THE HOLIEST SITE for Buddhists from all over the world, Bodh Gaya is the place where the Buddha attained enlightenment. The focal point of the town is the Mahabodhj Temple, whose soaring pyramidal spire dominates the landscape. The temple is enclosed on three sides by a 1st-century BC stone railing, carved with lotus medallions and scenes from the Buddha’s life, and includes the sacred Bodhi Tree, under which the Buddha meditated before he attained enlightenment.
The original temple at this spot was a circular stupa, built by the Mauryari king Ashoka in the 3rd century BC, but a major reconstruction in the 7th century AD gave the temple its present form. In the 12th century, it was severely damaged by Muslim invaders, but faithfully restored in the 14th century by Burmese kings, who also added the replicas of the main spire at each corner of the temple. Then, as Buddhism went into near eclipse in northern India, the temple site was flooded and silted over, and effectively “lost” for centuries. Some Burmese Buddhists rediscovered it in the late 19th century. The temple ruins were then excavated and restored.
Today, Bodh Gaya once again flourishes as an international centre for Buddhism. Temples and monasteries built by various countries, including China, Japan, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Thailand, Taiwan, Korea, Bhutan and Nepal, clot the town. The Thai Temple is the most picturesque, while the modern Japanese Temple is remarkable for the 25-m (82-B) high Buddha statue that towers in front of it. The Bhutanese and Tibetan Monasteries are filled with colourful murals and prayer wheels, and both are always thronged by red-robed monks. In the courtyard around the Mahabodhi Temple, monks meditate at the stupa , novitiates have their heads shaved, and pilgrims pray before the Bodhi Tree. For three weeks during the winter, a tented city springs up around the temple, as thousands of monks and pilgrims congregate here for the Monlam Chenmo I Prayers, often presided over by the Dalai Lama and other venerated figures from the Buddhist world.
Across the street, Archaeo- the logical Museum has fragments of the beautiful original 3rdcentury BC temple railing, and bronze and stone images from the 8th to 12th centuries, which were excavated during the restoration of the temple.;