This is where Prince Gautama attained enlightenment under the sacred Asvatta tree (Bodhi tree) and became known as the xe “Buddha” Buddha. This is one of the four most sacred pilgrimage places for Buddhists. The other important places are his place of birth at Lumbini, Nepal; the site of his first lecture at Sarnath, near Varanasi; and the place where he passed away at Kushinagar, near Gorakhpur.
Buddhists from all over the world have built temples in xe “Bodhgaya” Bodhgaya. Bodhgaya is a small, laid-back town, and it is pleasant place to stay for a while. It is an active center for Buddhist learning, and many Westerners come here to study. If you are coming to see the sites, you can easily see everything in a day.
The Dalai Lama often spends time here in December and January. Tibetan pilgrims come for the winter from Dharamsala. Bodhgaya is located about 13km from Gaya, 450km west of Calcutta, and 90km south of Patna.
The Mahabodhi Temple is located at the place of Lord Buddha’s enlightenment. The temple has a 50m (170 ft) tower. The present temple was restored around 1880. There have been several other temples on this site. Muslims destroyed a previous temple in the 11th century. Parts of the intricately carved railings to the south and west of the temple are ancient. Some of the railings are original and parts are reproductions.
The inner sanctuary contains a huge Buddha. There is also a Siva-linga that was installed about 860. This temple is sacred to Hindus because Lord Buddha is considered by them to be the ninth incarnation of Lord Vishnu.
The Bodhi Tree here, behind the temple, is said to be a descendent of the tree under which Buddha attained enlightenment. Emperor Ashoka’s daughter (Sanghamitta) carried a sapling of the original Bodhi (pipal) tree under which the Buddha sat to Sri Lanka. That tree is at Anuradhapura in Sri Lanka. A cutting from that tree was planted in Bodhgaya when the original tree died. Under the tree is a red sandstone slab said to be the Vajrasana, diamond throne, upon which Buddha sat and attained nirvana. The tree is located behind the temple and is about 24m (80 ft) high and 125 years old.
After attaining enlightenment, Buddha spent seven weeks in the area of the Bodhi tree. The first week he spent sitting under the tree. The second week he spent looking at the tree from the Animeshlochana Stupa, a spot now marked by a small white temple to your right as you enter the gate of the Mahabodhi temple. Animeshlochana means “the place of unwinking gazing.”
The Jewel Walk (Chankramana Chaitya) is a raised platform where Buddha walked up and down in meditation during the third week. The platform was originally built in the 1st century BC and is 1m high and 18m (60 ft) long. Carved stone lotuses mark the spots where he put his feet.
The Ratanagraha Chaitya is where he spent his fourth week in contemplation. It is said that red, blue, yellow, orange, and white rays emanated from his body when he meditated on the Patthana, or causal law.
It is said that Buddha spent the fifth week under the Ajapala Nigrodha tree.
By the northern wall of the compound is the Lotus Pond, called Mucalinda Lake (abode of the snake king). Buddha is said to have spent the sixth week in meditation here. There is a life-sized Buddha covered by a cobra. A cobra is said to have saved Buddha from drowning while he was in deep meditation. This pond is full of beautiful lotus flowers. In front of the pond are the remains of an Ashoka pillar, which is now about 6m (20 ft) high.
The seventh week was spent at Rajayatana, a tree under which Lord Buddha sat. The exact location of this tree is not known, but a spot has been chosen to mark the place.
After the seventh week, Lord Buddha went toSarnath to teach five Brahmins there.
There are many people at this temple that have made vows to offer 400,000 obeisances at this temple. They do it in groups of 100,000 and then do extras to make sure they did not miscount.
You enter the temple complex from the east, off the main street to your left as you look at the temple from the road. The temple is open 6 am to noon and 2 to 6.30 pm.
History of the Buddha
The Buddha appeared around 560 BC (the exact year is disputed) in Lumbini (now in Nepal) as a prince of the Sakya dynasty. He was given the name Siddhartha. An astrologer predicted that he would gain great power either as a ruler of men or as a religious leader.
It was later predicted that if he saw the suffering of men he would take to religion and give up his father’s kingdom. His father made every effort to ensure that his son was spared from even seeing misery. He isolated him from the outside world and gave him anything he wanted. After he grew up, Siddhartha married and fathered a son. One day, he managed to leave the palace, at which time he was exposed to sickness, old age, and death. He met a wandering sage, and then decided to renounce worldly life and take up the path of austerity to search for the Absolute Truth.
He subjected himself to great austerities for six years. It is said that he fasted on only one grain of rice a day until when he held his stomach, he could feel his backbone. He would also sit on thorn bushes. One day, barely alive, he staggered to the river near Bodhgaya and fell in. At that time, he came close to death. He then realized that all his austerities were counterproductive to his discovering the truth.
He decided to sit under the Bodhi tree in Bodhgaya and to meditate. After meditating for forty-nine days, he was tempted by Mara, the Lord of Death, with all material desires, but he rejected them all. Then he realized that human life was an endless cycle of birth, death, old age, and disease, to which people were bound by their material attachments. He realized that he could not attain self-realization by performing austerities because that in itself was a “desire”. Because he no longer desired this stage of life, he attained nirvana (the ultimate goal of freedom from the cycle of birth and death) and attained the state of pure bliss.
Many of the countries with large Buddhist populations have built temples in Bodhgaya. The temples usually have the architectural design of the sponsoring country.
At the Tibetan Mahayana Monastery (1938) there is a large Dharma Chakra (prayer wheel) or wheel of law. It is believed that an aspirant will be freed of sin if he or she spins the wheel three times in succession from left to right. The wheel is a 10m (33 ft) high metal drum painted gold and red. The Karmapa Temple and Sakya Monastery are also Tibetan.
The Thai Temple is a colorful temple designed in the Thai Buddhist style.
The Indosan Nipponji Japanese Temple has a beautiful Buddha in the temple.
There are also Burmese (1936), Bhutanese, Chinese, Sri Lankan, Vietnamese, and Nepalese monasteries here.
The small Bodhgaya Site Museum has a fine collection of exhibits collected from the local area. There are gold, bronze, and stone sculptures of Buddha. Open daily except Fri 10 am to 5 pm.
There is a 20m high Great Buddha Statue on a 5m high base, which was unveiled by the Dalai Lama in 1989. It is across the street from the Sakya Tibetan Monastery.
Buddha bathed in the nearby Niranjana (now called Lilanjan) River after attaining enlightenment. The Niranjana River is about 250m east of the temple. Prince Siddhartha crossed this river to reach the Bodhi tree. It is said that the Buddha sent his begging bowl upstream in this river. He made a solemn declaration that if he was to become the Buddha, the bowl would float upstream and join those of the previous Buddhas. The bowl floated upstream as he desired.
The Mohanta’s Monastery, located right next to the Mahabodhi Temple, is a Shaivite monastery. It is said that Adi Sankaracharya spent days here in a heated debate with Buddhist philosophers. There are sculptures in this temple.
In Dungeswari (Mahakala), 12km from Bodhgaya, there is a cave where Buddha meditated for some time and came to the conclusion that knowledge could not be gained through mortification of the flesh. It is best to come here by car, as from where the bus lets you off, it is a long walk (best only done in the winter).
Buddha Jayanti Festival
The Buddha Jayanti festival in May celebrates the appearance day of Buddha, the day he received enlightenment, and the day he passed away. It is the biggest festival day of the year.
To get to Bodhgaya, visitors normally arrive first in nearby Gaya, about 13km from Bodhgaya. Bodhgaya is 243km east of Varanasi.