Almost nothing certain is known about the Buddha before he began
to proclaim his Dhamma in the year 527 BC. Details of the 36 years
of his life prior to this are hard to come by. He is known to have
been born into a warrior caste family, brought up in relative luxury,
married at an early age and, after the birth of his son, to have
renounced the world to become a wandering ascetic. Except for saying
that he meditated in 'fearful forests', the Buddha says nothing
about where he spent the next six years. According to the Tipitaka,
shortly after his renunciation he resided for a while on the cast
side of Mount Pandava (Ratna in modern Rajgir). Later literature
and tradition says he practised austerities at Gayasisa (Brahmayoni
near Gaya), Pragbodhi (modern Mora Hill) and on the banks of the
Neranjara. What is certain is that after being deserted by his five
companions he wandered alone until he arrived on the outskirts of
the small village of Uruvela and, impressed by its sylvan environment
and convenience for getting alms, decided that it would be a suitable
place to continue his meditation:
Then being a quester for the good, searching for the incomparable,
matchless path of peace, while walking on tour through Magadha I
arrived at Uruvela, the army township. There I saw a beautiful stretch
of ground, a lovely woodland grove, a clear flowing river with a
beautiful ford and a village nearby for support. And I thought:
"Indeed, this is a good place for a young man set on striving."
So I sat down there, thinking: "Indeed, this is a good place
A few nights later, as he sat at the foot of the local holy tree,
"seeing arose, understanding arose, wisdom arose, knowledge
arose, light arose" and the young ascetic became the Buddha,
the Fully Enlightened One. As enlightenment is primarily a psychological
experience, and is therefore private, it has very few outward manifestations.
Consequently, the first Buddhists found the description of the Buddha's
experience at Bodh Gaya too bland so they embellished it with a
series of appealing, not to say intriguing, stories in which a dragon
king, a milkmaid, a gift of crystal bowls and a struggle with the
Evil One are all included. These stories, rich in symbolism and
meaning, have been the mainstay of pedagogues, artists and poets
throughout Asia for centuries.
The Buddha spent the next five weeks at Bodh Gaya moving to a different
location each week. From an early period legend extended this to
seven weeks and seven locations. These seven locations (sattamahatthana)
and the shrines later built over them were the main attractions
for pilgrims coming to Bodh Gaya. After leaving Bodh Gaya the Buddha
headed for Isipatana near Benares where he taught the Dhamma for
the first time. He spent the rainy season there and then returned
to Bodh Gaya. It was during this second visit that he met and converted
the three Kassapa brothers and their one thousand disciples. After
this he left for Gayasisa in Gaya and later for Rajagaha (modern
Rajgir) apparently never returning to Bodh Gaya again.
Bodh Gaya seems to have taken time developing into a religious
centre of any importance. The Buddha's regular visits or long sojourn
in places like Savatthi, Rajagaha, Vesali and Kosambi had stimulated
the growth of monastic communities. His brief stay at Bodh Gaya
had meant that this did not happen there. In about 483 BC, when
Yasa toured the main monastic centres in North India trying to elicit
support for his censure of the Vesali monks, Bodh Gaya was not one
of the places he visited. But this relative unimportance was soon
In about 262 BC, Asoka Maurya, emperor of all India, converted
to Buddhism and began a campaign to promote his new faith. It is
sometimes difficult to reconcile Asoka's activities as described
in the many edicts he issued with those attributed to him in Buddhist
literature like the Asokavadana, the Divyavadana and the Mahavamsa.
But as far as his connection with Bodh Gaya is concerned, three
things are certain or at least highly probable - that he made a
pilgrimage to Bodh Gaya, that he built a temple there and that he
had a branch from the Bodhi Tree sent to Sri Lanka. Asoka's pilgrimage
is described in details in the Asokavadana and also mentioned briefly
in one of his edicts. In the Eighth Rock Edict issued in 256 BC
"In the past kings used to go on pleasure
tours during which there was hunting and other entertainment.
But ten years after Beloved of the Gods' coronation he went to
Sambodhi and thus instituted Dhamma tours".
