Buddham sarnam gachhami Dhammam sarnam gachhami Sangham sarnam gachhami
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.
bodh gaya : place of enlightenment
“Bodh Gaya is the place where Gautama Buddha attained unsurpassed, supreme Enlightenment. It is a place which should be visited or seen by a person of devotion and which would cause awareness and apprehension 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.
He then moved towards the village of Senani where he was offered rice milk by a Brahmin girl, Sujata. Accepting from a grass-cutter a gift of kusa grass for a mat, the Bodhisattva took a seat under a pipal tree facing east. Here he resolved not to rise again until enlightenment was attained.
“Here on this seat my body may shrivel up,
my skin, my bones, my flesh may dissolve,
but my body will not move from this seat
until I have attained Enlightenment,
so difficult to obtain in the course of many kalpas”.
As Gautama sat in deep meditation, Mara, Lord of Illusion, perceiving that his power was about to be broken, rushed to distract him from his purpose. The Bodhisattva touched the earth, calling it to bear witness the countless lifetimes of virtue that had led him to this place of enlightenment. When the earth shook, confirming the truth of Gautama’s words, Mara unleashed his army of demons. In the epic battle that ensued, Gautama’s wisdom broke through the illusions and the power of his compassion transformed the demons’ weapons into flowers and Mara and all his forces fled in disarray.
The Maha Bodhi Temple
The historical place at which the Enlightenment took place became a place of pilgrimage. Though it is not mentioned in the scriptures, the Buddha must have visited Bodh Gaya again in the course of his teaching career. About 250 years after the Enlightenment, the Buddhist Emperor, Ashoka visited the site and is considered the founder of the Mahabodhi Temple. According to the tradition, Ashoka, as well as establishing a monastery, erected a diamond throne shrine at this spot with a canopy supported by four pillars over a stone representation of the Vajrasana, the Seat of Enlightenment.
The temple’s architecture is superb but its history is shrouded in obscurity. It was constructed with the main intention of making it a monument and not a receptacle for the relics of the Buddha. Several shrines were constructed with enshrined images for use as places of worship.
The basement of the present temple is 15m square, 15m in length as well as in breadth and its height is 52m which rises in the form of a slender pyramid tapering off from a square platform. On its four corners four towers gracefully rise to some height. The whole architectural plan gives pose and balance to the observers.
Inside the temple there is a colossal image of the Buddha in the “touching the ground pose”, bhumisparsha mudra. This image is said to be 1700 years old and is facing east exactly at the place where the Buddha in meditation with his back to the Bodhi tree was enlightened.
The Bodhi Tree
For seven days after the Enlightenment, the Buddha continued to meditate under the Bodhi tree without moving from his seat. During the second week he practiced walking meditation. A jewel walk, Chankramanar, was built as a low platform adorned with nineteen lotuses which are parallel to the Maha Bodhi temple on its north side. For another week the Buddha contemplated the Bodhi tree. In this place a stupa was built called Animeschalochana situated to the north of the Chankramanar.
On the back of the main temple situated to the west (see picture) there is an ancient pipal tree Ficus religiosa or Bodhi tree. It was under this tree that Gautama sat for enlightenment. The present tree is considered only as the descendant of the original tree. There is a tradition that Ashoka’s wife had it secretly cut down because she became jealous of the time Ashoka spent there. But it grew again and a protective wall was also built at the time. Many sacred trees in India and other countries are originally raised from seeds brought from the ancient Bodh Gaya tree. A shoot of the original Bodhi tree was taken to Sri Lanka in the 3rd century B.C. by Bhikkhuni Sangamitta, daughter of Ashoka, where the Lankan king Devanampiyatissa planted it at the Mahavihara monastery in Anuradhapura where it still flourishes today. While the Vajrasana was the specific site of the enlightenment, the Bodhi tree, closely linked to the Buddha’s accomplishment, became a central focus of devotion early in the history of the Sangha. Pilgrims sought the Bodhi Tree’s seeds and leaves as blessings for their monasteries and homes.
Around the Bodhi tree and the Mahbodhi temple there are quadrangular stone railings around 0.2m high with four bars including the top piece. These are of two types and can be distinguished from each other in style and material used. The older set is dated to about 150 BC and made of sandstone while the latter set is probably of the Gupta period (300-600 AD) and constructed from course granite. The older set has a number of designs representing scenes from the purchase of Jetavana by Ananthapindika at Sravasti, Lakshmi being bathed by elephants, Surya riding a chariot drawn by four horses, etc. On the
latter set there are figures of stupas, Garudas, etc. In most of these railings lotus motifs are commonly used.
Since 1953, Bodh Gaya has been developed as an international place of pilgrimage. Buddhists from Sri Lanka, Thailand, Burma, Tibet, Bhutan and Japan have established monasteries and temples within easy walking distance of the Mahabodhi compound. The site of the enlightenment now attracts Buddhists and tourists from all over the world.
At any time during the cooler months between December and March, a visitor to Bodh Gaya can observe a continual stream of Indian and international pilgrims walking the roads or arriving in buses, circumambulating the temple, performing prostrations and offering prayers in a multitude of languages. For those who aspire to awaken their full potential, Bodh Gaya today is truly a field vibrant with the potentiality of enlightenment. Enriched by devotion of Buddhists of all traditions, this holy site is emerging as a powerful inspiration to the modern world, awakening people of all nations to the real possibility of enlightenment.
chief reporter,New Delhi
As the site of the Buddha Shakyamuni’s enlightenment, Bodh Gaya is the most revered of all Buddhist sacred sites.
