Bodh Gaya or Bodhgaya (Hindi: बोधगया) is a religious site and place of pilgrimage associated with the Mahabodhi Temple Complex in Gaya district in the Indian state of Bihar. It is famous for being the place where Gautama Buddha is said to have obtained Enlightenment (Bodhimandala).
The name Bodh Gaya did not come into use until the 18th century. Historically, it was known as Uruvela, Sambodhi, Vajrasana or Mahabodhi. The main monastery of Bodh Gaya used to be called the Bodhimanda-vihāra (Pali). Now it is called the Mahabodhi Temple.
For Buddhists, Bodh Gaya is the most important of the main four pilgrimage sites related to the life of Gautama Buddha, the other three being Kushinagar, Lumbini, and Sarnath. In 2002, Mahabodhi Temple, located in Bodh Gaya, became a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The surrounding town, by contrast, is dusty and somewhat noisy. A new development plan has been proposed to “ensure a sustainable and prosperous future” for Bodh Gaya, but has become controversial because such a plan may require the relocation of whole neighborhoods.
A small temple beneath the Bodhi tree, Bodh Gaya, built in 7th century, after the original built by Mauryan Emperor Ashoka in 3rd century BC, ca. 1810.
Offerings found in Bodh Gaya under the “Enlightenment Throne of the Buddha”, with a decorated coin of the Kushan emperor Huvishka, 3rd century CE.
According to Buddhist traditions, circa 500 BC Prince Gautama Siddhartha, wandering as an ascetic, reached the sylvan banks of Falgu River, near the city of Gaya. There he sat in meditation under a bodhi tree (Ficus religiosa). After three days and three nights of meditation, Siddharta claimed to have attained enlightenment and insight, and the answers that he had sought. He then spent seven weeks at seven different spots in the vicinity meditating and considering his experience. After seven weeks, he travelled to Sarnath, where he began teaching Buddhism.
Disciples of Gautama Siddhartha began to visit the place during the full moon in the month of Vaisakh (April-May), as per the Hindu calendar. Over time, the place became known as Bodh Gaya, the day of enlightenment as Buddha Purnima, and the tree as the Bodhi Tree.
The history of Bodh Gaya is documented by many inscriptions and pilgrimage accounts. Foremost among these are the accounts of the Chinese pilgrims Faxian in the 5th century and Xuanzang in the 7th century. The area was at the heart of a Buddhist civilization for centuries, until it was conquered by Turkic armies in the 13th century.