As the place of the Buddha's Enlightenment, Bodhgaya is the spiritual
home of Buhddhists. It attracts tens of thousands of believers from
all over the world. Bodhgaya situated near the river Niranjana,
is one of the holiest Buddhist pilgrimage centres since it was here
that Buddha attained enlightenment under the Bodhi tree.
The population of this town is 22,000 and is situated at an altitude
of 113 m. Maximum temperature in summer rises to 45-47 degree
Celsius and minimum is 27 degree, while in winter maximum is 28
degree and minimum is 4 degree. It receives an annual rainfall
of 1,860 mm. Most countries with vast Buddhist population have
a temple or monastery here.
The 25 m Great Buddha Statue in the Japanese Kamakura style was
unveiled by his holiness Dalai Lama in 1989.
How to get there:
Bodhgaya is 12 km from Gaya, 140 km from Patna, 66 km from Rajgir
and 482 km from Calcutta.
Air: Patna is the nearest airport with
regular flights to Delhi, Ranchi, Lucknow, Calcutta, Chennai,
Mumbai. Calcutta, 482 km, has an international airport.
Rail: Gaya is the nearest railway station.
Several superfast as well as express trains are available from
Gaya. Gaya is on the main Delhi to Calcutta line and there are
direct trains to Delhi, Calcutta, Varanasi, Puri and Patna.
Road: Bihar State Road Transport Corporation
(SRTC) has bus services to Gaya, Patna, Nalanda and Rajgir. The
main bus stand is opposite the Mahabodhi Temple. Private buses
and taxis are also easily available.
Places of Interest :
Mahabodhi temple is an imposing brick structure that is enclosed
on three sides by an ancient stone railing. The temple celebrates
the birth of Buddhism, for it is under a tree adjacent to this
temple, that Prince Siddhartha became the Buddha by attaining
The Mahabodhi temple has a giant pyramidal structure (sikhara)
which rises to a height of 54 m. It has a quadrangular base and
four spires at the corners. It can be seen for miles around and
distinguishes Bodhgaya from other Buddhist centres. Inside it
you will find a gilded image of the Buddha. The bricks in the
oldest part of the temple have been fitted together without the
use of cement. It stands at the site of a shrine built by King
Ashoka, who ruled over Magadha during the 3rd century BC. The
present structure was most recently renovated in the 1880s, but
is believed to have been rebuilt and restored during the 6 and
7th centuries and again in the 11th Century.
Buddhists from other parts of the world have been closely linked
to this temple. During the 4th century, the Sri Lankan King, Sri
Meghavanna built a monastery in Bodhgaya. Another Sri Lankan monk
Mahanama visited the place in 588 AD and built a shrine with a
statue of the Buddha. The remains of this can still be seen near
the northern staircase leading to the temple. The monastery was
still there in the 7th century when Xuan Zhang travelled to India
and it was also recorded by Dharmasvamin, another traveller and
a monk from Sri Lanka, who visited the place in the 13th century.
Buddhists of Burma have had a long, close relationship with Bodhgaya.
Since the 11th century, they have donated large sums of money
and several Burmese kings have sent missions to Bodhgaya to carry
out repairs at the temple. Details of the first of these missions
can still be found in inscriptions at the Shway Sandaw Pagoda
in Prome, Burma.
In the 19th century, the British Lt Governor of Bengal, Sir Ashley
Eden appointed Sir Alexander Cunningham and J D Beglar to excavate
and restore the temple. This four-year project began in 1880,
and cost Rs 2,00,000, money raised mostly from overseas Buddhists.
The restoration by Beglar was based on a miniature model found
during excavation. There was a hue and cry about Beglar's lack
of understanding of Indian architecture and some believe that
his attempt actually damaged the ruins. In 1956 the temple was
renovated with the help of large international grants. Today the
restored temple looks majestic. However, in spite of its historical
significance, the temple has not yet been declared a protected
A stone railing that dates to 100 BC, built during the reign of
the Sunga dynasty, surrounds the Mahabodhi temple on three sides.
It is the oldest of the excavated evidence in Bodhgaya but only
part of the original structure is still in place. You can find
the rest in museums in Calcutta and London. This carved stone
railing is two metres high and has been restored over the years.
