A general view shows gold plated props placed to support branches of the sacred Sri Maha Bodhi tree at the Sri Maha Bodhi temple in the north-central town of Anuradhapura on May 19, 2023. Sri Maha Bodhi tree is considered to be the oldest and the most sacred in Sri Lanka as it is believed to have sheltered the Buddha over 2,500 years ago when he attained enlightenment in neighbouring India. (Photo by Ishara S. KODIKARA / AFP) (Photo by ISHARA S. KODIKARA/AFP via Getty Images)
The Sri Lankan government responded swiftly to rumours circulating on social media that the 2,300-year-old Sri Maha Bodhi tree, considered the country’s holiest tree, was being harmed by 5G mobile signals.
President Ranil Wickremesinghe organized a team of experts to investigate the matter at the 2,300-year-old tree located in Anuradhapura, an ancient capital of Sri Lanka.
The team comprised the head of the telecom regulator, the technical chief, the director of the National Botanical Gardens, as well as university professors and district administrators.
Multiple visits were conducted, surveys were carried out, and the ancient tree was thoroughly examined and monitored.
Ultimately, the team concluded that there were no 5G signals present in the area. This incident not only shed light on the rapid spread of fake news in Sri Lanka but also underscored the profound reverence the country holds for the Sri Maha Bodhi.
The Sri Maha Bodhi is revered as it is believed to have originated from a cutting of the bodhi tree in India, under which the Buddha attained enlightenment over 2,500 years ago.
It serves as both an object of worship and a symbol of national sovereignty on the predominantly Buddhist Island with a population of 22 million people.
At ‘great risk’
Claims that the Sri Maha Bodhi tree in Anuradhapura, located 200 kilometers north of Colombo, was threatened by 5G radiation first emerged on a local website.
According to the rumours, the tree’s leaves were turning black due to the nearby 5G towers, and there were concerns that it could eventually lose all its leaves and perish.
These claims quickly spread through social media platforms like Facebook and WhatsApp, with memes being widely shared. Additionally, a television presenter further propagated the theories on his YouTube channel, adding to the speculation.
Amidst the controversy, the chief monk of the Bomaluwa Temple, where the tree is housed, faced allegations of accepting bribes from phone operators to allow the installation of 5G base stations in the vicinity.
“I am not a scientist, nor a botanist, so I raised the issue with the president in February,” monk Pallegama Hemarathana, 68, told AFP.
“He immediately appointed a panel of experts.”
“The government and the Buddhists will do whatever it takes to protect the Sri Maha Bodhi.”
According to Telecommunications Regulatory Commission Director General Helasiri Ranatunga, despite the presence of four older base stations within 500 meters of the Sri Maha Bodhi tree, there is no 5G coverage in the sacred area as rumored.
He clarified that the radiation levels in the vicinity were well below the thresholds set by the World Health Organisation. Botanical experts also confirmed that there was no risk posed by the existing 2G, 3G, or 4G coverage.
However, the panel of experts did recommend implementing a ban on mobile phone use to maintain the tranquility of the temple. Although signs indicating the prohibition are already in place, they are often disregarded by the large number of visitors who frequent the site.
Currently, the Sri Maha Bodhi tree is adorned with fresh heart-shaped, purple-green leaves. This tree, scientifically known as “ficus religiosa” or commonly referred to as “bo,” holds immense significance for thousands of Buddhists who worship it daily as a representation of the “living Buddha.”
Despite its long history, the tree is relatively small and is supported by ten gold-plated iron structures. In its vicinity, another bodhi tree stands, casting a shadow over the revered Sri Maha Bodhi.
A group of over 60 pilgrims, led by first-time visitor G. Kusumalatha, embarked on a 400-kilometer journey from Walasmulla to pay homage to the sacred Sri Maha Bodhi tree. Expressing her excitement, Kusumalatha felt ecstatic to be in such close proximity to the revered tree and expressed gratitude for the good karma that had granted her this opportunity.
Due to its sanctity, no one is permitted to approach the tree within arm’s length. The original bodhi tree in India is believed to have perished centuries ago, while its Sri Lankan descendant faced a tragic incident in March 1985 when it became the target of a terrorist attack by separatist Tamil Tiger rebels, resulting in the loss of more than 120 lives.
To safeguard the tree, stringent security measures reminiscent of an airport setting have been implemented. Visitors are required to undergo metal detector screenings and thorough checks.
Two gold-plated fences encircle the tree, ensuring constant protection from monks, police personnel, and armed troops.
Additionally, several individuals are assigned the task of clapping their hands to ward off any potential threats posed by squirrels, birds, or monkeys.