Here on this seat my body may shrivel up, my skin, my bones, my flesh may dissolve, but my body will not move from this very seat until I have attained Enlightenment, so difficult to attain in course of many Kaplas. (Buddha’s Voice)
Bodhgaya, the place of the Buddha attained supreme Enlightenment, is the one of the most sacred place on earth to Buddhists. During the Buddha’s time, this place by the banks of the river Niranjara was known as Uruvela. King Asoka was the first to build a temple at this sacred spot. A portrayal of the Asokan temple and other buildings at Bodhgaya has been found in a bas-relief on the Bharhut Stupa in Madhya Pradesh. Beginning with Asoka’s first visit in 259 BC, countless pilgrims have gravitated to this cradle of 76 Buddhism without intermission for more than 1,500 years. Srilankan , Burmese, Chinese people pilgrimage to this sacred place Bodhgaya in the historical past and patronised repairing and installing images of the Buddha. The place Bodhgaya is clearly mentioned in many texts and pilgrim records which designate it as the oly place where Shakyamuni Siddharth Gautam could have become a Buddha. The famous Chinese pilgrim Xuanzang in 7th century described Shakyamuni’s futile efforts to achieve enlightenment at nearby Pragbodhi Hill (now called Dhongra Sri Hill). Buddhist pilgrimage go to pay homage to this sacred place.
Hsuan-tsang ascribes the erection of the original Bodhi shrine to Emperor Ashoka. According to one of the rock edicts, Ashoka visited this place, which is called Sambodhi in the inscription, ten years after his consecration. Bodhgaya in 1811, the temple was in not good condition and it was greatly disturbed by the extensive removal of bricks and other materials for local building projects. From the beginning of the 19th century, several Burmese missions also travelled to Bodh Gaya, first to find the site and make offerings, and the then, in 1877, to renovate the dilapidated structures. in 1891 Sir Arnold’s writings “Light of Asia” helped to inspire Anagarika Dharmapala from Srilanka to dedicate his life to the struggles to have Bodhgaya and especially the Mahabodhi temple under Buddhist ownership rather than accepting the Hindu Mahant who was control of the temple at that time.
Anagarika Dharmapala and the Maha Bodhi Society
The battle to regain control of the Mahabodhi Temple by Buddhists began on January 22, 1891, when Anagarika Dharmapala visited Bodhgaya. Visibly moved by the neglect and sacrilege of this most sacred shrine, he took the vow, “I will work on to make this sacred spot to be cared for by our own Bhikkhus.” As a first step, he founded the Maha Bodhi Society of Buddhagaya on May 31, 1891 to garner support for this noble objective. They arrived at Bodhgaya in July 1891 and took up residence in the Burmese Rest House.
PLACE OF INTEREST
The Mahabodhi Temple has a long history. Excavations by Cunningham in 1872 suggested three periods in its construction.The first phase of construction by King Asoka during the 3rd century BC was the Bodhi Shrine, represented in the bas-relief in the 2nd century BC Bharhut Stupa. The second phase of construction during the 1st century AD involved renovation of the original Bodhi Shrine by two pious ladies, Surangi and Nagadevi, wives of Sunga kings. The third phase of construction was undertaken by Huviska, the Kusana king of the 2nd century AD. The images of the Buddha originated during this period. Therefore shrines were erected for their installation. Cunningham suggested that the entire Mahabodhi Temple, as seen today, was mainly the structure of the Huviska period (111-138 AD). As it was built over the remains of Asoka’s shrine, the Vajrasana Throne retains its original position of the Seat of Enlightenment. In the 7th century AD, renovations were carried out which included placing a new basalt slab over the older plaster throne at the Vajrasana. In the late 19th century, massive renovations were carried out under the able super-vision of Cunningham, Beglar and R. L. Mitra to restore the Maha Bodhi Temple, which had fallen into ruins after centuries of vandalism and neglect by its squatter-occupants, the Mahants. The magnificent building we see today is the result of their rare devotion and dedication.
The Mahabodhi Temple is undoubtedly the most exquisite-looking building in Bodhgaya. Standing 52 m high with a base of 15.2 sq. m, it consists of a straight pyramidal tower surmounted by a stupa. At the corners of the base, there arise four smaller towers 80 – miniature replicas of the main spire. The main door faces east and in front of it there is an imposing ancient gateway decorated with carvings. The niches on the walls of both sides of the Temple contain images of the Buddha. The main shrine hall or Sanctum on the ground floor is reached after passing through a vaulted passage, on both sides of which are stone staircases leading up to a smaller shrine hall on the first floor. On entering the Sanctum, one comes face to face with the great gilded image of the Buddha seated in the earth-touching-posture (bhumi sparsha-mudra). Just gazing at this magnificent image of our Lord will certainly evoke feelings of joy and reverence in the heart of the pilgrim! This is the result of the faith and devotion in heeding the Buddha’s exhortation to “visit the holy places and look upon them with feelings of reverence”.
