Amplified sounds of Azan disrupt proceedings at Maha Bodhi Temple and cause tension at Buddha Gaya

Reciprocity is the hallmark of any relationship. No peaceful co-existence can be sustained if incursions are taking place affecting the sensitivities of the majority populace of a country. The magnanimity of wanting peaceful coexistence has attendant obligations in removing that which are stumbling blocks to peace.

Buddhists in Sri Lanka welcome peaceful co-existence between adherents of different religions. However, as indigenous Sinhala Buddhists we must state that co-existence cannot be one-sided. While preaching peaceful co-existence adherents of other religions that entered Sri Lanka much later in time after Buddhism had become firmly established in Sri Lanka as the national religion, cannot expect to transplant their religions by building their churches and mosques in the vicinity of sacred citadels of Buddhists and expect Buddhists to keep silent. Obligations under peaceful coexistence are mutual and not a one-way street for one religious group only. The growing media campaign to design historical Buddhist sites as multicultural sites to deny Buddhist exclusivity over a place of worship is grossly unfair and carries the seed of future conflict.

There are increasing number of examples of mosques being built close to hallowed Buddhist shrines in highly venerated citadels: Anuradhapura, Dambulla, Kandy, Mihintale, Mahiyangana, Polonnaruwa (former Royal capital), Kelaniya and even in Buddhagaya, Lumbini and Kusinara. There is a new mosque built within a stone’s throw (60 metres) away from the Maha Bodhi Temple premises in Buddhagaya where the Bodhisatwa (Prince Siddhartha) attained enlightenment under the Bodhi Tree to become the Buddha, 2600 years ago.

To establish a mosque so close to the most venerated site of the Buddhists and then use loudspeakers for the daily azaan knowing very well that these high pitched sounds would disturb the tranquility and peaceful environment conducive to meditation of the Buddhist monks and worshippers, must be considered as a direct affront to peaceful co-existence. The failure of the Government of India to take steps to remove or re-locate this mosque or take steps to withdraw the loudspeakers is tantamount to a dereliction of duty and guarantees given to the Buddhist world by the Government of India to provide a peaceful and noise-free environment surrounding the Maha Bodhi Temple. It diminishes the claim of the Indian Government to protect Buddhism in its birthplace. The silence of the International Buddhist organisations on this critical issue is deafening and a huge letdown of the hopes of the world Buddhist community for effective institutional leadership to take up Buddhist grievances.

It is highly unlikely that other contenders for leadership of the Buddhist world such as China or even Nepal (where Lumbini, the birthplace of Prince Siddhartha is located, and now being projected as the Fountainhead of Buddhism) would allow a mosque or any other enterprise using amplified sounds to interfere with the proceedings of a hallowed Buddhist shrine.

It is also a lesson for Buddhist countries like Sri Lanka to ensure that mosques and even churches are not allowed to be constructed anywhere near an important Buddhist Temple because once permission is given it would be near impossible to prevent the Trustees of the mosque from using loudspeakers out of spite and lack of sensitivity to disrupt the peaceful atmosphere of a Buddhist Temple. If it can happen in Buddha Gaya, it can happen anywhere else, including disturbing the proceedings of the Dalada Maligava in Kandy, in the future.

by Senaka Weeraratna