Gaya and Rajgir (Gaya Adventures part 2)

Day 2

Next morning the kind-hearted monk at the Sri Lankan temple arranged us and a small flock of students also from Sri Lanka to visit a few of the archaeologically important sites located in and around Rajgir.

Rajgir is the first capital city of Magadha kingdom and is filled with ruins and locations connected to stories from both Jainism and Buddhism. A city mentioned in many religious text and stories from the times of Buddha to Mahabharata this city is filled with archaeologically important sites and temples indicating the glory of a by gone time.

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The hills of Rajgir

Being a child who grew up reading stories about the life of Lord Buddha, The city of Rajgir is familiar to me at a spiritual level- a weird sense of Deja vu. Its amazing how fast your brain tries to connect the dots of a story that happened a few hundred years ago to what is there today in front of you.

The long winding roads of Rajgir is dry (Maybe because it was the peak of summer) and isolated with hardly anyone around. once in a while you will come across a woman dressed in a colorful saree with a clay pot on her heads walking alone the narrow road or a man dressed in traditional attire sitting on the road side- a glimpse in to the beautiful local culture.

First stop in Rajgir was Nalanda Mahavihar or commonly known as Nalanda University.

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Nalanda ( Image- Vishvathika Nadarajasharma)

A large Buddhist monastery , thought to be build in the 5th century AD this magnificent structure stands as proof to the brilliance of the craftsmanship of that period.

A UNESCO world heritage site, this vast complex of building were once Shrines, Stupas, residential and educational buildings. Named as the most ancient University in the Indian subcontinent, a learning hub for many from countries as far as China this magnificent complex was destroyed in 12th century (1193 AD).

 

 

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The bell at the Nalanda Museum ( Image- Vishvathika Nadarajasharma)

After an interesting stroll among the red brick buildings and Stupas of Nalanda and a visit to the Museum that is home to many interesting artifacts from Nalanda we headed out to see the world renown hot water springs of Rajgir.

A scorching delight to our tired bodies (even though we just dipped out feet) this hot water springs and temple complex is a  popular religious site for Hindus and is locally known as Brahmakund. The water was unbearably hot but many believe that the water has healing powers owing to its mineral content and therefor a constant stream of pilgrims and visitors are seen here at all times.

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Hot springs ! 

Venu Vana or “Veluwanaramaya” in Buddhist religious text, is a park located in Rajgir. It was called Venu Vana because of the bamboo wall surrounding it ( Venu- bamboo, Vana- forest).  It is said that King Bimbisara selected this location as Lord Buddha’s residence because of its close proximity to Rajgir and the tranquil nature of the location. Lord Buddha spent his second, third and fourth ” Vassana” (rainy period) here.

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Venu van ( Image- Vishvathika Nadarajasharma)

Today there is a small lake in the middle of the park and a Statue of Buddha on the bank. Also a Japanese temple has been build on site for pilgrims to visit and pray.

 

Bimbisara’s Prison

King Bimbisara a prominent character in the stories surrounding lord Buddha, was the crowned king of Magadha and the Father of Ajatashatru.  He was widely known as a devoted follower of Lord Buddha and a dear disciple. He dedicated the Venu Vana for the use of Lord Buddha and has done much in the nourishment of Buddhism.

In a later time Ajatashatru (the son) took the kingdom by force imprisoning his father.There are many versions in Buddhist and Jainism text narrating the story of King Bimbisaras’ imprisonment and death. It is said that the king was starved and kept in a dark cell and when this did not kill him the son ordered that his feet should be cut open and salt applied on the wounds (Gee talk about father- son bonding! )

The  ruins of the prison are still there in Rajgir, a clear stone base on which the prison might have been.

Next stop- Peace Pagoda,

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                                                 ( Image- Vishvathika Nadarajasharma)

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A small cable car ride away is the peace pagoda or the Wishwa Shanti Stupa.

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Getting there ( Image- Vishvathika Nadarajasharma)

Built on top of a small hill overlooking the magnificent surroundings this Stupa is a recent addition to the Rajgir skyline. The pagoda is a symbol of peace and humanity similar to the other peace pagodas located world wide.

If you look  at the valley down bellow, you will see a smaller hill with a rock like formation at the summit, it is the Gijjakuta hill,  A well documented location in Buddhist script. The location were Devadatta committed an anantariya sin by  rolled a boulder towards Lord Buddha. It is said that while the boulder was falling towards lord Buddha another rock came in course sending the boulder in another direction. But a small splinter that broke at the collision damaged a toe of lord Buddha and it started bleeding.

