(AFP) – Feb 25, 2008
ANURADHAPURA, Sri Lanka (AFP) — Buddhism's holiest tree in Sri Lanka's ancient capital, tightly guarded by monks and security forces after Tamil rebels attacked it 23 years ago, is under threat again -- this time from monkeys.
Pilgrims are frisked and scanned by metal detectors before being allowed to worship the "Sri Maha Bodi," grown from a sapling of a tree in India that sheltered the Buddha when he attained enlightenment more than 2,550 years ago.
But primates in the temple compound are free to swing from tree-to-tree, grab sweet offerings and in the process endanger what Sri Lankan Buddhists believe is the world's oldest religiously significant tree, a Banyan species propped up by iron supports at temple ruins dating back 2,300 years.
In the mainly Buddhist nation, the tree is not only an object of worship, but a symbol of national sovereignty.
Buddhist devotees from India, Myanmar, Thailand, Korea and Japan visit to pay homage, while tourists also flock to the scene despite the security procedures.
Sri Lanka's chief Buddhist monk Pallegama Sirinivasa, 54, said he is now more worried about damage caused by the troops of monkeys than Tamil Tiger rebels. In 1985, Tiger rebels shot dead three monks, 25 worshippers and 117 pilgrims at the site.
"Terrorists had an idea of destroying this tree because it's a spiritual magnet," the monk told AFP at his temple near the tree. "Even in the 1985 attack, this tree didn't suffer a single bullet."
He said he was unaware of any recent reports of the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) planning to strike again.
"What I see as the main challenge today is protecting the Sri Maha Bodi (or sacred fig tree) from macaques and monkeys," the monk said.
The tree already arguably has the tightest security in Sri Lanka. It is surrounded by a gold-plated fence and protected night and day, spiritually and physically, by an army of soldiers and police as well as monks.
But the monk said he wanted to use technology to help police as well as civilian volunteers guard the tree from monkeys.
Guards ring bells, burst crackers or flash torch lights to scare off the invading primates, but Buddhism won't allow the use of violence to deter the monkeys.
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