Indian temple to glitter with 300 kilos of Thai gold

INDIA - India's Mahabodhi temple, one of the world's holiest Buddhist shrines, is to have its dome inlaid with 300 kilograms (660 pounds) of gold donated by Thailand's king and other devotees, officials said Thursday.

The precious metal arrived late Monday on a special flight from Bangkok and is under armed guard at the temple in Bodh Gaya, a holy town about 100 kilometres (64 miles) from Patna, the capital of Bihar state.

"A 40-member team including experts and two dozen commandos from Thailand have arrived at Bodh Gaya with gold in 13 boxes," Arvind Kumar Singh, a member of the temple management committee, told AFP.

The gold would be worth around $14.5 million (S$18 million) at the current international price.

The work at the complex, which was rocked by a series of crude bombs in July, was likely to be finished in about a month.

The Mahabodhi temple, built about 1,500 years ago, is a UNESCO world heritage site and marks the place where the Buddha is said to have attained enlightenment in 531 BC.

Along with temples, dozens of monasteries housing monks from around the world are located near the complex which has a celebrated 80-feet-tall (24-metre) statue of the Buddha.

After his meditations beneath a holy tree, the Buddha is said to have devoted the rest of his life to teaching.

Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama makes frequent trips to the complex, which attracts visitors during the peak tourist season from October to March.

N. Dorjee, secretary of the temple committee, said about 100 kg of gold had been donated by the Thai king and the rest by Buddhist devotees.

The decision to offer gold for the dome was taken last year by Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej after which permission was sought from the local authorities, Dorjee said.

"The first phase of the work involved chemical treatment which was completed in August. It prepared the foundation for gold plating," he told AFP.

"Stairs have been now installed around the temple's dome to enable experts to reach the top of the structure and inlay it with thin gold sheets."

In July nine small bombs exploded at the temple complex, wounding two monks.

The blasts were allegedly carried out by the Indian Mujahideen, a home-grown extremist group, in retaliation for violence against Muslims by Buddhists in neighbouring Myanmar.

Gaya district magistrate Bala Murugan D. said extra security had been provided at the temple complex to ensure the smooth progress of the gold-inlaying work.

"We have deployed additional security. The work is also being videographed as after all it involves a costly metal," he said.