An excess of love is slowly killing the Mahabodhi tree under which Siddhartha Gautama attained enlightenment 2,600 years ago. Buddhists who visit the tree, at the holy site of Bodhgaya in the eastern Indian state of Bihar, the birthplace of Buddhism, invariably come with offerings of food. Their traditional offerings of sweets, yoghurt, milk and ghee (clarified butter) attract ants. These crawl into the bark, eat away at the tender twigs and leave secretions that generate fungal growth. Pilgrims also tie flags to the tree or burn incense or light lamps as offerings of thanks to the Buddha. This makes it hard for the leaves to breathe. AAThe infection tends to subside during winter but with the onset of warm weather, the damage done by the ants swarming all over the tree is particularly severe,'' said Ashok Singh of the local Agriculture Research Institute. Experts blame the body responsible for maintaining the site, the Bodhgaya Temple Management Committee for failing to keep people and food away. While the committee claims to have followed the institute's instructions to spray the leaves with pesticide, it admits that keeping the 2,000 daily pilgrims at a distance is hard. AAWe have quarantined the tree and all the offerings are made outside the enclosure around it,'' said the committee's general secretary Kalicharan Yadva. AAWe dug up the mud around the roots and put medicine down. We try to keep people away but there is tremendous pressure from pilgrims who want to sit near the tree or take a symbolic around it as part of their prayers.'' The tree is believed to be an offspring of the original. To commemorate the Buddha's enlightenment, the emperor Ashoka (who converted to Buddhism in the 3rd century BC), sent his son to Sri Lanka as a missionary with a cutting of the tree. It flourished in a monastery there. A cutting from this tree was brought back to India from Sri Lanka to replace the original after it was destroyed. AAThis is a tree which has given peace to the Buddhist world. We will not let it die,'' said Mr Yadav. Conservationists doubt such promises. They point to the fact that frenzied building has been going on at the site since Unesco declared the Mahabodhi Temple a world heritage site last year. Unesco grants this status to cultural sites considered of outstanding value to humanity. Apart from being the birthplace of Buddhism, the Mahabodhi Temple is one of the few surviving examples of ancient brick structures in India. Fearing the worst, some are already talking about getting hold of cuttings from the tree in Sri Lanka if the tree at Bodhgaya should die.