Bodh Gaya is a place which should be visited or seen by a person of devotion and which would cause awareness of the nature of impermanence.
Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha-to-be, had been dwelling on the banks of the Nairanjana River with five ascetic followers for six years practicing austerities. Realising that austerities could not lead to realisation he abandoned them. His five ascetic companions disgusted at his seeming failure, deserted him and left for Sarnath.
Gaya is located at a distance of 105 km from Patna in the state of Bihar. Buddha Gaya is located 7 miles south of Gaya and is one of the well visited Buddhist pilgrimage centers of the Indian subcontinent. Buddhagaya or Bodhgaya as is generally known is an ancient and hallowed spot on earth. Being the seat of Enlightenment of the Buddha it is the holiest of the holies for the Buddhists of the world. Situated on the banks of the river Niranjana, Buddhagaya was originally a part of the Uruvela village (presently Urail). Its geographical location is at 24o 41’ 45’’ N. Latitude and 85o 2’ 22’’ E. Longitude and is located in Bihar which again is an ancient and historical place not only due to Buddhagaya but because Bihar is equally important to the Jains, Hindus and Sikhs.
Although Buddhagaya has not attracted as much attention as the world famous Agra or Ajanta, but of late it has become a significant and interesting place due to its having longer and more complete history than almost any other place in the sub-continent. Its history supplemented by geographical, archaeological and literary sources from China, Tibet, Burma and Sri Lanka. The history of Buddhagaya is also made more interesting by the participation of some of Asia’s greatest personalities from King Asoka to Hiuen Tsang and Edwin Arnold to Anagarika Dharmapala.
The history of Buddhagaya is not merely an outline of events, or a list of doubtful dates, but it ranks high in importance from an artistic and architectural point of view. The Mahabodhi Temple — where Lord Buddha got divine light has given a place of pride to Buddhagaya in the world map, for religion and tourism is the sole surviving example of what was one a whole architectural genre. It even had an International influence, through models and plans and replicas of it which were carried throughout Asia by pilgrims and from which copies of it were reproduced. The large number of statues and stupas gives one an example of Buddhist art, but also makes it one of the richest repositories of sculpture from the Pala period.
The fame of Buddhagaya as the sacred site where the Buddha attained Sambodhi goes back to very early times giving it a religious significance. For the millions of Buddhists, it is the Navel of the Earth — the geographical centre of their faith. For it is here that Prince Siddhartha became the Buddha after attaining Enlightenment sitting under the Bodhi Tree, and it is from here the phenomenon now called Buddhism began its gentle progress to the farthest reaches of the globe. In keeping with Buddhism’s emphasis on calm detachment, Buddhagaya has never evoked in the Buddhists the intense fervour that Mecca, Benaras, Jerusalem or Amritsar have in the millions who hold these places sacred. It has, nonetheless, inspired countless pilgrims throughout the centuries to undergo hardship and danger for the blessing of just being able to walk on its sacred ground. The Buddha’s experience at Uruvela not only resulted in the location changing its name to Bodhgaya or Buddhagaya; it has also meant that this, otherwise an obscure village, has been the focus of attention for millions of pilgrims. It became very early and remains even today, the most important place of Buddhist pilgrimage. The exact place where the Buddha sat, when he was enlightened, was called Vajrasana meaning ‘Diamond Throne’. It is believed that when the universe is finally destroyed, this could be the last place to disappear and that it would be the first place to form when the universe began to re-evolve again. The Vajrasana was also, sometimes, called the Victory Throne of all the Buddha’s (Sabbabuddhanam Jayapallankam) or the Navel of the Earth (Pathavinabhi). The Vajrasana which was also called Sambodhi by King Asoka but the most widely used and also the most enduring of Buddhagaya’s names was Mahabodhi meaning ‘great enlightenment’.
Buddhagaya today is a place of attraction for the entire Buddhist world and groups of pilgrims and visitors come to visit it all the year round, some to pay their obeisance to this great edifice of veneration, whereas for some to come and see this great edifice of history.
Buddhagaya remained the cynosure of the Buddhist world upto the 13th century, thereafter due to the sudden political upheavals that took place in and out of India, activities at Buddhagaya were also interrupted and disrupted. The place was deserted and became desolate and it remained neglected and forgotten for several centuries.But, as if by miracle, Buddhagaya, erstwhile an insignificant village, was transformed overnight for it now hums with life and bids fair to be the centre of the Buddhist world once more. History has taken a turn and once again Buddhagaya is humming with life. In the beginning, the pilgrims were only a few and far between, but there is tremendous increase in the number of pilgrims with the development of communication systems and other facilities. When this place is full of pilgrims, it is then a sight to see how they pour forth their devotion in various ways. These they do by offering pujas, circumambulating along the sacred precincts, prostrating round the main shrine, sitting in contemplation under the sacred Bodhi tree and holding meditation retreats, burning of candles and butter lamps. All these inspiring and instilling into us a little hope and a little faith, the aroma of goodwill, peace and devotion pervades the whole atmosphere. Each and every follower frequents the holy place to receive inspiration and blessings at the seat of Enlightenment of the Buddha whose Sambodhi has universal significance.
