Bodh Gaya in the Gaya district of Bihar, in India, is 10 kms travel from Gaya, the ancient Hindu pilgrimage centre. Bodh Gaya is an important Buddhist pilgrimage centre as the Buddha attained enlightenment in Bodh Gaya under the Bodhi tree.
The Mahabodhi temple in Gaya is one of the four holy sites related to the life of Buddha, the other three being Kushinagar, Lumbini and Sarnath. The first temple was built by Emperor Ashoka in the 3rd century B.C. The temple bears the influence of many cultures and architectural styles of many centuries beginning with the Gupta age. There is a huge statue of Buddha in the ‘Bhumi sparsa Mudra’ in the temple.
The most important site in Bodh Gaya is the Bodhi tree where Buddha attained enlightenment. Vajra sila, a red sandstone slab marks the spot where Buddha sat in meditation and the tree from the original sapling still stands in the temple premises.
Buddha is said to have meditated a week each in seven places after attaining enlightenment and each spot is considered hallowed. Animesh Lochana Chaitya temple is where Buddha stood to gaze in gratitude at the Bodhi tree for a week. It is a place of pilgrimage for the Hindus too, as Buddha is considered as one of the avatars or incarnations of Lord Vishnu. Many countries with a large Buddhist population have a temple or a monastery near Mahabodhi temple and each one is representative of the country’s architectural style. Buddhists from Sri Lanka, Thailand, Burma, Tibet, Bhutan and Japan have established monasteries and temples near the Mahabodhi temple.
The Bodh Gaya Museum has a very good collection of artifacts like the relics of the old temple, sculptures and objects excavated from the site. excavated in and around Bodh Gaya. Bodh Gaya has been declared an international place of pilgrimage from 1953.