The 500-feet tall bronze statue of Buddha coming up under the Maitreya Project will be an important reason for tourists to throng to this holy town.
Here on this seat my body may shrivel up, my skin, my bones, my flesh may dissolve, but my body will not move from this seatuntil I have attained Enlightenment, so difficult to obtain in the course of many kalpas. - The Buddhaís resolution to meditate until he attained enlightenment.
For over 2,000 years, Bodh Gaya has changed little. Pilgrims, Hindus as well as Buddhists, have thronged the sleepy little town to gaze at the Mahabodhi temple and the Bodhi tree under which the faithful Gautama attained Enlightenment. Now, if the dream of Lama Thubten Yeshe (1935ñ 84) becomes a reality, tourists will have yet another reason to make this pilgrimage.
The Maitreya Project has undertaken to construct a 500-foot high bronze Buddha that will last a thousand years as a ìsymbol of loving-kindness and compassion, and a monument to peace.î Involved in the project are some of the worldís leading consultants and architectural, design and engineering firms.
The project, which has the blessings of the Dalai Lama and the approval of the Indian government, has already aroused interest. China, for one, has announced plans to build a Buddha of its own that promises to beat its Indian rival by nine feet and a year.
Irrespective of whether or not Bodh Gaya will eventually be home to this mammoth Buddha, it will always hold its own as an important destination on the Buddhist trail. It was here that Prince Siddhartha meditated under the sacred Mahabodhi tree until he attained enlightenment. The original Bodhi tree, a Ficus religiosa, is believed to have sprung up on the day of his birth. What stands today is the offspring of its cutting sent by Emperor Asoka to Ceylon.
Adjacent to the Mahabodhi tree is a stupa that is one of the worldís most ancient existing examples of sculpture and architecture, dating to the 2nd century BC. The stupa, which lay buried for centuries until it was excavated and restored by the British in 1884, displays a fascinating dichotomy of Hindu and Buddhist styles. The exterior walls are covered with stucco images of Buddha; the four corners display Hindu influences and the sanctum sanctorum contains a Shivalingam. The magnificently carved gateways or toranas are among the finest examples of Buddhist art in India.
The Vishnupada Temple, built by Rani Ahilyabai of Indore in the 18th century, draws pilgrims throughout the year. The Hindus believe that the spot on which it stands is where Vishnu killed the demon Gaya. They venerate the footprint impressions as those of Vishnu, while the Buddhists believe the imprints were left by the Buddha.
The Vajrasana, a grey sandstone throne, marks the spot where the Buddha meditated under the tree. It was probably placed there by Emperor Asoka, who erected the railings around it as well as a monolithic pillar not far away. The Vajrasana is held in the highest esteem and its aura considered so powerful that no celestial being can fly over it. Close by is the Buddhapadaóa large stone with Buddhaís footprint.
The Buddha is believed to have spent seven weeks in meditation after attaining enlightenment. Each week was spent in a different placeóunder the Bodhi tree; in a spot marked by the Animeshlocha Stupa; along a path that came to be known as the Ratnachakarma or Jewel Walk; under another tree; and by the Muchalinda Lake.
The 2,500th anniversary of Buddhism in 1956 brought Bodh Gaya into the spotlight of spiritual and cultural interest. Foreign monasteries mushroomed in the vicinity. There are now Thai, Japanese, Bhutanese, Chinese and Tibetan Buddhist monasteries around Bodh Gaya. Each represents the sect of Buddhism practiced in the country, and is an example of its art and architecture.
There are several other places of tourist interest in and near Bodh Gaya. The Archaeological Museum houses the relics of an old temple, and objects excavated from an ancient site. About six kilometres away, up on a hill, is a cave where the Buddha spent most of his ascetic life before he was enlightened. Sujata Asthan is where the Buddha was transformed into a dazzling creature when a young village woman offered him a bowl of rice pudding. The Barabar and Nagarjuni hills, 24 kilometres from Gaya by road, offer some of Indiaís earliest rock-cut caves, mentioned in the Mahabharata. The most attractive is the Loma Rishi Cave, believed to be Indiaís earliest surviving religious edifice. Other caves worth visiting include the Sudama or Nigrodha Cave, the Karna Chaupar or Supriya Cave, and the Gopika Cave.
The air of peace and serenity that pervades Bodh Gaya is almost tangible. Monks seated on a platform in the centre chant in a vibratory monotone. Cymbals clash now and again and the knocks of wooden clappers punctuate the stillness of the environs. One neednít be a believer or circumambulate or pray to return refreshed from Bodh Gaya. Suffused as it is with a spirit of devotion, it opens all visitors to the amazing possibilities of true enlightenment.
Best Time to Visit: During December-January
Where to Stay
- Sri Lanka Guest House, run by the Mahabodhi Society. Rooms with bath available. Donations of about Rs 75 accepted.
- Ramís Guest House, a friendly family-run place. Doubles with bath: Rs 400. Doubles with common bath: Rs 200.
- Hotel Buddha Vihar, very comfortable dormitories. Beds with common/ private baths: Rs 50 to 75.
- Burmese Monastery, offers study courses. Donation of about Rs 50 per night.
- Mahayana Guest House, offers the best value among mid-range hotels. Doubles with common/ private baths: Rs 500/750.
- ITDC Hotel Bodhgaya Ashok, singles/doubles without AC: 1000/1500, singles/doubles with AC: 1600/2400, dormitory beds: Rs 400.
- Hotel Sujata, offers 24-hour room service, foreign exchange, restaurant, hammam and prayer hall. Doubles: 1200/1500.
Where to Eat
- Ramís Guesthouse: A friendly and cheap tent restaurant with a good selection of Sri Lankan, Japanese, Chinese, Tibetan and western food.
- Other great value tent-restaurants: Pole-Pole, New Pole-Pole and The Gautam, all opposite the Tibetan Monastery. Varied menus, good tape collections and popular.
- Om CafÈ: Well established, popular.
Getting There and Back
By road: Shared auto-rickshaws shuttle back and forth between Bodhgaya and Gaya (13 km). Buses to Gaya leave regularly from outside the Buddhist monastery. Direct buses go to Varanasi.
By train/ air: The nearest railway station is at Gaya (13 km). The nearest airport is in Patna (109 km).