The Mahabodhi Temple, also known as the Great Awakening Temple, is located in Bodh Gaya. The site is one of the four most important pilgrimage sites associated with the life of Gautama Buddha.
The place attracts millions of visitors every year irrespective of their religion. The towering structure is one of the earliest Buddhist shrines which is opened to visitors.
PC: Matt Stabile
The Mahabodhi Temple is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one place that offers both peace and captivating experience to all its visitors amidst the spiritual chanting that echoes in the walls of the structure.
The sight of monks in deep meditation at the foot of the enormous Buddha statue further adds to a Zen-like charm, which is also found at the various monasteries surrounding the shrine.
The Origin Of The Shrine
PC: Santosh Kumar
Long ago around 589 BCE, Siddaratha Gautama, a prince from Kapilavastu, who saw the suffering of world, had an urge to give up all his worldly pleasures and find a new meaning to life. After extensive trials and tribulations, he finally found what he was looking for under a banyan tree on the banks of river Phalgu.
After his enlightenment, the prince was known as Gautama Buddha, and the tree came to be known as the Bodhi tree, which is regarded as the birthplace of Buddhism. When Emperor Ashoka visited Bodh Gaya during 260 BC, he constructed a small shrine under the tree to mark the important site.
Later in the 2nd century AD, the shrine was replaced by the present structure. Although, the temple has undergone numerous renovations under the reign of the Burmese Kings, and also in the 1880s, by the British under the guidance of Sir Alexander Cunningham.
The Fascinating Design
Having a history of almost 2,500 years, it is no surprise that the temple showcases a large variety of architectural styles and cultural influences. But, the structure predominantly throws light on the Gupta era of construction.
PC: jack wickes
The structure has inscriptions from the 7th to the 10th century which narrate the visits of various pilgrims who came from Sri Lanka, Burma and China. It is said that the temple which is described in the writings of the well-known Chinese traveller and Buddhist monk Hieuen Tsang, is the Mahabodhi Temple.
Looking at the design, the shrine occupies an area of 48 sq ft and rises from the ground taking the shape of a pyramid which measures 180 ft in height and looms above its visitors. The pyramid structure is straight-edged and has seven storeys which are denoted by stone disks that appear at the corners of the shikara.
PC: Matt Stabile
Above the shikara is the cylindrical neck of the shrine which consists of a triple-tiered umbrella form which is set atop the stupa. The triple-tiered umbrella like structure is considered as a symbolic representation of the Bodhi tree, which denotes the supremacy of Buddhism. The carvings on the outside of the shrine depict various scenes from the life of Buddha.
With the passage of time, four smaller towers were added at the four corners of the shrine. The courtyard was later added with smaller stupas and statues of Buddha which are said to be several hundred years old. The courtyard also is home to the sacred Bodhi tree, which is a direct descendant of the original Bodhi tree.
One of the best features of Mahabodhi temple is the idol of a seated Buddha, who is dressed in bright orange robes, touching the earth with his right hand. It is believed that the Buddha acquired enlightenment in this position.
The huge image which is located in the inner sanctum of the shrine is made out of black stone and covered in gold. The ambience is a mix of monastic tranquillity, backpacker comforts and small-town hustle, underpinned by an intensity of devotion that makes it endlessly interesting.