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Crocodile tears

India is the birth place of Buddhism. Buddhism was at one time the national religion of India. But Buddhism made the 'mistake' of opposing the caste system, oppression of women and other social ills prevalent in Brahminical Hinduism. This threatened the Brahman's hierarchy and power base which had successfully kept the majority of Indians in bondage to perpetuate the supremacy of Brahmins.

It took Brahmins nearly 500 years to annihilate Buddhism from India and whatever bits and pieces left were absorbed back into Hinduism. I recently came across some interesting writings on the struggle of Buddhists to maintain control of their holy temple in Bodhgaya.

The other ardent actor in the 'statue controversy' is America - another super hypocrite when it comes to world justice and fairness. While the Taliban are destroying a limited number of statues, over 3000 Buddhist temples were destroyed by America and the Pol Pot regime during the Indochina war bombings in Cambodia alone! (not to mentions millions of antipersonnel landmines showered from the air by American war planes, which continue to blow off limbs of little children and rural civilians even today).

Cambodians themselves (who are Buddhists) have sawed off heads and busts of numerous temple statues and sold them to western smugglers. Visitors to such world famous Buddhist cultural centres as Ankor Wat will be saddened to see this wanton destruction. Some other Buddhist temples with immense treasures had been abandoned about 400 years ago and the jungle has consumed them. Trees and shrubs have outgrown and swallowed up the temples.

The point of this essay is not to justify the destruction of statues in Afghanistan, but to bring to the attention of readers the world-wide destruction of religious places and cultural artefacts by a variety of people, including thievery of priceless artefacts by colonial powers in the dark ages of colonial occupation. Justice demands that condemnation should not only be directed at the weak but also the strong.

‘Hindus claim that this temple was built by a Shaivite monk in 1590. There has been continued controversy over the temple in Bodhgaya. Brahmins, with the collusion of the British, assumed control of the temple in the 19th century. They Hinduized the temple by giving the images of Buddha the appearance of Brahminical deities. Hindu rites and rituals are performed in the Buddhist temple. Five idols of Lord Buddha have been converted into Panch Pandavs - Five Hindu Pandavas. Also, a black pedestal was adapted to serve as a Shiv lingam.On Buddha Purnima day, the irate Buddhists ripped the cloth draped over the Pandavas idols and smashed the earthen pitcher over the Lingam and assaulted the Hindu priest. In response, Hindu extremists took to the streets. The World Buddhist Congress, representing 40 countries sent a protest to the Indian government. ‘The (Indian) Government cannot ignore the sentiments of the people of South-East Asia’ the note said.

Towards the end of the century, one Hewavitarane - also known as Angarika Dharmapala - came to Bodhgaya from Colombo and launched a movement to liberate the Mahabodhi temple. Legal and political battles between Dharmapala and the Brahmins began. The Buddhists' struggle to liberate the temple still continues. The temple is now controlled by a board of five Hindus and four Buddhists. One of the Hindus must always be a Brahmin and one Hindu the Collector. The Buddhists ask angrily ‘If Muslims, Sikhs and Christians can manage the affairs of their religious shrines, why can't Buddhists?’ (India Today, 30 Nov. 1995).

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