Photographs from Bodhgaya

After we had been in Rajgir for around five days we decided to move on to Bodhgaya. This was something of a change of plan as originally we were to go on a tour of the northerly sites at this point, but my health was under stress, and we decided to try and recover in Bodhgaya first.

Except when we planned excursions our main destination each day was the Mahabodhi Temple, which is built around the place where the Buddha is believed to have attained Awakening and spent the immediate period thereafter.

The Temple is one large melting pot of Buddhists of all traditions suddenly thrown together around the iconic spot marking the Awakening, and we find peoples from all over Asia, and beyond, assembled and engaged in various forms of devotion according to their tradition: meditating, circumambulating and chanting.

The other thing about the Temple which is striking is the wealth of cultural artifacts which are found there. The Temple in its present condition was rebuilt in the 19th century, but its design seems to go back to the classical Gupta Period (5th-6th c. AD), and it is unusual in this respect: it is based on South Indian models, rather than North Indian ones, as we may have expected.

As mentioned above we made a number of excursions while in Bodhgaya, and Barabar and Kawadol I have written about in an earlier post. We also went to another hill site: Pragbodhi or Dungeshvara, where the Bodhistta supposedly undertook his ascetic practice. I know of no texts which identify the place of his austerities as a cave, which is what Dungeshvara is, or that he stayed in one place for six years either, but there is a temple there now marking the spot and tourist-pilgrims pile in all day to see it.

On the other side of the Neranjara River there is a stupa marking the place where Sujata lived. It was she who gave the Bodhisatta the nourishing meal of milk-rice that renewed his strength sufficiently to make the extraordinary effort to attain Awakening. Around a couple of kilometres away there is also a temple to commemorate her. For pilgrims this is the centre of activity, but for the locals the Adi Shankar Temple just behind is where they now do their devotions.

Around Bodhgaya these days more and more temples are being built as pilgrims flock there in ever increasingly numbers and the site regains its importance as the centre of the Buddhist world. I was told there are to date around 60 temples around the town. They are of course of varying degrees of interest.

Some of the better ones are the Tibetan temples, which are so richly decorated and attractive. I photographed three while I was there. By far the best is Mingyur Rinpoche’s Yongey Tergar, which is a Karma Kagyu temple where the Karmapa stays and teaches when he is in town. This has a large hall, with good murals, banners, thangkas and other decorations.

A couple of others we visited are the Shechen Tennyi Dargyeling Temple established by Rabjam Rinpoche, the grandson and spiritual heir of Dilgo Khyentse, which again has interested fabrics and wall decorations; and Karma Tharjay Chokhorling, established by the 2nd Beru Khyentse Rinpoche.

Another temple I photographed was Wat Thai, which has some fine modern murals in Thai style on its walls. We were fortunate here because if we had gone in the front entrance, which is where we should have been, we would not have been able to see much of the temple; but by accident we entered from the side and had full access to the whole building.


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