Temple Complex :
The most important place for one and all, be it the pilgrims, the visitors, the tourists or the local populace is unquestionably the ancient heritage and world famous Mahabodhi Temple, which is the biggest, but by no means the only temple at Buddhagaya. The great monument that exists today is a later structure built on the spot where once existed the Bodhi Shrine of Buddha built by King Asoka. The exact date of its construction is not available, but records and travelogues suggest that it was built sometime around the 6th-7th centuries A.D. As at present, the structure is 170 ft. high and consists of a straight pyramidal tower of nine storeys, the main structure is surmounted by a stupa-shaped dome and at the base of the main tower there rises a turret at each of the four corners, a miniature replica of the main edifice. Niches are carved into the body of the entire edifice for the placing of Buddha images and other cult images of the Mahayana pantheon.
Entering the temple inside the main shrine which is built on the very place where the Buddha attained Enlightenment, the place variously called "the victory throne of all Buddhas" (sabba buddhanam jayapallankam) or "the Navel of the Earth" (puthavinabhim). It was while seated here that "vision arose, knowledge arose, wisdom arose, understanding arose, light arose" in the Buddha that full moon night of the 6th century B.C. and where he continued to sit for seven days "experiencing the joy of liberation". The shrine on which the Buddha statue sits and the statue itself date back to the Pala period. The statue in the shrine dates back to the late 10th century A.D., is more than two meters high and shows the Buddha in the earth-touching gesture. Everyone who comes in contact with the statue is beholden with awe by the radiance it emits and when Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore saw it for the first time, it was the only time in his life when he felt the urge to bow before a statue.
At the back of the Mahabodhi Temple is the Bodhi Tree under which Lord Buddha sat meditating and attained Enlightenment. The present Bodhi Tree was planted in the 19th century when a sapling was brought from Anuradhapura in Sri Lanka, several previous trees having died or been destroyed. The present tree is more than 122 years old. This is the most important object of veneration for the Buddhists of the world. Even the Buddha himself sanctioned the use of the Bodhi Tree as an object of veneration, as a symbol of the Buddha himself. The Buddha himself was so full of gratitude towards the Bodhi Tree that on the second week after his Enlightenment the Buddha simply stood gazing at the tree in gratitude that he stood there for seven days without blinking his eyes even for a second. It is therefore no doubt that the Buddha himself was greatly in awe of the Bodhi Tree which gave him shelter in his most momentous occasion during his search for peace and emancipation.
The Buddha spent seven weeks in seven different places that are all located in the precincts of the Mahabodhi temple. The first week was under the Bodhi Tree itself and the second week he spent opposite the Bodhi Tree gazing at it which is known as the Animesalocana (the place of Unwinking Gazing). The third week he spent doing the walking meditation or Cankamana which is also a very prominent place. The fourth week was spent at the Ratanaghara on the jewel house where the Buddha spent his fourth week contemplating on the metaphysics (Abhidhamma) which was discovered here. This philosophy was based on the laws of Cause and Effect ( paticcasamuppada) and is the most important place and this shrine house was said to have been built for the Buddha by the devas. It is believed that during the course of his meditation here rays of different colours emanated from his body and the colours (blue, yellow, red, white, orange) have been used to design the Buddhist flag. The fifth week he spent under the Ajapala Nigrodha tree where he is said to have had a conversation with Brahma. The discourse given here is important, because the Buddha is said to have been the first exponent of equality in the social order discarding the caste system prevalent in the society. The sixth week he spent near the Mucalinda tank or the Lotus pond. The Buddha during the course of his stay met with a cyclonic storm and heavy rain there-after which the Naga King, Mucalinda, is said to have sheltered the Buddha from rain. The seventh week was spent by the Buddha at the foot of the Rajayatana tree, where he made his first disciples, Tapussa and Bhallika, two merchants who came here on their way to a business trip. They were the first lay disciples of the Buddha.
The complex possesses a total area of 14.3 acres. The Mahabodhi Temple alongwith its several votive stupas and statues that surround the structure on all sides including the seven places of significance has also a Meditation Park and Shantivan in its complex. The meditation-park has been developed lately keeping in mind the demand of the pilgrims who want to meditate here in the sylvan solitude and feel the positive vibrancy that this place possesses.
Distance (in Km.)
Gaya to Bodhgaya - 11 Km.
Gaya to Bodhgaya (via Do-muhan) - 14 Km.
Patna to Gaya - 101 Km.
Kolkata to Gaya - 483 Km.
Delhi to Gaya - 998 Km.
:(1). 7 Km. from Bodhgaya
(2). Patna Airport (106 km.
International Airport : Kolkata
Station : Gaya Rly St. (14 km.)