Mahabodhi temple images replaced?


GAYA, India -- The world famous Mahabodhi Temple premises — a World Heritage site — besides having the sanctum sanctorum, Lord Buddha's footprints, the enlightenment tree and the Muclind Sarovar, is also dotted by Stupas all around the area.

According to Buddhist scholar P C Roy, these Stupas — some of which date back to the Mauryan period — are called Votive Stupas and were erected by the kings and nobles as symbols of fulfilment of their wishes.

The Stupas also carry rare Buddha images commanding a very high price in the international antique market. And, it's precisely because of this, these images have always been covetously eyed by smugglers and idol thieves.

For the last several decades, allegations have been rife that the original Buddha images were removed from these Stupas and other parts of the shrine structure and replaced by similarly-looking fake images. Leaders of the neo-Buddhists, including All-India Monks Association general secretary Bhadant Anand, have raised the issue of alleged image theft time and again.

When Rajbala Verma was the Gaya DM-cum-chairperson of the Mahabodhi Temple Management Committee (MTMC), a proposal was mooted for comprehensive documentation of the sacred shrine to record everything worthwhile. But for reasons unknown, the proposal remained just that -- a proposal. The issue cropped up once again in July last year when the issue of alleged cutting of a branch of the sacred tree had created a storm.

Three photographs, showing these Stupas — minus the apparently removed Buddha images —were dropped at the residence of this TOI reporter. An anonymous caller subsequently confirmed the receipt of these photographs without disclosing his identity. As the photographs appear to be genuine, it is all the more shocking and alarming. Asked about the allegations of clandestine removal of original Buddha images and their replacement with fake ones, Gaya DM Jitendra Srivastava said the as the ASI has been doing the repair work on the temple complex, it would not be possible for him to make a categorical statement in this regard.