Bodh Gaya is a religious site and place of pilgrimage associated with the Mahabodhi Temple Complex in Gaya district in the Indian state of Bihar. It is famous as it is the place where Gautama Buddha is said to have attained Enlightenment (Pali: bodhi) under what became known as the Bodhi Tree. Since antiquity, Bodh Gaya has remained the object of pilgrimage and veneration for both Hindus and Buddhists.
For Buddhists, Bodh Gaya is the most important of the main four pilgrimage sites related to the life of Gautama Buddha, the other three being Kushinagar, Lumbini, and Sarnath. In 2002, Mahabodhi Temple, located in Bodh Gaya, became a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Traditionally, Buddha was born in 563 BC on the following auspicious Baisakhi purnima. As Siddhartha, he renounced his family at the age of 29 in 534 BC and travelled and meditated in search of truth. After practicing self-mortification for six years at Urubela (Buddhagaya) in Gaya, he gave up that practice because it did not give him Vimukthi. Then he discovered Noble Eight-fold path without help from anyone and practiced it, then he attained Buddhatva or enlightenment. Enlightenment is a state of being completely free from lust (raga), hatred (dosa) and delusion (moha). By gaining enlightenment, you enter Nirvana, in which the final stage is Parinirvana.
At this place, the Buddha was abandoned by the five men who had been his companions of earlier austerities. All they saw was an ordinary man; they mocked his well-nourished appearance. "Here comes the mendicant Gautama," they said, "who has turned away from asceticism. He is certainly not worth our respect." When they reminded him of his former vows, the Buddha replied, "Austerities only confuse the mind. In the exhaustion and mental stupor to which they lead, one can no longer understand the ordinary things of life, still less the truth that lies beyond the senses. I have given up extremes of either luxury or asceticism. I have discovered the Middle Way". This is the path which is neither easy (a rich prince) nor hard (living in austere conditions practicing self-denial). Hearing this, the five ascetics became the Buddha's first disciples in Deer Park, Sarnath, 13 km n.e. of Benares.
The disciples of Gautama Siddhartha began to visit the place during the full moon in the month of Vaisakh (April–May), as per the Hindu calendar. Over time, the place became known as Bodh Gaya, the day of enlightenment as Buddha Purnima, and the tree as the Bodhi Tree.
The history of Bodh Gaya is documented by many inscriptions and pilgrimage accounts. Foremost among these are the accounts of the Chinese pilgrims Faxian in the 5th century and Xuanzang in the 7th century. The area was at the heart of a Buddhist civilization for centuries, until it was conquered by Turkic armies in the 13th century. The place-name, Bodh Gaya, did not come into use until the 18th century CE. Historically, it was known as Uruvela, Sambodhi (Saṃ+bodhi, "Complete Enlightenment" in Ashoka's Major Rock Edict No.8), Vajrasana (the "Diamond Throne" of the Buddha) or Mahabodhi ("Great Enlightenment"). The main monastery of Bodh Gaya used to be called the Bodhimanda-vihāra (Pali). Now it is called the Mahabodhi Temple.
The complex, located about 110 kilometres from Patna, at , contains the Mahabodhi Temple with the Vajrasana or "diamond throne" and the holy Bodhi tree. This tree was originally a sapling of the Sri Maha Bodhi tree in Sri Lanka, itself grown from a what is claimed to be a sapling of the original Bodhi tree.
Representations of this early temple are found at Sanchi, on the toraṇas of Stūpa I, dating from around 25 BCE, and on a relief carving from the stupa railing at Bhārhut, from the early Shunga period (c. 185–c. 73 BCE).
Kittisirimegha of Sri Lanka, a contemporary of Samudragupta, erected with the permission of Samudragupta, a Sanghārāma near the Mahabodhi Temple, chiefly for the use of the Singhalese monks who went to worship the Bodhi tree. The circumstances in connection with the Sanghārāma are given by Xuanzang (Beal, op. cit., 133ff) who gives a description of it as seen by himself. It was probably here that Buddhaghosa met the Elder Revata who persuaded him to come to Ceylon.
Several Buddhist temples and monasteries have been built by the people of Bhutan, Mongolia, China, Japan, Korea, Myanmar, Nepal, Sikkim, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Thailand, Tibet and Vietnam in a wide area around the Mahabodhi Temple. These buildings reflect the architectural style, exterior and interior decoration of their respective countries. The statue of Buddha in the Chinese temple is 200 years old and was brought from China. Japan's Nippon temple is shaped like a pagoda. The Myanmar (Burmese) temple is also pagoda shaped and is reminiscent of Bagan. The Thai temple has a typical sloping, curved roof covered with golden tiles. Inside, the temple holds a massive bronze statue of Buddha. Next to the Thai temple is 25-metre statue of Buddha located within a garden which has existed there for over 100 years.
Across the Phalgu river is the Sujata Stupa, in the village of Bakraur. The stupa was dedicated to the milkmaid Sujata, who is said to have fed Gautama Buddha milk and rice as he was sitting under a Banyan tree, ending his seven years of fasting and asceticism, and allowing him to attain illumination through the Middle Way. The stupa was built in the 2nd century BCE as confirmed by finds of black polished wares and punch-marked coins in the attending monastery.
The Great Buddha Statue also known as 80 feet statue is in Bodhgaya. The unveiling and consecration of the Great Buddha Statue took place on 18 November 1989. The consecration ceremony was attended by the XIVth Dalai Lama, who blessed the 25-meter statue, the first great Buddha ever built in the history of India. The Statue is now a symbol of the holy place Bodhgaya, next to Mahabohdi Temple which is a World Heritage site, and enjoys constant visits of pilgrims from all over the world. Among local people, it is nicknamed "the 80-foot (25-meter) Buddha Statue."
Under the slogan "Spread Buddha's rays to the Whole World," Daijokyo spent seven years on construction of the Great Buddha Statue, mobilizing 120,000 masons in total. The greatest driving force for this massive project was the pure heart of people, who wish for further expansion of Buddhism from the holy place Bodhgaya, as well as for the realization of world peace. We Daijokyo believers shall never forget this fact.
On 7 July 2013, at around 05:15, a low intensity bomb blast took place in the 2500-year-old Mahabodhi Temple complex. This was followed by a series of nine low intensity blasts which resulted in two monks being injured; one was Tibetan and the other Burmese. These blasts were carried out by an Islamic terrorist organization called Indian Mujahideen. Two other bombs, one under the 80-foot statue of the Buddha and the other near Karmapa Temple were defused by the police.
As per the 2001 census, Bodh Gaya had a population of 30,883. Males constitute 54% of the population and females 46%. Bodh Gaya has an average literacy rate of 51%, lower than the national average of 59.5%; with male literacy of 63% and female literacy of 38%. 8% of the population is under 6 years of age.