The Mahabodhi Temple of Bodhgaya
The Bodhgaya Stupa, or Mahabodhi Vihara as it is also known, was erected in the place where Buddha Shakyamuni gained enlightenment some two thousand five hundred years ago. Its origins are lost in time, but it is known that King Ashoka erected a shrine to Buddha here in the third century B.C.
In spite of extensive research by scholars, until this day no one has been able to give a definite date as to when this present temple was built, who constructed it or how long it took to be completed. It is generally believed that the Great Stupa must have come into existence between the fifth and seventh centuries A.D.
A relief from an older Stupa railing dated about 100BC gives an indication of what the early temple at Bodhgaya looked like; a two storied structure with a gabled roof built around the Bodhi Tree and supported by pillars. Inside a slab of stone, the Vajrasana (indestructible seat of enlightenment) sat by the decorated trunk of the Bodhi tree, behind which were two Tiratana symbols. This temple was probably called Vajrasana Gandhakuti and may have stood for several centuries, being repaired and added to from time to time.
Today, the temple is a fifty metre tall pyramidal tower, crowned with a bell like Stupa. The base is a fifteen metre square twosome structure supporting four smaller towers identical to their central counterpart. Inside the temple sits a large gilded statue of Shakyamuni Buddha in earth touching mudra. This image is said to be 1700 years old and is facing east exactly at the place where the Buddha, sitting in meditation with his back to the Bodhi tree, was enlightened.
Around the temple on four sides is a two metre high stone railing. There are two types which can be distinguished by style and material. The older is dated to about 150 BC and is made of sandstone, while the latter is probably of the Gupta period (300-600 AD) and is constructed from coarse granite. The older set has a number of designs representing scenes from the purchase of Jetavana Grove by Ananthapindika at Sravasti, Lakshmi being bathed by elephants, Surya riding a chariot drawn by four horses and many others. On the latter are figures of Stupas and Garudas while lotus motifs are also commonly used.
To Buddhists from all over the globe, the Great Stupa of the Mahabodhi Vihara is revered as the holiest of holy places and acts as a Mecca for hundreds of thousands of Buddhist pilgrims every year.
On June 27, 2002, the Mahabodhi Temple was declared a UNESCO protected World Heritage Site.