My guide picked up a leaf that fell from the Banyan tree and handed it over to me. The very tree (albeit descendant) under which Gautama became the Buddha. The value we ascribe to things is proportional to your beliefs only. I remember that when I was a kid there used to be a bottle of water my mom had collected from Ganges and it was held very reverentially. I used to look at it with starry eyes, as if the object in front had some mystical powers. This time during my visit to Ganges, I couldn’t help but think of it only as a polluted water source.
Bodhgaya, a mere 15 kms away from Gaya is the city if Enlightenment. While Gaya is out and out a Hindu pilgrims place, Bodhgaya is a Buddhist centre + secular tourist destination. You see school children on tour, monks, foreigners, and the whole spectrum in Boddh Gaya.
Bihar’s first world heritage site (2nd being Nalanda), the current temple at the site is largely a modern construct. The temple construction that started with the Mauryas continued through to the modern times with British Government restoring a dilapidated temple (following Khalji rampage) and now many Governments across the world being stakeholders in developing the Mahabodhi temple complex. For example, the beautiful Gold “amalaka” atop the temple was donated by the Thailand Government.
As you enter the complex, you find the temple right at the centre of the compound. It resembled a “Vimana” of some South Indian temple. A greyish black temple, it is a well done restorative work. It’s height gives it a sense of grandeur too. However, if you have seen some of the South Indian temples, it might not seem that grand in scale. However, the main attraction of the place is not the temple, but the Bodhi tree that is behind the temple complex.
The Bodhi tree situated behind the temple sits at the same place where Buddha attained enlightenment. However, this tree is a descendant of the descendent of the original tree which was carried by Mahindra (Emperor Ashoka’s son) to Srilanka. Every time the tree was destroyed either by a vile King or by the vigours of nature, a new one was planted here. You will see devotees praying all around the tree. The best thing about the place is it’s cosmopolitanism. You find people from all around the globe praying here irrespective of their religion.
I could see a Caucasian woman preparing to do Yoga. She had spread her Yoga mat and was stretching in preparation for doing Yoga. It descended on me how Yoga has different meaning across the globe. In Indian religion, Yoga primarily refers to Raja Yoga where mind is of more importance than the physical component. However, as it went and did a round in the west, Yoga has taken the form of the physical, with different variants available like Power Yoga etc.
You also see how Hinduism appropriated Buddha as you go towards the Anantha pond, where Adishesha protected Buddha from the storm and rain. You see how Hindu stories wove made its way into even the stronghold of Buddhism.
In and around the Mahabodhi temple, you can find numerous monasteries established by various countries. Mongolia, Thailand, Japan, China being some of them. The 80 feet Buddha statue, built by the Japanese next to their monastery is a major attraction. While circumambulating this statue, I was reminded of Guruvayur temple. At both places you find statues of the devotees of the respective deities. There you find Poonthanam, Bhattathirippaadu etc and here you find Mahindra and others.
I am not sure if anyone will be able to attain enlightenment in Boddh Gaya anymore. As we attach more importance to the symbols than the message of Buddha, we are losing sight of the forest for the trees. As a tourist destination, Boddh Gaya is a must visit. As a religious place also it is top notch. But if your journey is spiritual, you might as well meditate under that coconut tree in your compound ( just make sure there are no ride ones in it)