March 18, 2013 Critical Commentary: THE HOLY BODHI LEAF AT MAHABODHI TEMPLE

Posted on March 18, 2013 by



Critical Commentary: March 18, 2013

By: Krissy Kocina


       BBC News journalist Amarnath Tewary wrote an article “Poor Indian children make a living from ‘holy leaves’” on March 8, 2013, in which he illustrates the Indian state of Bihar and the hundreds of poor children making a living by selling authentic and fake Bodhi leaves to Buddhist tourists. These leaves are considered ‘holy’ to the Buddhist pilgrims because they believe that the leaves fell from the Bodhi tree, where the original Buddha obtained enlightenment. Millions of tourists visit the world famous Mahabodhi temple in Bodh Gaya town each year during a five-month period, it is here, that the natives believe is the site of the beginnings of their religion.  Amarnath Tewary analyzed the situation at the Mahabodhi temple regarding what it means to be ‘holy,’ the pros and cons of selling the leaves, while interpreting the meaning of ‘religion’ in relation to Buddhism.

Tewary, who is living in Bihar, begins the article by depicting these Indian children by selling Bodhi leaves at a marked-up price. Throughout the article, he questions the authenticity or merit of these children and if the children are actually benefiting the religious practices and pilgrimage to the temple. As he was trying to answer these questions throughout his article, he repeatedly mentions the word ‘holy’ throughout this piece. For instance he said,

“Besides the ‘holy’ Bodhi tree, there are six other peepal trees inside the Mahabodhi complex and the temple authorities say these children often collect and sell leaves from the other trees to unsuspecting pilgrims… Temple officials say Buddhist pilgrims covet leaves from the tree as they consider them auspicious and ‘holy.’ Buddhists around the world consider Mahabodhi temple as one of their ‘holiest’ places, which they try to visit at least once in their lifetime.”

As this quote depicts, Amarnath Tewary repeated and emphasized the word ‘holy’ three times in a section of his writing. It is clear that Tewary wanted to draw attention to the significance of the leaves because he believes that these children are cheating the pilgrims from the authentic Bodhi leaves. As a result, this analysis brings up the questions of what is considered holy and how it becomes holy in the first place. If these children continue to deceive the pilgrims to the holy or sacred site, the reputation of the site might be challenged. Pilgrims travel to Mahabodhi temple to gain a sense of achievement while gaining karma from their effort of visiting the sacred spot of enlightenment.

Besides presenting and interpreting the meaning of the word ‘holy’ within the context of the article, Tewary presented both sides of the argument by interviewing pilgrims, authorities, temple officials, children who sell the leaves, and a variety of other people to get everyone’s opinion on the subject. In order to critical analyze a situation, it is important to ask a question and accurately present the pros and cons of the argument. For example, Tewary asked the question if it is acceptable for poor Indian children to make a living from ‘holy leaves.’ Even though the children are providing income for their family, some children are cheating the pilgrims by selling pilgrims non-authentic leaves. After reading the article, Tewary wanted to point out the possible consequences if this practice continues. The presentation of this article might influence attitudes of the readers of this article while challenging the authenticity of this ‘holy’ site. Pilgrims might hesitate going to the site if they have stereotypes about the site before they get there. Therefore, it is required to draw attention to the aspect of ‘religion’ within this society and what the general audience can learn about Buddhism.

Buddha, the founder of Buddhism, believed that life is painful and constantly is changing, especially in the mind, body, and spirit. As a result, he concluded that all life has suffering and there is not a permanent self. As a response to the coverage of the article in relation to the aspect of religion, a moral social factor question was raised. These poor children are essentially suffering because they are poor and trying to support their family. Most of their parents suffer from alcoholism and these children are forced to support themselves and their families. But according to Buddha, everyone experiences suffering. Should these children have a legitimate excuse and should they be allowed to sell the Bodhi leaves? Like the temple officials, Tewary seems to be indifferent about the situation.

Millions of people over several countries travel across the globe to visit this sacred, holy site of the Mahabodhi temple and the Bodhi tree. As a result from this article by BBC News journalist Amarnath Tewary, he presented the ideas of the meaning of ‘holy,’ the differing opinions on the issue, while relating aspects of religion in relation to Buddhism. Time and continued media coverage will depict the future opinions of tourists to the site. Articles like this allow people to become educated on issues surrounding Buddhism, that occur across the world regarding cultures while learning about a variety of other world religions.

BBC News Article:

(Tewary, Amarnath, “Poor Indian Children make a living from ‘holy leaves,’” BBC News, 3/8/2013)

Posted in: Buddhism