Mahabodhi Bodhgaya

The Mahabodhi Temple Complex at Bodh Gaya, built by Emperor Asoka in the 3rd century B.C., lies 16 km from Gaya, Bihar, India, and was a UNESCO World Heritage Site from 2002 onwards.

Where is Bodh Gaya

The Mahabodhi Temple Complex is one of four sacred locations associated with the life of the Lord Buddha, particularly his enlightenment. Emperor Asoka constructed the first temple in the 3rd century B.C., while the current temple dates from the 5th or 6th centuries.

It dates from the late Gupta period and is one of the earliest Buddhist temples still standing in India. The Mahabodhi Temple is one of Buddhism’s holiest shrines, commemorating Buddha’s enlightenment, or Bodhi. It is situated on the banks of the Niranjana River in the eastern Indian city of Bodh Gaya.

Mahabodhi temple built by

The Mauryan emperor Ashoka (died c. 238 BCE), one of Buddhism’s most significant proselytes, erected the initial construction of Mahabodhi Temple, which was eventually replaced to honor Buddha’s enlightenment. The temple stands 55 meters (180 feet) tall.

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Mahabodhi temple architecture

The shikhara, or pyramidal tower, has numerous layers of niches, arch motifs, and beautiful engravings. The corners of the two-story structure are adorned with four towers, each identical to its central counterpart but smaller in height and topped with an umbrella-like dome. A yellow sandstone statue of Buddha is housed in glass in a shrine inside the temple.

Near the temple, a descendent of the Bodhi tree, under which the Buddha is claimed to have sat until he obtained enlightenment. The Buddha’s vajrasana is the name given to Ashoka’s stone slab, which is said to mark the precise spot where the Buddha sat (literally, “diamond throne” or “thunder seat”).

The temple, as well as the Bodhi tree, are surrounded by stone railings. At the southeast corner of the temple, one of Ashoka’s many pillars, on which he had engraved his edicts and understanding of religious theology, stands. Ancient shrines and newer structures created by Buddhist devotees are also part of the 4.8-hectare (11.9-acre) complex.

Mahabodhi temple history

The Bodhi Tree in Bodh Gaya is the world’s only Buddhist shrine dedicated to Buddhist monks and pilgrims. Bodh Gaya has grown into a worldwide Buddhist pilgrimage center. Buddhist monasteries and temples have been built within easy walking distance of the Mahabodhi temple (vihar) compound by Buddhists from Sri Lanka, Thailand, Burma, Tibet, Bhutan, and Japan.

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The Bodhgaya Temple of Enlightenment currently draws Buddhists and tourists from around the world, especially during the Indian winter season, which runs from December to February. A visitor can see a steady stream of Indian and international pilgrims wandering the streets or coming by bus, circumnavigating the temple, conducting prostrations, and offering prayers in a variety of languages.

Mahabodhi temple facts

Today, the Mahabodhi Temple Complex in Bodh Gaya is a field brimming with enlightenment potential for all who strive to reach their full potential. This holy site is growing as a great inspiration to the modern world, alerting people of many nations to the actual potential of enlightenment, thanks to the devotion of Buddhists of all faiths.

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Around 2600 years ago, a prince left his regal house to travel the wilderness alone. He abandoned his family and explored the Bihar jungles in search of a solution to the issues of human existence and misery. Years of wandering led him to the banks of the Neranjara river (a branch of the Falgu river, also known as Nilanjana) in the jungles near Gaya.

The place was deep within the forest at the time, with no structures nearby. Some tourists from neighbouring villages came to the forest to pay their respects to the forest gods. Sujata was the one who, with the gift of a rare bowl of milk, almost saved the life of the wandering ascetic prince. He discovered the truth at this location. He discovered a middle route to salvation that would serve as a guide for all time.

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Bodhgaya was the name given to the location later on. Every day, the Buddha bathed in the river and walked in meditation along the riverbanks and little woodland roads he had made in Bodhgaya with his own steps. He meditated by the river’s edge or beneath the pipal (Bodhi) tree, which had hundreds of birds chirping among its branches.

