Mahabodhi Temple (literally: "Great Awakening Temple"), a UNESCO
World Heritage Site, is an ancient, but much rebuilt and restored,
Buddhist temple in Bodh Gaya, marking the location where the
said to have attained enlightenment.
Bodh Gaya (in Gaya district)
is about 96 km (60 mi) from Patna,
Bihar state, India.
The site contains a descendant of the
Bodhi Tree under which Buddha
gained enlightenment, and has been a major pilgrimage destination for
Buddhists for well over two thousand years, and some elements probably
date to the period of
Asoka (died c.232 BCE). What is now visible on
the ground essentially dates from the 7th century CE, or perhaps
somewhat earlier, as well as several major restorations since the 19th
century. But the structure now may well incorporate large parts of
earlier work, possibly from the 2nd or 3rd century CE.
Many of the oldest sculptural elements have been moved to the museum
beside the temple, and some, such as the carved stone railing wall
around the main structure, have been replaced by replicas. The main
temple's survival is especially impressive, as it was mostly made of
brick covered with stucco, materials that are much less durable than
stone. But this means that very little of the original sculptural
decoration has survived.
The temple complex includes two large straight-sided shikhara towers,
the largest over 55 metres (180 feet) high. This is a stylistic
feature that has continued in Jain and Hindu temples to the present
day, and influenced
Buddhist architecture in other countries, in forms
like the pagoda.
1 The Buddha
3 Temple construction
3.1 Mauryan establishment
3.2.1 Columns with pot-shaped bases
3.3 Current temple by the Guptas
7 Architectural style
8 Control of the site
9 Current status and management
10 Recent events
10.1 2013 attack
11 See also
14 Further reading
15 External links
Traditional accounts say that, around 589 BCE,
Siddhartha Gautama, a young prince who saw the suffering of the world
and wanted to end it, reached the forested banks of the
near the city of Gaya, India. There he sat in meditation under a
peepul tree (Ficus religiosa or Sacred Fig) which later became known
Bodhi tree. According to
Buddhist scriptures, after three days
and three nights, Siddharta attained enlightenment and the answers
that he had sought. In that location,
Mahabodhi Temple was built by
Ashoka in around 260 BCE.
Buddha then spent the succeeding seven weeks at seven different
spots in the vicinity meditating and considering his experience.
Several specific places at the current
Mahabodhi Temple relate to the
traditions surrounding these seven weeks:
Buddhist devotee offering prayers to the
Buddha at the temple
The first week was spent under the
During the second week, the
Buddha remained standing and stared,
uninterrupted, at the
Bodhi tree. This spot is marked by the
Animeshlocha Stupa, that is, the unblinking stupa or shrine, to the
north-east of the
Mahabodhi Temple complex. There stands a statue of
Buddha with his eyes fixed towards the
Buddha is said to have walked back and forth between the location
of the Animeshlocha
Stupa and the
Bodhi tree. According to legend,
lotus flowers sprung up along this route; it is now called
Ratnachakrama or the jewel walk.
He spent the fourth week near Ratnagar Chaitya, to the north-east
During the fifth week,
Buddha answered in details to the queries of
Brahmins under the Ajapala Nigodh tree, now marked by a pillar.
He spent the sixth week next to the Lotus pond.
He spent the seventh week under the Rajyatna tree.
Bodhi Tree § Bodh Gaya
A monk roaming under
Bodhi tree at Bodhgaya is directly connected to the life of the
historical Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, who attained enlightenment or
perfect insight when he was meditating under it. The temple was built
directly to the east of the
Bodhi tree, supposedly a direct descendant
of the original
Buddhist mythology, if no
Bodhi tree grows at the site,
the ground around the
Bodhi tree is devoid of all plants for a
distance of one royal karīsa. Through the ground around the Bodhi
tree no being, not even an elephant, can travel.
According to the Jatakas, the navel of the earth lies at this spot,
and no other place can support the weight of the Buddha's
Buddhist tradition claims that when the world
is destroyed at the end of a kalpa, the Bodhimanda is the last spot to
disappear, and will be the first to appear when the world emerges into
existence again. Tradition also claims that a lotus will bloom there,
and if a
Buddha is born during that the new kalpa, the lotus flowers
in accordance with the number of Buddhas expected to arise.
According to legend, in the case of Gautama Buddha, a
sprang up on the day he was born.
Discovery of the Diamond throne, built by
Ashoka c.250 BCE.
In approximately 250 BCE, about 200 years after the
Bodh Gaya in order to
establish a monastery and shrine on the holy site, which have today
There remains however the Diamond throne, which he had established at
the foot of the
Bodhi tree. The Diamond throne, or Vajrasana, is
thought to have been built by Emperor
Ashoka of the Maurya Empire
between 250-233 BCE,. at the location where the
enlightenment. It is worshiped today, and is the center of many
festivities at the Mahabodhi Temple.
Representations of the early temple structure meant to protect the
Bodhi tree are found at Sanchi, on the toraṇas of Stūpa I, dating
from around 25 BCE, and on a relief carving from the stupa railing at
Bhārhut, from the early Shunga period (c. 185–c. 73 BCE).
