Trip Start Jan 02, 2001
4Trip End Feb 20, 2001
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Gaya is one of the seven sacred cities of Hinduism and most people only pass through it on their way to Bodh Gaya. This is understandable because it is also one of the dirtiest cities in India. However the Buddha stayed in Gaya for some time and preached his third discourse here. A steep hill on the southern edge of the town, now called Brahmayoni, was known in ancient times as Gayasisa.
This is where the Buddha taught his Fire Sermon notable for its dramatic imagery and parts of which T. S Elliot included in his poem The Wasteland. A good translation of the Fire Sermon is to be found in Three Cardinal Discourses of the Buddha, Wheel No 17. If you take the old road to Bodh Gaya which follows the river you will see Gayasisa on the right. Climb the stairs and after passing through the gateway half way up, follow the rough path to the left. The large area of exposed rock is probably where the audience sat while the Buddha delivered his sermon. Another interesting place in Gaya is Tankitamancha, now a large tank called Sujikund, where the Buddha had his well known encounter and dialogue with the malevolent spirit Suchiloma; (see Sutta Nipata, discourse No 5). Sujikund is surrounded by a wall made of huge blocks of stone and you will notice a few stupas and Buddhist statues near the ghat at the northern end. It is a quiet, rather haunting place and worth a visit. Sujikund is near the Vishnupada Temple. After that consider walking down to the river just behind Vishnupada. You can watch Hindus doing there ablutions, burning their dead, performing puja, defecating, etc.
The only other place of interest to the Buddhist is the museum which has a modest collection of Buddhist and Hindu sculpture from in and around Gaya. The museum is next to the Dak Bungalow just near Gaya Court and is open from 10am to 5pm each day and closed on Monday. When you arrive in Gaya I recommend you take a bus or three wheeler straight to Bodh Gaya and come back to visit Gaya as a day trip from there. If you take the early bus from Bodh Gaya you can climb Gayasisa while it is still cool, see the other places and return to Bodh Gaya in the afternoon. If your train arrives late in Gaya and you have to stay over night there are several hotels just across from the railway station
As the place of the Buddha's Enlightenment, Bodhgaya is the spiritual home of Buhddhists. It attracts tens of thousands of believers from all over the world. Bodhgaya situated near the river Niranjana, is one of the holiest Buddhist pilgrimage centres since it was here that Buddha attained enlightenment under the Bodhi tree.
The population of this town is 22,000 and is situated at an altitude of 113 m. Maximum temperature in summer rises to 45-47 degree Celsius and minimum is 27 degree, while in winter maximum is 28 degree and minimum is 4 degree. It receives an annual rainfall of 1,860 mm. Most countries with vast Buddhist population have a temple or monastery here. The 25 m Great Buddha Statue in the Japanese Kamakura style was unveiled by his holiness Dalai Lama in 1989.
Bodhgaya is 12 km from Gaya, 140 km from Patna, 66 km from Rajgir and 482 km from Calcutta.
The bodhisattva, having renounced the luxurious life of Prince Siddhartha, now as Gautama the ascetic, walked in a south-easterly direction from Kapilavastu and came to Vaishali. Here he listened briefly to the teaching of Arada Kalapa, an aberrant samkhya, but left dissatisfied. Crossing the river Ganges he once again entered the kingdom of Magadha and came to Rajgir, the capital, where he listened to the yogic teachings of Rudraka. Again dissatisfied, he left followed by the five ascetics. Together with them he came to the village of Uravilva on the banks of the Nairanjana river, which is close to the place now known as Bodhgaya. Here they engaged in long, austere practices. For the first two years Gautama ate but one grain of rice a day, and for the next four years he ate nothing at all. He remained sitting in continual meditation despite the almost complete degeneration of his body.
Six years after his initial renunciation he realized that extreme mortification does not yield liberation. He arose and broke the austerities. The five ascetics were disgusted and departed to Benares.
As his former garments had perished, he took a yellow shroud from the corpse of a servant girl awaiting cremation nearby. To help him wash it, the god Indra struck the ground and produced a pond. A local brahmin's daughter, Sujata, approached and offered him a golden bowl filled with rice prepared in the essence of the milk of one thousand cows. Renewed in body and mind, his complexion brilliant as the lustre of burnished gold, the bodhisattva bathed and then walked to a nearby cave to continue his meditation. However, the earth shook and the voices of previous buddhas resounded in the air, telling him that this was not the place of his enlightenment and advising him to proceed to the nearby bodhi tree. The sites of all these events were seen by the Chinese pilgrims in the fifth and seventh centuries, and they record that stupas had been constructed at each. None of these exist today.
