Bodh Gaya was the place where Prince Siddhartha Gautama attained enlightenment under a Bodhi tree and became the Buddha 2600 years ago, making this the holiest spot in Buddhism. It attracts thousands of pilgrims from around the year, and is a center for prayer, study and meditation. The most sacred spot here is a Bodhi tree, a direct descendant of the tree the Buddha meditated under. A number of monasteries and temples dot the landscape here, built in the architectural style of foreign Buddhist communities because these are funded by them. It is also a veritable tourist trap, but that still does not diminish the tranquility or serenity of the place.
Bodh Gaya is a tourist trap and deceitful touts are aplenty. Ask for the official Bihar State Tourism Development Corporation ID cards and bargain heavily if you want to engage a local guide. Be wary of shopkeepers in the area who are known to overcharge tourists, especially foreigners. Do remember that the correct way to circumambulate the stupa and other sacred objects is in the clockwise direction. This is also true of prayer wheels – do not touch them with your left hand or rotate them in an anti-clockwise direction. Do refrain from taking pictures of prayers or meditating monks, and speak in hushed tones when inside a Buddhist shrine.
9 Must Visit Places in Bodh Gaya
1. Mahabodhi Temple
Mahabodhi Temple (Great Awakening Temple) is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a Buddhist temple in Bodh Gaya, built on the spot where Buddha is believed to attained enlightenment. Adjacent to the temple, on the west is the holy Bodhi tree. The government of Thailand has coated the vault of the Mahabodhi temple with gold plates weighing 290 kg. It is widely believed that the original temple was built by King Asoka, but there were several constructions and renovations done subsequently, and in more recent times, much of this work was undertaken with funds from not just the Indian government, but international contribution as well.
Cankamana is one of the most revered shrines along the Bodhi temple. It features a number of items that were sanctified by the presence of Lord Buddha during his enlightenment. Pathways along the Cankamana were used during the third week of his enlightenment, and the northern fringes of the shrine has Lord Buddha’s feet carved into black stone lotuses. The foot carvings are a prime tourist attractions at Cankamana, which also enshrines several images of Lord Buddha and his disciples.
3. Dungeshwari Hills
The Dungeshwari Hills area, 12 km from Bodh Gaya, has three cave temples where Lord Buddha is believed to have meditated. The three ancient caves contain several shrines for the Buddhists, and one for Hindus, and the place is also known locally as the Sujata Sthan. It is believed that while meditating here, Buddha became frail and an outcast woman named Sujata offered him food. This event enlightened Buddha about the importance of striking the middle path, and showed him that neither self-indulgence nor self-denial in extreme is right. The event is immortalised in a gold statue of Buddha in one of the caves. There is another 6-ft tall statue of Buddha and a Hindu shrine to Maa Dungeshwari in one of the caves.
4. Sujata Kunti
Sujata Kuti, located 8 km from Bodh Gaya, was the residence of Sujata. It is significant to Buddhists because the food offerings an outcast and extremely poor woman named Sujata made to a starving Lord Buddha showed to him that neither extreme self-indulgence, nor extreme self-denial is the correct way to attain enlightenment, and one had to follow the middle path to get there. The structure stands as a stupa to honour the sacrifice made by the woman Sujata, and to commemorate how the event contributed to Buddha’s attainment of enlightenment at the end of his cycle of meditation.
5. Muchalinda Lake
Muchalinda Lake is one of the chief tourist attractions in Bodh Gaya. It is located on the right of the main temple, and has the sculpture of a hood over a statue of Lord Buddha, who is seen meditating on a snake coil. It is believed that Lord Buddha is a reincarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu. During the sixth week of Buddha’s enlightenment in the cycle of meditation, a fierce storm broke out here, and Buddha was protected by a Shesh Naag, a reptile associated with legends of Vishnu. This serpent god, King Muchalinda raised its hood over the meditating Buddha to protect him from the storm, and the event has been depicted in the sculpture on the lake.
6. The Bodhi Tree
The Bodhi Tree, also known as Bo and peepal tree was a large and ancient Sacred Fig tee located in Bodh Gaya under which Siddhartha Gautama attained enlightenment to become Lord Gautama Buddha. The present Bodhi tree at Bodhgaya is a direct descendant of the Sacred Fig planted in 288 BC, taken from the original specimen. It is believed that after his enlightenment, Buddha spent a whole week in front of it, gazing at it with unblinking eyes. It was destroyed by a queen of King Asoka, twice later, but new trees were planted again to replace them.
7. Great Buddha statue
The 82-ft tall Great Buddha statue was instated in 1989 by the XIV Dalai Lama and shows Buddha in a meditating posture (dhyana mudra). He is seen resting on a giant lotus and the open air statue was built of sandstone blocks and red granite. It is among the largest Buddha statues in the country and took seven years to complete, with 12,000 masons working on it. The Great Buddha statue is an important stop on the Buddhist trail of pilgrimage in and around Bodh Gaya.
8. Chinese Temple
The Chinese Temple at Bodhgaya was built here by Buddhist monks and the China government in a style of architecture that is distinctly Chinese. It is located very close to the Bodhi Temple complex, and is beautifully embellished with Chinese motifs and artwork. In the sacred sanctum is a 200-year old statue of Lord Buddha, brought in from China and renovated in 1997. The temple also enshrines three beautiful golden sculptures of Lord Buddha. It celebrates different festivals related to the Buddha, and has Chinese-language discourses and prayers.
9. Thai monastery
The government of Thailand and Buddhist monks built the Thai monastery in Bodh Gaya in 1957, reflective of Thai culture and tradition. Built to preserve and spread the teachings of Lord Buddha. It was constructed in the Thai style of architecture and enshrines images of the Lord Buddha as well as inscribed Buddhist scriptures, symbols and other iconography from the religion. It hold retreats in January every year, held in silence, and sometimes with interactive sessions and personal/group meetings. Smoking and other vices are not allowed at the retreats, which everyone can participate in.