Bodh Gaya (Buddha Gaya) is one of the four major holiest places for the people who are the followers of the discipline of Buddhist religion. Here the quest of Prince Siddhartha was fulfilled after seeking of the truth and the saga of Buddha begun.
The Buddha Circuit:
As mentioned earlier, there are four holiest places where a Buddhist must visit – Lumbini (where prophet was born), Bodh Gaya (where the prophet attained enlightenment), Sarnath (where prophet taught lessons to the immediate followers and the “Sangha” was founded) and Kushinagar (where the prophet passed away).
A package that includes all the destinations is named as the Buddha Circuit. But without taking this package, I would suggest you to visit them individually.
History of Bodh Gaya:
Before saying about currently seeing places, let’s do a time travel to 6th century B.C when the young prince Siddhartha came out of his family life and started roaming in search of “Nirvana”. After a long travel, he arrived on the outskirts of the small village Uruvella, on the bank of river Niranjana. He settled himself under a piple tree and prepared to begin the meditation. He was hungry and tired. On that time a young woman, Sujata happened to pass by. She noticed how thin and weak he was. She just ran home to bring him a bowl of “Kheer” and honey. Fortified by his meal, young Siddhartha started meditation.
Eventually, the clouds of ignorance dissolved and he saw the truth of glory. He was no more Prince Siddhartha; he became an awakened one – Goutama Buddha.
He spent seven more weeks at Uruvella to experience the enlightenment. Then we started his journey to Sarnath. At Sarnath he taught his lessons to immediate followers.
Again he came back to Uruvella after some months. By that time his ideology was publicized by his followers and not only the common people but also businessmen even the King of Magadha also were motivated by his point of view. This time, thousands of people asked him to ordain as monk. He did it and after that he went to Rajgir.
By the end of second century BCE, the name Uruvella had fallen into abeyance and the village named as Sambodhi. The name “Bodh Gaya” came into use at 18th century when the ruin was excavated by Archaeological Survey of India.
Bodh Gaya from a tourist’s eye:
Seeing places can be categorized into two main segments – [A] Mahabodhi Temple Complex, [B] Other pagodas and monuments.
[A] Mahabodhi Temple Complex
After changing shoes, keeping bags and mobile phones at lockers of the tourist office (Tourist is allowed to take camera and camera bag only) a tourist can get inside the Mahabodhi Temple Complex. First s/he should undergo a strong security check. After that when the tourist will enter into the temple a holy sound of Buddha Chant “Buddhang Sharanam Gachchhami” will make his/her ears and soul sacred.
Colorful monks are found meditating in the entire complex. Chortens, monks, devotees give the street photographers a number of frames.
As mentioned earlier, prophet Tathagata spent seven weeks here after attaining enlightenment. Seven points are marked there.
Mahabodhi Temple and the Great Buddha Statue:
It is believed that the main building was built by King Ashoka. The temple enshrines a great Buddha statue, seated in the cross-legged earth touching posture, over the spot where Tathagata is believed to have gained Nirvana.
There is a mystery of this statue. Mahabodhi statue is believed to be an exact likeness of the Buddha himself. When the temple was built it was decided to make a statue inside it but no sculptor was found. One day a man appeared saying that he could do it. He asked for a pile of scented clay and a lighted lamp to be put in the temple sanctum. His condition was to keep the doors closed for six months. Impatient followers opened the door just before 4 days of the said tenure and could not find the sculptor instead they got astonished to see the golden statue of great beauty, perfect in every detail except a small portion of chest was unfinished. Sometime later a monk who slept in the sanctum is said to have a dream in which prophet appeared and said that it was he who made the statue.
During the first week after enlightenment, Prophet Tathagata sat under the bodhi tree experiencing the happiness of freedom and peace. He was completely free from disturbing thoughts, calm and blissful.
The Bodhi tree is surrounded by a railing. The ancient railings which surround the Bodhi Tree are of first century BC. Devotees are found to pray here.
Animesh Lochana (Second Week):
Buddha spent second week here. In thanks and gratitude to the tree that had sheltered him during his struggle for Buddhahood, prophet stood gazing towards the treat Mahabodhi Tree out of gratitude, without twinkling his eyes.
Right now there is a temple where the devotees come for prayer.
Cankamana (Third Week):<
In the third week after his enlightenment, the Buddha saw through his mind’s eye that the devas in the heavens were doubtful whether he had attained enlightenment or not. To prove his enlightenment the Buddha created a golden bridge in the air and walked up and down it for a whole week.
On special days this place is decorated with Lotus and other flowers.
Just behind to Cankamana, a sacred stone is found where prophet’s footprint is marked. It is believed that he started building the golden bridge by keeping his feet on this stone.
