Mahābodhi Temple in Bodhgaya (Buddhagaya)

high-definition creative commons photographs from the Mahabodhi Temple in Bodhgaya which is the main site of Buddhist pilgrimage, together with further information.

General Views of the Temple

In approximately 250 BCE, about 200 years after the Buddha attained Awakening, Emperor Asoka visited Bodh Gaya to establish a monastery and shrine. As part of the temple, he built the diamond throne (called the Vajrāsana), attempting to mark the exact spot of the Buddha's Awakening. Because of this Asoka is considered to be the founder of the Mahābodhi Temple. The present temple, however, dates from the Gupta period around the 5th–6th century, and even that has been reconstructed in the 19th century.

The temple is built mainly of brick which has then been faced with stone. The inner sanctum faces East as the Buddha himself is believed to have done when He attained Awakening, and over it rises a tall sikhara (spire) built in the South Indian style of temple architecture. The central bronze image has classical proportions, and is regarded as a model of the seated Buddha figure.

On the fours corners there are four smaller sikharas, which are solid built. At the western end of the temple is found both the Bodhi tree and the Vajrāsana (Diamond Throne), which are locked off by a brass railing. On the northern side is the Cankama (walking meditation path), which has been raised on a platform.

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People around the Temple

When we were first there is early March the temple was everyday crowded out with people, with large groups of people from all over the Buddhist world descending on this, the most sacred site for Buddhists.

One of the nice things about the site is that Buddhists from all different backgrounds, practising all different traditions gather there, and are able to perform their various devotions without hinderance. You also find at any time of the day monks and lay devotees sitting quietly in meditation, whether they be in groups or sitting apart by themselves.

Hindu Shrines with Buddha Images

In front of the main shrine, and on the south side, there is a group of small Hindu shrines which house mainly Buddha images. These were in use in the centuries when the site had been more or less abandoned by Buddhists.

I also saw around Bodhgaya, and elsewhere, that Hindus has managed to incorporate Buddha and Bodhisattva statues into their shrines, though their reference as specifically Buddhist images had been lost.

Statues around the Temple

Placed in niches around the temple are many Buddha and Bodhisattva statues, only some of which are old. They vary in their artistic worth, but the effect is to constantly remind one of the presence of the Buddha, especially for those doing pradakṣiṇa (reverential circumambulation) around the temple.

Some of the statues have been painted, occasionally with gold-leaf, and others have been garlanded. Note that the hair is always painted blue (the word for blue in Pāḷi/Sanskrit also means black, but the convention is to use blue for representations). The face particularly, and sometimes the rest of the body is painted gold.

Votive Stupas and Designwork

There is one other temple in the grounds, which is dedicated to Māyādevī. I was never able to enter this temple, as the doors were always locked. It has a single sikhara and a front porch.

There are many interesting designs found on the railings which run around the temple, and on the railing around the Bodhi Tree, including kāla and various flower designs.

Dotted around the temple grounds in many places there are votive (dedicatory) stūpas, which have been given as an act of piety, by devotees of old. These are typically covered in small Buddha statues, with a larger central figure. Many of these stūpas have simply been cemented together from fragments that must have been found in the area.

Tibetan Materials

Along the northern outer wall a collection of large engravings have been set up which contain the Prajñāpāramitā teachings in 8,000 verses. In the southern part of the grounds is a section which appears to have been set aside for Tibetan materials, including many brightly coloured signs, with Oṁ Maṇi Padme Huṁ, and other mantras carved on them.


Photographs by Anandajoti Bhikkhu

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