According to the Asokavadana, the pilgrimage included all the main
sacred sites while in his edicts Asoka says only that he went to
Bodh Gaya in 260 BC and to Lumbini ten years later. Asoka's pilgrimage
must have added prestige and legitimacy to what was already becoming
a well established institution. It soon passed into folklore and
legend and was even depicted on the east gateway of the great stupa
at Sanchi [ 10. VIEW
IMAGE ]. Modern historians are reluctant to give credence
to the tradition that Asoka built the first temple at Bodh Gaya,
mainly because it is not mentioned in any of his edicts. However,
the evidence that he did build such a temple, albeit indirect, is
compelling. Firstly, Asoka is known to have been a devout Buddhist,
to have been enthusiastic about spreading his religion and to have
visited Bodh Gaya at least once. This being the case, it would be
quite natural for him to embellish the centre of his religion with
a new temple. Secondly, ancient sources are unanimous in attributing
the building of the first temple to him. Thirdly, there is archaeological
evidence that some sort of structure existed around the Bodhi Tree
during the Mauryan period. Proof of this was uncovered by Alexander
Cunningham when he did exploratory digging under the Mahabodhi Temple
in 1881. What is thought to be a depiction of this early temple
is found on a relief from the Bharhut stupa. The relief shows a
two storied gabled roofed tree shrine (bodhi ghara) built around
the Bodhi Tree. The upper story is supported on octagonal pillars
and at the base of the Bodhi Tree is a stone slab on which people
are offering flowers. The whole temple is surrounded by a railing
beyond which is a pillar with an elephant capital reminiscent of
those known to have been raised by Asoka. The relief dates from
approximately 150 BC [ 11. VIEW
The bringing of a cutting of the Bodhi Tree from Bodh Gaya to
Sri Lanka is mentioned in most of the island's chronicles and, after
the introduction of Buddhism itself, is perhaps the most celebrated
event in the country's long history. When the first Sri Lankan youths
became monks, Anula, the wife of King Devanampiyatissa's youngest
brother, and numerous other women, expressed the desire to become
nuns. Consequently, it was decided to invite Sanghamitta, a senior
nun and the daughter of King Asoka, to Sri Lanka. A mission was
dispatched with an invitation to Sanghamitta and a request asking
her to bring a cutting of the Bodhi Tree with her. According to
the Mahavamsa, Asoka was reluctant about granting either of these
requests but finally he agreed to do so. Accompanied by a retinue
of monks, princes and soldiers, he proceeded to Bodh Gaya where
the Bodhi Tree was "decked with manifold ornaments, gleaming
with various jewels and garlanded with many-coloured flags."
He worshipped the tree, circumambulated it and then placed a golden
bowl beneath the southern bough which miraculously detached itself
and took root in the bowl.
After returning to Pataliputra, he gave the cutting to Sanghamitta
who, together with 11 other nuns and a mission of nobles, craftsmen
and attendants, set sail down the Ganges. Before reaching the river's
delta the mission disembarked and took the land route across the
Vinjha Hills to Tamralipti. Exactly why they did not sail the whole
course of the river is not clear - perhaps it was blocked by sandbars
during certain seasons. When Sanghamitta and her party arrived at
Jambukola, Devanampiyatissa welcomed them and accompanied them to
Anuradhapura where the cutting of the Bodhi Tree was planted at
the Mahavihara. In the centuries that followed, the Bodhi Tree,
usually called the Sri Maha Bodhi, became almost the palladium of
the Sri Lankan state and was worshipped with magnificent ceremonies,
as indeed it still is today [ 12. VIEW
IMAGE ]. When Fa Hsien visited Anuradhapura in the 5th
century, he noticed that the Mahavihara's rival, the Abhayagiri,
had its own Bodhi Tree which was likewise an offspring of the original
tree at Bodh Gaya. As King Mahasena (334-362 AD) is credited with
having built the first temple around this Bodhi Tree, it is likely
that it had been brought during his reign.
Some time in either the 2nd or 1st century BC, a stone railing
was erected around the Bodhi Tree at Bodh Gaya and whatever temple
existed there at that time [ 13. VIEW
IMAGE ]. Ancient Indians thought it appropriate to demarcate
sacred objects with such railings and this one in stone probably
replaced an earlier wooden one. The railing enclosed an area approximately
the size of the present temple and Cunningham reported finding the
plinth on which it originally stood under the temple foundations.