Inscriptions on the railings indicate that it was built after
the original temple and was gifted by women of royal patronage
from the court of Indragnimitra and Brahmamitra.
The Bodhi tree (Ficus religiosa) which lies behind the main temple
was planted in the nineteenth century and is believed to be a
descendent of the original tree under which Buddha attained enlightenment.
It is also called the Bo, peepul or tree of knowledge.
Pilgrims tie prayer flags to its branches and meditate under
it. Cemented railingsh ave recently been erected around the tree.
Monks and devotees sit around the tree in the early hours of the
morning (beginning at 4.30 am) to meditate and chant. You will
be imbued with the sense of peace and serenity that is in the
air, even if you are not meditating.
Vajrasana (Diamond throne or thunder seat)
Vajrasana is the large rectangular slab of polished chunnar (red
sandstone), covered with a gold canopy, that you will see under
the Bodhi tree. This is the spot, it is popularly believed, where
Buddha was sitting when he attained enlightenment. The top is
decorated with an unusual geometric design that has faded considerably.
Visiting monks decorate the place with flowers and place an urn
on it to collect donations or offerings.
Animeshlochana Chaitya (temple)
This whitewashed temple stands slightly off the walk to the Mahabodhi
temple. It is a miniature of the Mahabodhi temple and is said
to mark the spot where the Buddha spent a week gazing at the Bodhi
tree in gratitude after attaining enlightenment. He is supposed
to have stood here unblinking (animesh). Hindu pilgrims also frequent
this spot since they worship Buddha as the ninth incarnation of
Cankamana (Promenade or Lotus walk)
This is a raised platform to the north of the Mahabodhi temple
and is part of the temple complex. This is called the Jewel Promenade
Shrine. The structure marks the place where the Buddha paced to
and fro in meditation. Legend has it that wherever he stepped,
a lotus flower (a symbol of knowledge) sprang up and this is depicted
through the 18 lotus flowers carved on the platform.
A marble plank marks this site within the temple premises. Some
believe that the Buddha emitted dazzling colourful lights while
in deep meditation here.
About a mile south of the Mahabodhi Temple, is a dry pond called
Mucalinda tank where the Buddha is supposed to have spent his
sixth week after enlightenment. It is not the large pond filled
with lotuses, next to the Ashokan Pillar, to the south of the
temple. The Mucalinda Tank is dry.
The Mahabodhi temple complex is dotted with an abundance of stupas.
A majority of them date back to the Pala period (8th to 12th century)
though there are older ones too. These stupas were built by pilgrims
who came from Buddhist countries like Burma (Myanmar), Sri Lanka,
and Tibet. You can easily identify the colourfully painted Tibetan
At the south-east corner of the temple stands a part of the Ashokan
pillar. Originally erected at Bodhgaya, this pillar was found
near Gaya and was moved here in 1956.
Also within the premises of the Mahabodhi temple, is a row of
Hindu shrines. These temples probably came up during the period
of struggle between Brahmanical and Buddhist sects. The first
of these shrines has an interesting collection of Buddha statues
that are now confusingly dressed up to look like Hindu deities.
Brahman priests here, who look distinctly different from the Buddhist
monks, will probably ask you for a donation.
The Rajayatana Tree is believed to be the spot where the Buddha
spent time preaching to two seekers of the Truth. While the actual
site has not been identified yet, a marble inscription stands
as a dummy.
Niranjana or Falgu River
This river is a natural landmark that attracts tourists who like
to wade in the water to cool off, especially in the summer. The
river is wide, sandy and shallow even in the rainy season. It's
a great picnic spot for tourists who want to sit around on the
banks under shady trees.
According to legend, when Prince Siddhartha was ailing after practising
severe penance, a woman named Sujata offered him some kheer (rice
pudding) which helped him recover miraculously. This stupa is
supposed to mark the spot where she found him. However, there
are some doubts about the authenticity of the location. You can
reach the stupa after crossing the bridge across the river and
walking along a trail across paddy fields for 15 minutes. The
local caretaker of this abandoned site has made it his business
to maintain a record of visitors after which you will be asked
to make a donation. On the way to this location, you will pass
villages, the heartland of rural India.
