The Mahabodhi Temple is one of the earliest Buddhist temples built in brick that still survives today. The brickwork on the outside of the temple depicts scenes from the life of the Buddha. The Vajrasana or Diamond Throne lying between the Bodhi Tree and the temple marks the actual spot of Buddha’s great Enlightenment. A magnificent gilded image of Buddha’s footsteps is placed in the wall of the temple, and so are his footsteps carved in stone.
History of Mahabodhi Temple
Regarding the temple construction there are various theories. Some believe that the Mahabodhi Vihara was built by Asoka. This theory was also supported by Fa Hien. It can be safely said that the Mahabodhi Vihara appears to have come into existence sometime after Fa Hien’s visit.
Emperor Ashoka built Vajrasana in the 3rd century and the present temple dates from the 5th or 6th centuries. It is one of the earliest Buddhist temples, in the Indian subcontinent that is built entirely in brick, still standing in India, from the late Gupta period. Even the Chinese traveller Hiuen Tsang who came here in A.D. 637 gave a vivid description of the temple at that time. Much of this ancient glory has been lost however and what exists of the temple today is a result of repairs and renovations since Emperor Ashoka’s time.
Architecture of Mahabodhi Temple
The magnificent Mahabodhi Temple in Bodhgaya is an architectural amalgamation of many cultures. The temple is one of the few representations of the architectural genius of the Indian people in constructing fully developed brick temples in that era. The Mahabodhi Temple built on the east of the sacred Bodhi Tree stands majestically 170 feet high on a base 50 feet square, and consists of a soaring 54 meters high pyramidal tower surmounted by a stupa and an ornamental arch way at the entrance. Inside the temple there is a colossal image of a seated Buddha touching the earth with his right hand. In this posture the Buddha accomplished the supreme enlightenment. The statue is of black stone but it has been covered in gold and dressed in bright orange robes.
The entrance of the temple has an ornamental archway. The south side of the temple has a ‘Lotus Pond’. On the walls of the temple one can see Buddha carved in different aspects, and in the sanctum sanctorum, a colossal Buddha, is seen touching the ground, which has mythological significance in the Buddhist teachings.
People believe that the platform below the Bodhi tree where Buddha meditated is the center of the universe. The platform is called ‘Vajrasana’ (a red stone slab). The platform has a stone carving of his footsteps where the devotees make flower offerings. Then there is ‘Chaukramana’, the Jewel Walk, where it is believed that the Buddha strolled while in deep thought and ‘Animesh Lochana’ is the sacred spot where Buddha stood to gaze in gratitude at the Bodhi Tree for a week.