Bodh Gaya – Exploring the Buddhist circuit in the Indian state of Bihar (Part2)
Continuing from the last post on Nalanda there is another UNESCO World Heritage site in the vicinity, relating to the Buddha – The Bodh Gaya. Just 84 kms away , it is a 2 hours drive from Nalanda. This is the very place where Buddha attained Enlightenment, so your can imagine the importance of this small town, tucked away in Bihar.
Bodhgaya (A UNESCO World Heritage site)
Mahabodhi temple complex
According to Buddhist scriptures, the Mahabodhi Temple complex is believed to be the naval of the earth. This is the sacred place where prince Siddhartha Gautama, attained Enlightenment and came to be known as Buddha, meaning ‘the enlightened one’ in Sanskrit. It is therefore considered a place of pilgrimage for Buddhists and Hindus alike. In approximately 250 BC, about 250 years after the Buddha attained enlightenment, the Buddhist Emperor Ashoka founded the Mahabodhi Temple, established a monastery and erected a diamond throne shrine at this spot.
a) The Bodhi Tree
This is the main place of prayer in Bodhgaya. Gautama Buddha attained Enlightenment after 49 days of meditation, sitting under a peepal tree, now made famous as the Bodhi Tree. The present tree in the Bodhi Temple in Bodh Gaya is believed to be the 3rd or 4th generation descendant of the original tree under which Buddha attained enlightenment.
For the first week after Enlightenment, Buddha continued sitting beneath the Bodhi tree, meditating. During the second week he is said to have stood looking at the Bodhi tree without batting the eyelids, as gratitude for sheltering him. Animeshlocha Stupa, the Unblinking Stupa, is at this very spot.
For another seven days, Budhha walked back and forth between the Stupa and the Bodhi tree. Legend has it that lotus flowers sprung up along this route . It is now called Cankamana, or the Jewel Walk.
There is a red sandstone slab under the Bodhi tree, known as Diamond throne, built by King Ashoka at the exact spot where Buddha is believed to have meditated and attained Enlightenment.
According to legend, the Buddhist King Ashoka was very attached to the Bodhi tree. He used to visit regularly and also held a festival every year in its honor. This made his queen, Tissarakkha jealous of the tree and she tried to poison it in the hope of killing it. The tree survived and since then a protective wall was built around the tree !
One of the most treasured souvenirs from Bodh Gaya is a leaf from the sacred tree itself. One can see devotees sitting under the tree hoping for a leaf to shake loose and drift towards them.
b) The Mahabodhi Temple
Sheltered behind the Bodhi tree is the Mahabodhi temple.
The first temple was built by Emperor Ashoka in the 3rd century BC and has been restored many times since. The present temple dates from the 5th or 6th century. This is one of the earliest Buddhist temples built entirely in brick and still standing. Images of Buddha and other figures are found in niches covering the wall and in numerous small shrines and stupas in the entire courtyard.
Inside the temple is a colossal image of the Buddha in a sitting position and touching the earth with his right hand, in “bhumisparsh mudra”. The statue is originally of black stone but it has been painted gold by devotees.
c) The Lotus Pond or Lake Muchalinda
The Buddha was meditating near this Lake during the sixth week after Enlightenment, when a strong storm broke out and the waves from the lake started lashing the Buddha. Sensing his discomfort , the Snake King protected him from the storm. This is considered another sacred spot.
d) Rajayatna Tree
At this location, the Buddha spent the seventh and the last week of meditation. Interestingly, two Burmese merchants who had taken refuge under this tree coined the famous hymn “Buddham Sharanam Gachchami” (I surrender to Buddha). The tree is demarcated with a stone plaque and is considered the final stop of the Mahabodhi pilgrim circuit.
e) The Great Buddha statue
Standing tall at a height of 80 ft, the tallest Buddha statue in India, with its overpowering presence and towering aura is a big visitor draw. This gigantic figurine, depicts Lord Buddha meditating.
Various countries have set up beautiful temples and monasteries in the vicinity of the Mahabodhi temple complex. A visit to these would be highly recommended and gives tourists a view of the architectural and Buddhist cultural differences between these countries.
Things you may want to know before the travel (Travel tips)
- Best time to visit is in winter (from October to March). Summer can be very hot and tiring with the sun beating down on you
- Gaya can be reached via Air, Rail and Road
- Air : The nearest airport is in Gaya, about 17 kilometres from the town of Bodh Gaya. The frequency of flights is lesser though the airport has started catering to international flights now. The second nearest airport to Gaya is in Patna which is about 135 kilometres away from the town. Patna has more frequent flights options
- Rail : The nearest rail head is Gaya Junction (13 kilometres from Bodh Gaya) and is well connected to major Indian cities. Taxi can be hired from the railway station. Charges will vary depending upon the time of arrival
- Road : Gaya is about 3 hours away from Patna but due to bad road conditions, it is not preferred mode of transport
- There are many hotel options in Bodh Gaya but do your research on basic amenities before booking one
- Local modes of transport in Bodh gaya
- On Foot : Major temples and attractions are located close to each other, so walking is recommended mode of travel in Bodh Gaya
- Rickshaw and Tonga : Auto rickshaws, cycle rickshaws and tongas are popular and inexpensive way of getting around the town. It is also an experience for those not familiar with these !
- Taxi : Hiring a local cab for sightseeing is a slightly expensive option, but definitely available