Four different inscriptions on the railing tell us who erected it
and something about them. All the inscriptions are in Brahmi characters
on the coping, crossbars and pillars of the railing which are now
housed either in the Indian Museum in Calcutta or the Archaeological
Museum at Bodh Gaya. The first inscription which occurs in 15 different
"The gift of the noble lady Kurangi"
[ 14. VIEW
The honorific noble lady (Sanskrit, Arya) shows that Kurangi was
a woman of high social standing and probably that she was of advanced
years. Both these assumptions are confirmed by another inscription
to be discussed below where Kurangi is described as the wife of
King Indragnimitra and also as the mother of living sons (jivaputra).
This later designation indicates that despite Kurangi's age her
sons were still living, a source of great pride for Indian women
then as now. The next inscription reads:
"The gift of Nagadevi the wife of King Brahmamitra"
The third inscription reads:
"The gift of Kurangi, the mother of living
sons and the wife of King Indragnimitra, son of Kosiki. The gift
also of Srima of the royal palace shrine"
The meaning of the words raja pasada cetika in this inscription
are not certain and have given rise to much discussion. Barua takes
cetika as a feminine form of cetaka (Prakrit, ceyaga) meaning a
female donor. Cetika cannot mean a shrine, he says, because it is
"inconceivable" that a shrine or temple could have existed
at Bodh Gaya prior to the 5th century AD. I would contend that it
was inconceivable that a shrine of some sort did not already exist.
However I do not think that cetika here refers to a shrine at the
Bodhi Tree, but rather to another shrine built nearby. A shrine
at the Bodhi Tree would have inevitably been called Vajrasana Gandhakuti.
If, as the inscription indicates, King Indragnimitra and the members
of his family were devout Buddhists, and if Bodh Gaya was in his
domain, which seems likely, he could be expected to build a shrine
as such a sacred place, something akin to a private royal chapel.
Therefore I follow Cunningham and Bloch in taking cetika to mean
a shrine. The fourth inscription reads;
"The gift of Srima of King Indragnimitra's
royal palace shrine"
Altogether two kings and their wives, the mother and father of
one of the kings and one other person are mentioned in these inscriptions.
Who were these people and what was the connection between them?
It is unlikely that the two kings ruled at the same time and, as
Kurangi was an older woman and the wife of Indragnimitra, we may
assume that he was the deceased predecessor and father of Brahmamitra.
This assumption is reinforced by Kurangi's designation as the mother
of living sons, while Brahmamitra's wife apparently had no sons
as yet. Both kings are mentioned in coins found in North India and
were members of a minor dynasty that ruled parts of Magadha. In
the Hathigumpha inscription mention is made of a Bhasatimitra of
Magadha who was killed by Kharavela in the twelfth year of his reign.
It is likely that this Bhasatimitra was the successor of Brahmamitra.
So it would seem that King Indragnimitra, the predecessor and father
of King Brahmamitra, had built a shrine at Bodh Gaya. After his
death his widow, the dowager Kurangi and her daughter-in-law Nagadevi,
together with Srima, perhaps a member of the family living at the
royal palace shrine, further endowed Bodh Gaya with a beautifully
carved railing. When the Mahabodhi Temple was built this railing
was dismantled and later, with new sections added by King Purnavarma
in the early 7th century, reassembled to enclose a larger area.
Proof that the railing has been moved at least once, perhaps more
than once, is to be seen in the mortice holes found in several of
the pillars. By the medieval period, a legend had developed that
the railing had been built by yaksha artists during King Asoka's
time. Later Mahayana legend attributed its construction to Nagarjuna.
"Moreover, when the Bodhi Tree of Vajrasana
was being damaged by elephants, he built two lofty stone pillars
behind it and for many years there was no more damage. As, however,
there was damage again, he established on the top of each pillar
the image of Mahakala riding on a lion and holding a club in his
hand. This proved effective for many years; but the damage started
again. So he built a stone wall surrounding it and also one hundred
and eight shrines with images beyond it"
By the 19th century, 33 pillars from the railing had been taken
to the Mahant's palace, nine were used in the construction of the
Pancha Pandu Temple and several others lay buried under the rubbish
that had accumulated around the temple [ 15.