Ratnagar (Fourth Week):
Ratnagar is a small shrine nearby the Bodhi tree. It is believed that the Buddha spent one fourth here, while five colors coming out of His body.
Ajapala Nigrodha Tree (Fifth Week):
It is actually a banyan tree under which prophet Tathagata spent the fifth week in meditation after enlightenment. Here three most charming girls called Tanha, Rati and Raga came to disturb his meditation. They danced in a most seductive and charming manner and did everything to tempt the Buddha to watch their dance. Yet he continued to meditate unperturbed, and soon they tired and left him alone.
Muchalinda Sarovar (Sixth Week):
Prophet spent his sixth week of meditation under Muchalinda tree. Suddenly it began to rain heavily and a huge king cobra came out and coiled his body seven times around the Buddha to keep him warm and placed his hood over the Buddha’s head to protect him from the rain. After seven days the rain stopped and the snake changed into a young man who paid his respects to the Buddha. The Buddha then said:
“Happy are they who are contented. Happiness is for those who hear and know the truth. Happy are they who have good will in this world towards all sentient beings. Happy are they who have no attachments and have passed beyond sense-desires. The disappearance of the word “I AM ” is indeed the highest happiness.”
Currently we can see a lake where a statue of prophet (covered by snake) is built.
Rajayatan (Seventh Week):
During the seventh week, the Buddha meditated under the rajayatana tree. On the fiftieth morning, after seven weeks of fasting, two merchants came into his presence. They were called Tapussa and Bhallika. They offered the Buddha rice cakes and honey to break his fast and the Buddha told them some of what he had found in his enlightenment.
Photographers should keep their eyes open, there are a number of frames in the temple complex. But it is suggested not to disturb anybody as it is a religious place.
[B] Other pagodas and monuments:
There are some other monasteries that a visitor must visit.Most of them are very near to Mahabodhi Complex, so the tourist need not take any vehicle to visit them. Dear reader, please note that you need to take vehicles only for Myanmar Monastery and Sujata Kuthi. Both of them are in same route. Rest of the places you can go by walking. Let me say about them one by one:
Just 1km away from the Mahabodhi Temple, stunning Thai Monastery is located. Its slopping roof is covered by golden tiles. This exceptional architecture has a 25-meter high bronze statue inside the home. The place abounds with peace and serenity.
Tibetan monastery is located just on the opposite to Mahabodhi Temple. The monastery houses a huge Dharmachakra (the wheel of law), which is 10 meter drum painted in golden and red color.
Decorated with the Tibetan scriptures, thangkas and other Buddhist symbols and objects, it has also a meditation center inside it.
Chinese Temple is beside to Tibetan monastery. It was originally built in 1945. It has three golden Buddha statues inside it.
Vietnamese Temple (Vien-Giac):
This monastery has a unique architecture like tree house type design of the porch area. The roots of the ‘tree’ open up to an aquarium kind, with beautiful fresh water fishes.
Myanmar Monastery (Burmis Vihara):
The architecture of the monastery is in Burmese style and the statue of lord buddha smiling down at the viewer is very peaceful.
Sujata Kuthi is believed to be the home of Sujata. It is located approximately 8 kilometers away from the Bodh Gaya city, a lot of tourists and Buddhist followers visit Sujata Kuti as it has huge significance in Lord Buddha’s life.
Currently a stupa is there. But the silence of the place gives peace to ears.
This is the only seeing place which is located on the other side of the river Niranjana (Falgu). So, the tourist needs to have a motor van to visit there. It is better to visit the place either within 7am – 8am or within 4pm-5pm as the soft light is better for photography. I would suggest the readers not to stay after 6pm (in summer and 4.30pm in winter).
- If you can afford, please try to stay in a hotel/ Dharamshala that is near to Mahabodhi Complex. Then you need not take any other vehicle to visit all the monuments and monasteries.
- All the monasteries and monuments can be covered by walking. Most of the monasteries are within 5-minutes walking from Mahabodhi Temple except Myanmar Monasteries and Sujata Kuthi but they are in same route.
- I did not take any guide but if you want, you can take guides. But the guide should have the BTDC registered identity card. Government guides do not take more money. Their rate is fixed. For guide, please contact with tourist office.
- You need to keep all your belongings (including mobile phone) inside locker. It is safe.
- You can carry camera equipment in camera bag.
- Please keep the area clean and mentain silence.
Train to Gaya Junction. From gaya, take a car/ bus for Bodh Gaya. Nearest airport is at Patna.
There are many hotels at Bodh Gaya. Please do not talk with any tout.