Anagarika Dharmapala, the Buddha-Gaya temple and the campaign he launched | Print edition

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September 17 marks the 157th anniversary of the birth of Anagarika Dharmapala, founder of the Maha Bodhi Society. At the turn of the 20th century, he launched a campaign to bring the holiest Buddhist site in the world under the control of Buddhist leadership. Jairam Ramesh, Indian MP and former Union Minister, refers to this campaign in his new book “The Light of Asia – the poem that defined BUDDHA. extracts;

Many historians have written scholarly books and articles on the subject of the Mahabodhi temple. The historical context of the conflict which lasted nearly seven decades is long and convoluted. But some bases are not contested.

First of all, ten years after his consecration, that is to say around 259-8 BC. Second, about a century later, “a depiction at the Buddhist stupa of Bharhut in central India depicts a throne, with the trunk of the Bodhi tree behind, surrounded by an open pillared pavilion” and “this throne was most likely erected by Ashoka at Bodh Gaya ‘.

The Anagarika (seated) at Buddha Gaya with the Japanese monk

Third, various types of structures, including some form of temple, have been built over time to honor the Buddha, with the temple having undergone reconstruction around the fifth century BCE. Fourth, as Buddhism began to gradually disappear (and the process was gradual), Hindu icons were worshiped within its precinct as well. Over the centuries, the Buddha was also worshiped there, but as a Hindu deity.

Fifth, from the 13th century, the Mahabodhi temple became a model which was imitated in other places like Burma and Siam. Sixth, the temple continued to attract visitors not only from India but also from Ceylon, Burma, Siam, Tibet, China and Japan.

Seventh, during the last decade of the 16th century, a wandering Saiva sannyasi made his home near the ruins of the temple. In August 1727, a Mughal prince gave the Sivaites a deed to establish property rights in the area (although it is not clear whether the deed covered the actual temple or not). The Sivaites took control of the temple and its surroundings following the granting of the deed and from that moment Hindus and Buddhists had access to it.

Eighth, repairs to the temple were carried out by the Burmese kings in the early 19th century, who continued their patronage until the time of the Third Anglo-Burmese War in November 1885.

In mid-January 1886 (Englishman Sir Edwin) Arnold visited the site of the sacred temple and the Bodhi tree. What he saw made him angry and angry. After his visit to Panadura in Ceylon and (during) his conversation with Weligama Sri Sumangala, Arnold had given a description of the places in the life story of the Buddha that he had recently visited. The venerable Ceylonese monk expressed the ardent wish that Buddhists might one day regain the guardianship of this sacred land of Buddha-Gaya where “the Lord” meditated so long under the Bodhi tree and finally attained his state of Buddha.

Arnold also writes that Weligama Sri Sumangala told him that the place where Buddha received enlightenment and also the place where he entered Nirvana “should no longer be in the hands of the Buddhists”.

The picture was to change, however, with the entry of Ceylan Buddhist Anagarika Dharmapala into this story in early 1891. He is considered the key founding figure of Sinhala nationalism. Likewise, for about four decades until his death in April 1933, Dharmapala was a one-man army for the recovery and revival of India’s Buddhist heritage and traditions.

The Mahabodhi temple at Buddha Gaya

According to his own accounts, however, Dharmapala had read “India Revisited” in 1886 and had been angered by Arnold’s account of the blasphemous events at the Mahabodhi temple. Three years later, while recovering in a hospital in Kyoto, he read The Light of Asia, finding “consolation and hope.”

On January 22, 1891, Dharmapala, accompanied by a Japanese priest and Pali scholar Kozen Gunaratna, reached Bodh Gaya. Through his repeated later recollections, seeing how the Mahabodhi temple had become primarily a place of worship for Hindus and feeling that its importance to Buddhists was treated with utter contempt by the Hindu priest, Dharmapala swore that the temple of the Mahabodhi would be “once again become a properly functioning Buddhist temple”.

On May 31, 1891, he founded the Mahabodhi Society in Colombo. Weligama Sri Sumangala, who had met Arnold in February 1886 and spoke for the first time of Buddhist control over Buddha-Gaya, was its president, (Henry Steel) Olcott was its director and principal advisor, and Dharmapala its general secretary. The management committee was made up of members from different parts of the world, with Arnold as one of its “London representatives”.

