BUDDHA GAYA – The place of The Buddha’s Enlightenment – part 8

The trial opened on 8th April 1895. The trial was long and many people were called to testify. Some names and their brief testification is:

Bipin Bihari Banerjee – never entered the Mahabodhi Mahavihar as it was a Buddhist temple and since he is a Hindu, he is forbaded to enter it.

Dr. Hari Das Chatterjee – never entered since it is a Buddhist place of worship
Durga Shankar Bhattacharya – It is a Buddhist temple and the Mahant has taken all valuable donated by the Burmese King.

Pandit Gangadhar Shastri – Hindus don’t worship the Buddha born in Kapilvastu.

Mahatali Sumangala, Buddhist monk from Srilanka – I was present when the image of the Buddha was picked up and thrown on floor. Then the people of Mahant hit Dhammapala.

In a 102 pages judgement on 19th July 1895, D.J.Macpherson charged the three Giri’s, namely Jaipal Giri, Mahendra Giri and Bimal Deo Giri and two others under Sections 295, 296 and 297 of the Indian Penal Code which make it a criminal offence to desecrate a place or object of worship, to disrupt lawful act of worship and trespass place of worship. All five were also charged under Section 143 for unlawful assembly to commit any of the above offence. One was charged under Section 352 for using criminal force againt Anagarik Dhammapal. All were sentenced to 1 month simple imprisonment and a fine of Rs.100/- each. The Mahant appealed to the Calcutta High Court which set aside the convictions.

When Lord Curzon became the Viceroy, he was presented with the petition to save the Bodhi tree and the Mahabodhi Mahavihara. He genuinely decided to free the Mahabodhi Mahavihara from the clutches of the Mahant. During his visit in 1903, the Mahant came to meet him and Lord Curzon asked Mahant that being a Hindu, why did he worship the Buddha. The Mahant replied that he looked upon Buddha as an avatar of Vishnu upon which Lord Curzon pointed out that the Mahant is a devotee of Shiva not Vishnu. The Mahant could not reply.

Anagarik Dhammapala began a campaign to win sympathy of liberal Hindus and the newly emerged INC. During the 1922, Gaya Conference of the INC, the Mahabodhi Society distributed booklet giving the history and arguing for its control of the Mahabodhi Mahavihara. The Burmese delegate (Burma was part of India at that time) too asked for a commission to be set up. Rajendra Prasad was chosen to be the head of committee. One of the members of this committee was Swami Ramodar Das who later on became a Buddhist and a monk and became famous as Rahul Sankrutyayan.

Around 1925, it was decided to have a joint effort of INC and the All India Hindu Mahasabha (an influential but conservative Hindu body). Anagaraik Dhammapala addressed the 4000 gathering of the Mahasabha. A resolution was passed stating that the Buddhist have a right to worship in the Mahavihara complex and to have a say in its management. The Mahant notoriously disagreed. In 1928, the Burmese MLA, U Tok Kyi introduced a bill to accommodate Buddhists from India, Srilanka and Burma for a management board.

Anagarik Dhammapala had become old and in increasingly poor health. He bowed out of this struggle, leaving the work to his deputy, Devapriya Valisinha. In 1933 Anagarik Dhammapala died, without seeing the goal of his life fulfilled. His 42 year battle to ensure control of the Mahabodhi Mahavihara by the Buddhists was fought single-handedly, many a times at the risk of his own life.

Atul Bhosekar

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