Battle for Buddha Gaya
Dispute keeps sacred site out of UNESCO heritage list
By Chandani Kirinde
UNESCO is waiting to declare Buddha Gaya a world heritage site but bickering
by the Maha Bodhi Society, a lackadaisical approach by the Indian government
and obliviousness by the Sri Lankan government,
are preventing the move.
Chances of Buddha Gaya in the Indian state of Bihar, venerated by millions
of Buddhists worldwide as the place where Gautama Buddha attained Buddhahood,
being included in this year's world heritage sites appeared slim with the
relevant authorities failing to submit a proposal.
Time was running out with the Indian government showing disinterest,
and an ongoing court battle between the Indian Maha Bodhi Society and the
Sri Lanka Maha Bodhi Society over who should administer the Buddha Gaya
At the turn of the 19th century, Anagarika Dharmapala formed the Maha
Bodhi Society and waged a single-handed crusade to obtain for the Buddhists,
the right of management of the sacred site.
India after independence appointed a management committee for Buddha
Gaya that includes Buddhist representation.
The chances of Buddha Gaya being included in this year's world heritage
sites is slim as authorities there have failed to submit a proposal to
include the site to the UN organization on time.
Although the deadline passed several months ago, UNESCO was willing
to entertain the proposal if papers were sent speedily.
The Chennai-based Hindu reported that UNESCO was eager to consider Buddha
Gaya as a world heritage site if the authorities send in the papers in
the next few days, but said that an ownership dispute between the Bihar
government and the Maha Bodhi Society was causing a delay.
Mahinda Abeywardena, UNESCO Secretary General in Colombo, said officially
the initiative should come from India. Sri Lankan authorities could only
ask India to take an active interest and canvass the issue.
Officials of the Central Cultural Fund (CCF) and the Buddha Sasana Ministry
when asked about the dispute said they were unaware of it and had no knowledge
of the issue.
The Sunday Times learns that the crisis over the election of a new administrator
deepened after a Sri Lankan monk in Buddha Gaya was transferred to another
The election, which was to be held late last year was disrupted after
a dispute took place between supporters of the Indian Maha Bodhi Society
and the Sri Lanka Maha Boadhi Society and was postponed indefinitely.
The monk was transferred by the Indian Maha Bodhi Society to another
Buddhist temple in the area but the priest had refused to leave and gone
to Courts over the issue. He said he would not go till the election was
The court ruling is expected this week.
This issue seems to be the main impediment Indian authorities are quoting
for the delay in making the proposal to UNESCO.
An Indian High Commission official said that they had no information
on the matter.
However, The Hindu in an editorial this week said that UNESCO had stated
that "insufficient information" was impeding the process of honouring Buddha
Criticising Indian authorities' attitude towards its national treasures,
the newspaper said "the Indian administration has been lackadaisical; about
its own history even while it stood in judgment and made loud noises when
the Bhamiyan Buddha's were destroyed in Afghanistan".
The paper added that India was under-represented in UNESCO's list of
world heritage sites while smaller countries had many more.
Among the criteria for inclusion of properties in the world heritage
list are archeological sites which are of "outstanding universal value"
Nominations to be included in this list asks governments for specific
information on management namely the authorities or authority with legal
responsibility for managing a property or the individual who is responsible
for day-to-day control of the property and the budget relating to its upkeep.
Among the sites included in the UNESCO list are the Buddhist monuments
at Sanchi and Borobudur temple in Indonesia.
The Sri Lankan sites on the list include Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa and
Sigiriya cities, Sinharajah forest reserve, sacred city of Kandy, Galle
old town and the Dhambulla golden temple.