December 5, 2015
Dr. Sraman Mukherjee, Assistant Professor at NU, organised a field-trip to the Mahabodhi Temple and Sujatagarh Stupa, Bodh Gaya on November 14, 2015. This trip formed part of the course, “Buddhism across Borders: Empire, Nation, and Religion in the Theravada Worlds of Asia” offered by him at School of Historical Studies, Nalanda University. He was accompanied by students from the School of Historical Studies, Prof. Abhishek S. Amar and Prof. Aviram Sharma from NU, Prof. Max Deeg from Cardiff University and Prof. Richard Seager from Hamilton College.
The Mahabodhi Temple Complex, Bodh Gaya lies 115 km south of the state capital of Bihar, Patna and 16 km from the district headquarters at Gaya, in Eastern India. It is one of the four holy sites related to the life of the Lord Buddha, and particularly to the attainment of Enlightenment. The property encompasses the greatest remains of the 5th-6th century A.D in the Indian sub-continent belonging to this period of antiquity.
Purpose of the trip was to study Mahabodhi temple complex in its present setting. The present temple complex at Bodh Gaya comprises the 50 m high grand Temple, the Vajrasana, sacred Bodhi Tree and other six sacred sites of Buddha’s enlightenment, surrounded by numerous ancient Votive stupas, well maintained and protected by inner, middle and outer circular boundaries. It is also a unique property of archaeological significance in respect of the events associated with the time Lord Buddha spent there, as well as documenting the evolving worship, particularly since the 3rd century, when Emperor Asoka built the first temple.
Another aim was to understand the cultural significance of the site. In the context of philosophical and cultural history, Mahabodhi Temple Complex is of great relevance as it marks the most important event in the life of Lord Buddha, the moment when Prince Siddhartha attained Enlightenment and became Buddha, an event that shaped human thought and belief. This property is now revered as the holiest place of Buddhist pilgrimage in the world and is considered the cradle of Buddhism in the history of mankind.
The other site visited on the same day was Archaeological museum adjacent to the temple site where excavated antiquities are kept preserved in a small museum. Sujatagarh Stupa was the final site visit for the day. It is believed to be a stupa in memory of Stupa, tribal girl who fed Gautam Buddha the milk rice right before he sat for attaining enlightenment. Students were able to connect different narratives which emerged during the trip with what they studied in class. Field visit to Bodh Gaya in this way served an enriching open-air classroom exercise for everybody.
Image credits: Kashshaf, Shaashi
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