The colossal gilded image is from the 10th century AD. Here the Buddha is depicted as sitting on a patterned cushion instead of a lotus. It is supported by a pedestal decorated with figures of lions alternating with elephants. The patterned cushion is a common feature found in other Buddha images from Eastern India, which was probably copied from this image. Most people are not aware of the fact that this image was not in the temple when archaeological explorations were going on in and around Buddhagaya by the then British government.
The Bodhi tree under which the Buddha attained Supreme Enlightenment is situated behind the Temple. It is a Pipal tree (Ficus religiosa), also known in Pali as assattha. It is said to have sprung up at the same time when the Buddha was born, i.e., his co-natal (sahajata). According to the commentaries, different Buddhas attained Enlightenment seated under different trees of their choice and each of them became the ‘Bodhi tree’ of the particular Buddha during his dispensation. In the present dispensation, only the Bodhi tree of Gotama Buddha is reverenced. The site of the Bodhi tree is the same for all Buddhas. It is believed that no place on earth can support the weight of the Buddha’s Enlightenment. The ground is so firm that it remained unmoved, even as a violent earthquake shook the world and scattered Mara and his army, who had come to challenge the Bodhisatta for the Seat of Enlightenment. Even Sakka Devaraja is unable to travel in the air immediately above it. Such is the charismatic power of the place called “Navel of the Earth”.
From earliest times, kings and commoners have come here to honour it. Being the object of veneration of Buddhists, it naturally became the target of destruction by the enemies of Buddhism. According to Hsüan Tsang, the Bodhi tree was first cut down by Asoka before his conversion, but later out of remorse, he revived the tree by bathing the roots with scented water and milk. Asoka paid homage to the tree so earnestly that his queen, Tissarakkha, was filled with jealousy and had it destroyed secretly. Again, it was revived by Asoka as before. Thereafter, he built a wall over 3 m high to surround it for protection. After the fall of the Mauryan empire in the 2nd century BC, the Sunga king Pusyamitra, who was a persecutor of Buddhism, also destroyed the Bodhi tree but
82 a sapling of the tree from Sri Lanka was brought back and replanted in the same spot. During the 6th century AD Sasanka, a Hindu king, cut down the Bodhi tree, but sometime later it was replanted with a sapling from the Bodhi tree in Sri Lanka by King Purvavarma of Magadha, who then built a wall 7.3 m high to surround it. Its remains were 6.1 m high when Hsüan Tsang visited it. In 1876, the old decaying Bodhi tree fell down during a storm and a sapling from it was planted on the same spot by Cunningham. The present Bodhi tree is now 125 years old.
The Vajrasana is located between the Bodhi tree and the Temple. It marks the actual spot where the Buddha attained Supreme Enlightenment. It is now marked by a red sandstone slab 2.3 m long by 1.3 m wide by 0.9 m high. Pilgrims who visit this spot should spend some time in this conducive environment to reflect on the virtues of the Buddha to attain the fullness of faith and calm followed by mindfulness meditation to develop insight.
The Buddha’s Stay at Seven Places after Enlightenment
After attaining Buddhahood on the full-moon night of Wesak, as dawn broke the Buddha uttered a paean of joy (Udana). While sitting on the Vajrasana he decided to continue sitting on the undefeated throne, on which he overcame Mara and fulfilled all his wishes, including the one to become a Buddha.
• First Week on the Throne (Pallanka Sattaha)
The Buddha sat on the Diamond Throne for seven days in meditation absorbed in the bliss of emancipation (Arahantship Fruition). At the end of seven days, he emerged from the absorption and contemplated on the Doctrine of Dependent Origination (Paticca Samuppada) the whole night.
• Second Week of the Gaze (Animisa Sattaha)
Throughout the second week, as a mark of gratitude to the Bodhi Tree for providing him shelter, the Buddha stood gazing at it without closing his eyes. On the spot where the Buddha stood, a shrine was erected by King Asoka. This shrine, named the Animisilocana Cetiya, is located on elevated ground within the courtyard in front of the Temple.
• Third Week on the Walk (Cankama Sattaha)
The third week was spent on walking meditation along a ‘jewelled promenade or Cankama’ running from east to west between the Diamond throne and the Animisilocana Cetiya.
• Fourth Week in Jewelled House (Ratanaghara Sattaha)
The Buddha spent the fourth week in the ‘Jewelled House’, reflecting on the Abhidhamma, which deals with absolute truths concerning mental and material processes. As he contemplated on the deep and profound doctrine of the Patthana or Conditional Relations, there arose great rapture in the Omniscient mind, which activated material processes in the body to emit rays of six colours – blue, gold, white, red, pink and a massive brightness of all these assorted colours. This spot is now marked by a small shrine within the compound to the north of the Cankama.
