Bodhgaya Travel Guide
¤ A Major Buddhist Centre
The Hindu rituals and religion, however, did not impress one
particular prince more than 2500 years ago. Siddharta, the prince of
Kapilavastu renounced the luxuries in which he was living and decided
to travel around this town practicing austerities in search of answers
to his questions on human existence. After six long years he discarded
this penance and opted for a new path. He procured the shroud of a
dead woman, washed and donned it, as a monastic robe and seated
himself under the pipal tree making a vow to get up only after
acquiring the supreme knowledge or die. His efforts were finally
rewarded on the 49th night when he attained enlightenment. Thereon he
came to be known as Buddha or the Enlightened one.
quest for peace and eternal bliss has been linked invariably with
penance and self inflicted suffering. Buddha had to undergo a rigorous
experience before he saw the Morning Star and attained enlightenment.
The essential point about him and his teaching is that he never
claimed any connection with a God. The essence of his teaching is the
universal question of suffering and the way to seek its eradication.
The solution he advocated was individual effort and not ritual
reliance on superhuman or external agency- save yourself by yourself.
¤ Buddha's--Four Noble Truths
Buddha introduced Four Noble Truths as the central point of his
doctrine. The first of these is about unhappiness that exists
everywhere, the second, that there is a cause of this unhappiness-
mainly due to craving, born of ignorance, the third states that there
can be an end to unhappiness, the fourth, that is to be achieved by
following the Middle course to perpetual bliss. The eight ways are
right views, right thoughts, right speech, right living, right
exertion, right actions, right recollection and right meditation. The
summation of his teaching is to refrain from all evil, to do good and
to purify the mind. (202 words)
Monks seated on a platform in the centre chant in a vibratory
monotone. Periodic cymbals clash and the knock of wooden clappers
punctuate the sylvan solitude of Bodh Gaya - the rallying point of
Buddhists from all over the world. This sleepy little town in central
Bihar appears to have changed very little from what it must have been
more than two thousand years ago. Then it was a part of the mighty
Magadha empire where the Niranjan river flowed by the small
hamlet-Uruvela. Today the river continues its course under the name of
Phalgu and the place is reverently referred to as Bodh Gaya.
¤ Gaya-- An Excavation Site
Archaeologists pride themselves on their recent excavations in this
zone that has brought to light the remains of a full-fledged Neolithic
culture dating back to 2500 B.C. Going by HIndu tradition, Gaya
situated on a rocky bluff, lying just a few kilometres away, is a
venerated city. It is a centre of pilgrimage for the Hindus where the
Pitrapaksha Mela (a fair dedicated to the dead souls) is held
annually. The legend dates back to Lord Vishnu who is believed to have
conferred the power of cleansing ones sins in this holy place.
It is said that once there was a demon called Gaya who grew so
powerful that the gods themselves felt threatened. As a precondition
to his death, the demon demanded that the area covered by his body
should be one of the holiest spots of the world! This land is believed
to be Gaya.
¤ City Famous For Performing Hindu Rituals
In fact, devout Hindus have an obligation to visit Gaya after the
death of their parents for certain rites, for Pindan, that ensures
spiritual peace and solace of the departed souls.It is incumbent upon
every pilgrim, to invoke the gods as witness, so that by completing
the prescribed rites of prayers for the peace and happiness he has
freed himself from the debt he owes to his dead ancestors. The
ceremony can be performed almost anytime of the year but people prefer
to do so during the annual fair held in September. Legend holds that
Lord Buddha, when prince, performed the first Pindan here.
¤ Vishnupada Temple
Round the year people flock to Vishnupada temple built by Rani
Ahilyabai of Indore in the eighteenth century. The spot on which it
stands is associated with the famous mythological event of Lord Vishnu
killing the demon Gaya and leaving his footprints on the rocks. These
footprints are main object of worship in the temple. Some consider
this footmark to be that of Lord Buddha himself.
¤ Mahabodhi Tree With Divine Power
Travel reverently along the ancient path. Begin with the sacred
Mahabodhi tree where something strange happened-realisation of truth
of spiritual illumination. The tree still appears to radiate an aura
of abiding serenity, spiritual solitude and peace. Buddha probably
chose this tree following the popular belief that pipal trees were the
abode of spirits and deities who helped spirtual efforts. It is
believed that the original Bodhi tree sprang up on the day of
Siddharthas birth and survived for centuries thereafter. It is
said that besides the Bodhi tree, Yasodhara- the consort of Buddha,
his horse Kanthaka, and his charioteer- Chandaka were born
simultaneously. Tradition recounts that the tree was destroyed a
number of times and what we see today is the offspring of the original
one brought from Ceylon, where a cutting of the tree had been sent
earlier by Emperor Ashoka.