As he walked to the tree the graincutter Svastika gave him a bundle of kusha grass. A flock of birds flew around the bodhisattva three times. When he entered the area about the tree, the earth shook. He made himself a seat from the kusha grass on the eastern side of the tree and after seven circumambulations sat down facing the east. He made the great resolve not to rise again until enlightenment had been attained, even if his skin, bones and flesh should crumble away. Sending forth a beam of light from the hair-treasure between his eye-brows, he invoked Mara, who came to challenge him. Mara dispatched first his horrible armies and next his enticing daughters, but the bodhisattva remained unmoved and defeated him, calling upon the earth and her goddess as his witness. He continued in profound meditation through the three watches of the night and finally realized supreme enlightenment at dawn. The air filled with flowers and light, and the earth trembled seven times.
For seven days the Buddha continued to meditate beneath the tree without stirring from his seat and for six weeks more remained in the vicinity. During the second week he walked up and down, lotus flowers springing from his footsteps, and pondered whether or not to teach. This was later represented by the chankramanar jewel walk, a low platform adorned with eighteen lotuses, which now runs close and parallel to the north side of the Mahabodhi Temple. For another week he sat gratefully contemplating the bodhi tree; this spot was later marked by the animeshalochana stupa, now situated to the north of the chankramanar. Brahma and Indra offered a hall made of the seven precious substances, in which the Buddha sat for a week radiating lights of five colours from his body to illuminate the bodhi tree. Hsuan Chwang describes this site as being west of the tree and remarks that in time the precious substances had changed to stone. However, ratnaghara is now identified by some as a roofless shrine again north of chankramanar.
During a week of unusually inclement weather, the naga king Muchalinda wrapped his body seven times about the meditating Buddha, protecting him from the rain, wind and insects. Hsuan Chwang saw a small temple next to the tank, thought to be this naga's abode. He described it as being somewhat southeast of the bodhi tree and it is now identified with the dry pond in Mucherim village near Bodhgaya.
While the Buddha sat meditating beneath the ajapala nigrodha tree, Brahma came and requested him to teach the Dharma. Hsuan Chwang saw this tree with a small temple and stupa beside it at the southeast corner of the bodhi tree enclosure. It is thought that the site is now within the Mahanta's graveyard near the present eastern gate.
Buddha spent the last of the seven weeks seated beneath the tarayana tree. Hsuan Chwang placed this some distance south and east of the bodhi tree enclosure, near the places where the bodhisattva earlier had bathed and eaten Sujata's offering. All were marked by stupas. Here two passing merchants, Trapusha and Bhallika, offered the Buddha the first food since his enlightenment. Seeing that he needed a vessel to receive it, the four guardians of the directions each offered precious bowls, but he would only accept one of stone from each. He pressed the four bowls together to form one, which survived, and when Fa Hien saw it in Peshawar four rims could be seen in the one.
After thus spending forty-nine days meditating close to the seat of enlightenment, the Buddha left Bodhgaya on foot to meet the five ascetics at Benares in order to turn the first wheel of Dharma. This accomplished, he returned briefly to Uruvela and introduced the three brothers - Uruvela, Gaya and Nadi Kasyapa - to his teachings. They developed faith in the Buddha and, together with a thousand of their followers, became monks and accompanied Shakyamuni to Rajgir.
Thus far we have described Bodhgaya only in connection with Shakyamuni Buddha, but that connection is in no way exclusive. In the same manner as Shakyamuni, all the buddhas who show enlightenment to this world eat a meal of milk rice, sit upon a carpet of grass at Vajrasana, engage in meditation, defeat Mara and his forces and attain supreme enlightenment beneath the bodhi tree (although the species of tree differs with each buddha).
The present bodhi tree is a descendant of the original, for the tree has been destroyed deliberately on at least three occasions. King Ashoka, initially hostile to Buddhism, ordered it to be cut down and burned on the spot, but when the tree sprang up anew from the flames his attitude was transformed. In deep regret for his destruction, Ashoka lavished so much personal care and attention on the new tree that his queen became jealous and secretly had it destroyed once more. Again Ashoka revived it and built a protective enclosing wall, as had previously been done by King Prasenajit of Koshala within the Buddha's lifetime. Later, Nagarjuna is said to have built an enclosure to protect the tree from damage by elephants and, when in time this became less effective, placed a statue of Mahakala upon each pillar.
Records of the third destruction of the tree are given by Hsuan Chwang, who reports seeing remains of these walls, and states that in the sixth century a saivite king of Bengal by the name of Shasanka destroyed the tree. However, even though he dug deep into its roots, he was unable to unearth it completely. It was afterwards revived by Purvavarma of Magadha, who poured the milk of one thousand cows upon it, causing it to sprout again and grow ten feet in a single night.
In addition to human destruction, the tree has perhaps perished naturally several times, yet the pipal is renowned for growing wherever its seeds fall and the direct lineage has continued. General Cunningham offers an example. After showing severe decay for more than a decade, the remains of the old tree fell over during a storm one night in 1876. Young sprouts were already growing within the old tree (which grew into the one we see today).
