Bodhgaya is a township in Gaya district in the Indian state of Bihar on the banks of the river Niranjana (also called the Falgu), Bodhgaya is revered by Buddhists across the world as the place where the Buddha preached, meditated and attained enlightenment.
The religious centre of Bodhgaya- and the axis mundi for Buddhism- is the Bodhi Tree, a fig tree descended from the original tree under which Lord Sakyamuni meditated and finally attained enlightenment, becoming the Buddha. Below the tree is a platform on which the footprints of the Buddha have been carved in stone; near it is a slab of red sandstone, called the Vajrasan, which marks the spot where he sat in meditation. Historically, it was known as the Bodhimanda (ground round the Bodhi-tree), and there was a large monastic settlement there. The main monastery of Bodhgaya used to be called the Bodhimanda-vihāra (Pali). Now it is called the Mahabodhi Temple.
For Buddhists, Bodh Gaya is the most important of the main four pilgrimage sites related to the life of Gautama Buddha, the other three being Kushinagar, Lumbini, and Sarnath. In 2002, Mahabodhi Temple, located in Bodh Gaya, became a UNESCO World Heritage Site
According to Buddhist traditions, circa 500 BC Prince Gautama Siddhartha, wandering as a monk, reached the sylvan banks of Falgu River, near the city of Gaya. There he sat in meditation under a bodhi tree (Ficus religiosa). After three days and three nights of meditation, Siddharta attained enlightenment and insight, and the answers that he had sought. He then spent seven weeks at seven different spots in the vicinity meditating and considering his experience. After seven weeks, he travelled to Sarnath, where he began teaching Buddhism.
Disciples of Gautama Siddhartha began to visit the place where he had gained enlightenment during the full moon in the month of Vaisakh (April-May), as per the Hindu calendar. Over time, the place became known as Bodh Gaya, the day of enlightenment as Buddha Purnima, and the tree as the Bodhi Tree.
The history of Bodh Gaya is documented by many inscriptions and pilgrimage accounts. Foremost among these are the accounts of the Chinese pilgrims Faxian in the 5th century and Xuanzang in the 7th century. The area was at the heart of a Buddhist civilization for centuries, until it was conquered by Turkish armies in the 13th century.
The Mahabodhi Temple
The complex, located about 96 kilometers from Patna, contains the Mahabodhi Temple with the diamond throne (called the Vajrasana) and the holy Bodhi tree. This tree was originally a sapling of the Sri Maha Bodhi tree in Sri Lanka, itself grown from a sapling of the original Bodhi tree. The Mahabodhi Temple in Bodhgaya, marked by a 52 mt tall spire and home to a large gilded statue of the Buddha, stands next to the Bodhi Tree. The temple is believed to have been built by the Emperor Ashok, and is decorated with friezes depicting the life of the Buddha. Along the northern wall of the Mahabodhi temple is a raised walkway known as the Chankramana Chaitya- the `Jewel Path’- where the Buddha meditated as he walked. Adjacent to the temple is a lotus pond believed to have been the place where the Buddha performed his ablutions.
It is believed that 250 years after the Enlightenment of the Buddha, Emperor Asoka visited Bodh Gaya. He is considered to be the founder of the original Mahabodhi temple. It consisted of an elongated spire crowned by a miniature stupa and a chhatravali on a platform. A double flight of steps led up to the platform and the upper sanctum. The mouldings on the spire contained Buddha images in niches. Some historians believe that the temple was constructed or renovated in the 1st century during the Kushan period. With the decline of Buddhism in India, the temple was abandoned and forgotten, buried under layers of soil and sand.
The temple was later restored by Sir Alexander Cunningham as part of his work for the British Archaeological Society in the late 19th century. In 1883, Cunningham along with J. D. Beglar and Dr Rajendralal Miitra painstakingly excavated the site. Extensive renovation work was carried out to restore
Other than the Bodhi tree and the Mahabodhi Temple, Bodhgaya is known for its beautiful Buddhist monasteries. The Indosan Nipponji Japanese Temple houses a spectacular Buddha statue, while the Thai temple has gleaming gilded roofs and elegantly curved lines. In addition to these, there are at least three Tibetan monasteries, and a number of houses of worship maintained by Sri Lankan, Bhutanese, Chinese, Vietnamese and Nepalese monks. Each monastery is built in a distinctively ethnic architectural style- retaining national identities yet united in faith.
Also a part of the complex is the Bodhgaya Archaeological Museum which contains a large collection of Buddha statues, in terracotta and stone. Other artifacts, including stone carvings, also figure in the museum’s display.
Location and Transport
It is possible to visit Bodhgaya at any time of the year. The best time, however, is between October and March, when the weather’s at its best. January and February, in particular, are a good time to visit Bodhgaya, as the meditation and theological institutes in the town hold special religious discourses and conventions.
Bodhgaya is 100 km from Patna, the state capital of Bihar, and about 15 km from Gaya. Gaya has its own rail station, with train connections to a number of destinations across India.
Alternately, you can get a bus from Varanasi (in UP), from Patna, Gaya or any of the larger cities in Bihar. Patna is the nearest airport and has flights coming in from most major airports in India, including Mumbai, Delhi, Lucknow, Ranchi and Kolkata.
Within Bodhgaya, `tongas’, cycle rickshaws and autorickshaws are the main means of getting around.
The Mahabodhi temple is open to visitors every day from 6 am to noon and from 2 pm to 6.30 pm.
Bodh Gaya had a population of 30,883. Males constitute 54% of the population and females 46%. Bodh Gaya has an average literacy rate of 51%, lower than the national average of 59.5%; with male literacy of 63% and female literacy of 38%. 18% of the population is under 6 years of age.