The Maha Bodhi Temple

The Mahabodhi Mahavihara (Temple) and its precincts is the most important place in Buddhagaya. This is the place where the Buddha attained supreme Enlightenment in the 6th century B.C. It was during the reign of King Piyadassi Asoka in the 3rd century B.C.that this place came into prominence. He started construction works by making the Vajrasana or the Diamond throne -- the seat of Enlightenment. Thereafter he built a stupa in veneration of the Buddha which remained there upto the 2nd century A.D. It was during this period that Buddhism was divided into two sects Hinayana and Mahayana. The Kings who professed and supported Buddhism at that time were all practitioners of Mahayana Buddhism. This was also the period during which started image worship in Buddhism.

Thus, to install an image of the Buddha inside, the stupa was broken open and since then started the process of establishment of this great edifice of veneration that we see today. This whole structure was completed sometime in the 7th century A.D. during the reign of the Gupta period.

Time came when Buddhism disappeared from the Land of its birth and this Temple too got damaged due to the ravages of time and man made miseries and natures calamities. It was during the last few years of the nineteenth century that this Temple was excavated and repaired.

It has become more than a hundred years since this Temple received a thorough conservation work and time has come that we undertake a comprehensive conservation work. There are trees growing all around the structure, which have developed cracks, and this is causing great harm to the very existence of the Temple.

About the Temple
Situated about 13 kms from Gaya, it is one of the important places of worship for the Buddhists and is also a significant archaeological site. It is 15 metres square and rises to a height of 52 metres. There is a big statue of Lord Buddha inside with his hands touching the earth. The focal point of Bodhgaya is the Mahabodhi Temple. A high pyramidal spire crowns the Mahabodhi temple, inside which, is a large gilded image of the Buddha. The temple is believed to be standing on the site of a shrine, erected by Ashoka in the 3rd century B.C. Legend has it that the Bodhi tree growing here is the direct descendant of the original tree under which the Buddha sat, mediated and attained enlightenment. A sapling from the original tree was taken to Sri Lanka by Sanghamitra (Emperor Ashoka’s daughter), when Ashoka took Buddhism to the island. A cutting of this tree was brought back to Bodhgaya, when the original tree here died. A red sand stone under the tree is said to be the Vajrasan, or diamond throne, on which the Buddha sat. The architecture of this temple is unparalleled in North India. It is believed that in the 3rd century B.C Emperor Ashoka built this temple. Chankamana- Towards North of the Bodhi Temple is a platform with foot impressions of Buddha. Apart from the ponds and platforms, there are many temples built by various nations like the Tibet temple, the Japanese, the Thai, the Lankan and the Bhutan temple. These temples are a major attraction for the tourists and devotees who visit Bodh Gaya. The 170 feet high Mahabodhi Temple stands east to the Bodhi Tree with Chatras on its top. It has been learnt that UNESCO has declared Maha Bodhi Temple at Bodh Gaya (Bihar) as a world heritage site. Animeshlocha Stupa is believed to be the place where Buddha spent one week looking towards the great Mahabodhi Tree out of gratitude, without blinking his eyes.

The construction and renovation
The temple’s architecture is superb but its history is shrouded in obscurity. It was constructed with the main intention of making it a monument and not a receptacle for the relics of the Buddha. Several shrines were constructed with enshrined images for use as places of worship. The Mahabodhi Temple constructed in the 7th century A. D. has had repairs and renovations from time to time. Kings and commoners, both from home and abroad, were always vying with each other to donate in cash and kind to the Mahabodhi Temple which always survived on donations from the time it was first built. The Mahabodhi temple must have required constant minor repairs and occasional major renovations. The temple received its last and massive restoration and conservation work after it was excavated. The restoration work was started by Burma on the request of King Mindon Min (1853-1878) to the Government of India asking for permission to renovate this temple, which the Burmese received. The work started in right earnest for their faith and determination of the Burmese may have been great, but their understanding of the importance of preserving the temple?s original character was lost and inadvertently they caused enormous damage. When the authorities noticed this situation, the expertised hands of the Archaeological Survey of India were sought under the guidance of the Director General of the Archaeological Survey, Sir Alexander Cunningham. The work was completed and the entire structure got back to its old glory, which remains present to this day. The meditation- park is a new addition in the temple complex inaugurated.

The inner courtyard
Flights of steps lead to the inner courtyard through a beautifully carved granite torana (gateway). A large circular stone with the Buddha’s footprints or Buddhapada is kept in a small shrine on the left. In the centre stands the Mahabodhi Temple, crowned by a pointed spire flanked by four corner turrets. The sanctum houses a gilded statue of the Buddha in the bhumisparsha mudra with one finger touching the earth, calling it to witness his awakening. The air is filled with the heady fragrance of incense and flowers. A chamber at the top houses a figure of Mayadavi, the Buddha’s mother. Muslim invaders destroyed the temple in the 12th century and the Burmese kings restored it in the 14th century. However, the temple complex was severely flooded and remained buried under silt till 1811. Alexander Cunningham, Director General of the Archaeological Survey of India, visited the site in 1861 and recommended excavations. In 1891 a Srilankan Buddhist, Anagarika Dharmapala, founded the Mahabodhi Society of India whose avowed goal was to wrest the Bodh Gaya temple from Hindu priests and reclaim it for the Buddhists. Finally, on 23rd May 1953, the temple was handed over to Dr S. Radhakrishnan, the then Vice President of India. Seven spots within the precincts of the Mahabodhi Temple are especially sacred as it was at these spots that the Buddha spent a week each, meditating, after his Enlightenment. Visitors tread these grounds reverentially and carefully because of their association with the Great Master. 1) The Buddha spent the first week under the Bodhi tree. It is believed that the original tree sprang up the day the Buddha was born. Interestingly, the tree was destroyed and replanted at least five times. The present tree grew from a sapling brought from the tree in Anuradhapura in Sri Lanka. Poet-philosopher Ashwaghosha who wrote the Buddhacharita called it the navel of the earth. The vajrasana or diamond throne, a red sandstone slab, is kept at the spot where the Buddha sat in meditation under the Bodhi tree. 2) The Buddha spent the second week at the Animeshlochana Chaitya in meditation, gazing unwinkingly at the Maha Bodhi Tree. 3) The Ratnachankrama or jewel walk is where the Lord spent the third week walking between the Bodhi tree and the Animeshlochana Chaitya. Lotus flowers sprang up, where the Master’s feet rested. 4) The Buddha spent the fourth week in the Ratnaghar Chaitya where he reflected on the higher modes of exposition, Abhidharma Nyaya. Blue, yellow, red, white and orange rays emanated from the Master’s body as he meditated. The Buddhist flag therefore uses these colours. 5) He spent the fifth week in the east, near the entrance, under a Banyan tree. In response to a Brahman’s query, he expounded that good karma and not birth makes a Brahman. 6) The Buddha spent the sixth week in meditation near this lake. A severe thunderstorm broke out and Mucalinda, the snake king came out and encircled the body of the Buddha, held his large hood over Him. 7) The 7th and the last week was spent in the southeast where under the Rajyatna tree the Buddha preached his doctrines.