05/03/2007, 00.00
NEPAL
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Buddha’s birthday celebrated in a polluted industrial landscape

by Prakash Dubey
Pilgrims who travelled to the Buddha’s birthplace of Lumbini to celebrate his 2551st birthday yesterday were saddened by the sight they found. For many the environmental degradation of this Buddhist holy site is part of a deliberate government policy to encourage industrial development as a way to prevent the spread of Buddhism.

Lumbini (AsiaNews) – Buddha’s 2551st birthday was celebrated yesterday by Buddhist monks and faithful amid much piety and devotion in his birthplace of Lumbini, in the southern district of Kapilvastu, but also in deep chagrin over the pilgrimage site’s environment.

Bhante Jayadeo, a young Buddhist monk from India who had travelled to Lumbini for the Buddha's celebrations, told Asianews that he had expected that Nepal would have developed this “sacred land as an oasis of serenity and natural beauty. But I am chagrined to find that this place is filled with dust and smog. We can't breathe even fresh air. No doubt, a lot of trees abound here but they fail to contribute positively to the natural ambiance of this place because a host of industries have mushroomed around here. I wonder how the Nepalese government has allowed these industries.”

Tenjing Lama, a lay Nepalese Buddhist, explained that “the mushrooming of the industries around Lumbini is part of the conspiracy of the country's high caste Hindu rulers to keep Buddhism under their thumb in Nepal. They have always seen Buddhism as a sect of low caste people and tribal groups, not a full fledged religion. They don’t want Lumbini to develop as an important centre of Buddhist pilgrimage. That's why they encouraged industrialists, all Hindus, to set up cement factories around this holy land in a bid to spoil its spiritual-ecological grandeur.”

Nabin Chitrakar, a member of the Lumbini Development Trust, denied allegations that anyone was out to ruin Lumbini’s eco-spirituality. He did concede however that the Nepalese government has done nothing to prevent what has happened. So far 19 reports have been prepared for the government but were eventually shelved. Instead, the authorities continue to ask for more reports.

For Mr Chitrakar, “rather than devising new plans, we should focus on implementing the suggestions made in the old reports. Even if we try to beautify this place and preserve its heritage with people's support, we are bound to fail. It is the government which ought to ensure the removal of these polluting factories.”

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