Bodh Gaya is the place where Prince Siddhartha Gautama attained enlightenment
under the Bodhi tree. It is situated 100 kms south of Patna, India.
Six years passed between Siddhartha's departure from Kapilavastu and his arrival
in Bodh Gaya. After leaving his home and family, the young prince cut his hair,
traded his fine clothes for the plain garb of a hunter whom he had met in the
woods, and entered upon the "homeless life."
As he passed into the
forests outside Kapilavastu, Siddhartha became one of the many wanderers and
ascetics in India who had, like him, left home and family to seek and teach
sacred Hindu beliefs and practices. Still a novice, Siddhartha hoped to find
amongst his fellow wanderers older and wiser teachers who could show him how to escape
or transcend the endless cycle of death and rebirth, otherwise known as reincarnation.
He consulted two of the more famous teachers in the region, Alara and Kalampa, but when
they failed to further answer all his questions, he turned to a life of ascetism.
For six years the young prince lived with five other ascetics, eating in
a full day no more than a grain of rice or a berry. His flesh fell away and
his body became emaciated and mortally weak. Yet still he did not attain
the enlightenment he was earnestly seeking. He was too frail, he reluctantly realized,
to continue on the path to perfect wisdom.
Giving up the ascetic's austere life, Siddhartha accepted a bowl of milk from a young
girl named Sujata. Strengthened, he sought out the shade of a fig tree, sat down,
and resolved to remain in that reclined position until he had achieved total enlightenment.
When he first sat down under the fig tree, he was still what Buddhists call a
bodhisattva. With his subsequent enlightenment, the compassionate prince became
for his followers the Buddha.
The spot under the fig or " Bodhi" tree where the Buddha
attained enlightenment is a kind of geographical omphalus or axis mundi for
Buddhists. Buddhism was conceived under the Bodhi tree, the only spot on the
earth, some texts suggest, that was perfectly stable.
Despite Bodh Gaya's importance to Buddhists, the area later fell
into decay for hundreds of years. During that time, the Mahabodhi Temple became
the residence of a Saivite priest, and the Bodhi tree an object of Hindu
The sacred area once again came to Buddhist attention in the early 1900s when the author
of The Light of Asia, Sir Edwin Arnold, made a plea for its
restoration. Bodh Gaya has since been transformed into an important Buddhist
center of meditation and devotion. Sadly speaking however, Bodh Gaya is also situated in
one of the poorest and most violent regions of India, Bihar state.