Bodh Gaya is popular world over as the place where Gautama Buddha obtained enlightenment under the Bodhi tree. Located in eastern state of Bihar and once a small village, Bodh Gaya today sees international visitors from all over the globe, many of them from the major Buddhist following countries. I visited Bodh Gaya for the second time, some time back on a work trip and this time, I could get some time off to explore this vibrant, spiritual town.
The first impression as one lands in Gaya Airport is the cleanliness and the spiritual air; chants of ‘Buddham sharanam gacchami’ fill the airport lounge as one walks through. A big Buddha statue near the exit gates seems to reinforce the message of peace & harmony as one walks out of the airport into the Bodh Gaya town.
The town itself is quite a paradox; it’s absolutely the most developed and well planned town in the state of Bihar, even better infrastructure than the state capital of Patna (and I have gone through length & breadth of the state to say it with some authority). One can spot the Indian chain of coffee shops – CCD, Domino’s pizza and many restaurants.
It also seemed to me that every Buddhist country of the world seemed to be competing for its share of spiritual space in the town, with a temple in each style. So there is a Bhutanese Buddhist temple, a Cambodian temple, a Thai temple, a Chinese temple and even a 80 feet Buddha statue, among many others. Buddhist package tourist groups seemed to be very popular here; I could see many groups – Sri Lankan tour groups, Japanese tourists, Thai tourists, flocking to these many temples, before making a beeline for the main Maha Bodhi temple.
As I approached the Maha Bodhi temple, the road leading to it got more crowded, with hawkers jostling for space and attention, along with vehicles on the road honking incessantly for their own space! Beggars and street hawkers would hound me as I avoided eye contact with them and after depositing my belongings enter into the main complex.
I do not have any images of the Mahabodhi Temple, as I wanted to experience the place rather than be busy taking photographs.
Inside the main complex, it’s a different world altogether with people walking calmly in file, praying quietly and some people looked to be overwhelmed to be there. I walked inside the main temple and then walked around to the Bodhi Tree.
The current Bodhi tree is the 4th generation of the tree originally a sapling of the Sri Maha Bodhi tree in Sri Lanka, itself grown from a what is claimed to be a sapling of the original Bodhi tree. As I walked in the early summer evening heat, with high humidity making me sweat bucketfuls under the Bodhi tree, I could imagine Buddha sitting underneath here and undergoing rigorous penance. As a Nichiren Buddhism follower, I found a sense of peace as I chanted sitting for few moments; it was an indescribable feeling of connecting to oneself and definitely a higher sense of belonging. It’s the same feeling I get when I visit Ajmer Sharif and Golden temple Amritsar.
As I walked out into the main road from the Maha Bodhi temple, I started to understand the pull of Bodh Gaya for believers and also ‘tourists’ , I guess each person comes with a agenda here and it does get served!
Do visit Bodh Gaya in Bihar, it will definitely leave a lasting impression on your being.
You may also like to read my following travel experiences in Bihar: