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Mahabodhi Temple, A Cultural Landscape

Mahabodhi Temple is in Bodhgaya, India. It was built in the 3rd century and has become one of the fundamental Buddhist structures in that era. This temple is highly regarded by Buddhists particularly Theravada Buddhists as a sacred place where they conduct their pilgrimages (Sacred Destinations, 2008, “Mahabodhi Temple, Bodhgaya”). Initially, Buddhism started in Nepal under Sidharta Gautama but Buddhism reached its climax when Gautama achieved enlightenment in India. From then on, Gautama spent his life until his death in India (The Library of Congress Country Studies, 2003, “Buddhism”).

This part in history have shaped concepts and beliefs of Indians about religion that was carried on to the present day wherein an estimated 4 million Buddhists are living in India (WebIndia123. com, 2000, “Buddhism in Modern India”). Historically, Bodhgaya was the venue where Gautama achieved his enlightenment under a Bodhi tree. After that event, he emerged as the Lord Buddha. Because of Bodhgaya’s acquired holiness, many Buddhists visit this place for devotion and for the development of their consciousness on impermanence (Pilgrimage India, “Bodhgaya”).

After Gautama’s enlightenment, Emperor Ashoka went to Bodhgaya and constructed the Mahabodhi Temple. Ashoka initially built the temple with a throne shrine shaped liked a diamond “with a canopy supported by four pillars over a stone” that represented the Vajrasana which is “the Seat of Enlightenment” (Pilgrimage India, “Maha Bodhi Temple”). More so, Asoka’s conversion to Buddhism boosted the spread of Buddhism in India and other parts of Asia (Kalachakranet. org, 2007, “A View on Buddhism”). The main features of the Mahabodhi Temple are its materials, sculpture, and paintings.

The 50 meters tall temple is mostly made out of bricks that is still prominent today. The exterior brickwork of the temple signifies events that transpired in Buddha’s life. Meanwhile, a very spacious pyramid-shaped floor area dominated the interior of the temple. Also, there is a huge iconic portrait of Buddha in a seated position with his right hand in contact with the earth. This hand gesture is considered as the “earth-witness mudra. ” More so, this particular position was the same posture that Buddha executed when he achieved his enlightenment.

Within the vicinity of the temple, several centuries old stupas and statues of Buddha ornamented the whole area. One of the oldest feature of temple that was well preserved was the Stone Rail which was dated back to the 1st century AD. Beside the temple are the Bodhi Tree and the Jewel Walk. The former is the place where Buddha reached enlightenment while the latter marked the path where Buddha conducted his seven days walking enlightenment (Sacred Destinations, 2008, “Mahabodhi Temple, Bodhgaya”).

This monumental place is of great importance to Buddhists because of its association with Buddha and also the fact that it is an architectural marvel. The Mahabodhi Temple is both considered as the source of the life story of Buddha and as an architectural masterpiece of Indian artistry (UNESCO, 2008, “Mahabodhi Temple Complex at Bodh Gaya”). Recently, this sacred place was acknowledged by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site and advised the Indian government to preserve the sanctity of the place.

Currently, the “Bodhgaya Temple Management Committee” is in charge of the temple to ensure that the place is secured and the religious artifacts are conserved (Sacred Destinations, 2008, “Mahabodhi Temple, Bodhgaya”). More importantly, the temple was built by Emperor Asoka as a sign of his acceptance of Buddhist beliefs. Though the temple was invaded by Hindus in the 1800’s, Buddhists reclaimed the area expressing their dedication to Buddhism. Since then, the Mahabodhi Temple was recognized as a holy place for Buddhists through the “1949 Bodhgaya Act” (Sacred Destinations, 2008, “Mahabodhi Temple, Bodhgaya”).

In addition, the death of Buddha inspired many people to convert to Buddhism. His body was divided and dispersed in various places that were marked with “burial mounds and stupas”. Many believed that this triggered the start of the “practice of pilgrimage. ” For most Buddhists, doing pilgrimage has a personal and spiritual purpose. Personal because they pray for their own private intentions such as having an honorable reincarnation. Meanwhile, the spiritual purpose is to honor and respect Buddha and his teachings ( BuddhaNet, 2008, “Significance of Pilgrimage”) .

The Mahodhi Temple is one of the famous and highly visited pilgrim site among Buddhists because the location and the structure signified a very meaningful and notable event in the history of Buddhism and India as a nation. The Mahabodhi Temple is not merely a physical structure. It represented India’s spiritual and cultural evolution. Also, the temple is visually and spiritually satisfying making it suitable for self-reflection and self-discovery. More so, the temple have enriched the Indian culture by providing historical records and artifacts.These elements contributed in making India’s culture unique and diverse.

References

BuddhaNet. 2008. Significance of Pilgrimage. Retrieved March 25, 2008, from http://www. buddhanet. net/e-learning/buddhistworld/about-pilgrim. htm. Kalachakranet. org. (2007, November 27). A View on Buddhism. Retrieved March 25, 2008, from http://buddhism. kalachakranet. org/india. html#. Pilgrimage India. Bodhgaya. Retrieved March 25, 2008, from http://www. pilgrimage- india. com/buddhist-pilgrimage/bodhgaya. html. Pilgrimage India. Maha Bodhi Temple. Retrieved March 25, 2008, from http://www.

pilgrimage-india. com/buddhist-pilgrimage/maha-bodhi-temple. html. Sacred Destinations. 2008. Mahabodhi Temple, Bodhgaya. Retrieved March 25, 2008, from http://www. sacred-destinations. com/india/bodhgaya-mahabodhi-temple. htm. The Library of Congress Country Studies. 2003. Buddhism. Retrieved March 25, 2008, from http://www. photius. com/religion/india_buddhism. html. UNESCO. 2008. Mahabodhi Temple Complex at Bodh Gaya. Retrieved March 25, 2008, from http://whc. unesco. org/en/list/1056. WebIndia123. com. 2000. Buddhism in Modern India. Retrieved March 25, 2008, from

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