Bodh Gaya: The low-intensity blasts at the Mahabodhi temple, perhaps the holiest of Buddhist pilgrimage destinations in the world, and other religious sites here this very day a year ago have served to cause fissures in the fragile balance of harmony, not only among the general population, but also amid those who ostensibly promote peace and non-violence. Buddhism’s holiest shrine may now glitter with some 290 kilograms of pure gold atop its dome, but its welcoming arms have been amputated, a literal ‘Berlin Wall’ policed by surly policemen, has alienated the Bodhi tree from the people of Bodh Gaya, they say.
Buddhist clergy and the laymen alike express unhappiness at the ‘insensitive and boorish’ nature of the Bihar police personnel who now guard the Mahabodhi temple. Editor of the Bo-tree news Anagarika Dhamma Priya says, “Fear stalks the ordinary folk living around the temple. Fear of the police. The overwhelming presence of policemen outside and inside the temple is unnerving for many visitors. For the ordinary person without a robe, sitting in contemplation or meditation is difficult, because it is quite likely that you will be accosted by some policeman asking you to move on.”
Of course there was both fear and resentment among the young men, says a young hotelier. “Who isn’t scared of the police? Harassment of young men in the guise of ‘security’ is now commonplace. Before, we would sit till late at night talking and chatting in the small tea shops near the temple. Now, they pack up by 8pm to avoid the unwelcome attention of the Bihar Police.”
RTI activist and Buddhist monk Bhante Priya Pal Bhikkhu from the National Coordination Committee of Buddhist Organizations in India (NCCBOI) mentioned two separate incidents where the Bihar police at the Mahabodhi have manhandled Buddhist clergy. “One incident involved a monk, and another rather ugly one flared up between the policewomen and a Tibetan nun from Nepal. The matter was later sorted out, but it has shown that the Bihar police are inept at handling visitors. That is why NCCBOI have been campaigning for a properly-trained national security force to take over at the temple. The Mahabodhi is not the Taj Mahal, it’s not a mere historical monument, it is a functioning place of worship for lakhs of people across the world,” says Bhante Priya Pal.
The Shanti Sadbhawna Samiti, a group of over 100 citizens from various affiliations, has planned to observe July 7 as a black day, with a daylong fast and a candle march. Says Jose Kariakat of the faith-based NGO Jeevan Sangam, “One cannot just brush aside an incident that has affected the lives of practically every resident of Bodh Gaya, and continues to do so. Mischievous elements tried to make capital of the explosions last year, and it took the concerted efforts of several people and organizations such as the Bodh Gaya Inter-faith Forum, International Buddhist Council, Gandhi Peace Foundation, All India Bikkhu Sangh, PUCL and so on to ensure that the fire of distrust did not burn in our villages.”
Chief monk of the Mahabodhi Temple, Rev. Bhikkhu Chalinda points out that none can fault the state government for protection of the temple. He believes that pilgrims should learn to adapt to the circumstances. “People want to forget the incident of July 7, it was not such a big incident; there wasn’t any major damage. We will have a peace prayer meeting to be attended by the abbots of 50 monasteries from Bodh Gaya, as well as members of the interfaith forum. The DM of Gaya will inaugurate and address the gathering.”
Bhikkhu Chalinda will, however, not take part in the candle march. “I have to perform my duties as chief priest of the temple,” he reminds us.