Open Learning Buddhist Studies
Bodhgaya News
Founded: March 15 2002
Last updated: November 28, 2006
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Bodhgayanews One Year Old Today!
Melbourne, Saturday, 15 March, 2003. (Peter Friedlander). Today marks one year of the Bodhgaya news website. Its been quite an eventful year as well in Bodhgaya it seems: the Maitreya Statue Project seems to have relocated to Kushinagar; World Heritage Listing has brought new attention to Bodhgaya; the Dalai Lama attracted thousands of people to a great Kalacakra Puja and the Ambedkarite monks attracted widespread attention to their claim to the temple. One way or another its fair to say that a years local events clearly show how fast things are changing in Bodhgaya. How much the hardships and travails of the local people have been changed by these developments is much harder to say, but it doesn't seem from following the local news that much has really changed in this regard. A couple of notes on the website itself, I have renewed my website subscription and hope to continue the site for another year. Over the last year there have been over 37,057 requests to view pages on the site, thats an average of about a hundred pages a day. Another way to look at it is that the visits have come from some 7,734 or so unique hosts, which is roughly equivalent to the number of different visitors to the site. So thanks to all of you who visited and please do keep on visiting as I hope to continue to provide a similar perspective on Bodhgaya news during the coming year again.

Tuesday, 2 April 2002. It sometimes seems that people regard Bodhgaya as a kind blank slate on which development projects and religious activities can be drawn.
This is far from the case, there are numerous stake holders with an interest in the future of Bodhgaya.
The following is a brief attempt to illustrate the complexity of the situation on the ground in Bodhgaya in terms of who has an interest in the Mahabodhi temple.

Ambedkarite Buddhists
The Ambedkarite Buddhists are Indian Buddhists who are followers of B. R. Ambedkar who was the leader of the untouchable Mahar community of Maharashtra. He, along with most of his supporters, converted to Buddhism in 1956. Today there are about seven million Ambedkarite Buddhists. They control the everyday management of the Mahabodhi temple but now want outright control.

Indian Buddhists
There are also many Indian Buddhists who are not Ambedkarites. There are a number of non-Ambedkarite Indian Buddhists in Bodhgaya who draw their inspiration mainly from South East Asian Buddhist traditions. There are also non-Ambedkarite Indian Buddhists who are the followers of S. N. Goenka. Their interests in the temple are in the freedom to practice in the temple.

International Buddhists
There are also many international Buddhists and there are about 26 monasteries in Bodhgaya from Buddhist countries. These act as guest-houses for the pilgrims visiting from those countries and support a small group of monks and nuns who live in Bodhgaya. These include monasteries from, Burma, Thailand, Japan, China, Korea, Bangladesh and Vietnam. The main interest of these groups in the temple is ensuring access for pilgrim groups from their countries.

Mahabodhi Society
The Mahabodhi Society was founded by the Sri Lankan Buddhist reformer Anagarika Dharmapala in the 1890s. Today the Mahabodhi Society acts as the monastery and guest house for Sri Lankan Buddhist monks and pilgrims. The Mahabodhi society facilitates access for Sri Lankan pilgrims led by Sri Lankan monks to the temple compound and is, I imagine, interested in maintaining this practice.

Tibetan Buddhists
Many Tibetan Buddhist groups have institutions in Bodhgaya: such as the main monastery of the Dalai Lama, the Sechen Institute, the Sakya monastery, the Darjeeling Monastery and the Bhutanese temple. The Root Institute is the local centre for the Federation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Trust (FPMT) which is the proponent for the Maitreya Statue Project. The Tibetan Buddhist community institutions represents a wide diversity of Tibetan traditions. The main Tibetan interest in the temple is the desire to practice in its grounds.

Shaivite Ascetics
In around 1600 or so wandering Shaivite ascetics settled in Bodhgaya and worshipped at the Mahabodhi temple. For a long time the Shaivite Monastery (Math) was the dominant landholder in the area and although since the 1950s it has lost this role the Monastery is still an important factor in local affairs. The Monastery still runs a number of temples in the temple compound and has an interest in maintaining this practice.

Gayawal Brahmins
Gaya is the most auspicious place in Northern India to make offering for the fortunate rebirth of one's deceased ancestors and hundreds of thousands of Indians come to Gaya each year to make such offerings for their ancestors. The traditional Brahmin families who lead the pilgrims in their rituals are the Gayawal Brahmins. The Mahabodhi temple is one of the sites at which offerings can be made. The Gayawal Brahmins interests in the temple centre on the continued use of it as a site for rituals for the ancestors.

Scheduled Castes
The majority of the inhabitants of Bodhgaya are from the Scheduled Castes (also known as untouchables or Harijans or Dalits). The Scheduled castes have little direct religious interest in the temple but are concerned that the economic benefits it brings to Bodhgaya should reach them as well as the higher caste communities.

The dominant political group in Bihar at the moment has a power base in the Yadav communities who were traditionally identified with pastoralism. Lalu Prasad Yadav, the leader of the RAJD is the most prominent of the Yadav leaders. The main interest of this group in the temple is in terms of maximising its potential as a driver for economic development in the area.

There are a large number of members of the Muslim community in Bodhgaya. The main mosque in Bodhgaya is situated at the South East corner of the Mahabodhi Temple compound and the main graveyard is to the North of the Temple. As Muslims they have no direct interest in the temple but they are concerned that their own sacred sites in the village are respected.

Naxalite is a term used in India to refer to Maoist groups who support armed struggle to overthrow the state. They are named after the district of Naxalbari in which the movement began in the 1960s. The main Naxalite group in Gaya district is the Maoist Communist Centre (MCC) they are allied with, but not united with, the Peoples War Group (PWG) which is active in Andhra Pradesh. The press regularly reports on MCC activity in terms of attacks by them, campaigns against voting and against alcohol, gambling, prostitution and other activities. They are predominantly a low caste and untouchable community based movement. They generally regard religion as a vestige of feudal society which is to be opposed.

High Caste Armies
On the other side from the Naxalites are the high caste armies such as the Ranvir Sena who are notorious for their massacres of low caste villagers they suspect of being supporters of the Naxalite movements. In areas as near to Bodhgaya as Rajgir and Nalanda the conflict between the Naxalites and the High caste armies leads to massacres but in Bodhgaya area this does not seem to be the case as yet. It is unclear what attitude they have to the temple.

Temple Management Committee
All of these groups have interests in the Mahabodhi temple and who controls it. At present the temple is governed by a 1949 act according to which there are nine members of a managing committee: four Buddhists, four Hindus and the District Magistrate who must not be a Buddhist. Any change in the delicate balance of power in Bodhgaya threatens to upset this uneasy compromise, and it is within this context that any ideas about development of Bodhgaya need to be situated.

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