There are a few caves near the summit of the hill and it is believed that Lord Buddha spent time here in these caves. Also Gijjakuta is where a few of the important sutras were recited by Buddha.

 

 

 

Son Bhandar Caves are two caves carved in to a rock located near the foot of the Vaibhar hill. The walls of the inside are polished and have a few inscriptions dating back to a few centuries ago.IMG_0039.JPG

there is a fascinating legend tied to these caves. Son Bhandar means the ” store of gold” inside the western cave wall there is a carving that resembles a door and next to it an inscription. according to local legend this is a door way leading to another cave that holds the treasury of gold and that the inscription is the password to open the door (Si-Fi!!! 😛 ).

 

Last stop of the day  Durgeshwari hill or “Dushkarak krya kanda”

Located close to Boudhgaya this is the place where Prince Siddharta spent 6 year practicing self mortification before enlightenment. According to Buddhist text he was determined to meditate in search of enlightenment and spent 6 years here only eating fruit and leafs that fell at hands reach. After understand that this was not the way to go about Siddharta took the “Middle way” in searching spiritual enlightenment.

The cave where once Prince sidhartha meditated is till now well preserved with a statue resembaling him during his self mortification days.

 

The inside of the cave is supper dark and you can hardly see anything without a flash light! but its worth it! the inside is fascinating!

Even though Rajgir is not usually on the “must visit list” of many traveling to India I highly recommend it to anyone of any faith because this city has so much to offer in terms of culture and history.

Hope this post will help you get an idea about Gaya and Rajgir and may be make you want to add it on to your must visit list 😛

Until next time,

Safe travels.

To read about Bodhgaya and our first day in Gaya  – Gaya Adventures – Part 1

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Gaya Adventure –Part 1

 

Situated on the bank of river Niranjana (present day Lilajan river), Gaya is the second largest township in the state of Bihar and is one of the most popular tourist sites owing to its rich historical and cultural significance.  This Town is home to many major religious sites belonging to different religions and also is the stage where many mythological and historical accounts took place.

After another moderately long train ride (now moderately long for us is 10-12 hurs 😛 ) we made it to Gaya Junction, the starting point of our Gaya adventure. From there we made our way to Bodhgaya, a town located 11 km off Gaya. Our home for the next few days was the Sri Lankan Mahabodhi society pilgrims rest located just in front of the famous Mahabodhi temple complex. Many Buddhist countries have their own temples and pilgrim rests located in Bodhgaya that  offers accommodation for free or for a very cheap price.

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Sri Lankan Pilgrims rest and temple

Since we being the smart-ass people that we are, we decided to visit Bodhgaya during the hottest season of the year (May-June) Phewww.. when I say hot I don’t just mean average bearable hot!! No no,, i’m talking about burning HOT!! But even that had its perks- less crowd!!. When the climate conditions are mild and bearable in this region, Bodhgaya becomes filled  with people from many different countries and for me its quite overwhelming!! ( been there, done that.. and it was just too overwhelming for me!! ).

Don’t get me wrong there were quite a few visitors even with this scorching sun but in comparison to what I saw during my first visit this time the crowd was nothing.

Bodhgaya is without a doubt the most popular pilgrimage site for Buddhist all around the world closely followed by Sarnath, Lumbini and Kushinagar in India.

home to the location where Buddha found enlightenment this city is full of history, culture and stories waiting to be heard. ..

Once settled in we decided to venture out in search of something  good to eat ( we have our priorities straight !! 😛 ) and we found that just opposite the Mahabodhi temple complex  entrance is an array of roadside shops serving mouth watering Indian food. And if you care for a horse carriage ride you can easily find one here around!

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If you’re a Indian Chai lover I swear the best of the best Masala chai can be found under a tree in front of the Sri Lankan pilgrims rest and temple.. !!

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Chai under the tree!

 

An evening stroll along the pathway leading to the Mahabodhi temple complex is bliss on its own (again less crowd the better!!). filled  with small road side shops that sell trinkets and religious offerings, prayer flags criss crossing the roof of the pathway dancing in the wind, pilgrims  in white slowly making their way to the temple- this pathway is a small window in to the culture surrounding Bodhgaya.

