From the Jacket
Alan Trevithick spent three years researching primary documents in New Delhi, Sarnath, Colombo, and London, in order to present this history (1874-1949) of the Mahabodhi Temple at Bodh Gaya. This is the first such account and it details for the first time the administrative, legal and legislative activities, which shaped the temple's current status as one of the world's most popular pilgrimage sites. Also included is an innovative biographical essay on anagarika Dharmapala, the Sinhalese activist who first came to India in the late 19th century as a guest of the Theosophical Society: his subsequent actions substantially affected the development of Bodh Gaya as a site of international importance.
About the Author
Alan trevithick is Adjunct Associate Professor of anthropology at the State University of New York (SUNY) at Stony Brook and also teaches anthropology and sociology at SUNY Westchester. He holds an M.A. in South Asian Studies from the University of Wisconsin, where he was awarded the B.K. Roy Prize for south Asia Essays. His Ph.D. in Anthropology is from Harvard University. He has been a Fulbright and Knox Memorial Fellow, and has published articles on Indian topics in the journal Modern Asian Studies (Cambridge University) and elsewhere.
I know Bodh Gaya from several visits I made there in the early and mid 1980s. Twice I went there in order to study the history of the modern development of the temple and its surroundings. These visits were sponsored by grants from Harvard University and from the Fulbright Foundation. On a third visit I came, again to study the temple's recent history, and also to teach, in a semester abroad program for Antioch College.
In all these cases I was preoccupied by entirely mundane questions, mundane when one recalls that Bodh Gaya is celebrated as the place where. Gautama achieved enlightenment. I was interested in such questions as how the temple came to have its present well-groomed aspect, how many new temples were springing up around the older site, and how many foreign tourists, many of them religious pilgrims, but many of them not, were converging on what could have been simply another small town in Bihar.
How did all of that come to be? In order to answer that, I had to spend more time away from Bodh Gaya than in the town itself, in Delhi, Sarnath, Colombo (as a Fulbright Fellow), London (on a Knox Memorial Fellowship), and also in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Where I stared this research, as a graduate student in social anthropology, at Harvard University.
For several reasons, including (1) the press of non-academic obligations and (2) a sense that the manuscript did not fit comfortably within the current stylistic or theoretical parameters of social anthropology, I put the project aside for some years. When I took it up again,though, I realized that my treatment of the subjects involved colonial construction and reconstruction of antiquities, the intersection of religious, national and global identity formative processes, the operations of autobiographical narrative, the strategies of ecumenicalism-were of natural interest to many social anthropologists. Having said that, this work was always intended to be of interest to a wider audience and so I can make no sincere apology for making my points economically and with not much reference to rococo ornamentations of basis social theory.
On another subject, I feel I should make some note, in a general way of current developments at Bodh Gaya. One sees there today a combination of religious and secular and political forces-and globalist and public and private and ritual and psychological that, to me at any rate, seem quite natural against the background of the narrative I have provided here.
When this or that official accepts newly discovered relics for placement in Bodh Gaya, or when this or that foreign delegation arrives- a mix of monks and ministers, perhaps- or when this or that congregation of citizens arrives for a convention that will negotiate or define or solidify their common interests-then we see Bodh Gaya functioning as a ritual site that brings together religious and secular impulses in ways that echo back to the town's earliest times.
In all of this sort of activity- and in the biography of Anagarika Dharmapala which is so important a part of the current work-we see interesting phenomena. For instance, in the course of one of the more important Mahabodhi Temple legal proceedings, at the end of the nineteenth century, it came to the lawyers and judges involved in the case that it might be important to judge whether or not Dharmapala was or was not involved in "real" religious behavior.
How would we know? How would we know whether someone was, say, in religious contemplation or not? Meditating or not? Praying or not?
The answer, according to the court at the time- this was a British Indian Court but I do not know that anyone has improved on the thinking-was that we could not know, absolutely, but that we could only rely on the "outward and visible" sign of religious feeling. If people look as though they are meditating we must act as though that is indeed the case. Somehow, this is not entirely satisfying, but at the same time the problem it captures is, for me, much of what this book is really about.
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