• Fifth Week at Ajapala Nigrodha Tree (Ajapala Sattaha)
During the fifth week, the Buddha sat at the root of the Ajapala Banyan tree reflecting on the Dhamma and absorbed in the bliss of Phalasamapatti (Fruition of Arahantship). This Banyan tree was
84 called Ajapala because goatherds came for shelter under its shade. Here the Buddha declared the qualities of a true Brahman in reply to a question by a conceited brahmin. This site is indicated by a signboard within the courtyard, directly in front of the Temple.
• Sixth Week at Mucalinda (Mucalinda Sattaha)
After seven days at the Ajapala Banyan tree, the Buddha moved to the Mucalinda (Barringtonia acutangula) tree, a short distance south of the Temple. There he sat for seven days at the root of the Mucalinda tree, absorbed in the bliss of Arahantship. At that time, there arose an untimely rainstorm and gloom for seven days. Mucalinda, serpent king of the lake, came out and used its coils to encircle the Buddha’s body and its hood to cover the Buddha’s head, thereby protecting the Lord. The site of this episode is at the Mucalinda pond, a short distance south of the Temple.
• Seventh Week at Rajayatana Tree (Rajayatana Sattaha)
After seven days at the Mucalinda tree, the Buddha moved to the Rajayatana tree (Buchanania latifolia) near the Temple. Here he sat at the foot of the tree absorbed in the bliss of Arahantship for seven days. At that time, two merchant brothers, Tapussa and Bhallika, from Ukkala in Myanmar met the Buddha and offered him rice cakes and honey. They became the first lay disciples and asked the Buddha for an object of worship. Thereupon the Buddha rubbed his head and presented them with eight hairs. The brothers returned to their native Myanmar with the precious hair relics, which were later enshrined by the king in Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon. The site of this episode is marked by a signboard just south of the Temple.
Prior to enlightenment, the Bodhisatta was staying on the other side of the Neranjara river in a cave now known as Dungeswari. This cave is on a hill, now known as the Dhongra hill, about an hour’s journey from Bodhgaya. After undergoing painful and profitless practices for six years, he decided to adopt the Middle Path and moved to the Uruvela forest near the village of Senanigama, where one can still see the site of Lady Sujata’s house, which is now on a small mound. In that village too, one can visit a small shrine under a Banyan tree, with images portraying Sujata’s offering of milk rice to the Bodhisatta on the eve of his Enlightenment
The area, which was once a forest, is now a wooded area near the Sujata Shrine. Here one can find an old building with a dry well in the centre. This site is believed to be the fire-chamber of the Kassapa brothers, three matted hair Jatilas, who had a following of one thousand disciples. Here the Buiddha tamed the serpent, which inhabited the fire chamber. The taming of the elder Kassapa brother Uruvela took a longer time. The Buddha had to employ his psychic powers to convert the misguided Jatila. After Uruvela Kassapa became the Buddha’s disciple, his brothers, Nadi and Gaya, followed suit together with their followers. After hearing the Fire Sermon preached by the Buddha, the thousand newly ordained bhikkhus became Arahants.
Temples and Monasteries in Bodhgaya
Bodhgaya is the fountainhead of Buddhism. It occupies an area of only 15 sq. km, but within this small area are found over thirty monasteries and institutions representing every country in the world with a sizeable Buddhist community. A visit to some of
86 these temples can help one to understand how the religion is practised in different countries according to local culture that does not run counter to the Buddha Dhamma. There are also a few Vipassana meditation centres, such as the Burmese Vihara and the International Meditation Centre, to cater for yogis who wish to spend a meditation retreat at Bodhgaya. The names of Buddhist temples, monasteries and institutions listed in the Buddha Mahotsav 1999 Souvenir Programme are shown below, in alphabetical order:
All India Bhikkhu Sangha, Asian Buddhist Culture Centre, Bangladesh Temple, Buddhagaya Temple Management Committee, Burmese Vihar, Chinese Temple, Daijokyo Japanese Buddhist Temple, Dhamma Bodhi Meditation Centre, Drikyug Charitable Trust, Druk Nawag Thupten Choeling, Indosan Nipponjee Japanese Temple, International Meditation Centre, Jambunad Vihar, Karma Temple, Korea Temple, Maha Bodhi Society, Maitreya Project, Nav Bauddha Vihar, Panch Sheela Vihar, Root Institute for Wisdom Culture, Royal Bhutan Temple, Sakya Monastery, Sambodhi Welfare and Cultural Society, Shechen Monastery, Taiwan Temple, Tamang Nepal Temple, Thai Bharat Society, Thai Bodhi Kam, Tibetan Temple, Trailokya Centre, Vietnam Temple and Wat Thai Temple.