I looked up at the Peepal tree, it was the time of the season when new leaves had sprouted and the tree had a tender green look. The heart shaped leaves fluttered in the morning breeze as I wondered what was so special about this tree that millions congregated here, just to spend a few moments in its shade or have a glimpse of it.
After all, it was just another specimen of a type of fig tree that is found in the Indian subcontinent and China, a tree bearing the botanical name Ficus Religiosa. I was on the trail of the Buddha in Bodh Gaya and was looking up in awe at the Mahabodhi tree.
As I craned my neck upwards to gaze at the tree, I heard or imagined hearing a booming voice addressing me…
“My child, I understand the doubts and contradictions that fill your mind and that is why I decided to break my silence and tell you my story so that you can go from here in peace”. I am the Mahabodhi tree and today I will tell you the story of how my ancestor became a Mahabodhi from an ordinary Bodhi tree and the name has passed on from generation to generation”.
The wind howled ominously, the branches of my ancestor swayed violently, rocked by the winds. Rain poured down in torrents. But nothing seemed to unsettle the man who sat cross-legged, deep in meditation under the Bodhi tree who happened to be my ancestor. The man had been sitting there for the past 7 days immersed in a deep trance, oblivious to the outer world. His face radiated a strange calm, but my ancestor knew that behind the facade of serenity had brewed a storm which had raged violently till the sheer willpower of the man’s mind had stilled all the forces and now his face radiated with the brightness of enlightenment.
The man now was the master of three facets of knowledge that had transformed him from Siddhartha Gautama to Gautama Buddha. He was The Buddha, the enlightened one and he now knew about his past lives, had a clear knowledge of Karma and Reincarnation and had clarity about the four noble truths, namely, Misery, the arising or cause of misery, the cessation of misery and the path leading to the cessation of misery.
From that day my ancestor also transformed from a mere Bodhi tree to the Sri Mahabodhi tree.
Being a Mahabodhi tree is a difficult cross to bear, continued the Mahabodhi tree. My ancestor had to face many travails in his life after he became a Mahabodhi tree. The great King Ashoka revered my ancestor and organized a festival every year in his honour. His wife, Queen Tisarrakha was so jealous that she hatched a conspiracy to kill my ancestor. However, my resilient ancestor grew again. He faced many an ordeal and was cut down many a time, but always grew again. It was only in the year 1876 that my aging ancestor was destroyed in a storm. However the lineage of the Mahabodhi tree continued and I am his direct descendant.
My cousins flourish in different corners of the world, spreading the glow of enlightenment. Today they can be seen at Sravasti, Anuradhapura in Sri Lanka, Honolulu in Hawaii, Chennai in India, and California in the USA.
A heart shaped leaf floated in the air and brushed my face gently. I looked up at the tree with amazement and the story that it had shared with me. I heaved a sigh and moved on to explore further the invaluable treasures of heritage that resided in the Bodh Gaya temple.
As I moved around the temple precincts, I felt a strange calm engulf my very being as if I were sanctified by merely touching the earth on which the Buddha once walked.
The sanctum sanctorum of the temple complex houses a gold plated statue of the Buddha deep in meditation and emanating an aura of serenity.
The temple complex also has marked areas where the Buddha spent his time immediately after attaining enlightenment. It is said that for one week after enlightenment the Buddha continued to sit under the Bodhi tree and bask in the glow of the bliss of pure and true knowledge that had been revealed to him. He spent the second week gazing meditatively at the Bodhi tree in gratitude for its benign benevolence during his deep meditation. Later he went and meditated under another tree where it is said a cobra came and spread its hood over him to protect him against the rain. He spent yet another week walking back and forth near the Bodhi tree, deep in meditation.
Later the Buddha moved to a place called Isipatana where he gave his first sermon after enlightenment and unraveled the secrets of life to a few blessed disciples. This place is today known as Sarnath which is situated about 13 kilometers from Varanasi.
Travel is a transformative experience and some places touch you deep inside and transform you in ways that you are not even aware of! Bodh Gaya is one such place that reaches the very core of your being.
Bodh Gaya: Some Useful Information
- Bodh Gaya is situated in the Indian state of Bihar
- The nearest airport to Bodh Gaya is Gaya which is about 17 kilometers away
- Patna airport is about 110 kilometers away
- Gaya is well connected by road and rail to major cities of India
- Bodh Gaya lies at a distance of about 255 kilometers from the holy city of Varanasi
- The temple of the Bodhi tree is open all days of the week from 5 AM to 9 PM
- Cameras are allowed with a fee, however, mobile phones are not allowed inside the temple premises
When you are in Bodh Gaya, also do check out the following:
- The Great Buddha Statue
- The Thai Monastery
- The Royal Bhutan Monastery
- Japanese Temple
- Burmese Vihara
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