As visitors and residents here tried to come to terms with the panic triggered by serial blasts on Sunday, most were thankful that the explosions occurred at a time that the locals describe as “lean period.” Most of the over 50 monasteries in the town 100 km from capital Patna had a few residents at this time of the year and the main temple complex — a 6th century AD structure built at the site associated with Buddha’s enlightenment — too did not have as many visitors as it would have later in the day.
The UNESCO World Heritage Site and the complex around the main shrine is dotted with Tibetan, Myanmar, Japanese, Cambodian, Bhutanese temples and monasteries and several guest-houses, hotels, souvenir shops and the residents put the number of pilgrims who visit between October and March in lakhs.
“The incident is extremely unfortunate and deeply shocking. The morning prayer had just got over and there were more than 100 people in the temple. I was there too. We were fortunate that no one was critically injured,” said N. Dorjee the secretary of the Bodh Gaya Temple Management Committee who divides his time between Bodh Gaya and Sikkim.
At the A.N. Magadh Medical College in Gaya, 12 km from the sacred complex site, only a few visitors made it to the section where Tenzing Dorjee (60) lay recovering from blast injuries in a cotton shirt and grey track pants. “The gate opens every morning at 4 a.m. and I usually reach by 4. 10 am. I did an hour of chanting and then my namaskars. Then I entered where the Bodhi tree is to do parikrama. A young monk was meditating nearby. I had walked a bit when there was a loud explosion. I knew instantly it was a bomb blast,” Mr. Dorjee said, recounting that he had joined as a supervisor in the Ningma Tibetan monastery after he retired from the 2 Para Regiment in the Army in 2002 soon after he had been part of a 10-member section from his regiment to recover Tiger Hill during the 1999 Kargil War. “I tried to carry myself some distance to the gate. There I sat down and pulled out a shrapnel from my foot that was this long,” he pointed to the length of his index finger.
Mr. Dorjee was first given first-aid at the Primary Health Center at Bodh Gaya and then rushed to Gaya, where the doctors stitched his right knee and left foot both pierced by shrapnels.
Mr. Dorjee said he informed his three daughters and son who farm small plots of land in Hubli in Karnataka but said he had asked them not to visit. “Who can afford travelling such a distance and the doctors say I will be fine,” he said breaking into a wide smile.
Vilsagga (30) a monk from Myanmar doing his PhD in Buddhist studies at Magadh University lay quietly in a maroon robe with both his arms bandaged and his face bleeding from splinter injuries as his senior and colleague from Light of Buddha Dharma Foundation International, Penasakka, tried to communicate about his health with the staff nurses. “I was a few steps inside the temple gate when I heard a loud sound. I thought it is a short circuit. In a couple of minutes there was a second explosion and I realised it cannot be that. I ran towards the gate. I saw Vilsagga try to walk with help from two people. He had blood all over his face,” recounted Penasakka who accompanied Vilsagga in an ambulance to Gaya and then rushed back to Bodh Gaya to bring students from the hostel, who were fluent in Hindi.