Sights to See
The Bodhi Tree
At the western side of the Mahabodhi Stupa in Bodhgaya stands the large and historic Bodhi Tree under which Shakyamuni Buddha, then known as Gautama, attained enlightenment some 2540 years ago. Gautama had been practicing austerities for six years in the area of the Niranjana River near Bodhgaya. Finally understanding that this could not lead to realisation, he abandoned his austerities and in the nearby village of Senani (now also known as Sujata) the Brahmin girl Sujata offered him milk-rice. Strengthened by this, he took some kusha grass for a mat and sat under the pipal tree facing east. He resolved not to rise until he attained enlightenment.
As he sat in deep meditation, Mara, Lord of Illusion, symbolising the delusions of one's own mind, tried tirelessly to distract him from his purpose. Gautama then touched the earth, calling it to bear witness to the countless lifetimes of virtue that led him to this place of enlightenment. The earth shook confirming the truth of his words. Mara unleashed his army of demons to distract and tempt Gautama from his purpose, but Gautama triumphed over the inner obstacles and the power of his compassion transformed the demons' weapons into flowers. His mind was utterly subdued. For seven days after the enlightenment, Buddha continued to meditate under the tree without moving from his seat. Another week passed in walking meditation, and for a third the Buddha contemplated under the Bodhi Tree. The earliest records on the tree are in the 'Kalingabodhi Jataka', which gives a vivid description of the tree and the surrounding area prior to the enlightenment, and the 'Asokavadana', which relates the story of King Ashoka's (3rd century B.C) conversion to Buddhism. His subsequent worship under the sacred tree apparently angered his queen to the point where she ordered the tree to be felled. Ashoka then piled up earth around the stump and poured milk on its roots. The tree miraculously revived and grew to a height of 37-metres. He then surrounded the tree with a stonewall some three-meters high for its protection. Ashoka's daughter Sangamitta, a Buddhist nun, took a shoot of the tree to Sri Lanka where the King, Devanampiyatissa, planted it at the Mahavihara monastery in Anuradhapura. The fourth direct descendant of the original Bodhi Tree still flourishes today and is the oldest continually documented tree in the world.
Much later the English archaeologist Cunningham records, "In 1862 I found this tree very much decayed; one large stem to the westward with three branches was still green, but the other branches were barkless and rotten. I next saw the tree in 1871 and again in 1875, when it had become completely decayed, and shortly afterwards in 1876 the only remaining portion of the tree fell over the west wall during a storm, and the old pipal tree was gone. Many seeds, however, had been collected and the young scion of the parent tree were already in existence to take its place."
The present Bodhi Tree is most probably the fifth descendant of the original tree to be planted at this site. It still performs a very important role to Buddhists of all traditions. Being viewed as the actual Buddha by some, it is a reminder and an inspiration, a symbol of peace, of Buddha's enlightenment and of the ultimate potential that lies within us all.
The Mahabodhi Temple stands east to the Bodhi Tree. Its architectural effect is superb. Its basement is 48 square feet and it rises in the form of a slender Pyramid, till it reaches its neck, which is cylindrical in shape. The total height of the temple is 170 feet and on the top of the temple are Chatras, which symbolise sovereignty of religion. Four towers on its four corners rise gracefully giving the holy structure a poise and balance. This sacred edifice is like a grand banner unfurled by time to proclaim to the world the pious efforts of the Buddha to solve the knots of human miseries to ascend above worldly problems and to attain transcendental peace through wisdom, good conduct and disciplined life. Inside the temple in the main sanctum, on an altar, is a colossal image of Buddha in a sitting posture touching the earth by his right hand. In this posture the Buddha accomplished the supreme enlightenment. The statue is of black stone. The entire courtyard of the temple is studded with a large number of varieties of stupas. These stupas are of all sizes built during the past 2500 years ago. Most of them are extremely elegant in structural beauty.
Other important places of interest
Vajrasana, Ancient railings, Chankaramana, Animeshlochana, Ratnagar and Lotus tank are some other places of interest to the inquisitive traveller.