¤ Pyramidal Temple--An Architectural Splendor
Just adjacent to the Mahabodhi tree is the truncated pyramidical
temple soaring to a height of 170 feet, dating back to the second
century A.D. which ranks it among the oldest existing examples of
sculpture and architecture. A flight of steps leads to the inner
Right in the centre here stands the great temple, perhaps the oldest
and the most venerable of all Buddhist shrines.
Various kings, queens, patrons and visitors repaired, renovated and
added to the already existing structure till the twelfth century. In
fact everyone who was anyone or at least with treasure to spare
splurged on construction activities until a flood silted the courtyard
of the timple complex which remained buried until 1811.
Restoration and excavations were carried out under the Britishers who
completed it in 1884. The reorganisation of the temple complex is
based on a miniature model of the old building found among its ruins.
¤ The Temple Artistry
temple is built on a slightly raised terrace paved with granite stone
slabs with large size bluish bricks plastered all over. The exterior
walls of the lofty spire are covered with horizontal rows of niches,
each holding a stucco image of the Buddha, gilded in gold. At the four
corners of the temple are replicas of the central spire believed to be
later Hindu influences. This is evident from the Shiva Lingam
installed by a local ruler within the sanctum sanctorum. This Shiva
Lingam also makes the place equally significant for the Hindus. In
fact the temple is jointly managed by the Buddhists and the Hindus,
who worship Buddha as the 9th incarnation of Vishnu.
¤ The Exquisite Carvings
The richly carved massive stone railings around the temple are the
oldest remains of Bodh Gaya. The railings with carvings such as
sculptured panels, medallions and other ornamental patterns were
constructed in two parts. The sandstone part, dating back to the first
century B.C., consists of inscriptions while the granite portion,
embellished with scenes from Buddhas life, is a later addition
of 7th century A.D.
What we see today is a mixture of the original panels and recent
reconstructions in its original design. The railings represent the
best of the Sunga art and architecture of Bihar. Some of the Jataka
scenes are delicately sculptured and as in all periods of high
culture, the art lies in the daring, not in the repetition.
The different Rashis have been artistically expressed, besides there
are sculptures of Sri Ma and Gajalakhshmi that illustrate the beauty
and grace of the female form. In the depiction of Salibhanjika the
artist seems to emphasize more on female beauty and its sensuous
appeal rather than realistic anatomy. Some of the love scenes are
Entry to the temple is through a Buddhist gateway, on the east,
consisting of two ornamental pillars supporting an architrave. At the
entrance of the temple hangs a huge bell that is customarily rung by
everyone upon entering. Giant lamps illuminate the entrance before the
sanctum sanctorum, housing the massive gilded image of Lord Buddha in
the earth-touching pose. This is the meditative posture in which he
attained enlightenment with one finger touching the earth, calling it
to witness his awakening. Steps from either side (now closed) lead to
the top chamber which houses a figure of Buddhas mother, Maya
Devi. A passage runs round the tower, ornamented with rows of panels
with images of Buddha and small shrines containing smaller figures of
Between the temple and the tree is the diamond throne, Vajrasana,
made of grey sandstone, which marks Buddhas seat of meditation.
The surface is carved with geometrical patterns and the sides with
animal and floral motifs. It is very likely to have been gifted by
Ashoka who raised the stone railings around it, besides the monolithic
pillar that lies not far away, The site of the Vajarasana is held in
highest veneration and sanctity. Its aura is considered to be so
powerful that no celestial being can fly over this point. Closeby is a
large stone with Buddhas footprint.
Tradition states that Buddha stayed in Bodh Gaya for seven weeks
after his enlightenment. Each week was spent in a different part of
the temple complex. The first week was spent under the Bodhi tree. For
the next seven days he remained standing and gazing uninterruptedly at
the tree for having helped him in his quest. This spot is marked by
Animeshlocha Stupa (unblinking shrine) in the north east which houses
a standing figure of the Buddha with his eyes fixed towards the tree.
The third week was spent in meditation, walking to and fro from the
tree to the unblinking shrine spot. Lotus flowers are said to have
sprung up in this place, which came to be known as the
Ratnachakarma or jewel walk and is marked by a recently made brick
platform containing the 18 lotus flowers representing the footsteps of
the Buddha. Down below can be seen the earlier flowers which are now
unfortunately in damaged condition.