The main temple complex houses the famous Mahabodhi temple/stupa and a descendant of the original Bodhi Tree under which the Buddha gained enlightenment. Inside the Mahabodhi temple complex you can also enjoy the Lotus Pond or the meditation garden. Bodh Gaya has temples or monasteries from many other nations with a Buddhist tradition (Bhutan, Bangladesh, China, Japan, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Tibet), all within easy walking distance from the Mahabodhi temple.
Don’t fall prey for people on motor bikes posed as a tourist guides, offering a local tour for a price multiple times than genuine price of around 500-1000 rs.(if they have a genuine govt. ID card)
Please note that everything inside Bodh Gaya is easy to find and within 5-15 minute walking distance from the Mahabodhi temple complex. If you do wish to utilize a local tour guide to for example visit the Barabar caves (20KM) or Dungeshwari caves (12KM), first request to see their official Bihar State Tourism Development Corporation ID card – then bargain. It should NEVER be more than Rs.500-1000 for an entire day trip on a motorcycle, no matter how far you drive out of town.
Usually, like all tourist places, Street vendors and shop keepers here are also used to overcharging for their goods. Be prepared to bargain heavily in souvenir shops.
The nearest airport is at Gaya (17 km) – Druk Air flies from Bangkok once a week. Thai Airways flies to Gaya daily. Indian Airlines flies from Kolkata on Fridays at 10.00AM and Returns back on Mondays from Gaya at around 15.00 hrs. Air India fly from New Delhi via Varanassi everyday. Indigo also fly from New Delhi
Alternatively, you may take a flight to the Patna Airport (110 km away) and take a train or a taxi to Bodh Gaya as Patna has multiple daily direct flights to Delhi, Kolkata and Mumbai. Bangkok can be used as a hub to change flight to Kolkata (There are many daily flights Bangkok-Kolkata-Bangkok) and Kolkata is connected to Patna By 4 or 5 Daily Flights. So for South East Asia the best suited connection is Via Bangkok-Kolkata-Patna.
Patna Airport-Bodhgaya-Patna Airport Transfer is available by [TravelBodhgaya.com] (Local Travel Agent) around the year and can be booked online
One may take a flight to the Patna Airport (110 km away) and take a train or a taxi to Bodh Gaya as Patna has multiple daily direct flights to Delhi, Kolkata , Mumbai, Pune , Bangalore, Lucknow and Hyderabad. The road is good now but narrow so the journey can be quite slow and dangerous. It takes roughly 3 hours from Patna to reach, on best way is to avoid the Gaya market, as the roads are very narrow.
The nearest Railway station is Gaya (16 km). From there you can take a bus or a three wheel taxi to Bodh Gaya. Three-wheel taxi price is extremely variable, depending on time of day, but should be between 80-120 Rs. You should bargain considerably, there is rarely a shortage of service.
The train from Patna (which as the nearest good size airport and railhead) to Gaya costs 34 rupees (as of January 2008). The express trains take about two hours. Best train travel from Calcutta is about 8 hours; from Delhi, about 15 hours (2nd class air con costs 1600 rupees; book upstairs at the gaya station then pay downstairs at window 29).
Train is also recommended.
There is a main road connecting Bodhgaya and Gaya. The Bihar State Tourism Development Coporation (Tel: 0612-2225411) runs daily deluxe bus services to and from Bodh Gaya. Buses for Varanasi to Bodhgaya, Bodhgaya to Nalanda,Rajgir,Kathmandu
Most temples open from 6AM to sunset and close between noon and 2PM.
Bodh Gaya is essentially a pilgrimage destination for Buddhists and all of its main attractions are related to this. The subsidiary tourist industry that has grown up around it (shopping, eating, and accommodation) is not really the main attraction. Perhaps unique to Bodh Gaya are the rather cheesy CDs for sale near the temple entrance that purport to be monks chanting Buddhist texts. You will know whether you want to take this home with you!
Whether you’re a Buddhist or not, the main thing to do in Bodh Gaya is just to absorb the vibe of the place where the Buddha attained awakening: the vapor trail of that energy is still in the air!
Bodhgaya may have been a “dry” town, without liquor outlets. Hotels and guesthouses will in their restaurants serve beer (100-150 IR), provided it is drunk indoors out of public view. However in 2009 there are government liquor stores selling Wine ($10 usd / liter) and Rum, Whiskey etc. approx same price as the wine. Beer is 60 Rs/can.
There is not shortage of hotels and guest houses available in Bodh Gaya, and you might only want to book a room ahead of time during peak season. Outside season, you can strike a bargain for a clean room with A/C, though not at the official tourist hotels and similar mid-range options. Monastery guest houses offer a cheap option to hotels, though guests are expected to adhere to their house rules. Those offering guest rooms include the Mhabodhi Society (opposite entrance to temple complex), the Cambodian housing complex, Japanese temple (Indosan Niponji), Burmese (Myanmar) Vihara, and several others. They do not charge fixed nightly rates, but instead accept donations (ask other guests for the going rate). Space not always available.
There is a whole string of guesthouses just opposite the park from the Mahabodhi Temple. All pretty much the same well maintained with restaurants on the ground floor at around Rs 200 a single.
An incomplete list of guest houses available (including some monastery guest houses):
Most, maybe all internet cafes in town refuse to let you connect anything to the computer such as a camera or thumb drive, and they refuse to let you upload or download photos.
“Eyes Of Compassion” Cyber Cafe (EOC) on Bodhgaya Road appears to be the only cafe in town that lets you use skype or upload photos however you have to pay rs. 5 per photo uploaded or rs. 5 per minute that you use skype. The internet is quite slow all over town. Near Om Restaurant, downstairs.
There are many beggars in Bodh Gaya, especially outside temple entrances. Sometimes they can be quite persistent. Nevertheless, they are typically not as determined as the rickshaw drivers or street peddlers trying to sell cheap souvenirs at an exorbitant price.