Bodh Gaya in the 1950s: Jawaharlal Nehru, Mahant Giri, and Anagarika Munindra
Introduction In order to understand the forces at work in Bodh Gaya at present it is helpful to return to the 1950s. At that time the most important conflict was between Hindu and Buddhist paradigms, and how these were understood in the management and ritual of the Mahabodhi Temple. The decade saw the resolution of this struggle as a result of three important changes: (1) the establishment of a shared Hindu and Buddhist administration for the Mahabodhi Temple under the Bodh Gaya Temple Act, (2) the transformation of most ritual conduct at the Mahabodhi Temple to conform with a Buddhist paradigm, and (3) an international celebration of the 2500th anniversary of the Buddha’s parinirvana sponsored by the Indian government in 1956. At present however the central issue for Bodh Gaya has shifted and become a contest between those individuals and institutions who view the Mahabodhi Temple chiefly as a tourist site to be exploited for profit, and those who see it above all as a religious site that should be protected and developed for pilgrims.1 After examining the changes in Bodh Gaya during the 1950s, I will comment on the contemporary situation, and determine to what extent the forces at work in the 1950s may still be relevant at present.