VIEW IMAGE ]. Standing as long
as it did and surrounding the most sacred spot at Bodh Gaya, the
railing was used for centuries by pilgrims to record their visits
and the donations they made. To the modern archaeologist it is almost
a book in stone recording an important part of Bodh Gaya's history
[ 16. VIEW IMAGE ].
Dating from about the same time as the railing, and presumably
built by the same people, is the Ratnacankama Chaitya which is situated
beside the north wall of the Mahabodhi Temple. This shrine marks
the place where the Buddha paced up and down during his third week
at Bodh Gaya. The shrine originally consisted of a raised plinth
with a row of pillars on each of its longer sides supporting a roof
above it [ 17. VIEW
IMAGE ]. Along the top of the plinth were lotuses carved
in stone intended to mark the Buddha's footsteps. Only one of the
pillars survives and is now housed in the museum at Bodh Gaya. Its
octagonal shaft has an elaborately coiffured and bejewelled female
figure in high relief on it [ 18. VIEW
IMAGE ]. The pillar bases on the south side of the plinth
are now buried under the foundations of the temple. Those on the
north side are still exposed and have a sequence of Brahmi letters
on them, probably mason's marks.
An inscription carved on the railing shortly after its erection
is the first evidence from Bodh Gaya itself of pilgrims coming on
pilgrimage from outside India. Written in Brahmi characters of about
the 1st century BC, the inscription is carved on a crossbar which
may have been donated to replace one that had been broken. The inscription
"The gift of Bodhiraksita from Tamrapanni".
The name Tamrapanni could refer either to the region near the Tambapanni
River in South India or to Sri Lanka. This inscription almost certainly
refers to the latter place. It would seem that the fervour of the
island's inhabitants for their new religion was already motivating
some of them to journey all the way to India to see the place where
the Buddha became enlightened. The name Bodhiraksita, 'protected
by wisdom' indicates that this early pilgrim was a monk.
During the early decades of the 4th century AD, a monastery was
established at Bodh Gaya that was to have a continual and powerful
influence there for nearly a thousand years. The younger brother
of King Meghavana of Sri Lanka (304-332) had gone on pilgrimage
to India. Although he was both a monk and of royal birth he was
given tardy hospitality in all the monasteries he staged at and
on his return complained bitterly of this to his brother. Consequently
Meghavana sent an envoy to the king of India, probably Samudragupta,
with a gift of jewels and seeking permission to build monasteries
at all the sacred places for the convenience of pilgrims. The Indian
king could not have been anxious to have so many foreign outposts
in his realm but he gave, permission for one such monastery to be
built at a place of Meghavana's choice. Bodh Gaya was chosen and
thus the Mahabodhi Monastery came to be built just beyond the north
gate of the sacred precincts.
There had been contact between the monks of Bodh Gaya and Sri Lanka
for several centuries. The Mahavamsa informs us that in 104 BC a
monk named Cittagutta led a delegation from the Bodhimanda Monastery
to Sri Lanka to participate in the opening ceremony of the great
stupa at Anuradhapura. According to the Rasavahini, a monk named
Culla Tissa and a group of lay people went from Sri Lanka to Bodh
Gaya at around the same time. Hsuan Tsang saw the Mahabodhi Monastery
in the 7th century and described it thus:
"Outside the northern gate of the walls of
the Bodhi Tree is the Mahabodhi Monastery. It was built by a former
king of Sri Lanka. This edifice has six halls, with towers of
observation of three stories; it is surrounded by a wall of defense
thirty or forty feet high. The utmost skill of the artist has
been employed; the ornamentation is in the richest colours. The
statue of the Buddha is of gold and silver, decorated with gems
and precious stones. The stupas are high and large in proportion;
they contain relics of the Buddha"
Within the monastery was a proclamation by Meghavana inscribed
on a copper plate emphasising the establishment's policy of hospitality.
