Bodh Gaya

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Author of this article is Laxman Burdak लक्ष्मण बुरड़क
Mahabodhi Temple at Bodh Gaya
Mahabodhi tree and Bodh Gaya railing

Bodh Gaya (बोधगया) (Bodhgaya) is an ancient religious place in Gaya district in Bihar. Bodhgaya is one of the most important and sacred Buddhist pilgrimage center in the world. It is famous for being the place of Gautama Buddha's attainment of Enlightenment.

Bodh Gaya is the most important of the main four pilgrimage sites related to the life of Gautama Buddha, the other three being Kushinagar, Lumbini, and Sarnath. On 27 June 2002, Mahabodhi Temple, located in Bodh Gaya, became a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Variants of name

It had various names in the past[1]:

The name Bodh Gaya did not come into use until the 18th century. The main monastery of Bodhgaya used to be called the Bodhimanda-vihāra (Pali). Now it is called the Mahabodhi Temple.


Located 12 kms from Gaya town in south-west direction.


Falguni River (Niranjana of Ramayana)
Brahmyoni Gaya

According to Buddhist traditions, circa 500 BC Prince Gautama Siddhartha, wandering as an ascetic, reached the sylvan banks of Falgu River, near the city of Gaya. There he sat in meditation under a bodhi tree (Ficus religiosa). After three days and three nights of meditation, Siddharta attained enlightenment and insight, and the answers that he had sought. He then spent seven weeks at seven different spots in the vicinity meditating and considering his experience. After seven weeks, he travelled to Sarnath, where he began teaching Buddhism.

Disciples of Gautama Siddhartha began to visit the place where he had gained enlightenment during the full moon in the month of Vaisakh (April-May), as per the Hindu calendar. Over time, the place became known as Bodh Gaya, the day of enlightenment as Buddha Purnima, and the tree as the Bodhi Tree.

The history of Bodh Gaya is documented by many inscriptions and pilgrimage accounts. Foremost among these are the accounts of the Chinese pilgrims Faxian in the 5th century and Xuanzang in the 7th century. The area was at the heart of a Buddhist civilization for centuries, until it was conquered by Turkish armies in the 13th century.


विजयेन्द्र कुमार माथुर[2] ने लेख किया है ... 2. धर्मारण्य (AS, p.465): बोधगया (बिहार) से 4 मील पर स्थित है बौद्ध ग्रंथों में इस क्षेत्र का, जो गौतम बुद्ध से संबंधित था, नाम धर्मारण्य कहा गया है.

Mahabodhi Temple

Mahabodhi Mahavihara

The Mahabodhi Mahavihara or more popularly known as the Bodhgaya temple or the great stupa, is one of the shrines out of the 84000 shrines rected by Ashoka the great in 3rd century BC. The Mahabodhi Temple and its precinct is the most important place of Bodh Gaya which contains the diamond throne (called the Vajrasana) and the holy Bodhi tree. In the temple complex one can see other seven places where the Buddha spent in meditation after the attainment of Enlightenment.

Buddha spent seven weeks in seven different places inside the temple complex. These are:

  • 1.Vajrasana (The Diamond Throne),
  • 2.Animesha Lochana Chaitya,
  • 3. Chankramana,
  • 4. Ratanaghara,
  • 5. Ajapala Nigrodha tree,
  • 6. Muchalinda lake,
  • 7. Rajayatana tree

It is believed that 250 years after the Enlightenment of the Buddha, Emperor Asoka visited Bodh Gaya. He is considered to be the founder of the original Mahabodhi temple. It consisted of an elongated spire crowned by a miniature stupa and a chhatravali on a platform. A double flight of steps led up to the platform and the upper sanctum. The mouldings on the spire contained Buddha images in niches. Ashoka is recorded to have performed special rites of veneration at the Mahabodhi tree in the company of his family and ministers.

It was king Ashoka who had shown such respect for this tree. King Ashoka inaugurated his construction work here. An inscription discovered at Bharhut in Madhya Pradesh reveals that Ashoka constructed Vajrasana, a boundary wall around it and the Mahabodhi tree and an elephant capital pillar latter called Gayagaja at Bodhgaya. King Ashoka constructed a stupa at this place after the design of Dhamneka stupa at Sarnath or Sanchi and it was 50 feet high.[3]

The present Mahabodhi Mahavihara is estimated to have been built around the second century AD , as concluded by a scrutiny of finds here, which include a gold coin from times of Huviska, the Kushan ruler succeeding Kaniska. The Indo-Scythian and Gupta inscriptions discovered here also confirm that the temple was constructed or renovated during the Kushan period in Huviska's regime. The gold-plated statue of Buddha in touch-ground posture was installed in the sanctum sanctorum of the temple in 380 AD. [4]

The inscriptions found at Bodhgaya reveal that the King Meghaverma or Meghavarna of Shri Lanka constructed a three-minaret sangharama at the place during during Gupta regime in 388 AD. Wang-Hiuen-Tse also records that the above mentioned king sent a letter to king Samudragupta (335-76 AD) seeking permission to construct a Vihara where the monks and pilgrims from Shri Lanka could stay.[5] Fa-Hein had visited this place in 409 AD. Hieuen-Tsang visited the place in 637 AD. [6]

With the decline of Buddhism in India, the temple was abandoned and forgotten, buried under layers of soil and sand. The temple was later restored by Sir Alexander Cunningham as part of his work for the British Archaeological Society in the late 19th century. In 1883, Cunningham along with J. D. Beglar and Dr Rajendralal Mitra painstakingly excavated the site. Extensive renovation work was carried out to restore Bodh Gaya to its former glory.