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Entrance to the Mahabodhi Temple Complex ( Image- Vishvathika Nadarajasharma)
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Religious offerings
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Fashion lovers paradise – ( Image- Vishvathika Nadarajasharma)

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Seeing the temple rising between the trees in the distance is a feeling that’s hard to describe. It’s the place where Buddha found enlightenment, a place where a religion, a philosophy was born!! Can’t help but wonder how it might have been back then ! What might have been what is now the pathway, the shops and the temples?

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The main temple ( Image- Vishvathika Nadarajasharma)

The main temple stands in the middle of the garden like a giant surrounded by dozens of smaller temples, stupas and buildings! Its size and intricate detailing mesmerizes you and takes your breath away.

The sight of saffron clad monks meditating and pilgrims praying so deeply transports you to this state of calm that only a few places can offer you.

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The main temple has a small prayer room in the middle, home to a magnificent Buddha statue ! worshiped by many this statue stands tall making us feel like we are in the presence of Buddha himself.

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( Image- Vishvathika Nadarajasharma)

 

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But the real attraction is located just behind the temple structure. The Bodhi tree and Vajrasana- The place of enlightenment!

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The Bodhi tree ( Image- Vishvathika Nadarajasharma)
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Vajrasana

 

The large Bodhi tree is surrounded by a gold railing for protection and the side walls are filled with thousands of prayer flags that were hung by devotees belonging to many countries.

Apart form the main temple and Bodhi tree the complex is filled with smaller temples and Stupas scattered in a wide area. I see many tourists walking amidst the temple complex, the small and big stupas and building but many really don’t know what those monuments represent. Each has a meaning that not many know about.

 

There are seven religiously important points located in this vast temple complex each representing the first 7 weeks that lord Buddha spent here.

Week one

During the course of week one after enlightenment lord Buddha is said to have sat under the Bodhi tree experiencing the happiness of freedom and peaces.

Week two

Animisalochana pooja– showing gratitude to the Bodhi tree that sheltered him during the course of attaining enlightenment by gazing at the tree in a state of meditation without moving his eyes away form the tree.

This is thought to be the root of the tradition of paying respect to Bodhi trees by many Buddhist today, both the original Bodhi tree and it’s daughter trees that are located in many other countries .

This is represented by the smaller, similar temple build on top of a small hill located on the right side as soon as you enter the complex. The view of the whole temple complex from this point is breathtaking!!

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Week three

Pacing the golden bridge- Lord Buddha after sensing through his minds eye that the gods did not believe that he attained Enlightenment built a golden bridge with his minds power and paced up and down for a week.

A line of stone lotus flowers are used to represent this week and it is located along the right side face of the main temple.

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Week four

Lord Buddha spent week four in the Rathnagara or the jeweled chamber created by him and meditated on what is known as the Abhidarmaya.

This is what is represented by a small chamber like structure that can be found amidst the ruins on the right side of the main temple.

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Week five

Meditating under the Ajapala banyan tree.

It is said that during this time Tanha, Rathi and Ranga-three beautiful girls came and danced in hope of distracting lord Buddha from his meditation. Once all hope was destroyed by Lord Buddhas focus on meditation the tree girls left unsuccessful.

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Week six

On week six Lord Buddha was meditating deeply while heavy rains broke and a huge king cobra (Muchalinda nagarajaya) wrapped him self around Lord Buddha and kept his hood over Buddha to protect him from the cold and rain.

A representation of this can be seen in the middle of a small lake located on the left side of the complex.

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( Image- Vishvathika Nadarajasharma)

Week seven

The last week was spent in meditation under the Rajayatana banyan tree where two merchants Tapassu and Balluka came to Lord Buddha and become the first followers of Buddhism.

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During our stay we came back to the temple complex twice and I must say how ever much time you wander among the ruins you will not get bored, or tired and every time you will stumble across something new and interesting!!

Getting to visit a Place like Bodhgaya is definitely a blessing. Walking among all these monuments gives you this weird sense of calm that for someone chaotic like me is rare!!.

Visiting the Mahabodhi Temple Complex was definitely the highlight of my Gaya adventure followed by more exiting places and things to do in and around Gaya.

Stay tune for the next article where we go out and explore the lesser known archaeologically important sites in the outskirts of Gaya!

Till then,

Safe travels,

XOXO.