Bodhgaya – The Confluence of Cultures

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This time when I went on a trip, my family was on vacation in Gujarat so my mom didn’t know where I was going. It was when I got back that we reunited and she asked me where did I go?  I told her “Main Gaya Gaya Tha.” To which she inquired again, “Haan par kahan gaye the.” Teasing my mom is one thing I enjoy sometimes, thus, I answered her question but only after annoying her to a top-notch level. The mother-child bond is special! I feel that our country has a similar relationship with mythology. We try to bargain with logic sometimes, however, here mythology is not only the old legends but culture, perception and very much the way of life. All bargain lost! In this blog post too, we are going to cross the precincts of mythology and reach the confluence of cultures, Bodhgaya.

The truth of life is rising beyond self – Bodhgaya Image Source
Journey to Gaya – Bodhgaya

I don’t know why listening to the name of Bihar, the usual interpretation of everybody is akin to somewhat shown in Gangajal. (Thank God, I did not come across any such catastrophe!) After I reached Ranchi airport at around 8:30 in the morning, I took a bus to Gaya. Bus rides are not my favourite but taking a cab was expensive and also not safe when you are about to cross Naxal territory (as per the stories of my friends). Potholes have been friends to many roads in India and this road too shared the bond. It took the bus over six hours to reach Gaya and ironically everything ended well. Learning a new lingo that precedes with ‘hum’ for everything was fun to hear around. Then, spending an evening in the town and paying my homage to the sacred site, the next morning my destination was Bodhgaya.

Bodhgaya – The Buddhist Embassy

Before I went to Bodhgaya, I had pictured it somewhat like the Namgyal monastery of Dharamshala. The monks dressed in crimson reds and yellow, chanting mantras, rotating the prayer wheels and all the blissfulness. Though it was all there, Bodhgaya seemed more like the amalgamation of various Buddhist nation. Or if I can rightly quote my thoughts it’s like the Spiritual Embassy of various Buddhist countries. Japan, Burma, Bhutan, China, Nepal, Tibet, Myanmar, Srilanka, Thailand and many others, you would be amazed to see so many versions of Buddhist monasteries side by side. (See if you can count them all!) I experienced a zeal to find out what was unique in each one of them, though every monastery was architectured differently. However, the intrigue of Maha Bodhi Temple and Maha Bodhi tree is just one of its kind.

Bodhgaya - The Confluence of Cultures - Bodhgaya Temple Bihar - The Backpackers Group
Rising from ruins, the eternal Maha Bodhi Temple of Bodhgaya stands high with supremacy Image Source
Maha Bodhi Temple and Maha Bodhi Tree

In the line of hermitages, Emperor Ashoka was the first person who built the temple near Bodhi Tree in 3rd Century which is almost 300 years after Buddha’s lifetime (566-486 B.C.E.). But the beguiling Maha Bodhi Temple you see today is not of the 3rd century but dated to be of 6th Century and is built by Gupta Empire. But like many monuments of India, this temple was destroyed by Muslim invaders and was restored later. Whether matching the original architecture or not, when I stood before Maha Bodhi Temple, I experienced similar mysticism. They rightly call the main shrine as the diamond throne as it feels they have recreated the past. It is said that on a full moon night in 527 BC, Buddha attained enlightenment at this place under Maha Bodhi Tree. You would surely travel in that time.

We love to believe the legends but when we find the documentation about it, nothing better than that. You would be amazed to know that the sacred Maha Bodhi Tree has been mentioned even in the memoirs of Chinese Travellers Fahien and Hieun Tsang who visited India in 5th and 7th Century respectively. (same people who mentioned about Nalanda University) They had recorded it as the hallowed spot of Buddha which had a railing even in that time. Now tell me that did it come to your mind that if the main enlightenment place is inside the sanctum, how come Maha Bodhi Tree shifted? (History main gum nahin hone Chahiye!) Actually, the original tree was destroyed and the present Mahabodhi Tree is its descendant which was planted when the present Maha Bodhi Temple was built.

Bodhgaya - The Confluence of Cultures - Maha Bodhi Tree - Bihar - The Backpackers Group
However widespread you are in world, the strength lies beneath – Mahabodhi Tree summarizing enlightenment Image Source
Insights about the past

When King Siddharth left his Kingdom which is now the part of Nepal and searched for Nirvana, it was here in Gaya that he attained enlightenment under the Banyan tree. From then this part of Gaya came to be known as Bodhgaya which is 16 Km away from the main city. You must be knowing that Buddhism is prevalent in many countries and thus there are different fables about the enlightenment. But I am not telling those stories here as I want to believe the ideology of the book “The Navel of Earth: The history and Significance of Bodhgaya”. It says that maybe the first Buddhists found Buddha’s experience of Bodhgaya too bland and that is why they embellished it with supernatural stories of Dragon or of Milk-Maid Sujata offering milk and rice (Sujata Stupa) and other mythological imagery. I think soulful meditation and leaving Moh-Maya part is sufficing! What say?

Gaya before Bodhgaya

When I came to know about the back story of Gaya all of a sudden it felt strange. If that is to be believed, I walked over the body of an Asur! However eerie it may sound but mythology suggests it to be true. Summarizing the legend, I would say, all Asurs are not bad, one of which was Gayasur. By performing rigorous tapasya he had become so pious that whoever touched him directly went to heaven. Ab har koi agar swarg chala jaye toh gadbad hai – An undue bonus to Asurs! Thus, Lord Vishnu turned him into rocky hills which surround the present Gaya. And obviously the strict penance of Gayasur made Gaya a sacred site and as mentioned in Ramayana, even Shri Ram carried out the ritual of Pind-Daan of his father on the banks of river Phalgu here in Gaya.

Bodhgaya - The Confluence of Cultures - Maha Bodhi - Bihar - The Backpacker Group
An ode to supreme aura of Buddha – Image Source

Now, this is what I call the infatuation of travel. It caresses you with different stories, some factual, some mythical and some supernatural. In that line, Bodhgaya is one of the ideal trips among my vagabond affair which happen from time to time.

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