India // Bihar and Jharkhand //

Bodhgaya and around

The world’s most important Buddhist pilgrimage site, BODHGAYA, is wonderfully relaxed, with an array of monasteries, temples and retreats. Its focal point is the Mahabodhi Temple, where Buddha attained enlightenment.

The temple dates from the seventh century AD and flourished up to the sixteenth century, when it fell into the hands of Hindu priests, who professed to be baffled by its origins. In the early nineteenth century, British archeologists rediscovered its significance, and Bodhgaya has since been rejuvenated by overseas Buddhists, who have built monasteries, temples and shrines on the site. From November to February, Bodhgaya is home to an animated community of exiled Tibetans, often including the Dalai Lama, as well as a stream of international Tibetophiles. Meditation courses attract others, while large monasteries from places like Darjeeling bring their followers to attend ceremonies and lectures. From mid-March to mid-October, the region becomes oppressively hot and Bodhgaya returns to its quiet ways.

The Mahabodhi Temple is also sacred to Hindus, who regard Buddha as an incarnation of Vishnu, and dominate the management, despite protests from the Buddhist world. The dispute is exacerbated by the contrasting forms of worship: Buddhists have a solitary inward approach; Hindus prefer spectacle and noisy ceremony.