They discovered the significance of the location and the Bodhi tree, beneath which the Buddha had obtained enlightenment. The area had already begun to attract pilgrims from all over the world during the period of the Great King Asoka, in the 3rd century B.C. Asoka had begun the construction of stupas for the propagation of the Dhamma in his fervor.

His immediate attention was drawn to Bodh Gaya. He built a railing to enclose the sacred place, and he built the Vajrasana (a pedestal beneath the Bodhi tree) where the Buddha sat and meditated. A stupa was built nearby to serve as a mark of respect for the Buddha.

Why is the Mahabodhi temple important

The site’s importance grew over time, and pilgrims from all over the world began to visit. A new temple was built in the 2nd century B.C. in honor of the patronage acquired. The primary Vajrasana temple gradually gave way to the construction of the grander Mahabodhi temple in the later Gupta period, perhaps around 500 A.D. It was in situ when the Chinese pilgrim Hiuen Tsang came in the 7th century A.D.

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The main statue was most likely constructed of gold, and the place had to be spectacular and full of scenes from the Buddha’s life. The temple site was littered with statues of his many mudras, and monasteries were built around them for the visiting souls to meditate. The site became well-known around the world, and every visitor was well-versed in Buddha mythology and his era. The same temple that Hiuen Tsang saw still remains today.

Maha Bodhi temple at Bodh Gaya

A visit to the archaeological museum at Bodh Gaya makes one realize and visualize the violent periods of the site’s history. The Archaeological Museum’s exhibit presently houses the remains of the ancient fencing that surrounded the Bodhi tree during the Mauryan and later periods.

When Buddhism in the area collapsed in the 7th century A.D., the Burmese built the current temple. If the traveler is told that the event occurred roughly two centuries ago, it may appear weird. Tourists at Bodh Gaya were unaware of the Mahabodhi temple’s existence or significance, let alone the sacred and historically respected Bodhi Tree.

When Francis Buchanan visited Bodh Gaya in 1811–12, he discovered no reference to the Buddha’s significance at the place where he attained enlightenment. The Mahabodhi temple as it stands today is the culmination of Cunningham and Beglar’s 1880 repair and restoration work.

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After independence, the temple’s management was transferred from the Math to a committee under the Bodhgaya Temple Management Committee Act, 1953. The excavations carried out at the site during British control and the restoration of the ruins under Cunningham. It was in the second half of the nineteenth century that was largely responsible for the rediscovery of Bodhgaya on the tourist map in the nineteenth century.

Uruvela is considered to be the location of the Buddha’s life events immediately before enlightenment, before the famed Bodh Gaya tree. The tree may have been known as Bodhi, Mahabodhi, or Buddha-Gaya for a while. Gaya is referred to as Brahm Gaya by Abul Fazl, probably to distinguish it from Bodhgaya.

The vestiges of past periods were in ruins, and a woodland was restored back into a forest. The shattered and mangled statues in Bodh Gaya’s Archaeological Museum bear witness to those turbulent times. Takshashila, Nalanda, and Vikramshila universities were looted and burned. After the British arrived in India, the histories of Bodh Gaya, Lumbini, and Bodhgaya continued.

The British knew the Buddha as a living beacon for Asian peoples outside India through their experiences in Burma and other regions. As long as Buddhism was still practiced as a religion in places other than India, such as Tibet, Thailand, and Burma. A visit to the archaeological museum in Bodhgaya brings to mind and imagination the violent periods of the site’s history.

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The current temple was established by the Burmese in the 7th century A.D., when Buddhism in the area was declining. The Math integrated many of the older Buddha and other deity statues that had been abandoned in the ruins. They had no understanding of why the place was called Bodh Gaya or what significance it played in the Buddha’s life.

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Author: Amitava Ray
I'm a photographer (1979) and a blogger (2006). My future photography and blogging endeavors are contingent on the success of Whizzed Net.