If you are looking to travel to a place that taps the beliefs you hold dear, you may visit places that boast of ancient temples and famous spots that are associated with your beliefs. Gaya is one such place that is close to the heart of those who follow Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism. If you are not the category that limits yourself to a particular religion but seek to admire the wonders of the world of the ancestors, Gaya could still be a great choice as the land has some of the best constructions that highlight the architectural brilliance of an era in the past. Here are top 10 places in Gaya, the city in Bihar, which is famously associated with Gautama Buddha, a prince who turned down his right to throne to rule the hearts of millions who were sick, homeless and who believed in him as their savior. He was a precise example that proved that power does not lie in acquiring and ruling lands but true power is all about remaining detached from worldly pleasures and conquer the hearts and not the lands.
On the banks of Lilanjan River, Bodh Gaya, famously referred to as Gaya, welcomes you to its attractions. Many across the world who follow Hinduism and Buddhism frequent the land, as it is considered a place of importance going by the epic Ramayana and it is where Buddha made the Fire sermon. For nature lovers, the place holds attraction as it is located in a stunning setting amidst hills thus presenting a picturesque landscape that is both serene and stimulating. The order of places given below is not suggestive of ranks, as it depends purely on your beliefs and interests. Here we go.
1. Mahabodhi Temple
Mahabodhi Temple stands tall and proud portraying the architectural splendor of the past. Standing on a 48 square feet tall basement, the structure resembles a pyramid but for its cylindrical top. Belonging to the 7th century, the temple was reconstructed in 1880 and has since had many facelifts. Though the main deity is Lord Buddha, the temple promotes tolerance towards other religions. The Chatras built at the top of Mahabodhi temple preach sovereignty of religion. Apart from followers of Buddhism, Hindu devotees too consider this site important to them, as they consider Buddha as the ninth incarnation of god Vishnu. A 9th century Shivalingam is also found in the temple.
2. Vishnupad Temple
Located on Falgu River banks, Vishnupad temple is considered to be constructed on Lord Vishnu’s footprints and hence the name. This ancient temple was reconstructed in the year 1787 by Indore’s queen Rani Ahilya Bai. The footprint is 40 cms in length. The huge temple complex displays images of various gods and goddesses. Temple for Lord Nrisimha is found in the courtyard of Vishnupad temple. A special feature of this temple is that its eastern side is dedicated to god Shiva.
3. Dungeshwari Cave Temples
Referred to as Mahakala caves, Dungeshwari Cave temples gain spiritual importance as Buddha spent many years here before he headed towards Gaya and enlightenment. If you are looking to see something interesting inside the caves, may be you will end up being disappointed. On the contrary, if you are looking to see inside you in a soul-searching attempt, this could be the right place. It is a great destination to meditate in a serene atmosphere.
4. Barabar Caves
An excellent spot that reaches out to the hearts of those who love anything ancient, Barabar Caves date back to Mauryan era that span between 322 BC and 185 BC. They proudly hold the top rank of being the most ancient surviving rock-cut caves in the land. Four caves comprise Barabar caves out of which the most fascinating caves are Lomas Rishi caves. Its construction shares similarity to wooden huts, which were home to Buddhist monks. Lomas Rishi caves are the oldest of all rock-cut caves as well and they influenced many to come in the following centuries. The Hindu sculptures and Jain sculptures found in the caves date back to 273 BC to 232 BC. The inscriptions on the walls depict the history and growth of Buddhism.
The special feature of these caves is that their cuttings are so wonderfully sharp that they draw parallels to the laser cuttings of the present times. In short, Barabar caves not just delight but stun architecture minds.
5. Bodhi Tree
Bodhi Tree is considered sacred by followers of Buddhism as Buddha attained spiritual enlightenment here. The tree, which is situated on the southern side of Mahabodhi temple is not the where Buddha’s enlightenment occurred but it is the fifth generation of the original tree. Going by myth, Emperor Ashoka’s wife uprooted the original tree, as she was jealous about the devotion of her husband to Buddha. It is believed that after the tree was fell down on his wife’s order, he poured milk on the roots of the tree after which it revived. The tree was destroyed again in 600 AD and this time it was by King Sesaka. However, a sapling from the original tree was planted in 620 AD by King Purnavarma.
6. Chinese Temple And Monastery
Chinese temple is located near Mahabodhi temple. The temple is a pure influence of Chinese architecture. It was built by the government of China and Buddhist monks of China in the year 1945. 200-year-old Buddha statue found in the temple is said to be from China. The temple also houses three golden statues of Buddha. Chinese temple underwent renovation in the year 1997. The travelogues written by Chinese scholars who visited India during various periods give an insight into the culture of the past.
7. Bodhgaya Archaeological Museum
Established in the year 1956, Bodhgaya Archaeological Museum is home to several relics unearthed from this part of the world. Some of the rare collections include sculptures belonging to 1st century BC, antiques and images of Hindu deities and Buddha made of various metals including gold, silver and bronze.
8. Muchalinda Lake
Muchalinda Lake is considered a sacred place for followers of Buddhism. It is said that while Buddha was into the sixth week of meditation by the side of Muchalinda Lake, a severe storm struck. Muchalinda, the snake king protected Buddha who was deep in meditation. The temple found here houses the sculpture of Buddha and the snake in the act of protecting the god. The lake is a feast to nature lovers, as it is surrounded by lush green environment.
9. Thai Temple And Monastery
The only Thai temple to be located in India was built in the year 1956 by Thailand Monarch following the request from the then Prime Minister of India Jawaharlal Nehru. The temple is a fine specimen of Thai architecture. The amazing construction with a sloping roof that is curved is a visual delight to those with architectural eye. The golden tiles over the roof look brilliant in sunlight. The serene atmosphere inside the temple and outside the monastery takes your mind to a different world. Statue of Buddha inside the temple is made of bronze. A statue of Buddha measuring 25 meter in height enhances the magic of the beautiful garden near the temple and the monastery.
10. Royal Bhutan Monastery
Yet another monastery in Gaya, Royal Bhutan Monastery appeals to the followers of Buddhism with its wonderful depictions of the life of Buddha. Bhutan kind constructed this monastery, which ranks amongst the majestic monasteries in the land. The influence of conventional architecture strikes you the moment you set your eyes on the monastery. It houses a beautiful temple in which you can find 7 feet tall Buddha statue. The serene atmosphere makes it a wonderful place to meditate.
Gaya is an amazing place to be on a holiday. Beliefs apart, the place is rich in natural beauty and architectural splendor. The land may be influenced by a couple of religions but the message of tolerance towards other religions is loud and clear. Your visit to the land with a rich cultural past will leave you with memories to cherish for many years to come.
As you are well aware, the above list is not the ultimate. I would be glad if you could send in your suggestions about places that demand their rightful place in the list of attractions in Gaya. Looking forward, in earnest.
Some More Tourist Destinations In Bihar: