A clash of faiths is brewing in the seat of Buddha’s enlightenment, Bihar’s Bodh Gaya, where monks are agitating to wrest total control of Buddhism’s most sacred shrine from Hindu managers.
Six monks are on a fast unto death at the Mahabodhi temple. Dissident monks have also threatened a bigger uprising for theological upper hand, prompting Spalzes Angmo, member in-charge of Buddhist affairs at National Commission for Minorities (NCM), to seek the Centre’s intervention.
“We have urged the Centre to take note of Bodh Gaya Temple Management Act 1949, which goes against Article 26 that grants a community-exclusive rights to run its places of worship,” Angmo, who briefed Union home minister P. Chidambaram on the issue on Tuesday, told HT.
According to the act’s provisions, the shrine is to be managed by both Hindus and Buddhists. Under a power-sharing deal, five of the nine members of the temple committee, including the chairman, have to be Hindus.
Following representations from Buddhist groups, the NCM has recommended that the Bihar government amend the Act.
At heart of the conflict is a concern that newer Hindu rituals, allegedly encouraged by local BJP leaders, were diluting Buddhism’s core aspects.
“The temple has now become the favourite site for pindadan, a Hindu ritual for salvation of one’s dead ancestors. Foreign Buddhist pilgrims are often inconvenienced. We want separate timings for this,” Bhatey Bodhcharan, a monk leader said.
He also pointed out that the sanctum sanctorum itself housed a Shiv Lingam, a sacred Hindu symbol. “We should be able to decide where it should be installed,” he said.
Kaliprasad Bodh, another monk, said no other religious institution in the country was allowed to be run by people not professing the faith to which the institution belonged.
Hinduism and Buddhism, both born in the sub-continent, have a long, shared history. Hindus take Lord Buddha to be one of Hindu god Vishnu’s incarnations. Both religions believe in re-birth and the teaching that life experiences come as result of karma, or past deeds.