhante."

Nevertheless, on December 16, 2007 (5) IANS says that "Gaya District Magistrate Jitendra Srivastava, who is the ex-officio chairman of the Bodh Gaya Temple Management Committee (BTMC), issued orders for the suspension of Public Relations Officer Bhajju Yadav. 'Temple chief priest Bhadant Bodhipal's resignation has been accepted,' Srivastava told IANS Sunday over telephone. Action against ex-officio secretary of BMTC Kalicharan Yadav is likely to be initiated soon."

Ven Bodhipal is accused of ordering the the chopping of the branch of the Bodhi tree in order to sell it and fill his own coffers, a preposterous thought, if you ask me.

The same article says that Bhadant Anand's organisation, now called the Akhil Bharatiya Bhikkhu Mahasangh (All India Monks Association) had "demanded the arrest of the three officials", and that "he warned that they would resort to protest if the three were not arrested."

Therefore the entire issue around the chopped branch of the Bodhi tree is in the eyes and minds the ousted Ambedkarite monks but a pretense to create havoc among the BTMC. All they want is to take over, by any means whatsoever.

It should be mentioned that Qadir mentions on September 14, 2004 that Anand and his friends contemplated a "cyber campaign to catch international attention towards the non-fulfilment of government assurance on the temple issue and also to project Kalicharan Yadav, the (then) BTMC secretary in unfavourable light." We may say that they succeeded in catching attention. The Buddhist portals worldwide catch each and every word of "the troublesome trio".

I wish to add that to my mind the branch of the Bodhi tree has not been chopped off at all. The break does not show the traces of chopping or sawing, but of snapping. The tree is old and ill, and this is what trees do in the hot season, they shed branches in order to survive. I'm sure the snapped off branch ended its life under some cooking pot.

(1) Times of India, March 19, 2002
(2) Times of India, 21 November 2002
(3) Times of India, September 14, 2004
(4) IANS, July 31, 2004
(5) IANS, December 16, 2007