India: Buddhist cry for temple reins

The telegraph, India, Dec 19, 2009

New Delhi, India -- The National Commission for Minorities has written to the Centre and the Bihar government to put Buddhists in sole charge of managing the Mahabodhi temple in Bodh Gaya, where the Buddha attained enlightenment 2,500 years ago.

The NCM has also asked the state government to amend the Bodh Gaya Temple Act, 1949, as it feels the law is not in harmony with Article 26 of the Constitution.

The article guarantees every religion the right to establish and maintain a religious institution. Under the existing law, four Buddhists and four Hindus should be on the Bodh Gaya temple management committee. The panel’s tenure is for three years and the Gaya district magistrate is its ex-officio chairman.

“The NCM is of the view that the 1949 act should be either amended or repealed so that the temple management is vested exclusively with Buddhists. We have taken up the case with both the Union and the state governments,” said Spalzes Angmo, a Buddhist member of the commission.

The NCM, she added, was planning to visit the temple, built by Emperor Asoka but forgotten for centuries before Alexander Cunningham, an archaeologist, found it buried under layers of soil and sand in the late 19th century.

Buddhists have for long been demanding control of the management of the 2,200-year-old temple.

“If the management of temples, churches, mosques and gurdwaras are not under the control of other religions, then why should we have Hindus on the managing committee of the Mahabodhi temple,” asked Anand, a Buddhist leader.

who has been campaigning for exclusive Buddhist control of the shrine.

Community leaders say the government has been “deliberately” delaying an amendment and have formed a Bodhgaya Mahabodhi Vihar All-India Action Committee to champion their cause.

“We have launched a membership drive to induct new people into our fold and will open offices of the committee at different places in the country to mobilise support for our agitation,” said a member of the action committee.

Buddhist groups are also unhappy with the way the temple, which was declared a world heritage site by Unesco in 2002 and attracts tourists from across the world, is being maintained.

“The temple is considered to be one of the holiest shrines of Buddhism but the way it has been maintained is a shame,” said Anand.

One of the major sources of tourists to the temple is Buddhist-majority Mongolia, whose government has approached Delhi with a plan to set up a monastery near the shrine.
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