Budha’s statue in the Mahabodhi Temple
For adherents of Buddhism everywhere, Bodhgaya is the most important pilgrimage spot. Situated in the northern state of Orissa, it is the site where the Buddha attained enlightenment. After experimenting with six years of intense austerities, including eating only one grain of rice a day, Sidhartha Gautama abandoned such measures in favor of meditation only. It is recorded that: "Because of so little nourishment, all my limbs became like some withered creepers with knotted joints; my buttocks like a buffalo’s hoof; my back-bone protruding like a string of balls; my ribs like rafters of a dilapidated shed; the pupils of my eyes appeared sunk deep in their sockets as water appears shining at the bottom of a deep well….”. Gautama left the forest in favor of the shadow of a banyan tree and he meditated for endless hours, cross-legged. He was determined to stay in that position and meditate until he attained enlightenment. During this spell he defeated the attempts by Mara (the tempter in the world of passion). Then Mara left and Gautama continued deep meditation.
During the night of his enlightenment, between 6PM and 10PM he gained knowledge of his former existences. During the next four hours he attained the “Superhuman divine eye”, the power to see the passing away and rebirth of beings. During the period between 2AM and 6AM, with more intense meditation, he learnt the “Four Noble Truths”. Thus, at the age of 35, Gautama attained enlightenment and became the Buddha. He declared: “My mind was emancipated, ignorance was dispelled, science (knowledge) arose; the darkness was dispelled, light arose”.
The place where he attained enlightenment is now called Bodhgaya and the banyan tree where he sat cross-legged is now called the Bodhi tree. The tree that is situated at this site is not the original banyan tree but a direct descendent of the tree that Sidhartha sat under. The pilgrims visit this tree and worship it, usually prostrate and presenting offerings. Visitors come from as far away as Japan, Korea, China and Thailand. Most of these countries, as well as other countries where Buddhism is practiced, have erected their own temples and worship there.
The other attraction in Bodhgaya is the Mahabodhi Temple. This temple is purported to have been built between the 5th and 7th centuries. It is believed that it was built over the original stupa constructed by the famous Buddhist scholar, Nagarjuna. The pagodas and temples that have been built by the pilgrims from Tibet, China, Japan, Thailand, Myanmar and others have enriched Bodhgaya.