¤ Abhi-Dhamma Naya
The next week was devoted by Buddha to attain higher modes of
exposition, i.e. Abhi-dhamma Naya or deep meditation where the Buddha
sat cross-legged. He emitted dazzling light from his body which can be
seen incorporated in the Buddhist flag of white, yellow, blue, red and
orange. The fifth week of enlightenment was again spent in meditation
under another tree. the sixth takes us to the Muchalinda Lake where
the serpent king, Muchalinda, dwelling at the bottom of the lake, rose
out to protect the master from a severe storm created by Maya, the god
of chaos, to distrub the meditation. The Rajata tree marks the last
week where Buddha decided to preach and thus save human beings from
For those willing to make the effort, a 6km ride by car followed by
an hours trek across the river Phalgu and the hill can lead to
the silent cave where Buddha had spend most of his ascetic life prior
to enlightenment. Another off distance spot of interest is Sujata
asthan which marks the site where a yound village woman approached
Buddha and offered him a bowl of rice pudding. Soon Buddha was
transformed into rich golden colour and white light emananted from his
¤ Foreign Temples and Monasteries
marked the 2500th anniversary of Buddhism. It gave impetus to
resurgence of activity at Bodh Gaya. Buddhist temples and monasteries
began to mushroom in the surroundings.
The earliest one, Mahabodhi Sangharama, built by the king of Ceylon
in 4th century A.D was discovered on excavation.
On the west of the Mahabodhi temple is the Tibetan monastery housing
the image of the Buddha together with a huge prayer wheel, weighing 20
tonnes. It is believed that anyone rotating it will thrive and be
absolved of all his sins.
The Thai temple, built in 1956 by the King of Thailand, is set in the
middle of a beautiful garden. It depicts the distinctive pagoda style
reflecting the traditional decoration of the country.
The Japanese temple contains a pictorial illustration of Buddhas
life. Likewise, the temples from Bhutan, China, Sikkim and Tibet
reveal the architectural features of the respective nations. Japanese
craftsmanship can be seen at its best in Daibutsu or the Great Buddha,
built in the open.
Recently erected by the Daijokyo sect of Japan, it depicts Buddha in
meditation, seated on a lotus. The beautiful golden curl on the
forehead glitters in the sun while the 80 feet statue in sandstone
conveys the message of peace.
Through squinted eyes, the Buddha calmly regards the lower world and
between his long, arched eyebrows there is the mark of white curl -
the beacon of brilliant light, according to tradition.
¤ Archaeological Museum At Bodh Gaya
In the Bodh Gaya complex one should not miss the archaeological
museum that houses the relics of the old temple, sculptures and
objects excavated from the site.
The best time to visit the place is during winter when thousands of
Buddhists from all over the world pour in.
The Dalai Lama, spiritual and temporal head of the Tibetans, migrates
to Bodh Gaya and takes up residence for two months. The environment is
phenomenally calm and quiet. The extremely disciplined monks robed in
various colours (Tibetans in burgundy, Sri Lankans in saffron, Burmese
in amber, Japanese in black) contribute to this atmosphere of
mysticism and an almost tangible love for mankind.
Buddhas message preached thousand of years age can still be
seen and felt. Chantings echo. "May all beings be happy."
¤ Around Bodhgaya - Resources
1. Gaya in Bihar is an important railway junction. Bodhgaya is 12 kms
away, which can be reached by regular buses, tangas and other road
services. The nearest airport is Patna, 109 kms away.
2. Besides tourist hotels and rest houses one can also consider
staying in various foreign guest houses for which special permission
is required. Hotel Siddharth Vihar and Hotel Buddha Vihar are the two
3. Heavier wools should be kept in mind if travelling in December or
January. the best time to visit.
4. Buddha jayanti is celebrated in May. It marks his birth
5. Around Bodhgaya, one can consider Rajgir hills and the adjoining
Nalanda, the ancient seat of learning. (117 words)
Bihar in the sixth century B.C offered a veritable platform to
hundreds of religious orders and their philosophies to flourish. Some
of them were strongly opposed to the Vedic system (especially the
element of Brahamanical sacrifice and the monistic theroies of the
Upanishads). Next to Buddhism and Jainism, the creed of Ajivikas had a
¤ Founder of Ajivikas
Little is known about the Ajivikas or their founder Makkhali Gosala,
who was a contemporary of Buddha and Mahavira. He claimed himself to
be the 24th tirthankar of his order and claimed to have attained the
jinahood two years before Mahavira. Some historians trace the Ajivikas
to still earlier period. Unfortunately, one is solely dependent on
references found in Jain and Buddhist literatures where all attempts
have been made to defame rather than appreciate the merits of
Ajivikas. Buddha is believed to have dubbed Makkhali as a stupid man
and his doctrine as the worst, while Mahavira is said to have
confronted Makkhali with unpleasant exchange of words.
¤ Ajivikas refer to Lives on Charity
It can also mean an ascetic who ate no living or animal food. In
fact, their reputation for asceticism had reached far and wide.
Chinese and Japanese Buddhist literature describe the severe penanaces
of the Ajivikas who bury themselves upto the neck, remain shelved in
large jars, maintain silence and fast for extraordinary long lengths
of time, even starving themselves to death. Their virtues are depicted
in the sculptures of Borobodur, frescoes of Ajanta and a Ceylonese
king is said to have built an Ajivika house in Anuradhapura.
