Protests once again erupted in Nepal's Kathmandu Valley 29 August, 2013 demanding the installation of a 17-foot statue of Buddha in Kakrebihar, a Hindu-Buddhist temple near the city of Birendranagar.
This time, the protests were peaceful. Last month when the protests began, 17 people including four police officers were wounded during clashes over the statue. Not long after, the anger over the statue's removal escalated into a national issue, but the matter had appeared to have settled down until now.
The demonstrations began at the statue's short-lived unveiling on May 11, 2013 on the occasion of Buddha Purnima, the birthday of Buddha. It had already been erected under a tree at the temple Kakrebihar, with the cloth that had covered its face removed after performing religious rituals and worship, when local government officials arrived and intervened, stating that the statue was against forestry policy. After a violent fracas, the officials along with the help of police uninstalled the statue and took it to the district police office where it was discarded in a corner. Photos of the incident are available on Nepali blog Mysansar.
Pragya Ghimirey uploaded a video to YouTube which shows the situation getting out of hand as locals chasing police and then trying to install the statue:
The district administration in consultation with Department of Archaeology had originally given permission to the Buddhist Monastery Establishment and Conservation Committee to establish the Buddha statue on 24 February, 2008, according to the Mysansar.
The protests grew so large that the Surkhet Valley was closed for an indefinite period by the agitated group. The movement took a decisive turn when the Buddhists staged a protest in front of Singha Durbar, the administrative helm of the country on 30 July 2013. The traffic in the Kathmandu Valley came to a halt due to the demonstrations.
The government called protesters in for a dialogue, but the talks ended without any agreement. However, the protesters continued with their demands, reported online portals Setopati [ne] and Hamrakura [ne]. Some Buddhists started a fast unto death program demanding an idol of the Lord Buddha be installed at Kakrebihar, which is in Surkhet district.
Meanwhile, a group claiming to be a joint committee of different ethnicities and religions issued a press release on 31 July, 2013 and organized a rally on the following Friday evening to put pressure on protesters not to install the Buddha statue in Kakrebihar. The group organised a strike on 3 August, 2013, stating that in order to keep the communal harmony intact the demand of Buddha statue installation should be withdrawn. They have also filed a petition to the court.
Historic Buddhist site
Situated in the south of Birendranagar Municipality of Surkhet district in mid-western Nepal, Kakrebihar takes its name from its shape like a cucumber seed in Nepali language (kakro), according to locals, and the Sanskrit or Pali word for Buddhist monastery (vihara).
Once a sprawling centre of religious activities, the area is in dire straits with priceless ancient sculptures lying around in ruins. The standing structures are adorned with love-lorn messages and mindless graffiti in spite of a caretaker who makes the visitors sign a log book at the entrance of the main site.
In a research note (PDF), Dilli Raj Sharma noted:
The historic site of Kakrebihar offers a marvellous collection of monumental art comparable in the whole region, which confirms the fact that the region has a higher advancement of the Buddhist Mahayana tradition that might have been under the inspiration of western part of India particularly of Gujarat during the medieval period. The Mahayana knowledge in practice might have been blended with Hindu ideology and popularized it as a social harmony of the region.
“Don't choose war in the name of Buddha”
The incident has hit hard the social media platforms and the walls of Facebook and Twitter users were awash with the discussion on Kakrebihar incident.
Milan Bagale (@Sabdachitra) tweeted:
काक्रेविहार बुद्धमूर्ति:शान्तिको विकल्पमा महाशान्ति खोज्नु बुद्धहरुले।बुद्धको नाममा युद्ध रोज्नुहुने छैन।बुद्धको जय होस्।युद्धको पराजय होस्!
— शब्दचित्र (@Sabdachittra) August 29, 2013
Kakrebihar Buddha statue: Buddhas, chose greater peace over peace. Don't chose war in the name of Buddha. Long live Buddha. War be defeated
Former Nepalese Ambassador to Japan Dr. Bishnu Hari Nepal (@drbishnuhnepal) wrote:
— Dr.Bishnu Hari Nepal (@drbishnuhnepal) August 5, 2013
Toronto-based Nepali photographer Surendra Lawoti (@SurendraLawoti) reported:
— Surendra Lawoti (@SurendraLawoti) August 29, 2013
Buddha, the light of Asia, preached peace all his life. Let his followers not choose war over peace.