Mahabodhi Temple (Mahabodhi literally means the “Great Awakening”) is a temple located in Bodh Gaya in Bihar. It is believed that the first Mahabodhi Temple was built by Emperor Ashoka in 250 BCE, almost 200 years after Gautama Buddha attained his awakening at the very same spot. To the west of the Mahabodhi Temple is the Bodhi Tree under which Gautama Buddha spent the first out of the seven weeks before he attained enlightenment. As per Pali Canon (standard collection of scriptures in Pali language), it is also known as the Bodhimanda and the monastery temple as the Bodhimanda Vihara.
Legends and traditional account claim that approximately during the 530 BC, Siddharth Gautama, a holy sage who gave rise to Buddhism, got heartbroken to see the suffering of the world and wanted to end it through preaching values of life, decided to find his awakening. He attained the same after 3 nights and 3 days and spent the next seven weeks meditating and analysing his experience. The Bodhi Tree, a peepal tree by variety, is when he spent his first week meditating. The second week was spent by him standing and staring at the Bodhi Tree. The location where he stood is known as Animeshlocha Stupa meaning the unblinking stupa (shrine). Then, the Buddha spent some time walking to the Bodhi Tree and back to the Animeshlocha Stupa. It said that lotus buds sprung up on the trail he walked and it came to be known as Ratnachakarma (the jewel walk). His fourth week was spent mainly near Ratnagar Chaitya, the north-east side. During his fifth week, he answered queries of Brahmins under Ajapala Nigodh tree which is now marked by a pillar. The sixth and seventh week were spent by the lotus pond and under the Rajyatna tree, respectively.
Mahabodhi Temple is made of brick and is one of the oldest structure of its kind still standing. It is considered a magnificent example of Indian brickwork architecture. It was established as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2002. Any and all type of religious activities in and around the temple area is protected under the Treasure Trove Act of 1878.
As mentioned above, the original temple was built by Emperor Ashoka somewhere during the 3rd century. The current one dates back to sometime in the 5th or 6th century. Surprisingly, even the Bodhi Tree that you see now isn’t the actual one under which Buddha meditated. It is assumed to the fifth successor of the original one. Others before that have been destroyed by natural calamities or human activities.
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Patna Airport has regular connectivity to different parts of the country and abroad. It is best to fly into Patna airport and then take a taxi or a train to Bodh Gaya (approx. 110 km). It takes approximately 3-4 hours, but the roads are narrow so you must be very careful. Avoid the Gaya Market as its narrower and crowded.
Gaya is the nearest railhead to Mahabodhi Temple (approx. 16 km). You can take a cab or an auto rickshaw. Bargain the price.
There are regular buses between Gaya and cities like Varanasi, Nalanda, Rajgir, and Kathmandu (Nepal).