It read in part:
"To help all without distinction is the highest
teachings of all the Buddhas, to exercise mercy as occasion offers
is the illustrious doctrine of former saints"
Cunningham's account of the Mahabodhi Monastery's partial excavation
in the 19th century gives some idea of its huge size and splendour:
The mound is from 1,500 to 2,000 feet in length from west to east
and nearly 1,000 feet in breadth from north to south... Here, in
November 1885 Mr Beglar and myself discovered the remains of a great
monastery, with outer walls 9 feet thick, and massive round towers
at the four corners. The enclosure that surrounded the monastery
had already been traced by Mr Beglar, at a distance of about 100
feet all round ... The plan consists of 36 squares, six on each
side, of which the four corner squares are assigned to be the corner
towers, and the four middle squares to an open pillared court containing
a well ... A long covered drain leads from the well to the outside
of the walls on the north-northeast, ending in a gargoyle spout
in the shape of a large crocodile's head, of dark blue basalt, richly
In the centuries after its founding, the Mahabodhi Monastery grew
so powerful that it eventually came to control the Mahabodhi Temple
itself. This situation may have developed because, continually revitalized
by monks and funds from Sri Lanka, it was relatively unaffected
by the dynastic changes, local politics and fluctuating patronage
that would have periodically broken the power of the Indian monasteries
at Bodh Gaya. It is usually assumed that, being staffed by Sri Lankan
monks, the Mahabodhi Monastery was a Theravadin establishment, but
this is not necessarily so. The Mahayana had a large and vigorous
following in Sri Lanka right up to the beginning of the medieval
period and the island produced some great scholars of that persuasion.
There were periods when the two schools were bitter rivals and other
periods when they shared the same monasteries as indeed they sometimes
did in India. Whether Theravadin or Mahayanist monks staffed the
Mahabodhi Monastery probably depended on which school was in favour
with the ruling monarch. It is even possible that it was monks returning
from Bodh Gaya who introduced the Mahanaya into Sri Lanka in the
King Silakala (518-531), who encouraged the Dharmadhatu cult in
Sri Lanka, had spent his youth as a samanera at Bodh Gaya. However,
there seems little doubt that Theravadins were the predominant community
at the Mahabodhi Monastery during most of its existence. This strong
Theravadin presence was one of the reasons why Bodh Gaya developed
into the premier study centre for the early Buddhist schools in
northern India. Sadly, almost nothing is known about Bodh Gaya's
academic life because, unlike Nalanda, no accounts by students who
studied there have survived. Bodh Gaya was probably not a single
university but a collection of loosely affiliated or even independent
seats of learning in one locale.
The Mahabodhi Monastery would have specialized in Theravada of
the Mahavihara tradition but the Sravastavada and other early Buddhist
schools would have had their own monasteries too. However, while
the Mahayanists, and later the Tantrayanists, were never significant
at Bodh Gaya, they were not entirely absent. This is confirmed by
Taranatha who says: "The Mahayanists did not have any special
importance at Vajrasana, though some yogis and Mahayanists continued
to preach there." If what we know of other places in India
was true of Bodh Gaya also, they would have stayed at and studied
in the monasteries of the other schools, considering a knowledge
of the 'Hinayana' to be an essential part of a well rounded education.
The number of monks at Bodh Gaya seems to have always been large.
Taranatha says that the brothers Udbhata and Sankarapati once provided
requisites to 500 savakas there. This was probably some time during
the Gupta period. During Hsuan Tsang's visit there were 1,000 monks
residing in the Mahabodhi Monastery alone. He noted "They carefully
observe the Dhamma Vinaya, and their conduct is pure and correct."
In the reign of Ramapala (1087-1141) there were 40 Mahayanists and
200 savakas, while for special festivals up to 10,000 savakas would
assemble there. Even in the dark days of the 13th century Dharmasvamin
counted 300 Sri Lankans at the Mahabodhi Monastery, although it
seems that the other monasteries were deserted by then.
It was essential for monks residing in the great monasteries to
know the exact time so that they could finish their meals before
midday, be punctual for the daily offices and know when classes
were to commence. To this end, water clocks were used. These clocks
consisted of a large bronze bowl filled with water in which floated
a smaller bowl made from extremely thin metal with a tiny hole in
its bottom. When this bowl filled with water and sank, a bell was
struck. The second time the bowl sank, the bell was struck again,
and so on. Different monasteries divided the day differently, but
at Bodh Gaya the bell was struck 16 times before noon.
