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Bodhgaya

Location

Bodhgaya is located in state of Bihar at a distance of 255 kms from Varanasi and 13 kms from Gaya.

How to Reach

Bodhgaya is well connected by air, road and train and you may reach there by air, bus, train or by taxi. If you are travelling by train then you have to get down at Gaya (13 kms) and take a bus, taxi or auto to reach Bodhgaya. Bodhgaya also has regular bus services to the nearby cities and also to Varanasi, Patna and Kolkata. Bodhgaya International Airport is located at a distance of 7 kms from Bodhgaya and about 10 kms from Gaya.

Best Time to Visit

It is possible to visit Bodhgaya at any time of the year however it is better to visit from October to March when Tibetan pilgrims come down from Dharamsala and Bodhgaya becomes full of maroon robes, and also to avoid hot summers.

Highlights

Bodhgaya is the place where Siddhartha Gautama attained supreme knowledge or supreme enlightenment to become Buddha under a banyan tree, the Bodhi Tree. Bodhgaya is the most important and sacred Buddhist pilgrimage center in the world. For Hindus, Gaya is one of the most sacred places for Pind Dan (funeral offerings for the benefit of the soul of the deceased). In 2002, Mahabodhi Temple in Bodhgaya became a UNESCO world heritage site. Bodhgaya should be visited by person of devotion which would cause awareness and apprehension of the nature of impermanence. Siddhartha Gautama was born as prince of Kapilvastu (in Nepal) but the major events of his life, like enlightenment and last sermon, happened in Bodhgaya, Bihar. Buddhism as a religion was born in Bihar and evolved through his preaching. Buddha set an example through his lifestyle of great simplicity, renunciation and empathy for every living thing. Even the state's name 'Bihar' originated from 'Vihara' meaning monasteries which abounded in Bihar. Maurya Emperor Ashoka (234-198 BC) contributed tremendously towards the revival, consolidation and spread of the original religion several centuries after Buddha's passing away.

Prior to attainment of supreme enlightenment Siddhartha Gautama was staying on the banks of Niranjana River with his five followers for six years practicing austerities. After understanding that austerities could not lead to realisation he abandoned it. His five followers disgusted at his apparent failure, deserted him and left for Sarnath. Siddhartha Gautama then moved to village of Senani where he was offered rice with milk by a Brahmin girl, Sujata. Accepting from a grass-cutter a gift of kusa (grass) for a mat, Siddhartha Gautama took a seat under a peepal tree facing east with a resolution that he will not rise until enlightenment was attained.

It is believed that when Siddhartha Gautama sat in deep meditation, Mara (Lord of Illusion) sensing that his power was about to be broken, tried to distract him from his purpose. Confirming the truth behind intensions of Gautama, 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 demon’s weapons into flowers and Mara and all his forces fled in disarray.

History

Bodhgaya situated at the bank of River Niranjana was earlier known as Urubela. Prince Siddhartha Gautama renounced his family at the age of 29 for gaining enlightenment in 588 BC. He travelled to several places and meditated in search of truth. After meditating for six years in Gaya, he attained supreme enlightenment. Siddhartha Gautama had sat in meditation under Bodhi Tree (Ficus religiosa) and after three days and three nights of meditation, he claimed to have attained enlightenment and insight, and the answers that he had sought. After attaining enlightenment, Buddha had spent seven weeks at seven different spots in the vicinity meditating and considering his experience. After seven weeks, he travelled to Sarnath to start teaching Buddhism. Disciples of Gautama Siddhartha began to visit Gaya during the full moon in the month of Vaisakh (April–May) and over a period of time the place became famous as Bodhgaya. The day of enlightenment is celebrated as Buddha Purnima and the tree below which enlightenment was attained became famous as the Bodhi Tree. The history of Bodhgaya is documented by many inscriptions of which the foremost are the accounts of the Chinese pilgrim Faxian in the 5th century and Xuanzang in the 7th century. Bodhgaya did not come into use until the 18th century CE. Historically, it was known as Urubela, Sambodhi, Vajrasana or Mahabodhi. The main monastery of Bodhgaya used to be called the Bodhimanda vihara (Pali). Now it is called as Mahabodhi Temple.

Places of Interest in Bodhgaya

Mahabodhi Temple

Mahabodhi temple is a magnificent temple having a diamond throne (called the Vajrasana) and the holy Bodhi Tree in its premises which is from the original sapling of Maha Bodhi Tree. The temple is an architectural combination of many centuries, cultures and heritages with a distinct stamp of the Gupta era. Its architectural outcome is superb. The basement of present temple is 15m square, 15m in length, 15m in breadth and its height is 52m which rises in the form of a slender pyramid till it reaches to its neck which is cylindrical in shape. Four towers on its corners rise gracefully giving the holy structure a graceful balance. The whole architectural plan gives pose and balance to the observers. Inside the temple there is a colossal image of the Lord Buddha, which is said to be 1700 years old, in sitting posture touching the earth with his right hand (“bhumisparsha mudra”). It is believed that in this posture Buddha accomplished the supreme enlightenment. The statue is of black stone and the courtyard of the temple is studded with large number of votive stupas. These stupas are of all sizes built during the past 2500 years ago. Most of them are extremely elegant in structural beauty. The ancient railings surrounding the temple are of the first century BC and are among the very interesting monuments of the century.

