The city of Bodhgaya, located in the state of Bihar, is popular as the place related to Gautam Buddha. However the actual association and the facts about the place have always eluded us. Bodhgaya is the place where the wandering Sakya Prince Siddhartha sat in meditation below a Bodhi Tree in 531 B.C. His three days of initial meditation and subsequent seven weeks of enlightenment have been closely associated with various places in Bodh Gaya.
History remembers Bodh Gaya as Bodhimanda and the main monastery as the Bodhimanda-vihara (Pali). The present city is a historians’, tourists’ and religious minded people’s delight and is replete with numerous places and monuments that have a direct bond with the enlightened prince. The area had remained the hotbed for Buddhism up to the 13th century till it was conquered by the Turks.
The city, complete with the pilgrimage a site is beautifully situated on the shores of the broad but shallow Niranjan (Falgu) river. Bodh Gaya is probably the best-known place in Bihar as far as the international tourists are concerned. It is the only world heritage site in the state and the most revered place for Buddhists. This happened sometime in 6th century BC, making this a continued place of worship for 2700 years or so. The town of Bodh Gaya more or less exists around the Mahabodhi temple. The Buddhist communities of predominantly Buddhist countries have setup their own footprints around the main temple and the town wears a very international look with each country erecting a monastery in their own architectural style, in contrast to the otherwise rustic look that the rest of state wears. There are monasteries by Buddhist countries like Sri Lanka, Burma, Tibet, Vietnam, Bhutan, Japan, Thailand and China.
A must see is the most sacred Pipal tree under which Prince Siddhartha became Buddha – the enlightened one. The present tree is believed to be the fourth or fifth generation off spring of the original. Its saplings are still in great demand in India and abroad. It is a legend that immediately after enlightenment Buddha walked to and fro near the sacred Bodhi tree for seven days. The spot where he walked became sacred as early as in 1st Century B.C. A shrine was built here at the same time.
The Mahabodhi Temple stands tall in the town and you can see it more or less from anywhere. It is a tall structure with many smaller structures surrounding it. As you step inside the temple, you would see a bookshop and many shops selling artifacts. The main shrine is at a lower level. The serene image of Buddha will greet you and do not miss a well-carved piece of wood on top of Buddha image. Outside the main temple, there are thousands of stupas in every shape and size mostly made out of stone. Some of them may have been excavated from the site and have been planted more or less where they were. Every stupa is surrounded by hundreds of small plastic cups filled with water and a floating marigold in each. The walls of the temple adorn the small idols of Buddha and Bodhisattvas. Most of the Buddha images are in Bhumi Sparsha mudra, the mudra that he had at the time of enlightenment. The Balustrade or railing that surrounds the temple today is a copy of the original one that resides in the local museum. Mahabodhi temple is illuminated with laser lights at night that makes a splendid view.
A gigantic 80 ft statue of Buddha in Dhyan Mudra or the meditative pose built by the Japanese organization Daijokyo a few years back is one of the must see places in Bodh Gaya now. Built by joining pink chunar sandstone slabs, this statue has been designed by the famous Ganapathi Stapathi. The 6 ft high lotus on which Buddha sits is made in yellow stone. The statue is flanked on three sides by statues of 10 of Buddha’s most famous disciples who stand in various yogic mudras. Sheer scale of the statue will overwhelm you. Sujatagarh is the Stupa built on top of the place where Sujata offered Kheer to Buddha after his enlightenment.
There is a new temple by India as well, a huge temple that is the residence of Karmapa and the one that of Dalai Lama. Karmapa’s residence has the some of the most elaborate paintings on its walls. Most paintings depict the life events of Buddha or the journey of spread of Buddhism in their respective countries. The Thai monastery, which is locally known as Naulakha as 9 lakhs were spent on building it when it was made, is quite an impressive one with elaborate paintings in its walls and window doors. All the temples and monasteries are extremely well maintained despite the huge crowds that visit them. An interesting feature is plants that have been brought from the native places and are blooming here in these monasteries.
Like any other pilgrim place in India, the market outside bustle with small time vendors selling items that can be offered at the temple, specially the colorful scarves, candles and diyas. They sell handicrafts, brass artifacts mostly made in Nepal like images of Buddha and Tara and singing bells or rotating drums. There is jewellery of all kinds, bags, and western cloths in Indian fabrics along with sacred threads and other usual artifacts. Eateries serve international cuisine and most of them cater to the backpackers and the devotees.
To reach Bodhgaya, the nearest airport is Jaiprakash Narayan International Airport at Patna (109 km), rail head is at Gaya (12 km) and comfortably accessible by road from all major cities.
source: Tourism India, Jan 2012