India has three of the four most important Buddhist pilgrimage sites in the world, with the fourth being in Nepal. That is an impressive heritage for a country that counts less than one percent of its population as Buddhist (though ask any entrepreneur and most would take 1% of billion). Out of those four sites, Bodhgaya is the most important; this is the place where Buddha attained Enlightenment.
The Mahabodhi Temple in Bodhgaya marks the place where Siddhārtha Gautama sat under a Bodhi tree for 49 days of meditation. Not content with having just attained enlightenment, the Buddha then spent a week in front of the tree, gazing with unblinking eyes in gratitude.
Behind the main temple is Bodhi tree where Buddha sat. Actually it’s not the original tree but a descendent of. The original was cut down, but not before a seed was taken to Sri Lanka, which was then able to later supply a replacement tree.
[Mahabodhi Temple, Bodhgaya – India]
For some reason I had visions of an open garden and the tree just there for all to enjoy. I envisaged that I was going to give the tree a big hug and have some of that nirvana rub off upon me. Of course the reality was different, and the tree is behind a high enclosure. Fair enough. With approximately 350 million Buddhists worldwide, imagine if they all came and gave the tree a hug – it would be worn out in no time.
And don’t even think of trying to take a leaf as a souvenir. All the branches are well above reaching/jumping level. While I didn’t count, I’m sure there was less than 350 million leaves on the tree (though there were some hawkers out the front who will try and sell you a leaf from a Bodhi tree, perhaps the original one 😉 ). Anyway there is no such thing as instant enlightenment, and saying a few Buddhist quotes won’t get you there any sooner either.
[The Bodhgaya Bodhi Tree at Mahabodhi Temple]
It is pretty impressive to stand by this tree and think of the history. Over 2500 years ago a man sat under this tree as a Prince, and left as the Supreme Buddha.
Bodhgaya is a small city of around 30000 people. Around the city there are Buddhist temples and monasteries representing all the major Buddhist countries of the world. I was happy to see the unmistakable architectural style of a Thai Buddhist Wat.
[Thai Monastery – Bodhgaya]
The easiest way to get to Bodhgaya is to get the train to nearby Gaya, which is on the Dehli-Kolkata line.
I stayed in Gaya, which is a bigger city about 15km away. Bodhgaya is a nicer place to stay but I had a train to catch early in the morning and I didn’t want the hassle getting a taxi in the morning.
While Gaya is a small city it has an airport with services to Thailand, Sri Lanka and Bhutan, which are mostly seasonal for pilgrimage travel.
Search for hotels in Gaya or Bodhgaya.
More photos in the Bodhgaya photo gallery.
Lily (Explore for a Year) says
Thanks for sharing this. I didn’t get a chance to visit Bodhgaya, but I did go to Sarnath, where (if I recall correctly) Buddha gave his first sermon after he got enlightened.
It’s incredible that we have the opportunity to visit places of such holy significance.
James Clark says
Hi Lily, Sarnath is one of the four places, so three more to go for you 😉
Great share James. Believe it or not , in 2008, my mother actually found a leaf on the ground. Of course. everyone was looking for one like we were. I look forward to returning on the pilgrimage with my little family one of these days. Do you plan on going to Lumbini, Nepal? This is the birth place of Buddha!
James Clark says
Oh, your lucky mother for finding a leaf! The grounds were looking well swept when I was there, so no such luck for me. Nepal is on my “will visit one day” list, so I am sure I will pass through Lumbini while I am there.
Nomadic Chick says
Wish I had made it here! Great descriptions and love the first photo. So many beautiful places in India. Not enough time. 🙂
James Clark says
I have read some of the places you went to wishing I had made it there as well. India is a lifetime of work to try and see everything!
hey i have been to this place the Mahabodhi temple. 🙂
I didn’t know that there are replicas of Buddhist monasteries and temples all around the world in Bodhgaya. I learned that you have visited Borobudur in Java as well. Is it also represented in Bodhgaya? By the way, I see you have traveled to more than 30 countries. Well, I just took a baby step to become a traveler like you. Nice work!
James Clark says
Hi Bama, thanks for the comment.
I had a look around at most of the temples, but I didn’t see Indonesia there or on a map. I guess there isn’t enough Buddhist in Indonesia for a temple, but it would be nice for representation.
That’s great that you are now a traveller as well, welcome to the club 🙂
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EXCELLENT post, thanks for share.