Fri, Jul 16, 2004 - Page 5 News List

Largest Buddha to be built in India, tourists hoped for

RELIGION Backers have raised US$222 million to build a Buddha that will outclass China's current record-holder. Prepare for the din of cash registers

THE GUARDIAN , NEW DELHI

The world's biggest statue of the Buddha is to be built in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, dwarfing other colossal representations of the religious leader in Japan and China.

The 150m-high Buddha Maitreya, or Buddha of the Future, will be installed on a massive 267-hectare site at Kushinagar, a town on the border with Nepal, where the Buddha died, or attained nirvana, 2,500 years ago.

Cast from bronze, the soaring Buddha will sit on a throne which itself will be a 17-storey building housing a smaller, 12-m statue and a vast prayer hall, shrine rooms and terraced gardens.

The US$222 million project is the brainchild of the Maitreyi Project Trust, based in Go-rkhpur city, and is supported by the state government and a Japanese religious group.

"Kushinagar already attracts many Buddhist pilgrims, but once the project is completed it will become a major international Buddhist center," said C.N. Dubey, culture secretary in the Uttar Pradesh government.

Kushinagar's Maitreyi Buddha would have been the largest statue in the world were it not that an even bigger statue, the169m-tall Spirit of Houston, is planned for the US space city.

If the Buddha symbolizes universal peace, the shimmering chrome Houston statue of a woman in a flowing cape will project the idea of intergalactic friendship.

Colossal representations of the Buddha are a common sight in Asia. The world's tallest stone statue, for instance, is the 67m Leshan Buddha in China's Sichuan Province. The Bamiyan Buddhas in Afghanistan, destroyed by the Taliban, were 53m and 34m tall.

India is the birthplace of Buddhism, but today the ancient religion is restricted to a tiny minority in the country. Official support for the Maitreyi Buddha project therefore is also motivated by the desire to attract Buddhist tourists from Japan and the West.

A similar project in Bodhgaya in Bihar, where Buddha attained enlightenment, ran into trouble, with villagers objecting to the expense directed at attracting tourists and had to be abandoned.

Much of Uttar Pradesh is as impoverished as Bihar, so the local reaction to the Maitreyi Buddha will become clear as the project gets off the ground.

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