The Tribune - Spectrum


Sunday, April 13, 2003

A testimony to search for truth
Manpreet Singh

This 170-foot-high temple stands majestically in the form of a soaring slender pyramid

THE Mahabodhi temple in Bodhgaya, Buddhists’ most sacred place, Bihar, becomes the 23rd Indian site to be included in the World Heritage list. It was at this holy place that Prince Siddhartha Gautam attained supreme Enlightenment after years of wandering in search of truth.

This 170-feet-high temple stands majestically in the form of soaring slender pyramid on a base of 48 square feet. Built 1,400 years ago, this architecturally beautiful temple attracts Buddhist pilgrims from world over, besides a large number of curious visitors interested in history and Buddhism.

Hiuen Tsang, the Chinese traveller who came here in A.D. 637 was impressed by this awe-inspiring structure and gave a lively description of the temple. Its past glory may have been lost due to the ravages of time but it’s attraction as a pilgrimage centre never decreased. A number of renovations have been carried out since Emperor Ashoka’s time.

On the temple’s northern side you can see the chaukramana
On the temple’s northern side you can see the chaukramana 

As one of the holy places related to the life of Buddha, the UNESCO declared it as a World Heritage site last June end. The temple, which belongs to the Gupta dynasty and subsequent ages, stands east of the Bodhi tree under which the seeking prince attained Enlightenment. The present Bodhi tree is probably the fifth succession of the original tree.

It is said that sapling from the original Bodhi tree was carried to Sri Lanka by Emperor Ashoka’s daughter. From the tree that now flourishes there, a cutting was carried back to Bodhgaya when the original tree died.

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The Great Buddha statue, a sight not to be missed Photos by the writer
The Great Buddha statue, a sight not to be missed Photos by the writer

On the temple’s northern side you can see Chaukramana (cloister walk). The Buddha is said to have strolled here in meditation, pondering whether he should reveal to the world the enlightenment he had received. As Buddha spent the third week after attaining pious enlightenment here, walking up and down and meditating, it is believed that wherever the Buddha put his feet lotuses sprang up.

The Buddha attained Enlightenment under the Bodhi tree
The Buddha attained Enlightenment under the Bodhi tree

Besides the temple, is Mucalinda Lake (the abode of Snake King). Lord Buddha is believed to have spent the sixth week in meditation here. A severe thunder storm broke out while he was meditating. To protect him from the violent wind and rain, the creator came out to protect him.

A large number of stupas of various sizes and designs dot the courtyard of the temple. These stupas were built by the pilgrims and devotees, of them some are even 2500 years old. These elegant stupas lend the place a serene ambience. You can also see Buddhapada, footprints of Lord Buddha, engraved in a circular stone.

Also, there are a large number of monasteries in the vicinity of the Mahabodhi temple which reflect the reverence of various Buddhist countries like Thailand and Japan in their colourful designs and structures. But the sit e not to be missed is "The Great Buddha Statue" built in 1989, and unveiled by His Holiness Dalai Lama.

Beside the temple, Mucalinda Lake is the abode of Snake King
Beside the temple, Mucalinda Lake is the abode of Snake King 

The 64-feet Buddha Statue is in dhayana mudra (meditation pose), seated on a lotus in the open air. The statue is a patchwork of blocks, red granite stone and sand stone. It took four years to complete it. The giant, impressive statue was constructed with the efforts of the Daijokyo Sect in Japan.

The World Heritage status to the Mahabodhi temple follows the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, which was conferred the heritage status in 1999. Certainly, the upkeep of this historically important and the most revered places for Buddhists would improve after the world heritage tag.

Buddhapada, footprints of Lord Buddha, engraved on a circular stone
Buddhapada, footprints of Lord Buddha, engraved on a circular stone

The tourism department is already excited and expects the international tourist inflow to increase in this area following its heritage status. The civil aviation ministry has proposed a Rs 112-crore plan to upgrade Gaya airport to international standards, and international airlines will fly here.

The Mahabodhi temple from the Buddha after attaining enlightenment set out to his life of preaching comes out full circle — becoming the world heritage site — and continue to send the Buddha’s message of unlimited compassion and peace for all beings.


This feature was published on April 6, 2003