Mahabodhi Temple- Bodh Gaya
The Mahabodhi Temple literally means the 'Great Awakening Temple'. It is one of the four holiest sites associated with the life of Lord Buddha. The temple is located in Bodh Gaya in Bihar, at the place where Lord Buddha attained enlightenment. The first temple was built by Emperor Ashoka in the 3rd century BC and is one of the earliest Buddhist temples built entirely with brick, still standing in India. Mahabodhi Temple has had great influence in the development of architecture over the centuries, especially in the use of sculpted stone balustrades and memorial column. An inscription dated between 1st & 2nd century AD, mentions that the temple of Ashoka was replaced by a new one. Several additions and alterations took place and the present temple may have been built in the 6th century AD
According to tradition, Siddhartha Gautama wandered all over the land seeking answers to the riddles of life that were troubling him. He finally reached the city of Gaya around 530 BC. There in Gaya, he went through meditation under a sacred 'peepal' tree which later became renowned as the Bodhi tree. After days and nights of meditation, Gautama attained enlightenment and knew the answers that he had sought and was, henceforth, known as the Buddha or the Enlightened One. The Mahabodhi temple marks the spot the meditation and enlightenment happened. The Buddha, then spent the next seven weeks meditating in the vicinity of the Bodhi tree. Therefore, all these spots are considered to be sacred for the Buddhists. But the holiest of holy places in the complex is, undoubtedly, the great Bodhi tree itself. It is supposed to be a direct descendant of the original Bodhi tree under which Lord Buddha spent his first week and got enlightenment. The entire Mahabodhi temple complex is located in the very heart of the city of Bodh Gaya.
Two hundred and fifty years after the Buddha attained enlightenment, Emperor Ashoka visited Bodh Gaya with the intention of establishing a monastery and a shrine. He built diamond throne and attempted to place it at the exact spot where the Buddha attained Enlightenment. Today, it is the holiest pilgrimage site for the Buddhists around the world. The Mahabodhi temple was declared a World Heritage site by UNESCO in 2002.
When the dynasties that were patrons of Buddhism went into decline, Buddhism declined too. During the 12th century, Bodh Gaya and the nearby regions were invaded by Muslim armies. The Mahabodhi temple fell into disrepair and was largely abandoned. During the 16th century, a Hindu monastery was established near Bodh Gaya and the monasteries abbot claimed ownership of the Mahabodhi temple grounds.
Restoration of the Mahabodhi temple began in 1880 under the direction of Sir Alexander Cunningham. Later, control of Mahabodhi temple passed from the Hindu monks to the state government of Bihar. A temple management committee was formed, consisting of both Hindus and Buddhists and it is they who keep Mahabodhi temple functioning smoothly now.