Bodh Gaya


Located in the Indian state of Bihar, Bodh Gaya is the most revered site of Buddhists as it is the place where Siddharta Gautama attained Nirvana and became the Buddha, the Enlightened One. Bodh Gaya is at a distance of 135 km from Patna, the capital city of Bihar. It is located on the banks of the river Lilanjan, which is referred as Niranjana in Buddhist scriptures. During the time of Buddha, Bodh Gaya was known as Uruvela. Bodhimanda, Sambodhi, and Mahabodhi were the other names with which this place was known in the past.

As the story has it, Prince Siddharta left his home at the age of 29 in search of the ultimate truth. For the next six years, he practiced austerities, living in a cave near Uruvela. As part of the austerities, he started reducing his food and eventually stopped eating altogether. At the end of these six years, he was still unrealized and thus was extremely frustrated. His body had become frail and he looked like a skeleton. He left the cave in disappointment and reached the banks of the Niranjana River, wherein he was offered rice-milk and honey by a young girl named Sujata. The food gave him much needed energy. With this sudden gain of energy, he gathered all his resolve and sat down under a fig tree, with the resolution that until he realized the truth, he would not get up from his seat. He meditated there for the next seven days and at end of the seventh day, he had the realization of truth and he became enlightened. The tree under which he sat down for meditation became famous as the Bodhi Tree.

The main monastery of Bodh Gaya was earlier known as the Bodhimanda Vihara. It is now called as the Mahabodhi Temple. The exact details of who built this temple and the duration of construction have not been ascertained. However, inscriptions found on the temple suggest that it was built during 5-7th Century A.D.

After attainment of Nirvana by the Buddha, this place has been visited by innumerable people who come here for spiritual inspiration and blessing. Buddha-Jayanti and Buddha-Poornima, which refers to the day of birth and day of enlightenment of Buddha, respectively, are celebrated with much vigour and enthusiasm, with devotees flocking to this place from all over the world. A three day festival called Nyingma Monlam Chenmo, is celebrated in the month of January and is even attended by His Holiness Dalai Lama.

Places of Spiritual Significance

Mahabodhi Tree

Bodhi-Tree

This is the fig tree under which Buddha had sat down in meditation for seven consecutive days, and attained enlightenment. The present-day tree is believed to be the fourth descendant of the original tree which existed during the time of Buddha. There is a slab of red stone under the tree, at the spot where Buddha had attained Nirvana. It is called Vajrasana or The Diamond Throne. The Emperor of India, Asoka, had it constructed during his visit to this place in the 3rd century B.C. Buddhist religious texts describe this place as the Naval of the Earth. Devotees and pilgrims sit around the tree in meditation to connect to the subtle yet profound vibrations of Buddha which permeate this place.

Mahabodhi Temple

Mahabodhi-Temple

The Mahabodhi Temple, along with the Mahabodhi Tree, is the main attraction of Bodh Gaya. The magnificent Mahabodhi Temple stands erected close to the Mahabodhi Tree. Despite several historical studies and excavations, nobody is able to figure out when this temple was constructed, who got it constructed and the time taken for the construction. It is however ascertained by historians that Emperor Asoka had a shine built at the place of Buddha’s enlightenment. Based on the inscriptions found on the temple, it is believed that this temple was constructed during the 5-7th century A.D.

In the thirteenth century, Turkish invaders destroyed the temple and killed many monks. During the Turkish rule, the temple, which was in ruins, was subjected to deliberate neglect. In 1880, the Governor of Bengal ordered the restoration of this temple. Since then it has gone under several renovations.

This temple has a 50 metres tall pyramidal top and a square base with sides of 15 metres with four small towers. Inside the sanctum shrine of the temple, there is statue of the Buddha made of black stone which is painted in golden colour. The Buddha is depicted sitting in Bhoomi Sparsh Mudra (a posture in which Buddha’s palm is touching the earth), facing east. Since the Buddha is considered to be the ninth incarnation of Lord Vishnu, this place is also a revered destination for Hindus. On June 27 2002, the Mahabodhi Temple was declared a UNESCO world heritage site.

