Mahabodhi Temple Complex in Bodh Gaya, Bihar
The Mahabodhi Temple Complex, Bodh Gaya lies 115 km south of the state capital of Bihar, Patna and 16 km from the district headquarters at Gaya, in Eastern India. It is one of the four holy sites related to the life of the Lord Buddha, and particularly to the attainment of Enlightenment. The property encompasses the greatest remains of the 5th-6th century A.D in the Indian sub-continent belonging to this period of antiquity. The property has a total area of 4.8600 ha.
The Mahabodhi Temple Complex is the first temple built by Emperor Asoka in the 3rd century B.C., and the present temple dates from the 5th–6th centuries. It is one of the earliest Buddhist temples built entirely in brick, still standing, from the late Gupta period and it is considered to have had significant influence in the development of brick architecture over the centuries.
The present Mahabodhi Temple Complex at Bodh Gaya comprises the 50 m high grand Temple, the Vajrasana, sacred Bodhi Tree and other six sacred sites of Buddha’s enlightenment, surrounded by numerous ancient Votive stupas, well maintained and protected by inner, middle and outer circular boundaries. A seventh sacred place, the Lotus Pond, is located outside the enclosure to the south. Both the temple area and the Lotus Pond are surrounded by circulating passages at two or three levels and the area of the ensemble is 5 m below the level of the surrounding land.
It is also a unique property of archaeological significance in respect of the events associated with the time Lord Buddha spent there, as well as documenting the evolving worship, particularly since the 3rd century, when Emperor Asoka built the first temple, the balustrades and the memorial column and the subsequent evolution of the ancient city with the building of sanctuaries and monasteries by foreign kings over the centuries.
The most important of the sacred places is the giant Bodhi Tree, to the west of the main temple, a supposed direct descendant of the original Bodhi Tree under which Buddha spent his First Week and had his enlightenment.
To the north of the central path, on a raised area, is the Animeshlochan Chaitya (prayer hall) where Buddha is believed to have spent the Second Week. Buddha spent the Third Week walking eighteen paces back and forth in an area called Ratnachakrama (the Jewelled Ambulatory), which lies near the north wall of the main temple. Raised stone lotuses carved on a platform mark his steps.
The spot where he spent the Fourth Week is Ratnaghar Chaitya, located to the north-east near the enclosure wall. Immediately after the steps of the east entrance on the central path there is a pillar which marks the site of the Ajapala Nigrodh Tree, under which Buddha meditated during his Fifth Week, answering the queries of Brahmans.
He spent the Sixth Week next to the Lotus Pond to the south of the enclosure, and the Seventh Week was spent under the Rajyatana Tree, to the south-east of the main temple, currently marked by a tree.