The origins of the Mahabodhi Temple, which adorns the site today, are shrouded in obscurity. Various traditions hold that Ashoka erected a diamond throne shrine, which seems to have been a canopy supported by four pillars over a stone representation of Vajrasana. When General Cunningham was restoring the floor of the present temple he found traces that he took to be the remains of the shrine. It is his opinion that the temple may have been built between the fifth and seventh centuries, but this would seem to be based on Hsuan Chwang's detailed description of it, while Fa Hien mentions it not at all. Others propose that because of its resemblance to similar structures in Ghandhara, Nalanda and so forth, as well as other archaeological evidence, its founding could have been as early as the second century AD- Nagarjuna is reputed to have built the original stupa upon the roof, which is more consistent with the latter theory. However, from Hsuan Chwang we can be certain that the temple existed before the seventh century.
Accounts of the builder are no longer clear. Some legends attest that he was a brahmin acting on the advice of Shiva. The statue in the main shrine of the temple, famous for its likeness to Shakyamuni, is said to have been the work of Maitreya in the appearance of a brahmin artisan.
Monastic tradition seems to have been strong in Bodhgaya. Fa Hien mentions three monasteries and Hsuan Chwang describes particularly the magnificent Mahabodhi Sangharama, founded early in the fourth century by a king of Ceylon. Both pilgrims make special remark of the strict observance of the Vinaya by the monks residing there. Some accounts tell that the great master Atisha, who later emphasised pure practice of the Vinaya, received ordination in Bodhgaya.
As elsewhere, neglect and desolation followed the muslim invasion of northern India. However, extensive repairs and restoration of the temple and environs in the fourteenth century by the Burmese and their further attempts in the early nineteenth century are recorded. In the late sixteenth century a wandering sanyasi settled in Bodhgaya and founded the establishment which is now the math of the Mahanta. When in 1891 Anagarika Dharmapala, inspired by appeals in the press by Sir Edwin Arnold, began the Mahabodhi Society and sought to restore the site as a buddhist shrine, he was obstructed by bureaucracy. The British Government of India decided that the temple and its fsurroundings were the property of the saivite Mahanta, who only then began to take an interest in it. Nearly sixty years of judicial wrangling ollowed until the Mahabodhi Temple was legally recognized as belonging to buddhists.
Since the inception of the Bodhgaya Temple Management Committee and the beginning of its active administration in 1953, vast improvements have been made to both the temple and its grounds. Existing structures have been repaired and new stupas are being erected. With the reintroduction of gilded images in the niches of the Mahabodhi Temple, it begins to regain some of the splendour described by Hsuan Chwang.
The establishment, in the surrounding district, of beautiful temples and monasteries by the people of Tibet, Japan, China, Thailand, Burma and others has brought back to Bodhgaya the varied traditions of buddhist practice that have evolved in those lands. By contrast, the headless, mutilated statues in the local museum present a disturbing reminder of past destruction.
Pilgrims abound in Bodhgaya and in recent years thousands have had the fortune to listen to the Dharma there. Many buddhist masters are again travelling to Bodhgaya to turn the wheel of Dharma. For example, the Kalachakra empowerment given by His Holiness the Dalai Lama in 1974 was attended by over 100,000 devotees. The Tibetan monastery now offers a two-month meditation course annually for the international buddhist community, and meditation courses and teachings are given occasionally in the Burmese, Thai, Japanese and other temples.
Rajgir, which means 'house of the king', was the ancient capital city of the Magadha kings until the 5th century BC when Ajatsatru moved the capital to Pataliputra. Forty-six km from Bodhgaya, the town is sacred to the memory of the founders of both Buddhism and Jainism and houses historical remains like the cyclopean wall and marks engraved in rocks.
Rajgir is an important Buddhist pilgrimage site since the Buddha spent 12 years here, and the first Buddhist council after the Buddha was hosted here at the Saptaparni caves. Lord Buddha often went into retreat at the Jivkamaravana monastery in a beautiful orchard. One of his most devoted and prosperous devotees, surgeon Jivaka also lived here. The rich merchant community here soon became the Buddha's followers and built many structures of typical Buddhist architecture.
Lord Buddha converted the Mauryan king Bimbisara, one of his most celebrated followers, to Buddhism at the Griddhakuta hill, where he delivered many of his sermons as well. The Japanese have built a Stupa on top of the Ratnagiri hill, linked by a rope way. It was here that the teachings of Buddha were penned down for the first time. Rajgir is also an important place of pilgrimage for the Hindus and Jains. Other places to be visited are Bimbisara ka jail, Jarasandha ka akhara, Venuvana, Karand tank, Maniyar math, Swamabhandar cave, Pippala cave, Viswa Shanti Stupa, the famous hot water springs and ruins of an old fort.
