Bodhgaya is the place where Gautama Buddha attained Enlightenment . It is in the state of Bihar in India and it contains the Mahabodhi Stupa with the diamond throne and the holy Bodhi Tree. Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha-to-be, had been dwelling on the banks of the Nairanjana River with five ascetic followers for six years practicing austerities. Realising that austerities could not lead to realisation he abandoned them. His companions disgusted at his seeming failure, deserted him and left for Sarnath. He then moved to the village of Senani where he was offered rice milk by a Brahmin girl, Sujata. Accepting from a grass-cutter a gift of kusha grass for a mat, he then took a seat under a Bodhi tree facing East. He resolved never to rise again until Enlightenment was attained.
As Gautama sat in deep meditation, Mara, Lord of Illusion, perceiving that his power was about to be broken, rushed to distract him from his purpose. The Bodhisattva touched the earth, calling the Earth Goddess to bear witness to his countless lifetimes of virtue that had led him to this place of enlightenment. When the earth shook, confirming the truth of Gautama’s words, Mara unleashed his army of demons. In the epic battle that ensued, Gautama’s wisdom broke through the illusions. The power of his compassion transformed the demons’ weapons into flowers and Mara and all his forces fled in disarray.
THE MAHABODHI TEMPLE
The historical place at which the Enlightenment took place has become a place of pilgrimage.
About 250 years after the Enlightenment, the Buddhist Emperor, Ashoka visited the site there founded and built the Mahabodhi Stupa and Temple. Following tradition, Ashoka, not only established a monastery but also erected a diamond throne shrine at this spot with a canopy supported by four pillars over a stone representation of the Vajrasana, the Seat of Enlightenment.
The temple architecture is superb but its history is shrouded in obscurity. It was constructed with the intention of making it a monument, not as a receptacle for the relics of the Buddha. Several shrines were constructed with enshrined images for use as places of worship.
The basement of the present temple is 15m square, 15m in length and breadth. Its height is 52m rising in the form of a slender pyramid tapering off from a square platform. On its four corners four towers gracefully rise. The whole architectural plan is balanced and proportional.
Inside the temple there is a beautiful image of Buddha in the "touching the earth" mudra. This image is said to be 1700 years old and it is facing East exactly at the place where Buddha sat in meditation with his back to the Bodhi tree and then became enlightened.
THE BODHI TREE
For seven days after the Enlightenment, the Buddha continued to meditate under the Bodhi tree without moving from his seat. In the second week, he practiced walking meditation. A jewel walk, Chankramanar, was built as a low platform adorned with nineteen lotuses parallel to the Mahabodhi temple on its north side. For another week, the Buddha contemplated the Bodhi tree. In this place, a stupa was built called Animeschalochana, situated to the north of the Chankramanar.
On the back of the main temple situated to the west, there is an ancient Bodhi tree. It was under this tree that Gautama sat for Enlightenment. The present tree is the descendant of the original tree. The story is that Ashoka’s wife had it secretly cut down because she became jealous of the time Ashoka spent there. But it grew again and a protective wall was also built around it. A shoot of the original Bodhi tree was taken to Sri Lanka in the 3rd century B.C. by Bhikkhuni Sangamitta, daughter of Ashoka and there the Sri Lankan king Devanampiyatissa planted it at the Mahavihara monastery in Anuradhapura where it still flourishes today.
While the Vajrasana was the specific site of Enlightenment, the Bodhi tree became a central focus of devotion amongst devotees. Pilgrims sought the seeds and leaves of the Bodhi tree as blessings for their monasteries and homes.
Around the Bodhi tree and the Mahabodhi temple are quadrangular stone railings that date back to about 150 BC. The older set 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 more recently built set there are figures of stupas, Garudas, etc. In most of these railings lotus motifs are commonly used.
Since 1953, Bodhgaya has developed into an international pilgrimage place. Buddhists from Sri Lanka, Thailand, Burma, Tibet, Bhutan and Japan have established monasteries and temples within easy walking distance of the Mahabodhi compound. The site of the Enlightenment now attracts Buddhists from around the world. FPMT has a beautiful peaceful Center in Bodhgaya known as ROOT INSTITUTE.
Between December and March, a continual stream of international pilgrims walk the roads or arrive in buses, circumambulating the temple, performing prostrations and offering prayers in a multitude of languages. For those who aspire to awaken their full potential, Bodhgaya is truly vibrant with the potential of enlightenment and inspiration to the world.