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Attack on Maha Bodhi Society leaves Lankan monks in Chennai shaken

Jan 26, 2011 1:31:17 PM- transcurrents.com

By R.Vasundara

CHENNAI: The Sri Lankan Maha Bodhi Society on Kennett Lane, Egmore, is barely distinguishable, crammed in between hotels and lodges that crowd the street. Hordes of policemen and a couple of patrol jeeps stand outside the society premises.

Security has been provided after an attack on the building by a group on Monday night in which four monks were injured. Yet Kennett Lane derives its name from the society itself, whose premises was once called Kennett House. The society was established in 1891 and Kennett house is over 80 years old. But the old building is being torn down and re-constructed even as a newer building was established in front of it, forty years ago.

It is estimated that about 500 Sinhala families have made Chennai their home. Many of them are employees at the Sri Lankan Deputy High Commission or work for IT companies.

Inside, it is business as usual. Unmindful of the cops lounging about the place, the monk in-charge, Kalawane Mahanama Thero, clad in saffron robes and looking flustered, rushed about the place coordinating the administration of the monastery and the visits of the daily batch of pilgrims from Sri Lanka and other parts of the world.

"Things have been crazy today," he said. "I am arranging the immigration papers of Kamburugamuwe Vajira, a very senior monk and the chancellor of the University of Sabaragamua in Sri Lanka. He is an elderly man who was very seriously injured in the attack yesterday and wants to return home today. Never before has an incident like this happened to us. This is a public place, open to all," he said.

Vajira was spotted later hobbling into the building after he was discharged from the nearby private hospital. He sported a swollen right eye, a thick bandage under the same eye and several bruises on his hand, shoulder and back where his red monk robes could not entirely conceal.

His assistant, Bhikku Sumita, a 25-year-old monk, who had never set foot outside the monastery during his three-year tenure in Chennai, bore the marks of his first encounter with the outside world a bruised and bandaged wrist. "I got this bruise when I put up my hand to protect my head," he said in Sinhala. "They were trying to hit me on the head with some instrument."

Sumita, Vajira and two other monks were sitting in the outer lobby on Monday night when the attack happened. "We were watching TV, when suddenly these men entered and started hitting us," said Sumita. "They chased me into the prayer hall and I escaped through a back door into the building behind. It was over as quickly as it began."

Shattered glass panes and a few broken figurines of Lord Buddha bear silent testimony to the attack. "Most of the monks are in shock," said Mahanama Thero. "I was in Sri Lanka last night. After spending the entire night trying to calm them down over phone, I rushed here on Tuesday morning to sort things out."

Nilanthi, a 36-year old Sinhalese woman who was on her first visit to the city looked tensed as she conversed in whispers with her two male companions. "I am worried about my safety. I am not sure why they attacked this place. But I can't speak Tamil and I have to go around the city. That worries me," she said.