History has preserved the names of but a few of the great scholars
who were associated with Bodh Gaya. Taranatha mentions a Sravastavadian
scholar from South India named Sanghadasa who studied there for
many years. Another South Indian, Dharmapala, famous for his ability
to recite from memory large numbers of scriptures, taught at Bodh
Gaya for 30 years. He is said to have composed the Madyamakacatuhsatika
while there. This Dharmapala was not the more famous scholar of
the same name, but probably the Dharmapala who ordained Hsuan Tsang's
preceptor Silabhadra. According to the Culavamsa, after Buddhaghosa
finished his literary labours in Sri Lanka "he set out for
Jambudipa to worship the Bodhi Tree" while later tradition
asserts that he wrote both the Atthasalani and the now lost Nanodaya
at Bodh Gaya before going to Sri Lanka. Prajnadeva and Jnanaprabha,
both staunch savakas, are known to have been at Bodh Gaya in the
According to Wang Hiuen Ts'e, a monk from the Mahabodhi Monastery,
whose name he did not give, wrote a book in which the dates of all
the important events in the Buddha's life were calculated. The year
of the Parinirvana was given as the equivalent of the year 537 BC.
The last Theravadin monk whose name is mentioned in connection with
Bodh Gaya is the Sri Lankan pundit Anandasri who subsequently lived
and taught in Tibet. He is eulogised in one Tibetan book as "...foremost
amongst the many thousands in the sangha of the island of Simhala,
a disciple of Dipankara, residing at Vajirasana, a great scholar...
skilled in two languages, one who seeks the benefit of the sangha,
the excellent one". As Anandasri was translating Pali text
in the Land of Snows at the very beginning of the 14th century ,
it is likely that he was teaching at Bodh Gaya, and by implication,
that it continued as a centre of Theravada, albeit a small and feeble
one, at least up to the end of the 13th century.
I Tsing informs us that during the time he was in India a significant
number of Chinese monks did part of their education at Bodh Gaya.
One Hsuan-chao studied the Vinaya and Abhidhamma of both the Theravada
and Mahayana schools for four years, while another monk, Chin-hung,
studied the same subjects plus Sanskrit for two years. I Tsing also
says that one of his countrymen was actually appointed head of a
monastery at Bodh Gaya. The Sri Lankan scholar monk, Panditaratana
Srijana, probably the author of the Candragominyakaranapanjika and
the Sabdarthacinta, is known from an inscription to have been in
Bodh Gaya in the 9th century [ 19. VIEW
IMAGE ]. Atisa studied the Vinaya for some time at Bodh
Gaya under Silarakshita, the head of a monastery there called Matavihara.
The frequent mention of the study of the Vinaya at Bodh Gaya is
a further pointer to its importance as a centre for early Buddhism.
The Tibetan tradition preserves the names of several great Tantrayanists
who studied or taught at Bodh Gaya. They are usually said to have
moved on from there to either Nalanda or Vikramasila. The lay Tantric
adept Ratnavajra (979-1040) travelled from Kashmir to finish his
education at Bodh Gaya. Later he was appointed Gatekeeper Scholar
(dvara pandita) at Vikramasila. The famous Tibetan translator Rinchen
Sangpo (958-1051) likewise studied at Bodh Gaya. His biography says
he did a puja at the north gate of the sacred precinct. Ratnaparasvamin
(died 1117) spent several years meditating at Bodh Gaya before going
to China. Legend says he used his psychic powers to fly back to
Bodh Gaya from time to time.
Other great names associated with Bodh Gaya include Naropa (956-1040),
Buddhakirti, Abhayakaragupta, the grammarian and logician Yamari,
and Sariputra, head of an academic institution established at Bodh
Gaya by Cingalaraja in the early 15th century and the last Buddhist
monk known to have lived or taught there. Only a few monks from
Bodh Gaya are known to have made a name for themselves outside India.
Two of them, Sanghanandamoksa and Kasyapa, were translating Buddhist
texts in China in 653. Another monk from Bodh Gaya, Pragunavisvana,
compiled a work in Chinese, but his dates are not known. Having
monks of so many different persuasions living together inevitably
led to jealousies and on a few occasions to even more serious incidents,
the worst of which took place during the reign of Dharmapala (815-854).
