Situated on the banks of the Falgu River in the north-eastern state of Bihar, Bodhgaya is a place revered by both Hindu and Buddhist faiths. Several monasteries and temples dot this tranquil and spiritual town. Ghats (steps) and temples line the riverbanks, the most popular being Vishnupad Temple, where there is a footprint of Vishnu in a block of basalt. The town is sacred to Hindus who make the pilgrimage here to perform the Pind Daan Pooja, where they offer small balls of flour to bring salvation to departed souls.
Documented history of Bodhgaya dates back to the birth of Gautama Buddha, and about 15 km from the town is the ancient brick Mahabodhi Temple Complex, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, where Prince Siddhartha Gautama attained enlightenment under the Bodhi Tree and later became known as the Buddha. A descendant of this sacred tree still flourishes today, rooted in the same soil amongst the temple’s beautiful gardens which includes a lotus pond.
Gradually, the surrounding towns (Rajgir, Nalanda, Vaishali, Patliputra) became a citadel of knowledge for the ancient world. For Buddhists, Bodhgaya is the most important of the four main pilgrimage sites related to the life of the Buddha, the other three being Kushinagar, Lumbini, and Sarnath. Stretching north from Bodhgaya, are the famous Barabar Caves, the oldest surviving rock-cut caves in India, featured in E.M Forster’s ‘A Passage to India’. Rajgir is the ancient capital of the Magadha kingdom where there are two rock-cut caves which were favoured by the Buddha and Jain pilgrimages. Nalanda was an ancient centre of scholarly learning and is said to have been home to India’s oldest university where the Buddha lectured in a mango grove. Vaishali is an ancient city, now an archaeological site, which was the birthplace of the Jain Lord Mahavira and also where Gautama Buddha delivered his last sermon before his death in 483 BC.
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