PATNA, India – Multiple small bomb blasts at one of Buddhism’s holiest sites — the Bodh Gaya temple complex in eastern India — wounded two monks on Sunday, police said, but the historic temple itself was not damaged.
Buddhists from all over the world visit the complex in Bihar state, which is believed to house the tree under which the Buddha reached enlightenment in 531 BC.
“The holy bodhi tree is safe and there is no damage to it,” Bihar police chief Abhayanand told AFP.
“Eight low-intensity serial blasts took place early this morning, injuring two people,” said senior police official S.K. Bharadwaj.
Two more bombs were found and defused inside the complex, one of them near the temple’s celebrated 80-feet-tall (24-metre) statue of the Buddha, Bharadwaj told AFP.
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh condemned the blasts at the complex, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, saying “such attacks on religious places will never be tolerated.”
Indian home secretary Anil Goswami called the blasts “a terror attack” but no one has so far claimed responsibility, according to the Press Trust of India. The national government has sent two teams of investigators to probe the blasts, said Goswami, the top interior ministry official.
Attacks on Buddhists are rare in India but there have been tensions in the wider region recently following clashes between Buddhists and Muslims in Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.
Additional security forces have been deployed to guard the temple complex after the blasts, which wounded two monks, a 50-year-old Tibetan and a 30-year-old Myanmar national. Both of them have been taken to hospital, local police official Bharadwaj said.
Eyewitness and former local legislator Sarbajeet Kumar said he was on his daily morning walk to the temple when the bombs exploded.
“Suddenly I saw smoke and heard the sound of the blasts. I realized that something bad had happened and ran for shelter,” he told local reporters.
Windows were shattered at one of the buildings, while a wooden door at a small temple was destroyed and debris was strewn inside another building.
The Bodh Gaya complex, 110 kilometers (68 miles) south of the state capital Patna, is one of the earliest Buddhist temples still standing in India and was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2002.
The first temple was built in the 3rd century BC by the Buddhist Emperor Asoka and the present temples date from the 5th or 6th centuries, according to the UNESCO website.
The complex houses the holy bodhi tree as well as the giant Mahabodhi statue of Buddha, and multiple shrines marking the places where he is believed to have spent time after his enlightenment.
Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama makes frequent trips to the complex, which attracts visitors from around the world during the peak tourist season from October to March.
Dozens of Buddhist monasteries are located near the complex, housing Buddhist monks from around the world.
After his meditations beneath the tree, Buddha is said to have devoted the rest of his life to teaching and he founded an order of monks before dying aged 80.