"In the temple of Vajrasana there was then a large silver
image of Heruka and many treatises on Tantra. Some of the Sendhava
savakas from Singha Island (Sri Lanka) and elsewhere said that these
were composed by Mara. So they burned these and smashed the image
into pieces and then used the pieces as money. From Bamgala (Bengal)
people used to come to Vikramasila for offering worship. The savakas
said: 'That which is called the Mahanaya is only a source of livelihood
for those who follow the wrong view. Therefore keep clear of those
so-called preachers of the True Dharma. In this way the savakas
drew people towards themselves".
When Dharmapala came to know of this desecration, he was going
to punish the savakas, but was eventually talked out of it by the
royal preceptor, Buddhananapada. One day, while Dharmasvamin was
visiting one of the Bodh Gaya's shrines, a Sri Lankan monk enquired
from him what book he was carrying. When he replied that it was
copy of the Prajnaparamita Sutra the monk said: "You seem like
a good monk, but to carry on your back a Mahayana book is not good.
Throw it in the river." The monk added: "The Buddha did
not teach the Mahayana, it was enumerated by one called Nagarjuna,
a man of sharp intellect." Later, when Dharmasvamin was worshipping
a statute of Avalokitesvara, the same monk again commented: "You
seem like a good monk, but it is improper to worship a householder."
However, despite these rather unseemly incidents relationships between
monks of different schools at Bodh Gaya were generally good. Taranatha
says that when the Mahayanist Abhayakaragupta became a teacher at
Bodh Gaya in about 1090, even the savakas respected him because
of his knowledge of the Vinaya. Dharmasvamin commented that the
savaka monks he had contact with at Bodh Gaya generally treated
him with more courtesy than did his fellow monks in Tibet. We do
not know how Anandasri came to be invited to Tibet but it seems
likely that a mutual respect and friendship between him and some
Tibetan monks at Bodh Gaya had something to do with it.
By the 2nd century AD, the nature of Buddhist worship was beginning
to change; aniconic representations of the Buddha like stupas, footprints
and trees were losing popularity to statues. The earliest Buddha
statue so far found at Bodh Gaya comes from around this period.
The statue is made of pink Mathura sandstone and, like many early
images produced in Mathura, its left hand, now missing, was placed
on its knee, while the right hand, also now missing, was probably
raised in the abhayamudra. This much damaged, though nonetheless
still impressive, statue was found in the ruins of a small shrine
just south of the Mahabodhi Temple and is now displayed in the Indian
Museum [ 20. VIEW
IMAGE ]. A fragmentary inscription on the statue's pedestal
"Just prior to Samvat 64 of the fifth day
of the third month of the hot season in the reign of the great
King Tirkamala, the fellow monk ... conversant in the Vinaya disciple
... set up by his own efforts two lion-supported stone images
of the Bodhisattva in the monastery erected by the royal minister.
By a female lay disciple who was a helper in doing this meritorious
deed... a work of merit has been done by the preacher of the Dhamma...
Let this act of good benefit (my) mother and father..."
The date mentioned in the inscription is equivalent to 383 AD [
21. VIEW IMAGE ]. In about 402,
the Chinese monk Fa Hsien arrived in Bodh Gaya after a truly heroic
two year journey through the mountains and deserts of Central Asia.
He was the first Chinese pilgrim known to have reached India, but
he was not the first to have attempted the journey. Some time during
the decade after 325, another monk, Yu Fa Lan, had set out for India
by the so-called southern route, but he only managed to get as far
as Indo-China before dying. Unfortunately, the information Fa Hsien
gives about Bodh Gaya is rather scant. Perhaps he only stayed for
a short time, or perhaps he lost the notes he took during his stay,
and later, when writing about it, had to rely on his memory. He
mentioned seeing stupas marking all the sacred places around Bodh
Gaya as well as three monasteries, one of which must have been the
At the place where the Buddha attained perfect wisdom, there are
three monasteries, in all of which there are monks residing. The
families of the people around provide the congregation of these
monks with abundant sufficiency of what they require, so that there
is no lack or stint. The disciplinary rules are strictly observed
by them. The laws regarding their demeanour in sitting, rising and
entering when the others are assembled, are those that have been
handed down since the Buddha was in the world, down to the present
When Fa Hsien returned to China in 413, he wrote a book about his
travels which was to inspire numerous others to set out for India.
As far as China was concerned the golden age of pilgrimage, which
was to last for the next 600 years, was about to begin.