Saving Buddha's tree

Located on the banks of river Niranjana in Bodhgaya, south Bihar, the holy mahabodhi tree under which Buddha sat and meditated is infested with millibugs, that are sucking the sap out of it

Published: Friday 28 February 2003

Saving Buddha's tree

-- (Credit: Photographs: Surya Sen / CSE<s)Once upon a time, a prince called Siddhartha was gripped with the idea of getting to the root and sap of things. He sat under the Mahabodhi tree, and emerged from his meditation as the Buddha. Today, that tree itself is in dire need of enlightenment.

Located on the banks of river Niranjana in Bodhgaya, south Bihar, the tree is infested with millibugs, that are sucking the sap out of it. Ex-officio chairperson, Bodhgaya Temple Management Committee (btmc), Brijesh Mehrotra says, "The infection happens every year, but this year is especially bad." A K Singh, regional director, Agriculture Research Institute, Patna, speaks of how the millibug works its damage: "The young ones feed on tender twigs; older bugs hide in the bark. They also secrete substances that encourage fungal growth."

The bug, however, is only partially to blame. B N Pandey, head of department, botany, Bodhgaya University, blames bad administration. Flocking pilgrims offer sweets, yoghurt, oil, ghee and milk to the tree. They light candles and oil lamps at the base of the tree. They tie innumerable cloths around the tree. The edible items draw ants and insects; candle soot causes asphyxiation of the leaves; and the cloths do not allow the bark to breathe.

A committee headed by Singh inspected the Mahabodhi in October 2002. It suggested that cloths tied around the tree should be removed regularly, and edible items should not be offered at the base of the tree. All loose bark should be removed carefully. The committee also suggested that the trunk and main branch of the tree be painted with Bordeaux paint (lime-copper sulphate mix). Pesticides were also recommended. btmc secretary K S Yadav says these recommendations have been acted on. "But devotees are unhappy, and let us know that quite emphatically. If we take tougher measures, we will be under a lot of pressure," says Bhikku Bodhipala, a bhikku or priest at the temple site.

He says that if the worst comes to pass, cuttings from a 2,500-year-old tree in Sri Lanka grown from the seeds of the original Bodhi tree could be taken.

On June 27, 2002, the Mahabodhi temple complex was declared a heritage site. "We provide technical assistance; but the request has to come from the temple authorities," says Prithiviraj Pereira, programme officer, unesco World Heritage Committee. btmc has not requested any kind of assistance.

With inputs from Manoj Nadkarni

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