chapter  9
12 Pages

World Heritage in the shadow of zamindari

ByDAVID GEARY

The enlisting of the Mahabodhi Temple Complex as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2002 is the latest historical layering that has reinforced a dominant memory linking Bodh Gaya with an authentic Buddhist past. After decades of legal battles and contests between “Hindus” and “Buddhists” over proprietorship and rights of worship at the sacred site, Bodh Gaya has now entered the global cultural commons as a World Heritage site under the 1972 Convention.1 As a monument of “outstanding universal value to humanity” the site’s inscription on the World Heritage list is empowered by a collective memory and foundational event related to the life of the Buddha. However, does this historic event at the beginning of the twenty-first century mark the end of religious identity politics that were forged through the architecture of colonial modernity? Like the truth of enlightenment as a pathway towards emancipation, will the recent discursive claims of World Heritage signal the institutionalization of a new global template for management of sacred space that builds upon a universal enthusiasm to transcend culture, locality and difference?