Bodhgaya: the birthplace of Buddhism


Bodhgaya is perhaps the most sacred site for the followers of Buddhism. Located in the Indian state of Bihar, it is the place where Gautama Buddha, the sage whose teachings are the foundations on which the religion is established, is said to have attained enlightenment after a six-year long penance. According to Buddhist literature, the term Enlightenment means a state of awakening that helps one acquire profound knowledge about the universal truths sought by mankind.

Legend has it that Buddha performed deep meditations under a sacred fig tree known as the Bodhi tree before attaining enlightenment. Buddhist texts even suggest that Buddha was extremely grateful to the tree because he believed that it catalysed his quest for enlightenment. Though the original tree is long gone, the followers planted a new tree and continued the tradition every time the tree was cut down or died due to old age. The Bodhi tree that is currently in existence in Bodhgaya is called the Sri Maha Bodhi and was planted more than a hundred years ago at the exact same spot as the original tree. In fact, the Bodhi tree has become a symbol of Buddhist religion and it can be seen in every Buddhist monastery around the world.

The Sri Maha Bodhi tree is located inside the Maha Bodhi temple (Maha Bodhi means great awakening) complex. A UNESCO World heritage site, the temple is the seat of the Buddhist religion and was originally founded by the Mauryan emperor Ashoka in the third century BC. The temple underwent significant restorations and renovations before transforming into its current form. A majestic fifty-metre tall spire rises above the sanctum that houses a bright golden-coloured, two metre tall statue of Lord Buddha. The temple complex itself is one of the four Buddhist shrines that have a direct association with the life of Buddha (the others being Sarnath, Lumbini and Kushinagar).

In addition to the main Maha Bodhi temple, many temples and monasteries add colour to the gorgeous canvas of Bodhgaya. Many of them have been built by foreign Buddhist communities in their traditional national style. Visitors would be fortunate enough to witness temples modelled on Thai, Bhutanese, Vietnamese and Japanese architecture at the same place. It is indeed a pleasure to witness the fusion of architectural styles from different cultures at Bodhgaya, the quaint little town in the Indian hinterland that gave this world Gautama Buddha.

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