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