¤ Makkhali Vision
The Ajivika ascetics went completely unclad like the Jains but always
carried a bamboo staff. Though Ahimsa was an element of Ajivikas, the
core of their doctrine was Niyati (destiny). According to Makkhali,
destiny was the sole agent of all changes, sin and suffering were
without cause, similarly escape from evil was without basis.
Everything is pre-determined and pre-decided. There were six
inevitable factors in the life of every individual, gain and loss,
joy and sorrow, life and death. Human actions are incapable of
altering them. It is destiny that controls, regulates and rules the
affairs of the universe. What is to happen, does happen, and what is
not to happen, never happens.
Makkhali believed that the world was an ever moving cycle without a
beginning or an end. The Ajivikas slogan was "Human effort is
¤ Main Characteristics of Ajivikas
Some of the strange characters attributed to the Ajivikas include
their rejection of invitation, they never accepted alms from those who
invited them or requested them to sit; they ate and drank standing.
Some of the Ajivikas went without their begging bowls and received
alms of sticky rice direct into their hand,while others made use of
lotus leaves as their begging receptacles. They refrained from begging
during thunder and lightening. Unlike Jains or Buddhists, Ajivikas
were not averse to the company of women, whom they openly used for
their preaching and propaganda; they remained as sons with those women
who had lost their children. The following of Ajivikas continued upto
the 13th century A.D as evident from South Indian inscriptions.
¤ Spiritual Urge of Unusual Nature
Sixth century B.C. is characterised by a mental stir and spiritual
urge of an unusual nature. Despite a gamut of religious dogmas,
doctrines and disciples, people lived in harmony and the role of the
kings was laudable. The Jains believe that King Bimbisara was a
follower of their order while Buddhists claim that he was converted to
their faith. Chandragupta Maurya is believed to have abdicated his
throne and joined the order of Jain monks but his son Bindusara
extended patronage to Ajivikas while Ashoka was inclined towards
Buddhism. However the brahmans and Jains were equally favoured. He
went on to dedicate the Barabar hill caves to the Ajivikas and so did
his grandson, Dasratha. In fact, Ashokas greatness had been
predicted in the royal Magadhan court by an Ajivika ascetic. Chanakya
is believed to have escaped from the Nandas (who were great patron of
Ajivikas) in the guise of a nude Ajivika mendicant but in his
political treatise, Arthashastra, he gives no concession to the
Ajivikas and imposes a fine on anyone inviting them;
¤ Attraction of Rock Cut Caves
The Barabar and Nagarjuni hills, 24 kms from Gaya by road and closer
through Bela railway station, offers a series of Indias earliest
rock cut caves. The Mahabharat refers to this hill as Gorathagiri and
depicts it as rich in flora and fauna. The epic relates that Krishna,
Arjuna and Bhima ascended the hill to have an idea of Rajgir before
sneaking into the Magadhan capital to fight the mighty Jarasanda. They
extol the virtues of Mauryan craftsmen who excavated these hard
granite hills, polished the interior walls with mirror like effect and
graced the stone doorways with sloping jambs which are highly
ornamental with wood like finesse. Precisely the Loma Rishi cave is
believed to be Indias earliest surviving religious edifice.
Four of the Ashokan caves in Barabar hills have seven chambers and
collectively referred to as Satgharva. The Sudama or Nigrodha cave
(banyan tree cave, as mentioned in the Brahmi inscription) is the
earliest in the series dating back the 12th regenal year of Ashoka
(252 B.C), giving an impression of a beehive hut with double chambered
halls with hemispherical roofs. The word Sudama (a poor but close
friend of Krishna) stems from a local legend suggesting his stay in
this cave. Equally well polished is the single celled Karna Chaupar
cave or Supriya cave, which appears to be incomplete with only the
pedestal and other unfinished elements. Vishwa Zopari cave is another
twin chambered cave, some distance away. However the most attractive
among them all is the Loma Rishi cave, symbolic of the Chaitya arch
depicting a row of elephants.
¤ Gopika Caves
The largest among the three caves on the Nagarjuni hills is the
Gopika cave, approached through a flight of steps. The cave is replete
with inscriptions that refers to its excavation in 214 B.C. when King
Dasratha ascended the throne.
The other two caves are Vapiyaka: (with a dried up will nthe front)
and the double chambered Vedathika: entered through a cleft. Another
remote Mauryan cave, considered to be the oldest can be visited at
Sitamarhi, 40 kms east of Gaya.
Most of these third century B.C. Mauryan caves give an impression
that the aritsts left them unfinished. Had they been favoured with
time, they would have created exquisite doorways with pictoraial