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Bodh Gaya, the Enlightened Buddhist Trail

Updated: Jun 28, 2023

Rajgir & Nalanda

Geographic Location: The religiously very significant Bodh Gaya is situated in the state of Bihar, India, and it is about 115 KM from Patna, which is the capital of this state.

Access: The destination is very well connected by all means of transportation. The nearest airports are Patna (112 KM) and Gaya. Patna Airport has frequent connectivity to cities like Kolkata, Delhi, Lucknow, Mumbai, Ranchi, etc. and Gaya is the international airport that has daily connectivity with Bangkok and Colombo.

The nearest railway station is Gaya Junction, which is well connected to other major railheads like New Delhi, Kolkata, Varanasi, Nagpur, Mumbai, etc.

Bodh Gaya is only 16 KM away from old NH 2 (now NH 19) which connects Delhi – Kolkata. So by road also it is well connected to other nearby big cities. From Patna, Kolkata, and Ranchi the distance is 128 KM, 472 KM, and 222 KM respectively. BSTDC daily bus service is available from major cities of Bihar to Bodh Gaya.

Brief Facts: Historically significant, Bodh Gaya was once a Uruvela village. In the 6th century B.C., a young ascetic, Siddhartha, attained enlightenment to become Buddha. After that, he found Buddhism, which is one of the world’s oldest religions. Born into the ruling family Sakyas of Kapilavastu, he had formally declared abandonment of his royal heritage and pleasures of muffled-up aristocracy and since then had faced many difficulties in his search for truth. While he was searching for a tranquil retreat, he came to this place and here he meditated upon the causes of human suffering.

Several festivals are organized in this place throughout the year and one of them is Buddha Jayanti (either in May or in April, the full Moon night of Vaisakh), which commemorates the birth anniversary of Lord Buddha. Other notable festivals are the Kalchakra Ceremony (the spiritual practice organized under the leadership of the Dalai Lama) and the Peace Ceremony (with a view of promoting peace and goodwill among mankind).

Best Time to Visit: October to March is the ideal time to visit this destination. Summer is too hot here when the temperature hovers around 30 °C, and sometimes it might reach above 40 °C. Since the climate is tropical here, winters are comparatively enjoyable. During the Monsoon season, Bodh Gaya and surrounding places of South Bihar receive moderate rainfall.

Nearest Attractions: There are several places of interest within Bodh Gaya. Several Buddhist temples and monasteries have been constructed over the years within Bodhgaya by devotees from countries like Nepal, Bhutan, China, Vietnam, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Thailand, South Korea, and Tibet.

Mahabodhi Temple Complex – The UNESCO world heritage site Mahabodhi Temple Complex is very old and very prominent as Lord Buddha is believed to have attained spiritual knowledge or insight under a peepul tree, which is known as ‘Bodhi Tree (The Tree of Knowledge)’. The magnificent architectural edifice is believed to be constructed in the 3rd century B.C. and has the architectural characteristics of Buddhist, Jain, and Hindu Temples. According to archaeological shreds of evidence, the current pyramidal structure of the temple along with the decorative finial on the top was built by Mauryan Emperor Ashoka. Along with many Buddhist Stupas and Buddhist Viharas, construction of The Sanchi (Madhya Pradesh), Sarnath (Uttar Pradesh), and some portions of Nalanda Mahavihara (Bihar), are also credited to Emperor Ashoka. The temple was reoriented and restructured later in the 19th century. This entire complex is now esteemed as the holiest place of Buddhist pilgrimage in the world. The entire complex is also known as ‘Bodhimanda Vihara’ or 'Position of Awakening'. The sandstone-made fencing around the temple complex also belongs to the very distant past, and it is contemporary of the Shunga Dynasty of Magadh (1st century B.C.).

A major pilgrimage destination for Buddhists and Hindus, Mahabodhi Temple has some sculptural elements, which are almost contemporary of Maurya Emperor Ashoka. The present Mahabodhi Temple Complex incorporates the 50-meter-high monumental temple, the ‘Vajrasana’ or the Diamond Throne, the sacred Bodhi Tree, and other sacred sites of Buddha’s enlightenment, surrounded by several votive stupas.

The Giant ‘Bodhi Tree’ is located on the western side of the main temple, and it is believed to be the progeny of the original Bodhi Tree. Lord Buddha spent his first week under this tree. On the north-east side, there is a divine relic, 'Animeshlocha Stupa' and from this spot Lord Buddha remained standing and uninterruptedly looking at the Bodhi Tree during the second week. Next to Bodhi Tree, there is shiny sandstone, and it is known as ‘Vajrasana’ or the Diamond Throne, where Lord Buddha sat and meditated. There are a few other noteworthy parts of the temple complex, where Lord Buddha spent different phases during his enlightenment.

