Ailing 'Bodhi tree' arouses Buddhist fears

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NEW DELHI -- Concerns are mounting in India for the well-being of [the descendant of] a sacred tree under which Lord Buddha first attained enlightenment more than 2,500 years ago.

The "Bodhi tree" in Bihar state, eastern India, has been afflicted with a mystery ailment, causing it to shed its leaves.

The giant peepal, or ficus religiosa, situated outside the Mahabodhi shrine is sacred to Buddhists who make pilgrimages from all around the world to worship at it.

Scientists have been called in to examine the tree, which began dropping large quantities of fresh leaves late last month, raising fears that it was starting to die.

"We have taken soil and leaf samples which are currently undergoing laboratory analysis," said Dr A K Singh, of the Agricultural Research Institute in the nearby town of Patna. "The concern is that the new, young leaves are falling from the canopy."

The fate of the tree -- which is 110 years old and is, according to the temple authorities, the sixth regeneration of the original tree under which Lord Buddha attained perfect insight -- is a highly sensitive subject in the Buddhist world.

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