Near the ITDC Ashok hotel and a short walk from the temple, is
a museum with a large, interesting collection of relics (Buddhist
and Hindu) along with terracotta seals, scriptures and railings/pillars
from the Sunga period (1 BC to 1 AD). You can admire the ancient
statues of the Buddha and the Bodhisattvas, one of which has an
inscription that dates back to 383 AD. Also on display, is a carved
stone model of the original temple, found during excavation. As
you enter the garden, a life-size statue of Buddha in black stone
welcomes you. Unfortunately the statue's head is missing. Entry
to the museum costs Rs 5. It is open from 10 am to 5 pm and closed
on Friday. Some publications and books on Bodhgaya and Buddhist
art and architecture are for sale at the ticket counter. Photography
is prohibited inside the museum. If you happen to visit the museum
during the off-season period, insist on the hall lights being
Buddhists of different countries have, over the years, built temples
in their own particular architectural styles in Bodhgaya. Some
of them are worth a visit:
A Tibetan temple of the Gelgupa (yellow cap) sect with a huge
prayer wheel, has its walls painted in traditional Tibetan style
with scenes from the Buddha's life. It stands right next to the
The Chinese temple near it is a simpler structure, a more sober
expression of faith.
Wat Bodhgaya, the Thai temple is one of the more impressive monasteries
in Bodhgaya. It was built in 1956 by the Thai King and the Indian
Prime Minister as an initiative to strengthen relations between
the two countries. The temple stands facing the main road, next
to the tourist bungalow.
A new, brightly painted Bhutanese temple can be found at the
corner of the main road.
There is a small Tibetan temple built by the Kagyu sect that
stands close to the Bhutanese temple.
Two Japanese temples (the Daijokyo and Indosan Nipponji) have
a simple design with neat gardens. Nearby is the Giant Buddha
statue, which is 24 m tall and has the Buddha seated in the Dhyan
Although the pilgrimage season starts in September, the best time
to visit Bodhgaya is between November and February. This is when
the daytime temperature is normally a pleasant 14° to 18°C;
in the night it drops to 4°C. In April, when the Buddha Jayanti
is celebrated, a large number of devotees flock to Bodhgaya from
the world over, but it is terribly hot. June is the hottest month
and is certainly avoidable as the temperature can soar to a searing
47°C; in the night it drops to a still warm, 28°C. June-end
to September is the monsoon. If you intend to meditate under the
Bodhi tree, you will have to bear with either heat, rain or crowds
Prince Siddhartha Gautama of the Saakya tribe came here in 528
BC, in search of the truth. He had renounced life as a prince,
broken family ties, practised severe penance and trained under
several teachers for six years before he came to Bodhgaya (then
called Uruvela). It was while meditating under a peepul tree here
that he gained spiritual enlightenment or Bodh.
Much of the town's history is known from inscriptions on the
stone railing of the Mahabodhi Temple and the accounts of travellers
and pilgrims. Excavations carried out since the 19th century have
revealed interesting examples of art and architecture. Of particular
importance is a model of the original temple that was found during
During the 4th century, Sri Lankan Buddhists gained control of
the Mahabodhi temple as a result of the efforts of the Sri Lankan
King Meghavanna. The king later built a monastery in Bodhgaya.
During the Gupta period (4th to 6th century) the temple and its
surrounding area went through many changes. Quite a few small
shrines were constructed, but only the remains of their foundations
can be seen today.
One of the most prosperous periods for the temple was during
the reign of the Pala kings of Bengal (8th to 12th century). The
temple received lavish donations and gifts from the Pala rulers
and other Buddhists of Bengal. During this time it was also an
important centre for learning. The famous Bengali scholar Atista,
who is credited with playing an important role in the resurgence
of Buddhism in Tibet, was ordained here.
With the decline of Buddhism in India in the 12th and 13th centuries,
Bodhgaya became less frequented and almost all its temples and
shrines fell to ruin. Four centuries later, attempts to restore
the art and architecture, and revive the place as a centre for
pilgrimage began once again. Today, Bodhgaya is the most important
Buddhist pilgrimage centre in the world. It is a fairly quiet,
small town that explodes into a colourful, tented Buddhist pilgrimage
centre every winter.