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Bodhgaya — A Site of Buddha's Enlightenment Part-03

    • BodhGaya, Bihar, India

Bodhgaya — A Site of Buddha's Enlightenment Part-03

 

The present bodhi tree is a descendant of the original, for the tree has been destroyed deliberately on at least three occasions. King Ashoka, initially hostile to Buddhism, ordered it to be cut down and burned on the spot, but when the tree sprang up anew from the flames his attitude was transformed. In deep regret for his destruction, Ashoka lavished so much personal care and attention on the new tree that his queen became jealous and secretly had it destroyed once more. Again Ashoka revived it and built a protective enclosing wall, as had previously been done by King Prasenajit of Koshala within the Buddha's lifetime. Later, Nagarjuna is said to have built an enclosure to protect the tree from damage by elephants and, when in time this became less effective, placed a statue of Mahakala upon each pillar.

Records of the third destruction of the tree are given by Hsuan Chwang, who reports seeing remains of these walls, and states that in the sixth century a saivite king of Bengal by the name of Shasanka destroyed the tree. However, even though he dug deep into its roots, he was unable to unearth it completely. It was afterwards revived by Purvavarma of Magadha, who poured the milk of one thousand cows upon it, causing it to sprout again and grow ten feet in a single night.

In addition to human destruction, the tree has perhaps perished naturally several times, yet the pipal is renowned for growing wherever its seeds fall and the direct lineage has continued. General Cunningham offers an example. After showing severe decay for more than a decade, the remains of the old tree fell over during a storm one night in 1876. Young sprouts were already growing within the old tree (which grew into the one we see today).

The origins of the Mahabodhi Temple, which adorns the site today, are shrouded in obscurity. Various traditions hold that Ashoka erected a diamond throne shrine, which seems to have been a canopy supported by four pillars over a stone representation of Vajrasana. When General Cunningham was restoring the floor of the present temple he found traces that he took to be the remains of the shrine. It is his opinion that the temple may have been built between the fifth and seventh centuries, but this would seem to be based on Hsuan Chwang's detailed description of it, while Fa Hien mentions it not at all. Others propose that because of its resemblance to similar structures in Ghandhara, Nalanda and so forth, as well as other archaeological evidence, its founding could have been as early as the second century AD— Nagarjuna is reputed to have built the original stupa upon the roof, which is more consistent with the latter theory. However, from Hsuan Chwang we can be certain that the temple existed before the seventh century.

Accounts of the builder are no longer clear. Some legends attest that he was a brahmin acting on the advice of Shiva. The statue in the main shrine of the temple, famous for its likeness to Shakyamuni, is said to have been the work of Maitreya in the appearance of a brahmin artisan.Monastic tradition seems to have been strong in Bodhgaya. Fa Hien mentions three monasteries and Hsuan Chwang describes particularly the magnificent Mahabodhi Sangharama, founded early in the fourth century by a king of Ceylon. Both pilgrims make special remark of the strict observance of the Vinaya by the monks residing there. Some accounts tell that the great master Atisha, who later emphasised pure practice of the Vinaya, received ordination in Bodhgaya.

Continue to Part-04

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