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Last updated: November 27, 2002

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Bodhgaya's sacred Mahabodhi in danger
By Dilrukshi Handunnetti, 16 March 2003, (Sunday Leader). The sacred Bodhi at the world's most venerated and significant Buddhist site of pilgrimage, Bodhgaya is dying with officials concerned turning a blind eye. Located on the banks of the Neranjana River in sacred Bodhgaya in Southern Bihar, the Bodhi tree is infested with mill bugs that are sucking its sap. The sacred pipal tree has never been cared for in a scientific manner. And it has begun to show. Ex-officio Chairperson, Bodhgaya Temple Management Committee (BTMC), Brijesh Mehrotra was recently reported as having said that the infection occurs annually, but that it was particularly bad this year. An expert in zoology explaining the damage told The Sunday Leader that young mill bugs fed on tender twigs while older bugs hid in the bark, secreting substances which support fungal growth. The sacred Bodhi tree associated with the Gautama Buddha's enlightenment which serves as an inspiration to millions of Buddhists the world over, continues to suffer as the management refuses to go beyond the technical committee suggestions. UNESCO's technical support is necessary since the site was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site last year. Devotees blame bad administration and the managers blame the 'unhealthy rituals of devotees' for the destruction of the sacred tree. President, Mahabodhi Society of Sri Lanka Ven. Banagala Upatissa Thero, said that if the need arises, the society would not hesitate to request the BTMC to request UNESCO for support to help preserve the ancient Bodhi. Regional Director Patna Agricultural Research Institute A.K. Singh, headed a committee which inspected the Mahabodhi in October 2002, and identified the problem as the result of the daily offerings made - yogurt, oil, sweets, ghee and milk. The problem is compounded by the lighting of oil lamps and candles at the base of the tree. Tying of cloth on the Mahabodhi is another practice that is being criticised, as it prevents the bark from breathing. The committee recommended removing the offerings of cloth regularly to allow the bark to breathe, and also to paint the trunk and main branch with a combination of lime, copper and sulphate. Pesticide use has been strongly recommended, though most Buddhists seem uncomfortable with the idea of killing. "It is better to prevent bugs from breeding than to kill them," say devotees. It has also been suggested that cuttings from the 2,500-year-old Sri Maha Bodhi in ancient Anuradhpura be taken to Bodhgaya. UNESCO declared the entire Mahabodhi temple complex a World Heritage Site on June 27, 2002 and the sacred Mahabodhi is an integral part of it. According to UNESCO, the state parties and the management committee manage sites and monuments. " In the event of alteration UNESCO has to be kept informed. We could also offer technical assistance if requested," says Programme Officer UNESCO Prithi Perera. He says no such request has been made so far. Ven. Banagala Upatissa Thero says that if this were the case, the Mahabodhi Society would be happy to make the request to conserve this most sacred of trees.

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Texts and Translations © Peter G. Friedlander unless otherwise indicated.