A day before the full moon day in the month of Vesakha in BC 528, a young noble prince, arrived at the outskirts of the village of Uruvela and saw a beautiful stretch of countryside, a beautiful grove, a clear flowing river, a lovely ford and a village nearby for support. He settled himself under the spreading branches of a nearby tree and began his meditation. He sat there all night as the leaves of the tree quivered in the gentle breeze and the moon shone bright in the velvety black sky. Eventually the clouds of ignorance dissolved and he saw the Truth in all its glory and splendor. He was no longer Prince Siddhartha or the ascetic Gotama. He had become the Awakened One, the Compassionate One, the Light of the World, the Buddha Supreme. (Ref: Buddhanet.net)
Nearly 2540 years later, 3 friends set out from IIT Kanpur on the day before the full moon in the month of Mārgaśirṣa (November), to this very place, in search of enlightenment. This is the story of my journey through the heart of 3 religions, along with Ashwin and Rashid, to experience the spiritual India. It all starts from Bodh Gaya – the holiest Buddhist place on the planet.
Like the previous Nepal trip, this journey too began from Kanpur railway station the previous night and the 8.15 pm Mahabodhi express did arrive on time in Gaya junction in the morning. One notable fact about most of my journeys is that, the day I arrive at a place, it’s a public holiday there. This time it was Guru Nanak Jayanthi and the Bihar State buses ceased to run. But the auto-rickshaws came to our “expensive” rescue from the Gaya railway station and took us to Bodh Gaya which is about 13 km from the railway station. After a 30 mins ride, we arrived at Bodh Gaya and found ourselves amidst hundreds of foreign pilgrims following the footsteps of Lord Buddha. The basic style of Bodh Gaya is similar to Lumbini, but one of the most striking difference is the cleanliness and the footpath sales aspect of the surroundings. Well, this is India and it’s lively and colourful.
The 1st destination in Bodh Gaya was the famous Mahabodhi Temple, which is the spirit of Bodh Gaya. The 55m tall “Temple of Great Awakening”, originally build in the 5-6th century AD is a fine example of Indian Brick Work and uses Dravidian Architecture. The Temple and the adjoining gardens are a sight to behold even if you are not a pilgrim. Heavily restored in the late 19th century, this temple is one of the World Heritage Sites in Eastern India. What struck us first is the halcyon spiritual ambiance of the place. We could see hundreds of Buddhist monks in attires pointing to their motherland, immersed in deep meditation at all corners of the temple complex. We watched the groups of pilgrims as they circumnavigated the temple uttering prayers, in languages that I couldn’t fathom.
There were 7 points in the complex that related directly to the life of Buddha and pertains to each week after Lord Buddha attained enlightenment. We did see all 7, but not in the right order though. The most important of all is the Bodhi tree under which Lord Buddha attained the Awakening. Well, it’s not the exact tree, but a descendant of the original Banyan tree, that grew in the exact location.The surroundings were so peaceful and calm and we found ourselves meditating near the temple. It was a soothing and refreshing experience and I’d definitely urge you to try it. One good thing about the Buddhist Temples and Monasteries is that, they allow photography everywhere. I tried my best to capture every inch of this beautiful Temple and the gardens.
Like Lumbini, there are numerous Temples and Monasteries build by different nations all around Bodh Gaya. The ones that stand out are the Indosan Nipponji Japanese Temple and the Thai Monastery. It seems there is some “issue” with us and the Chinese as we found the Chinese temples closed both in Gaya and in Lumbini. The Thai temple is unique, ostentatious and on top of it all, beautiful. The 80 ft Giant Buddha statue also formed a part of our Bodh Gaya experience. Since all the monasteries and temples close at 5 pm, we left Bodh Gaya and decided to take a detour to Vishnupadh Temple in Gaya.
An interesting incident occurred during this small detour. After a savari to some junction in between Bodh Gaya and Gaya we boarded a unique auto-rickshaw. You and I both know that an Auto-rickshaw usually carry 3 people and in some cases up to 6. But this was no ordinary auto-rickshaw. It carried 11 people plus the driver. It was an amazing scene to watch 5 people in the front seat of the auto that’s meant for 2. And 3 people where hanging behind the vehicle. That was not just it. This auto had an amazing sound system and flashing disco lights illuminated the interior giving it a feel of a dance bar. I hope, I’ll get a chance to ride this special auto-rickshaw again.
Vishnupadh Temple is old and majestic, but the surroundings are extremely dirty and I guess, we were the only tourists among hundreds of devotees there. I wouldn’t ask you to visit this temple unless you are a devotee of Lord Vishnu.
Now came the hard part. A 7 hour-long wait for the next train. We tricked the railway waiting room keeper to believe that we held AC train tickets and occupied a seat in the much better upper-class waiting room though we were entitled only the lower-class waiting room with our sleeper tickets. The next train to Rajgir was at 1 am and guess what, we just got our penance in a way we least expected. Yes, lest we forget, we were in Bihar!!
I’ll leave the details of that ride to the next post on Rajgir.