Bodh Gaya (Bihar)
GAYA +: Gaya is a religious pilgrimage destination for Hindus. Hindus believe that offering "pindas" (funeral cakes) here will free their ancestors from bondage to earth. In the central part of the old town is the Vishnupad Temple constructed in 1787 by Queen Ahilya Bai Holkar of Indore. Non-Hindus are not allowed to enter the temple premises. This is situated on the banks of river Falgu. Cremations are performed on the banks of this river. Inside the temple is a 40 cms long foot print of Lord Vishnu which is imprinted on the rock and surrounded by a silver-plated basin. To the north of the Vishnupad Temple stands another temple of God Sun (Surya). Brahmajuni Hill, a little farther away, offers a good view over Gaya from the top. At the base of this hill is the Akshayavat or immortal banyan tree. Twenty kms to the north of Gaya are the Barabar caves dating back to 200 BC. Two of these caves have inscriptions from Ashoka himself.
BODHGAYA : One of the holiest cities of Buddhist faith, Bodhgaya is 13 kms away from Gaya. It is one of the four holiest places associated with Lord Buddha. Those are: Lumbini in Nepal where Lord Buddha was born; Sarnath in Varanasi where he delivered his first sermon; Kushinagar near Gorakhpur where he demised and Bodhgaya where he attained enlightenment or spiritual illumination.
A Bodhi Tree growing at Bodhgaya, is said to be a direct descendant of the original tree under which Buddha sat, meditated and attained realization of truth. At least five times the original tree was destroyed and replanted. The present tree grew from a sapling brought from the tree in Anuradhapura in Sri Lanka, which had been implanted by Mahindra, son of Emperor Ashoka. It was Mahindra who brought Buddhism in Sri Lanka in 3rd century BC. It is said that Buddha sat on a red sand stone slab under the tree is known as "Vajrasan" or diamond throne. Buddhists from all over the world throng here in large numbers. There are several monasteries here.
The Mahabodhi Temple is another centre of faith for Buddhist pilgrims. The temple houses the large gilded image of Buddha. The temple's 50 metre high pyramidal spire is magnanimous and can be viewed from long distance. The temple is said to stand on the site of a temple originally built by Emperor Ashoka in the 3rd century BC. Although the present temple was restored in 1882, and earlier in 11th century AD, it is said to be basically same as the one that stood here in the 7th century or even earlier. The Chinese pilgrim Hiuen Tsang describes visiting this earlier temple in 635 AD. The stone railing around the temple, parts of which are still intact, are from the Sunga period around 184- 172 BC. Parts of this railing are in a museum in Kolkata and in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. The Buddha is said to have bathed in the nearby lotus pond.