One of the most prominent Shrines of Buddhist religions, The Mahabodhi Temple which also lists in UNESCO’s World Heritage Site is located at Bodh Gaya. Bodh Gaya is believed to be a place where Gautama Buddha attained enlightenment. Bodh Gaya is located in Gaya district of Indian state of Bihar and at a distance of ninety six kilometer from the capital city Patna.
The famous Bodhi tree under which Gautam Buddha attained enlightenment is situated on west side of temple. This site is called Bodhimanda in Pali language and its monastery is called Bodhimanda Vihara. This temple has several towers and tallest one is approximately fifty five meters tall. The temple is located in north eastern part of India and forms part of Gangetic plains. Bihar has distinction of being one of the four holy sites in life of Lord Buddha. Hence this place is main religious centre for Buddhists across the world.
The historical evidences suggest that first temple was built around 3rd century by Ashoka the Great. The present temple site is believed to be built somewhere between 5th and 6th century. The complete temple is built using bricks and stands tall memorizing the Gupta period. Temple of Mahabodhi helps one discover teachings and life of Buddha and Ashoka’s reverence for the religion. The balustrades and memorial column are classic examples of sculptural masterpiece.
Architecture and Construction of Temple
The entire Mahabodhi Temple is built using bricks. This temple is considered as most ancient existing brick temple. The temple has laid foundation for brick construction and it stands as a symbol of fine Indian brickwork. This temple has helped many other temples to follow tradition of brickwork. UNESCO aptly appreciates this grandeur of Gupta period. The main attraction is central tower which stands at a height of fifty five meters were renovated to a great extent in 19th century. There are four other smaller towers which are constructed in same pattern which surrounds central tower.
The entire Mahabodhi Temple is covered by stone railings on all sides. The railings depict two different types of architecture. Older railings are constructed in early 150 BC with sandstone, whereas the unpolished coarse granite is architectural beauty of Gupta period. The old railings consist of sculptures depicting Hindu Goddess of wealth, Lakshmi being bathed by elephants and Surya, the sun God travelling on a four horsed chariot. However newer railings have an entirely different collection of figures of garudas, stupas and lotus lower.
Mahabodhi Temple earned the renowned distinction of featuring in list of World Heritage Site declared by UNESCO in 2002. The temple complex was completely ruined before it was renovated by British in year 1880.
Ancient historical evidences reveal that original temple structure was constructed by Ashoka the great in 3rd century. However, current form of this temple is result of renovation and expansion that took place during the period between 5th and 6th century. But majority of temple structures were destroyed by Muslim rulers who invaded the area during eleventh century.
Further, the Bodhi tree which exists in west side of temple complex is not original tree under which Buddha attained enlightenment. The present tree is believed to be fifth successive tree that rose from original one; the earlier trees were destroyed by natural disasters and manmade calamities.
Traditional Holy Site
The Bodhi tree assumes utmost importance in Buddhist religion and the life of Gautam Buddha. It is believed that he attained enlightenment and wisdom when he was meditating under the Pipal tree. The present temple stands on the eastern side of Bodhi tree under which Buddha spent his initial days after attainment of enlightenment.
As per the Buddhist mythology, if there does not grow a Bodhi tree near the site then the ground around the site would be cleared of any type of plants. Also nothing would be allowed to travel over the site, not even Sakka. The mythological scriptures “Jatakas” state that navel of mother earth lies at present Mahabodhi temple. Hence, it is believed that this is the only place which can support Buddha's accomplishment. Buddhist scriptures state that when complete earth would be ruined, Bodhimanda would be last spot to vanish and it would reappear first when earth comes into existence. The Buddhist scriptures also preach that whenever a Buddha is born a Lotus flower would blossom here and it is believed that when Gautam Buddha was born a Bodhi tree emerged.
Best time to visit
The festival season of temple at Bodhgaya begins in month of September and reaches its zenith in January. However, climate wise best season to visit this temple is between Nov to Feb. It is not advisable to visit the temple during rainy season between Jun to Sep. Weather remains very harsh due to heavy rains and high humidity. Similarly summer months between Mar to May are very hot and not suitable for visiting this part of country. In spite of all these odds, numerous tourists throng this temple during annual Buddha Jayanti celebrations which marks birthday of Lord Buddha in May.
How to reach here
Gaya is the nearest airport to this temple located at a distance of seventeen km. There is a flight from Bangkok to Gaya every week operated by Druk Air Lines. Apart from this Thai Airways also has a daily flight to Gaya. In the domestic circuit, an Indian Airlines flight operates on every Friday at 1000 Hrs from Kolkata and returns on Monday at 1500 Hrs.
Other airport which is nearby is Patna Airport located at a distance of 110 Km. Pilgrim can take a taxi or train to reach Gaya from Patna. Patna is well connected with national capital by flights. It also has regular flights from other metros like Mumbai and Kolkata.
Gaya is nearest railway link to Bodh Gaya located at a distance of 16 km. Regular bus facility and three wheel taxi facilities are available to reach Bodh Gaya. Fare of three-wheel taxi is very much variable and is dependent on time of the day. However, it should not cost you more than Rs 120. Do not show any hesitation in bargaining as a good bargain can save a lot of money.
If you are reaching Patna by air then you can take a train from Patna to Gaya. The fare from Patna to Gaya is Rs 34 (Rates in Jan 2008). Following is the duration from Gaya to various important railheads.
Patna – Gaya – 2 Hours
Calcutta – Gaya – 8 Hours
Delhi – Gaya – 15 Hours
Currently road from Patna to Gaya is not in good condition, hence train journey is recommended.
The main road connecting Gaya and Bodh Gaya is 16 Km long. Tourist buses of Bihar tourism development provide regular bus services from Gaya to Bodh Gaya and back. Buses are also available to nearby destinations like Nalanda, Kathmandu, Varanasi and Rajgir.
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