The Bodhi tree

This is the most important of all places for a devout Buddhist. Here under this tree Buddha spent one week in meditation after he attained enlightenment. There Buddha sat in meditation under the Bodhi tree which is also called peepal tree (Ficus religiosa). After three days and three nights of meditation, Siddharta attained enlightenment and insight. The Jatakas reveal that the Bodhi tree is an object of veneration as the Buddha himself sanctioned it and is also regarded as the symbolic representation of Buddha. The present tree is probably the fifth succession of the original tree which was earlier destroyed several times by man-made misery and natural calamities. This tree was originally a sapling of the Sri Maha Bodhi tree in Sri Lanka, itself grown from a sapling of the original Bodhi tree.

Buddhist temples at Bodh Gaya

In addition to Mahabodhi Mahavihara there are several Buddhist temples and monasteries at Bodh Gaya built by the people of Bhutan, China, Japan, Myanmar, Nepal, Sikkim, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Thailand, Tibet and Vietnam in a wide area around the temple. These buildings reflect the architectural style, exterior and interior decoration of their respective countries.

  • Sanghārāma - Kittisirimegha of Sri Lanka, a contemporary of Samudragupta, erected with the permission of Samudragupta, a Sanghārāma near the Mahābodhi-vihāra, chiefly for the use of the Singhalese monks who went to worship the Bodhi tree. The circumstances in connection with the Sanghārāma are given by Hiouen Thsang [7] who gives a description of it as seen by himself. It was probably here that Buddhaghosa met the Elder Revata who persuaded him to come to Ceylon.
  • Chinese Temple - The statue of Buddha in the Chinese Temple is 200 years old and was brought from China.
  • Japan's Nippon Temple is shaped like a pagoda.
  • The Myanmar (Burmese) Temple is also pagoda shaped and is reminiscent of Bagan.
  • The Thai Temple has a typical sloping, curved roof covered with golden tiles. Inside, the temple holds a massive and spectacular bronze statue of Buddha.
  • Next to the Thai temple there is a recent 25 meter statue of Buddha located within a garden which has existed there for over 100 years. For Tibetan Buddhism there are two temples.

Visit by Xuanzang in 637 AD

Alexander Cunningham[8] writes that On leaving Pataliputra the Chinese pilgrim Xuanzang started from the south-west corner of the city, and proceeded for 100 li, or 16-2/3 miles, to the south-west to the monastery of Ti-lo-shi-kia or Ti-lo-tse-kia, from whence he continued his route in the same direction for 90 li, or 15 miles, to a lofty mountain from the summit of which Buddha had contemplated the kingdom of Magadha.[9] He then turned to the north-west for 30 li, or 5 miles, to visit a very large monastery on the slope of a hill, where Gunamati had worsted a heretic in argument. Then resuming his south-west route for 20 li, or 3-1/3 miles, he visited an isolated hill, and the monastery of Silabhadra, and continuing in the same direction for 40 or 50 li, 7 or 8 miles, he crossed the river Ni-lien-shen, or Nairanjan and entered the town of Kia-ye, or Gaya.[10] Before attempting to identify any of the places

[p.456]: noted in this route, I must remark that there are several errors both in the bearings and distances that require to be corrected. As the direction of Gaya is very nearly due south from Patna, the several south- west bearings should certainly be altered to south. The several distances also when added together amount to only 230 li, or 38 miles, while the actual distance between the cities of Patna and Gaya is 60 miles by the high-road, and must have been about 70 miles by the route followed by Hwen Thsang. The sum of his distances is, therefore, about 200 li, or 33 miles, short of the distance actually travelled. This amount I would divide into two even sums of 100 li, and add one to each of the first two distances recorded by the pilgrim.

By adopting this double correction of bearing and distance the position of the monastery of Ti-lo-tse-kia, or Tiladaka, will be fixed at 200 li, or 33 miles, to the south of the south-west corner of the city of Patna, or as nearly as possible on the site of the town of Tillara, on the eastern bank of the Phalgu river. That this was nearly the true position of Tiladaka is proved by a later mention of the same place by the pilgrim.

When leaving the Nalanda monastery on his return to China, he went direct to Tiladaka, which he places at 3 yojanas or 21 miles, to the west of Nalanda.[11] Now the position of Nalanda, as I will hereafter show, was at the village of Baragaon, 6 miles to the north of Rajgir ; and from Baragaon to Tillara the distance is 17 miles in a direct line to the north of west, or about 20 miles by road.