It has inscriptions describing visits of pilgrims from Sri Lanka, Myanmar and China between 7th and 10th century AD. It is probably the same temple Hieuen Tsang had visited in 7th century. It is believed that 250 years after the enlightenment of Buddha, Emperor Asoka visited Bodhgaya and is considered to be the founder of original Mahabodhi Temple. Mahabodhi Temple 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. It consisted of an elongated spire crowned by a miniature stupa and a chhatravali on a platform which symbolize sovereignty of religion. The moldings 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 restored by Sir Alexander Cunningham 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 Bodhgaya to its former glory. It has a height of 55 metres which is visible from a distance of 11 km.
Mahabodhi Temple is open for visitors from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Animesh Lochan Chaitya

Animesh Lochan Chaitya is believed to be the place where Buddha spent one week looking towards Bodhi Tree out of gratitude without twinkling his eyes.

Bodhi Tree

Present Bodhi Tree is probably the fifth succession of the original tree under which the Buddha had attained enlightenment. Vajrasana or the seat of stability, under the Bodhi Tree is a stone platform on which the Buddha is supposed to have sat in meditation gazing east. 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.

Around Bodhi Tree and Mahabodhi temple there are stone railings 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 one is dated about 150 BC which is made of sandstone while the latter one is probably of the Gupta period (300-600 AD) which is constructed from course granite. Older railings 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 railings there are figures of stupas, Garudas, etc. In most of these railings lotus motifs are commonly used.

Chankramana

Chankramana marks the sacred spot of the Buddha's meditative perambulations during the third week after supreme enlightenment and it is believed that wherever Buddha had put his feet lotus sprang up.

Ratnagarh

Buddha spent one week here, where it is believed that five colors came out of his body.

Other Temples and Treasures of Bodhgaya

80 feet high statue of the Lord Buddha (located within a garden which has existed there for over 100 years), Lotus Tank, Buddha Kund, Rajayatana, Brahm Yoni, Chinese Temple & Monastery, Burmese Temple, Buddhist Monastery of Bhutan, International Buddhist House & Japanese Temple, Thai Temple & Monastery, Tibetan Monastery, Archaeological Museum. Sujata village and Dungeshwari hill (also known as Prag bodhi). Several other Buddhist temples and monasteries have been built by the people of various countries in a wide area around the Mahabodhi Temple. These buildings reflect the architectural style, exterior and interior decoration of their respective countries. The statue of Buddha in the Chinese temple is 200 years old and was brought from China. Japan's Nippon temple is shaped like a pagoda. The Myanmar (Burmese) temple is also pagoda shaped and is reminiscent of Bagan. The Thai temple has a typical sloping, curved roof covered with golden tiles.

Places of Interest around Bodhgaya

Sun Temple

Sun Temple is located at a distance of 32 kms from Bodhgaya. It is a famous temple of the Sun God having a beautiful architecture similar to that of Konark Temple in Orissa. This place is especially famous for the 'Chhat' festival which is held in the month of October-November (6th day from Deepavali).

Pretshila Hill

Pretshila Hill, located at a distance of 12 kms from Bodhgaya adds to the beauty of Gaya. Just below the hill is the Brahma Kund. After taking bath in this pond Hindus go for the 'Pind Dan' which involves performance of religious rites, offering donations and charity for the peace of souls of one's parents and ancestors. On top of the hill the Queen of Indore, Ahilya Bai, built a temple in 1787 popularly known as Ahilya Bai Temple. This temple is an attraction for the tourists due to its unique architecture and magnificent sculptures.

Vishnupad Temple

Vishnupad Temple is located at a distance of 12 kms from Bodhgaya. In 1787 Queen Ahilya Bai built a Vishnu Temple on the banks of River Falgu. The temple has great architecture and design which attracts devotees and tourists alike. A 30-meter high octagonal tower overshadows this temple.

Barabar Caves

Barabar Caves is located at a distance of 41 kms from Bodhgaya. It is an important archaeological site. The caves carved out from solid rocks bearing details of the life of the Buddha. The interior of these caves is chiseled to a wonderful polish. The carvings in the caves reflect the skill with which these caves were carved out. These caves were built in the 3rd century and are fine examples of the skill which the Indian mansion had attained at that time. These caves of Mauryan period are rightly considered to be the origin of Indian cave architecture. It is believed that Buddha had meditated in Barabar caves for some time and had concluded that the ultimate knowledge cannot be attained through mortification of the flesh.

Accommodation in Bodhgaya

There are many hotels available in Bodhgaya for your comfortable stay. There are also three tourist bungalows run by Bihar State Tourism Development Corporation. Name and Contact number of hotels run by BSTDC are:
Siddharth Vihar, Bodhgaya, Gaya.    Phone: +91 631 2200445, 2200127.
Sujata Vihar, Bodhgaya, Gaya.            Phone: +91 631 2200445, 2200127.
Buddha Vihar, Bodhgaya, Gaya.         Phone: +91 631 2200445, 2200127.