Reconstitution of the
Sunga period pillars at Bodh Gaya, from
archaeology (left) and from artistic relief (right). They are dated to
the 1st century BCE. Reconstitution done by Alexander Cunningham.
Columns with pot-shaped bases
Additional structures were brought in by the Sungas. In particular,
columns with pot-shaped bases were found around the Diamond throne.
These columns are thought to date to the 1st century BCE, towards the
end of the Sungas. These columns, which were found through
archaeological research at the Buddha's Walk in the Mahabodhi Temple,
quite precisely match the columns described on the reliefs found on
the gateway pillars.
The railing also around the
Mahabodhi Temple at
Bodh Gaya is quite
ancient. These are old sandstone posts dating about 150 BCE, during
Sunga period. There are carved panels as well as medallions, with
many scene similar to those of the contemporary
Sunga railings at
Bharhut (150 BCE) and
Sanchi (115 BCE), although the reliefs at Sanchi
Stupa No.2 are often considered as the oldest of all. The
railing was extended during the following century, down to the end of
Gupta period (7th century), with coarse granite decorated with
elaborate foliate ornaments and small figures as well as stupas.
Many parts of the initial railing have been dismantled and are now in
museums, such as the
Indian Museum in Kolkota, and have been replaced
by plaster copies.
Sunga railings at Bodh Gaya
Early photographs of the railings (Henry Baily Wade Garrick, 1880).
Remains of the railings in the Indian Museum, Kolkata.
Bodh Gaya original railings, Indian Museum, Calcutta.
Bodh Gaya original railings, Indian Museum, Calcutta.
Another railing post.
Adoration of the
Cow nourishing her calf.
Jetavana Garden at Sravasti.
Woman with child and goat.
Devotee and grottoe.
Amorous scene (drawing).
Miraculous River crossing.
Miraculous river-crossing (drawing)
Devotee and apsara.
Indra to the Indrasala Cave.
Lakshmi lustrated by elephants.
Palace scene, Sibi Jataka.
The railings today at Bodh Gaya
(mainly plaster duplicates)
Plaster copy and reconstruction of original
Post relief (plaster copy).
Adoration of the wheel of the Law (plaster copy).
Flower Design decorated with gold leaves.
Current temple by the Guptas
Temple before restoration
Asoka is considered the Mahabodhi temple's founder, the current
structure dates from the Gupta Empire, in the 5th–6th century CE.
However this may represent a restoration of earlier work of the 2nd or
3rd century. When the temple acquired its shikhara tower, today
considered more characteristic of Hindu temples, is therefore
uncertain. This has an amalaka near the top. The pyramidal temple
probably replaced an open pavilion that had been constructed around
the tree and the Asokan platform. The new Mahabodhi temple included a
diamond throne (called the Vajrasana) to mark the exact spot of the
Buddha's enlightenment. The Temple was restored by the British and
India post independence.
Buddhism declined when the dynasties patronizing it declined,
following Huna invasions and the early
Arab Islamic invasions such as
that of Muhammad bin Qasim. A strong revival occurred under the Pala
Empire in the northeast of the subcontinent (where the temple is
Buddhism flourished under the Palas between the
8th and the 12th century. However, after the defeat of the Palas by
the Hindu Sena dynasty, Buddhism's position again began to erode and
became nearly extinct in India. During the 12th century CE, Bodh Gaya
and the nearby regions were invaded by
Muslim Turk armies. During this
Mahabodhi Temple fell into disrepair and was largely
abandoned. Over the following centuries, the monastery's abbot or
mahant position became occupied by the area's primary landholder, who
claimed ownership of the
Mahabodhi Temple grounds.
In the 13th century, Burmese Buddhists built a temple with the same
name and modelled on the original Mahabodhi
A statue of
Mucalinda protecting the
It is said that four weeks after the
Buddha began meditating under the
Bodhi Tree, the heavens darkened for seven days, and a prodigious rain
descended. However, the mighty king of serpents, Mucalinda, came from
beneath the earth and protected with his hood the one who is the
source of all protection. When the great storm had cleared, the
serpent king assumed his human form, bowed before the Buddha, and
returned in joy to his palace.
The subject of
Buddha meditating under the protection of
very common in Lao
Buddhist art. One modern rendition is present in
Bunleua Sulilat's sculpture park Sala Keoku.
The temple as it appeared in 1899, shortly after its restoration in
During the 11th century and the 19th century, Burmese rulers undertook
restoration of the temple complex and surrounding wall. In the
1880s, the then-British colonial government of
India began to restore
Mahabodhi Temple under the direction of Sir
Alexander Cunningham and
Joseph David Beglar. In 1885, Sir
Edwin Arnold visited the site and
under guidance from Ven.
Weligama Sri Sumangala published several
articles drawing the attention of the Buddhists to the deplorable
conditions of Buddhagaya.
Bodh Gaya quadriga relief of the sun god
Surya riding between Buddhist
pillars (detail of a railing post), 2nd-1st century BCE.
