The Buddha was enlightened here. The first reported temple was built by Ashoka (d. 232 BCE), but the present temple (renovated by the British late in the 1800s, and later by the Indians) probably dates from the 5th/6th century. The ocher buildings were built and are still controlled by Shaiva ascetics (see next page). Buddhists come here on pilgrimage around the world, and I was wonderstruck how single extraordinary person can change the world.
All images July 2011
The temple's exterior is lavishly decorated, both with stone carvings (note the peacocks and the vegetal motifs) but more particularly with images of the Buddha himself. Here the left image shows him touching the Earth (calling her to bear witness to his accumulated religious merit), and the right image has him with his right hand raised in abhaya mudra ("fear not"). This sort of intense ornamentation covers the temple facade.
|Bodh Gaya's most important site is a pipal
tree (ficus religiosa) growing behind the temple. The Buddha
gained enlightenment sitting under a pipal tree, whose dense shade
renders them well known places to shelter ascetics. Buddhists took
cuttings from the original tree (one of which is in Anaradhapura in Sri Lanka)
and have used these to replant it as the trees have died (this current tree is
said to be the fourth one).
|Here a Theravada Buddhist monk is paying homage to the Buddha's memory by offering incense at the enclosure surrounding the Bodhi tree. Theravada Buddhists are emphatic that the Buddha was an enlightened human being, and so this reverential gesture is not so much worshipping the Buddha himself, since he is long dead and gone. On one hand, this is paying to his teaching, which is still living, and on the other it reminds the person that he (or she)--just like the Buddha--can follow this path and become enlightened.|
|On the east side of the Bodhi tree enclosure (the direction of the rising sun, and hence a symbol of spiritual awakening) is this display of the Buddha's footprints, adorned with a bouquet left by a devotee. Footprints are an early symbol for the Buddha (they can be found in the Eastern Gateway of the Sanchi Stupa. Footprints mark both an absence, and continuing presence--that someone HAS BEEN in a place, but is now gone--and however one conceives of the Buddha (as a human being or supernatural presence) he is still "present" in his teachings.|
|Of course, Buddhists worldwide have differing ideas of who the Buddha was/is. Surrounding the temple and tree are a series of subsidiary shrines (stupas) set in a garden. Stupas are funerary memorials which may enclose relics (as at Sanchi), or may be simply a memorial. Buddhist monks camp on this site, to practice where the Buddha gained enlightenment. Here a Tibetan monk is doing prostrations to the Buddha (with pads under his hands to prevent splinters). At the bottom is another monk's simple bed (covered with plastic to keep it dry), a water bottle, and a child's mesh play tent (for a mosquito free meditation site).|
Bodh Gaya--A Contested Site
These pages are in progress.
Page maintained by James G. Lochtefeld.
Last modified 11 August 2011