Animesh Lochana Chaitya

Animesh-Lochan-Chaitaya

The term Animesh Lochana means open eyes. After his enlightenment, it is believed that the Buddha had spent the entire second week gazing at the Bodhi Tree from this place, with motionless eyes and profound gratitude. It is on the north-eastern side of the Bodhi Tree.

Chankramana

Chankramana

The Chankramana is located on the northern side of the Mahabodhi Temple. It is the place where the Buddha had spent the entire third week, after his enlightenment, in performing perambulation. A raised platform is built with lotus marks engraved in it at the spots where Buddha is believed to have stepped while doing the perambulation.

Ratanaghara

Ratanaghara

Located on the north-west side of the temple, the Ratanaghara is the place where the Buddha spent the fourth week in meditation, after his enlightenment. The Buddha meditated here, reflecting on the seven treatise of the Abhidhamma (The Higher Doctrine). A ray of six colours was said to have emanated from his body during that period. Buddhists have designed their flag based on these colours. These six colours are blue, yellow, red, white, orange, and a mixture of these five. Each colour represents one noble quality of the Buddha.

Ajapala Nigrodh Tree

Ajapala-Nigrodh-Tree

Located on the eastern side of the Mahabodhi Temple Complex, the Ajapala Nigrodh is the banyan tree under which the Buddha spent his fifth week of meditation after his enlightenment. It is at this place that a Brahmin man (a person belonging to a higher caste according to the caste system followed by Hindus) had approached the Buddha with his doubt, which was clarified by the Buddha. It is also believed that three celestial lady dancers tried to tempt the Buddha, but to no avail, as the Buddha remained unperturbed, deeply absorbed in his meditation.

Muchalinda Lake

Muchalinda-Lake

In the sixth week after his enlightenment, the Buddha was meditating near the Muchalinda Lake. It is believed that a huge snake came out of the Muchalinda Lake and spread its hood to protect the Buddha from the heavy rains. For the entire seventh week, the Buddha meditated under the serpent’s protection from the rain. In the middle of the lake, there is a statue of the Buddha which depicts him sitting in meditation, on the coils of a serpent which has kept its hood spread over the head of the Buddha.

Rajayatna Tree

Rajayatna-Tree

The Rajayatna Tree is located on the south of the Mahabodhi Temple. It was this tree under which the Buddha had spent the last week of his seven-week long meditation after enlightenment. At the end of the seventh week, two merchants were passing the Rajatyana Tree. They offered the Buddha roasted rice and honey to eat. This was the Buddha’s first meal after his enlightenment. These merchants requested the Buddha to give something sacred, which they could keep with them. It is believed that the Buddha gave them few hairs from his head.

Sujata Kuti

Sujata-Kuti

Located 7 km north-east of Bodh Gaya, Sujata Kuti is a stupa built in honour of the young girl Sujata, the daughter of the village chief of Barkur. Sujata offered the Buddha rice-milk and honey to eat when he first arrived in Uruvela. This was the first meal of grains taken by the Buddha since the time he started the practice of asceticism, in accordance to which he had starved himself, resulting in a frail and extremely weak body which looked like a skeleton.

Dungeshwari Hills

Dungeshwari-Hills

The Dungeshwari Hills are located 12 km north-east of Bodh Gaya, on the banks of Phalgu River. A simple and pristine temple is maintained by Tibetan monks, just below the cave which sheltered the Buddha for six years. The Buddha lived in the cave, meditating, before he left this place in frustration for not having achieved his goal of self-realization.

Archaeological Society of India Museum

Maintained by the Archaeological Society of India, this museum is about a kilometre away from the Mahabodhi Temple. On display are the articles recovered during excavations, carried out in and around Bodh Gaya, which throws light on the lifestyle and culture of the ancient day’s inhabitants of this place.

**There are some other places of interest which includes: Royal Bhutan Monastery, Chinese Temple, Indosan Nippon Japanese Temple, Thai Monastery, Vietnamese Temple and Burmese Vihara.

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