Location and History The Buddha lived in the sixth century BC Mahavir was born in 567 BC and the traveller in Bihar will encounter them both constantly. Rajgir is 10 kms. south of Nalanda and sacred to the memory of the founder of both Buddhism and Jainism Lord Buddha spent many months of retreat during the rainy season here, and use to meditate and preach on Groddhkuta, the "Hill of the Vultures". Lord Mahavir spent 14 years of his life at Rajgir and Nalanda.
It was in Rajgrih that Lord Buddha delivered some of his famous sermons and converted king Bimbisara of the Magadh Kingdom and countless others to his creed. Once a great city, Rajgir is just a village today, but vestives of a legendary and historical past remain, like the cyclopean wall that encircles the town and the marks engraved in rock that local folklore ascribes to Lord Krishna's chariot. This legend, like many others, associates Rajgir to that distant time when the stirring events recorded in the epic Mahabharat were being inacted. Pilgrimage Attractions of Rajgir.
Well connected to other Buddhist sites:
Hundred kilometres south east of Patna, Rajgir is connected by an excellent road to Patna as well as to Bodh Gaya,which is 70kms away. The ancient university, Nalanda, is just 11kms from here. The town's many attractions draw both pilgrims and tourists. It is advisable to hire your own vehicle. The town also boasts the largest number of horse drawn carriages or tongas anywhere in India.
Entering Rajgir from Bodh Gaya one glimpses the remains of the Cyclopean walls which extend from the east to the west, from on hill to another. Once 40kms long, these walls encircled the city built by Bimbisara.
Off the main road, towards the south are the venerated Griddhakuta Hill, or Vulture Peak, and Ratnagiri. The metalled road follows the path originally laid by Bimbisara as a footway through the jungle.
The Vishwa Shanti Stupa is a marble structure with niches bearing golden images of the Buddha, built by the Nipponza Myohoji sect of Japan. Opposite the Stupa stands the Saddharma Buddha Vihara.
A fifteen minute walk from Vishwa Shanti Stupa leads to Griddhakuta, sanctified by the Master's presence. The strange rock protrusion resembling a vulture's beak probably gave the hill its name. In the rock cut caves here the Buddha spent many rainy seasons, meditating and preaching.
It was at Griddhakuta that the Enlightened One delivered the Lotus Sutra, which promises salvation for all beings. At the hearts of these sutra is the compassion of the Buddha whose concern is with attain Enlightenment, whoever may have folded their hands of uttered name of the Buddha.
The Buddha also delivered the Prajnaparamita or Perfection of Wisdom Sutra at Griddhakuta.
The easy climb down from Griddhakuta Hill crosses the site of Mardakukshi Vihara. It was queen tried to get rid of her unborn child when it was prophesied that her son would one day kill his father. The Enlightened one was first brought here when he was wounded by a rock hurled by his envious consin Devadatta. Along the road to the new town built by Ajatashatru are the ruins of Jivakamravana Vihara, the mango grove presented to the Buddha by Jivaka, the royal physician, who cared for the Lord after he was injured by Devadatta. Stone foundations of large elliptical halls and subsidiary rooms suggest the existence of a large monastery.
Ajatshatru eembraces the faith Across the road are the remains of the jail where Bimbisara was imprisoned and killed by his son, Ajatashatru. From here the unfortunate king could see the Master as he meditated on Griddhakuta. Ajatashatru, along with Devadatta, had conspired to take the life of the Lord by letting loose a mad elephant. But the Lord tamed the wild elephant. But the Lord tamed the wild elephant which stood still, overcome by the Lord's serene visage. After killing his father, Ajatashatru was filled with remorse and later embraced the faith.
A couple of kilometres away is Venuvana Vihara or the Monastery of the Bamboo Grove. This was Bimbisara's first offering to Lord Buddha. Close by is the Karanda Tank where the Buddha bathed.
On the road leading to Nalanda can be seen the ruins of Ajatashatru Fort. Towards the west, excavations have revealed the ruins of Ajatashatru Stupa, built over his share of the relics of the Buddha. Rajagriha sank into oblivion when Ajatashatru's son, Udayin, shifted the capital to Pataliputra (modern Patna).
Rajgir is also famous for its seven hot sulphur springs, Satadhara. Situated at the foot of Vaibhava Hill it is a ten minute walk from Venuvana. The hot springs are a part of the Lakshminarayan Temple complex.
On the hills above are the Pippala caves, hewn into the stone platform, popularly known as Jarasandh ki Baithak after the mythical Hindu king Jarasandh. A rocky path from Pippala caves leads to the seven caves of Saptaparni, where the First Buddhist Council was held to codify the teachings of the Great Master.