The next place visited by Hwen Thsang, was the

[p.457]: lofty mountain from which Buddha had contemplated the country of Magadha. Following my proposed corrections, this mountain should be looked for at 190 li, or 32 miles, to the south of Tiladaka or Tillara, and at 70 li to the north-east of Gaya. These bearings and distances fix the position of Buddha's Mountain in the lofty range of hills lying between Giryek and Gaya, somewhere about 3 miles to the north-west of Vazirganj, and about the same distance to the west of Amethi. This mention of hills is very fortunate, as it proves the necessity of applying the correction in distance to the first part of the route as the nearest hill is upwards of 50 miles from Patna.

From Buddha's Mountain the pilgrim proceeded 30 li, or 5 miles, to the north-west to the large monastery of Gunamati, which was situated on a slope in a pass of the mountains. The bearing and distance point to the low range of hills on the eastern bank of the Pewar Nadi, near Nidawat. From the Gunamati monastery Hwen Thsang travelled 20 li, or 3-1/3 miles, to the south-west to the Silabhadra monastery, which was situated on an isolated hill. This position may, I think, be identified with Bithawa, an isolated hill, which is also on the eastern bank of the Pewar Nadi, 3 miles to the south-west of Nidawat. The name of Bitha, which means an artificial mound, may perhaps refer to the ruined monastery of Silabhadra.

From this place the pilgrim proceeded for about 40 or 50 li, about 7 or 8 miles, to the south-west, and crossing the Nairanjan river, entered the town of Gaya. The river is now called Phalgu, opposite Gaya, and the name of Lilajan, or Nilajan, is restricted to the western branch, which joins the Mohani 5 miles

[p.458]: above Gaya. The town was thinly peopled, but it contained about 1000 families of Brahmans. The city is still called Brahm-Gaya, to distinguish it from Bauddh-Gaya.

At 5 or 6 li, or 1 mile, to the south-west of the town stood the mountain of Gaya, which was known amongst the people of India as the divine mountain. This hill is now called Brahm-juin, or Brahmyoni, and a small temple now occupies the site of Asoka's stupa. To the south-east of the hill there were stupas of the three Kasyapas, and to the east of them, across a great river (the Phalgu), there was a mountain named, or Pragbodhi which Buddha ascended for the purpose of dwelling in silent solitude upon its summit. He had previously spent six years in silent abstraction, but having afterwards renounced his austerities, he accepted some rice and milk, and going towards the north-east, he saw this mountain, and ascended it for the purpose of resuming his austerities ; but he was disturbed by the tremblings caused by the fright of the god of the mountain, and descended on the south-west side, from whence he reached the famous Pippal-tree at Bauddha Gaya, at 15 li, or 2½ miles, to the south-west. The last distance and bearing show that the Pragbodhi mountain is the Mora Pahar of the present day, as its south-west end is exactly 2½ miles to the north-east of Bauddha Gaya. Midway in the descent there was a cave, in which Buddha rested, and sat with his legs crossed. Fa-Hian[12] mentions this cave, which he places at half a yojana, or 3½ miles, to the north-east of the Bodhi-tree. It was therefore about one mile from the

[p.459]: southern end of the mountain. I was informed that a cave still exists on the western face.

Hwen Thsang has omitted to mention the distance of this eastern mountain from that of Gaya, or Brahm-juin, which is about 4 miles, or 24 li. The account of the earlier pilgrim, Fa-Hian, is of no assistance in this place, as he makes the distance from Kia-ye, or Gaya, to the neighbourhood of the Bodhi-tree only 20 li, or 3-1/3 miles, the actual distance being upwards of 5 miles, or more than 30 li.

Bauddha-Gaya was famous for its possession of the holy Pippal-tree under which Sakya Sinha sat for five years in mental abstraction, until he obtained Buddha-hood. The celebrated Bodhi-drum, or " Tree of Wisdom," still exists, but it is very much decayed. Immediately to the east of the tree there is a massive brick temple, nearly 50 feet square at base, and 160 feet in height. This is beyond all doubt the Vihar that was seen by Hwen Thsang in the seventh century, as he places it to the east of the Bodhi-tree, and describes it as 20 paces square at base, and from 160 to 170 feet in height.


  1. A History of Bodh Gaya by Venerable S. Dhammika
  2. Aitihasik Sthanavali by Vijayendra Kumar Mathur, p.465
  3. Shanri Swaroop Baudh:Bodhgaya, Eng by Moses Michael, Samyak Prakashan, New Delhi, 2008,p.35
  4. Shanri Swaroop Baudh:Bodhgaya, Eng by Moses Michael, Samyak Prakashan, New Delhi, 2008,p.37
  5. Shanri Swaroop Baudh:Bodhgaya, Eng by Moses Michael, Samyak Prakashan, New Delhi, 2008,p.37
  6. Shanri Swaroop Baudh:Bodhgaya, Eng. by Moses Michael, Samyak Prakashan, New Delhi, 2008,p.38
  7. Beal, op. cit., 133ff
  8. The Ancient Geography of India/Magadha, p.455-459
  9. Julien's 'Hiouen Thsang.' ii. 439, 40, 41.
  10. Ibid., ii. 455
  11. Julien's 'Hiouen Thsang,' i. 211. See Map No. XII.
  12. Beal's 'Fah-Hian,' c. xxxi. 121.

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