From Tigers to Tombs

and all things heritage…..a trip covering the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in India.

Archive for the category “Mahabodhi temple”

An enlightening experience

Our time in the East drew to a close when we boarded a train to Patna from Guwahati. The concept of confirmed seat bookings on trains in West Bengal and Bihar are as pointless as the intelligent quotient ratings “required” by contestants in a beauty pageant. A three seater bench sometimes seated close to six people. A seat on the commode was more or less the only place you could sit on even after your job was done. When we did get our seats again, we witnessed a middle aged man and his wife gulp down five rasgullas and five gulab jamuns for only twenty rupees. Vendors went about selling unshelled peanuts not as a snack but as an activity called “time-pass”. We were getting the real Indian railways experience.

When we did reach the Patna railway station, we were welcomed by the smell of urine that followed us all the way to the bus stop. We did get some respite when we stuffed our faces with delicious Sattu Parathas at the food plaza in the railway station. The Indian summer was beginning to hit us as we boarded a local bus that was packed to the rafters with people heading to Bodhgaya and other places. Fortunately we got a seat, unfortunately we were still going to be drenched with sweat. We reached Bodh Gaya well after it had got dark. Finding a place wasn’t too difficult, considering the town is very popular on the Buddhist circuit and hence attracts visitors of all classes of income and nationalities. We woke up early next morning to catch the Mahabodhi temple at sunrise.

Siddhartha Gautama or the Buddha is said to have attained enlightenment under a Bodhi tree. In approximately 250 BC, about 200 years after the Buddha attained enlightenment, emperor Ashoka visited the Bodhi tree with the intention of establishing a monastery and a shrine. As part of the temple, he built the diamond throne (called the Vajrasana), attempting to mark the exact spot of the Buddha’s enlightenment. Ashoka is considered the founder of the Mahabodhi temple. The temple has undergone many restorations and changes over the years. The present temple dates from the 5th-6th century. On closer inspection, one can easily see signs of the Mahbodhi temple to be a nineteenth century temple reconstructed by the Archaeological Survey of India(ASI) based on that of a fifth-century structure. What one sees today may not be what Ashoka or any of the 5th-6th century emperors built, but the historical significance of the place is so immense that it would be a shame if ASI did not do anything to preserve it.

The monument today is a neat structure situated right next to a Bodhi tree and the diamond throne. The original Bodhi tree was cut down by Ashoka’s wife who felt that her husband was giving more importance to the tree than to his wife. Fortunately, Ashoka’s daughter Sanghamitra had carried one of the saplings from the tree to Sri Lanka to spread Buddhism. The tree that stands today is an offspring of the Sri Lankan Bodhi tree and is protected. The main temple houses a Buddha statue. The gardens surrounding the temple and the tree are ideal for meditation and monks in maroon robes walk in these gardens chanting prayers. At night, the temple was beautifully illuminated giving the structure a nice aura while still maintaining the peace and serenity of the gardens.
Monks from Sri Lanka, Japan, China and India roamed the temple courtyard freely, meditating under the Mahabodhi tree when they chose. Our attempt at enlightenment was short-lived, but sitting cross-legged under the Bodhi tree was such a calming experience that it may just make sense to go back to Bodhgaya and complete the rest of the Buddhist circuit.

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