Bodh Gaya is a city in the Gaya district in the state of Bihar. Historically known as the Bodhimanda meaning ground round the Bodhi-tree, it is famous for being the place where Buddha attained enlightenment. So, many monks made a pilgrimage tour to India and large monasteries began to settle there.
The main monastery of Bodhgaya used to be called the Bodhimanda-vihara (Pali), but now the Mahabodhi Temple. For Buddhists, Bodh Gaya is the most important of the main four pilgrimage sites in India, related to the life of Gautama Buddha, the other three being Kushinagar, Lumbini and Sarnath. In 2002, the Mahabodhi temple in India became a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Pilgrims from far and wide throng to this holy Buddhist travel.
The Mahabodhi temple :
The Mahabodhi Temple complex is located about 96 kilometers from Patna. It houses the Mahabodhi Temple with a diamond throne called the Vajrasana and the holy Bodhi tree. Siddhartha Gautama became the Buddha as he meditated on this diamond seat under the Bodhi(Ficus Religiosa) tree. This tree was grown from the sapling of the original Sri Maha Bodhi tree in Sri Lanka.
It is widely believed that after the enlightenment of the Buddha, emperor Ashoka 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. The upper sanctum can be reached after climbing double flight of steps. The mouldings on the spire contained images of Buddha, in niches. As per the historians the temple was constructed or renovated in the 1st century during the Kushan period. With the decline of Buddhism in India, the temple was abandoned and forgotten, buried under layers of soil and sand.
Later, the temple was restored by Sir Alexander Cunningham as part of his work for the British Archaeological Society in the late 19th century. In 1883, the site was painstakingly excavatede by Cunningham along with J D Beglar and Dr Rajendralal Miitra. Extensive renovation work was carried out to restore Bodh Gaya to its former glory.
The Bodhi Tree :
The Bodhi Tree, also known as Bo(from the Sinhalese word Bo) is a large and very old Sacred Fig tree. Gautama Buddha, achieved enlightenment (or Bodhi) under this sacred tree. Being the most important of the four holy Buddhists pilgrimage sites, ardent devotees frequent this tree. The Sacred Fig growing at the Mahabodhi Temple, is probably a direct descendant of the original specimen.
Prince Gautama Siddhartha was wandering as a monk and reached the sylvan banks of Falgu river
. Falgu river near the city of Gaya. He began to meditate under a bodhi tree. After three days and three nights of meditation, Siddharta attained enlightenment. 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. The place came to be known as Bodh Gaya and the tree as the Bodhi Tree. The day of enlightenment was named as Buddha Purnima. The area was the heart of Buddhist civilizations for centuries, until it was conquered by Turkish armies in the 13th century.
The best season to travel to Bodh gaya is between October to March. Summers are too hot and winters too cold.The nearest airport is at Gaya at 17 Kms and Patna at 135 kms. The nearest railway station is Gaya (17km). Bodhgaya is well connected by road and one can hire taxis, tongas, auto Rickshaws and cycle Rickshaws. There are also regular direct-chartered bus services.