Mahabodhi Temple is constructed of brick and is one of the oldest
brick structures to have survived in eastern India. It is considered
to be a fine example of Indian brickwork, and was highly influential
in the development of later architectural traditions. According to
UNESCO, "the present temple is one of the earliest and most imposing
structures built entirely in brick from Gupta period" (300–600
CE). Mahabodhi Temple's central tower rises 55 metres
(180 ft), and were heavily renovated in the 19th century. The
central tower is surrounded by four smaller towers, constructed in the
Mahabodhi Temple is surrounded on all four sides by stone
railings, about two metres high. The railings reveal two distinct
types, both in style as well as the materials used. The older ones,
made of sandstone, date to about 150 BCE, and the others, constructed
from unpolished coarse granite, are believed to be of the Gupta
period. The older railings have scenes such as Lakshmi, the
Buddhist goddess of wealth, being bathed by elephants; and
Surya, the Hindu sun god, riding a chariot drawn by four horses. The
newer railings have figures of stupas (reliquary shrines) and garudas
(eagles). Images of lotus flowers also appear commonly.
Images of the site include
Avalokiteśvara (Padmapani, Khasarpana),
Vajrapani, Tara, Marichi, Yamantaka,
Jambhala and Vajravārāhī.
Images of Vishnu, Shiva,
Surya and other Vedic deities are also
associated with the site.
Control of the site
In 1891, a campaign to return control of the temple to Buddhists, over
the objections of the Hindu mahant.
The campaign was partially successful in 1949, when control passed
from the Hindu mahant to the state government of Bihar, which
Bodh Gaya Temple Management Committee (BTMC) under the
Bodh Gaya Temple Act of 1949. The committee has nine members, a
majority of whom, including the chairman, must by law be Hindus.
Mahabodhi's first head monk under the management committee was
Anagarika Munindra, a Bengali man who had been an active member of the
Bodhi Society. In 2013, the
Bihar government amended the Bodh
Gaya Temple Act of 1949, allowing for a non-Hindu to head the temple
Current status and management
The temple undergoing repairs (from January, 2006).
Bihar state government assumed responsibility for the protection,
management, and monitoring of temple and its properties when India
gained its independence. Pursuant to the
Bodh Gaya Temple Act of 1949,
such responsibilities are shared with the Bodhgaya Temple Management
Committee, and an advisory board. By law, the Committee must consist
Buddhist and four Hindu representatives, including the head of
Sankaracharya Math monastery as an ex-officio Hindu member. The
Committee serves for a three-year term. A 2013 Amendment to
Bodhgaya Temple Management Act allows the Gaya District Magistrate to
be the Chairman of committee, even if he is not Hindu. The
Advisory Board consists of the governor of
Bihar and twenty to
twenty-five other members, half of them from foreign Buddhist
In June 2002, the
Mahabodhi Temple became a
UNESCO World Heritage
Site. All finds of religious artifacts in the area are legally
protected under the Treasure Trove Act of 1878.
The temple's head monk,
Bhikkhu Bodhipala, resigned in 2007 after he
was charged with cutting the branches of Holy
Bodhi Tree on a regular
basis and selling them to foreigners for significant amounts of money.
A newspaper alleged that wealthy Thai buyers bought a branch with the
cooperation of senior members of the temple's management
committee. While the temple's spokesman stated that botanists had
pruned the tree, the
Bihar home secretary ordered the tree
examined. A criminal charge was filed against Bodhipala.[citation
needed] If convicted, Bodhipala would be subject to at least 10 years'
Following the expiration of the Committee's term in September 2007,
Bihar's government delayed appointing a new Committee and the district
magistrate administered the temple pending such appointment.
Eventually, on May 16, 2008 the government announced the appointment
of a new Temple Management Committee.
As of June 2017, the temples head monk was
In 2013, the upper portion of the temple was covered with gold. The
gold was a gift from the King of Thailand and devotees from Thailand,
and installed with the approval of the Archaeological Survey of
Main article: 2013
Bodh Gaya blasts
On 7 July 2013, ten low-intensity bombs exploded in the temple
complex, injuring 5 people. One bomb was near the statue of
another was near the Mahabodhi tree. Three unexploded bombs were also
found and defused. The blasts took place between 5.30 a.m. and 6.00
a.m. The main temple was undamaged. The Intelligence
India may have alerted state officials of possible threats
around 15 days prior to the bombing. On 4 November 2013, the
National Investigation Agency
National Investigation Agency announced that the Islamic terrorist
Indian Mujahideen was responsible for the bombings.
Part of a series on
Four Noble Truths
Buddhist Paths to liberation
Aids to Enlightenment
Buddhism by country
Mahabodhi Temple is one of the most replicated
both as temples and miniature replicas.
Zhenjue Temple, Beijing China
Mahabodhi Temple, Bagan, Burma
Wat Chet Yot, Chiang Mai, Thailand
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Buddha Gaya Temple: its history”
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Buddhist shrine gets governing panel, finally".
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