This is where Buddhism, one of the great religions of the world, was born. To this small secluded spot on the banks of the Niranjana came Siddhartha, the royal prince of Kapilavastu ( after nine long years of searchin8 for the Ultimate Truth. And here, under the holy Peepal or Bo tree (Ficut religiota), he became Buddha, the enlightened one, and dedicated himself to the good of humanity.Since this event, some 2500 years ago, Buddhists all over the world, and later Hindus who tried to bring Buddhists into their fold by regarding Buddha as an avatar or incarnation of Vishnu, have considered Bodhgaya a major pilgrimage place; the most important of the four holy places associated with the Buddha. The others are Lumbini in Nepal, where he was born; Sarnath near Varanasi, where he delivered his first sermon; and Kushinagar near Gorakhpur, where he died.
Bodhgaya is just as popular with Western travellers as with Indian pilgrims. Many foreigners come here to learn more about Buddhism or meditation; others j ust come in search of peace and solitude. The place has a serene, peaceful atmosphere, especially at dawn or dusk, which draws visitors back time and again.
But it is the annual Buddha Jayanti festival, held here each May, which brings Bodhgaya’s unique spiritual presence into full play. It celebrates the anniversary of the day Buddha was born, the day he gained enlightenment, and the day he died, and attracts thousands of devotees from all over the world. Packed to capacity with people sleeping back-to-back on every roof top, the small hamlet generates a quite unbelievable atmosphere. If you can put up with the noise, the crowds and the mosquitoes, this is the time to come to experience Bodhgaya’s special ‘spiritual buzz’, commented on by so many travellers.
WHAT TO SEE
Bodhgaya is a tiny place with one main street, one main ‘sight’, the Mahabodhi Temple and its Bodhi Tree, and several small international temples and monasteries. There are cycle-rickshaws for those short on time, but you can cover everything of interest at leisure and on foot in a single day. A second day can be profitably spent meeting with pilgrims, temple priests, and other travellers—a good way of getting the flavour of the place. For peace and quiet, spend at least one sunset on the banks of the River Niranjana, where the Buddha bathed after gaining enlightenment. It flows gently just outside the town.