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History of Bodh Gaya



Buddhagaya or Bodhgaya as is generally known is an ancient and hallowed spot on earth. Being the seat of Enlightenment of the Buddha it is the holiest of the holies for the Buddhists of the world. Situated on the banks of the river Niranjana, Buddhagaya was originally a part of the Uruvela village (presently Urail). Its geographical location is at 24o 41' 45'' N. Latitude and 85o 2' 22'' E. Longitude and is located in Bihar which again is an ancient and historical place not only due to Buddhagaya but because Bihar is equally important to the Jains, Hindus and Sikhs.

Although Buddhagaya has not attracted as much attention as the world famous Agra or Ajanta, but of late it has become a significant and interesting place due to its having longer and more complete history than almost any other place in the sub-continent. Its history supplemented by geographical, archaeological and literary sources from China, Tibet, Burma and Sri Lanka. The history of Buddhagaya is also made more interesting by the participation of some of Asia's greatest personalities from King Asoka to Hiuen Tsang and Edwin Arnold to Anagarika Dharmapala.

The history of Buddhagaya is not merely an outline of events, or a list of doubtful dates, but it ranks high in importance from an artistic and architectural point of view. The Mahabodhi Temple - where Lord Buddha got divine light has given a place of pride to Buddhagaya in the world map, for religion and tourism is the sole surviving example of what was one a whole architectural genre. It even had an International influence, through models and plans and replicas of it which were carried throughout Asia by pilgrims and from which copies of it were reproduced. The large number of statues and stupas gives one an example of Buddhist art, but also makes it one of the richest repositories of sculpture from the Pala period.

The fame of Buddhagaya as the sacred site where the Buddha attained Sambodhi goes back to very early times giving it a religious significance. For the millions of Buddhists, it is the Navel of the Earth - the geographical centre of their faith. For it is here that Prince Siddhartha became the Buddha after attaining Enlightenment sitting under the Bodhi Tree, and it is from here the phenomenon now called Buddhism began its gentle progress to the farthest reaches of the globe. In keeping with Buddhism's emphasis on calm detachment, Buddhagaya has never evoked in the Buddhists the intense fervour that Mecca, Benaras, Jerusalem or Amritsar have in the millions who hold these places sacred. It has, nonetheless, inspired countless pilgrims throughout the centuries to undergo hardship and danger for the blessing of just being able to walk on its sacred ground. The Buddha's experience at Uruvela not only resulted in the location changing its name to Bodhgaya or Buddhagaya; it has also meant that this, otherwise an obscure village, has been the focus of attention for millions of pilgrims. It became very early and remains even today, the most important place of Buddhist pilgrimage. The exact place where the Buddha sat, when he was enlightened, was called Vajrasana meaning 'Diamond Throne'. It is believed that when the universe is finally destroyed, this could be the last place to disappear and that it would be the first place to form when the universe began to re-evolve again. The Vajrasana was also, sometimes, called the Victory Throne of all the Buddha's (Sabbabuddhanam Jayapallankam) or the Navel of the Earth (Pathavinabhi). The Vajrasana which was also called Sambodhi by King Asoka but the most widely used and also the most enduring of Buddhagaya's names was Mahabodhi meaning 'great enlightenment'.

Buddhagaya today is a place of attraction for the entire Buddhist world and groups of pilgrims and visitors come to visit it all the year round, some to pay their obeisance to this great edifice of veneration, whereas for some to come and see this great edifice of history.

Buddhagaya remained the cynosure of the Buddhist world upto the 13th century, thereafter due to the sudden political upheavals that took place in and out of India, activities at Buddhagaya were also interrupted and disrupted. The place was deserted and became desolate and it remained neglected and forgotten for several centuries.

But, as if by miracle, Buddhagaya, erstwhile an insignificant village, was transformed overnight for it now hums with life and bids fair to be the centre of the Buddhist world once more. History has taken a turn and once again Buddhagaya is humming with life. In the beginning, the pilgrims were only a few and far between, but there is tremendous increase in the number of pilgrims with the development of communication systems and other facilities. When this place is full of pilgrims, it is then a sight to see how they pour forth their devotion in various ways. These they do by offering pujas, circumambulating along the sacred precincts, prostrating round the main shrine, sitting in contemplation under the sacred Bodhi tree and holding meditation retreats, burning of candles and butter lamps. All these inspiring and instilling into us a little hope and a little faith, the aroma of goodwill, peace and devotion pervades the whole atmosphere. Each and every follower frequents the holy place to receive inspiration and blessings at the seat of Enlightenment of the Buddha whose Sambodhi has universal significance.

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