In July 1891, four Ceylonese monks were sent to Buddha-Gaya on behalf of the Society, which would also hold an international conference there in October 1891. But realizing that all the actions needed to gain Buddhist control of the temple were in the capital of the time. British India, Dharmapala moved the Company to Calcutta a year later.

Returning from the (World Parliament of Religions) in Chicago, Dharmapala stopped in Japan, where in November 1893, he was presented with a 700-year-old ancient Buddha image, enshrined in a Kanagawa temple near Yokohoma. Dharmapala asked the British government for permission to install the Buddha image he had received in the sanctum sanctorum of the Mahabodhi temple. But the British procrastinated, worried about upsetting Hindu sentiment and wary of Dharmapala’s Japanese ties.

Finally, before sunrise on February 25, 1895, Dharmapala took unilateral action and entered the temple and placed the statue in its sanctum sanctorum, which was then empty. He was about to begin worship when a group of armed men, clearly supporters of the Mahant, themselves broke in, grabbed the statue and threw it elsewhere. He was to be placed in the nearby Burmese rest home. Dharmapala then decided to file a complaint against the Mahant and his men for trespassing in a place of worship and for damaging religious property. It is instructive to note here that Dharmapala’s lawsuit went against all advice he had received, including from Sumangala and Olcott, who most likely knew that if the Buddhist right to pray in the temple of the Mahabodhi was unassailable, their legal right to its property was ambiguous.

The case was first heard on April 8, 1895 by local magistrate DJ Macpherson.

On July 19, 1895, Macpherson delivered his judgment. He acquitted two of the defendants but detained three of them in violation of the Indian Penal Code. They were fined and sentenced to one month in prison. On the broader question of the ownership of the Temple which Dharmapala hoped to settle definitively, the magistrate ruled that the “Mahant had possession rights of a certain type” over the Temple and its precincts, but that “they could not to think that these rights are of a character so complete that it connotes full ownership or that it carries with it the right claimed by the Mahant to do whatever he wants inside the temple ”. Macpherson characterized the ownership of the temple as being that of a “double guard” between the Mahant and the government. The government had entered the scene because of the restoration work it had carried out at Buddha-Gaya.

It was a partial victory for Dharmapala. But very quickly, the Mahant filed an appeal with the District Sessions Court. The appeal was heard by Herbert Holmwood, who suspended prison terms but retained the fines. On July 30, 1895, he ruled that the Mahant’s property rights over the temple and its surroundings were expressed in the government’s own list of ancient monuments published in 1886, but that it was not an “deed or a concession ”.

The Mahant was still not satisfied and filed a second appeal, this time to the High Court in Calcutta. A formation of two judges delivers its verdict on August 22, 1895. It cancels both the fines and the prison terms. More importantly, one of the judges (the British) considered that “if the temple is not invested with the Mahant, it does not appear to be invested with anyone”, while the other judge (an Indian ) held that “the question of what is the exact nature and extent of the Mahant’s control over the temple, the evidence adduced in this case does not allow us to determine”.

Dharmapala had suffered a huge setback. An interesting feature of Dharmapala’s campaign was that Indian-run newspapers supported him while newspapers aligned with British interests criticized him.

The Japanese idol will move to the headquarters of the Mahabodhi Society in Calcutta in 1910. Dharmapala will continue his campaign to gain full Buddhist control over the temple of Buddha-Gaya. In 1922, the Indian National Congress would hold its annual session in Gaya and a call would be made to (Mahatma) Gandhi to have the problem resolved once and for all.

By 1922 he had placed his hopes on Gandhi to gain control of the Mahabodhi temple at Buddha-Gaya and all Gandhi had done was delegate this responsibility to his trusted lieutenant in Bihar, Rajendra Prasad. The man who would later become the first president of independent India struggled over the issue for the next quarter century.

m In 1949, two years after India gained independence and 16 years after the death of Anagarika Dharmapala, the Maha Bodhi Temple Law was passed, giving Buddhists an equal voice on the site’s joint management committee. saint now called Bodh Gaya or Buddha. Gaya.

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