Close to the north wall of the main temple, there is ‘Ratnachakrama’ (Jewel Walk), which is a path, between 'Animeshlocha Stupa' and the 'Bodhi Tree'. Lord Buddha is believed to have walked on this path. On the north-eastern side of the enclosure wall, there is ‘Ratnaghar Chaitya’ and there he spent the fourth week. There is a site of the Ajapala Nigrodh Tree; under which Lord Buddha meditated and answered the questions of Brahmins and spent the fifth week. In the south-eastern part of the temple complex, there is a Lotus Pond, where he spent the sixth week and the ‘Rajyatana Tree’, which is presently marked by a tree and there he spent the seventh week.

On the occasion of the birth anniversary of Lord Buddha, the ‘Buddha Jayanti’ festival occurs on a full moon night in the month of April. It is the biggest festival of Bodh Gaya. Many devotees from all over the world come here to pay homage to Lord Buddha. The Mahabodhi Temple gets decorated with a festive look at that time. During October, they celebrate Kathina Civra Dana, which is a traditional ceremony of offering long cotton-made cloth by lay people to Bodh Bhikkhus (Monks). In the month of January, Bodh Gaya hosts the annual Bodh Mahotsav, which is a three-day celebration associated with various cultural and religious activities.

Sujata Temple – About 2 KM to the west of Bodhgaya, there is a temple situated near River Phalgu, and it is dedicated to Sujata, the Uruvela tribeswoman. She offered milk rice to starving Gautama Buddha, sitting under a Banyan tree when he ended seven years of fasting and asceticism.

The Great Buddha Statue – Situated near Mahabodhi Temple, there is an 80 feet high statue of Lord Buddha. It is made-up of sandstone blocks and red granite stones. It was consecrated on 18th November 1989 by the 14th Dalai Lama.

Monasteries – Countries with a large Buddhist populations like Taiwan, Japan, Vietnam, Korea, Srilanka, Thailand, and Myanmar have built several temples and monasteries which are learning and mediation centers for Buddhist monks. Each of them has its archetypal style. All the monasteries and temples are within a 1 KM radius of the Mahabodhi Temple.

Rajgir & Nalanda – The ancient town of Rajgir presently is in the Nalanda district of Bihar. It is 71 KM away from Bodhgaya. Its history goes back more than 3,000 years. It was the first capital of the primeval kingdom Magadha and from here only ‘The Maurya Empire’ started to unroll. The name ‘Magadha’ is also mentioned in ‘Mahabharata’. The place is also significant for Buddhism and Jainism as Lord Buddha taught his belief in the 5th century, and Mahabir taught his belief in the 6th century. Vulture-shaped Griddhakuta Peak, Brahma Kund hot spring, Veerayatan Museum, and Vishwa Shanti Stupa are a few notable attractions near Rajgir.

Nalanda is 14 KM away from Rajgir. It is famous for its ancient Buddhist monastic residential university, which was built in the 5th century. The ruins of the university, Nalanda Archaeological Museum, Stupa of Sariputra, and the Black Buddha temple are a few spots of tourist interest.

Things to Do: All over the year numerous people come to “The land of enlightenment of Lord Buddha” from different parts of the world for mainly pilgrimage.

Coming on to shopping, handicraft items and decorative pieces made out of stone and metal are available. There are so many stalls in the entire walkway to the north of the temple complex. Government-authorized handicrafts stores are also there. From there, handicraft pieces of jewelry, thankas, Tibetan trinkets, dried peepul leaves, peepul bead & lotus bead rosaries, pray wheels and other novelties on Buddhism can be purchased. Handloom clothes also are available on a large scale. Behind the Bodhi Mandir, there is a huge market for foreign goods too. The Tibetan refugee market is another place for purchasing seasonal woolen cloths. Near the entry gate of the temple complex, there are a few book shops from which rare editions of books on Buddhism can be collected.

Lotus Nikko Hotel and Indo-Hokke are popular names for their specialty in Korean, Taiwanese, and Japanese dishes. Fujia Green, near the Tibetan refugee market, serves Chinese and Tibetan dishes. Om Restaurant is famous for Indian Food, and interestingly it serves milk rice (which was offered to Gautama Buddha by Sujata).

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