The Buddha was born a Hindu prince in Bihar in the 5/6 century BC. As per mythology he attained Nirvana at a place near Gaya in Bihar. This place is called Bodh-Gaya and is approximately 15 kilometers from Gaya. It is the most important pilgrimage center in India for Buddhists, as this is the place where the Buddha attained enlightenment.
Bodh-Gaya is a part of the city of Gaya. This place contains the banyan tree under which the Buddha mediated and attained enlightenment (Bodh). The banyan tree under which the Buddha observed penance and mediated is known as the Bodhi tree.The fame of Bodh-Gaya has now spread all over the world and Buddhists from Burma, China, Tibet, Japan, South East Asia and Ceylon visit this place.
It is the holiest place for Buddhists and thousands come to pay their respects to the Buddha. Bodh-Gaya has a number of Buddhist temples. The most important temple is the Mahabodhi temple. This temple commemorates the place where the Buddha undertook penance and achieved nirvana. It is the holiest shrine in Buddhism and in some ways can be considered the Mecca of Buddhism.
The temple is a large sprawling temple with a high spire. Its walls are decorated with carvings which depict the life of Buddha and the famous incidents in his life. In the center of the temple the sanctum sanctorum is a beautiful idol of Buddha in a meditating pose. Devotees from all over the world worship at this shrine. Close to the temple is a museum which houses bronze and gold statues of Buddha from ages.
Bodh -Gaya houses some more temples. Another famous temple is the shrine of Animesh Lochan Chaitya. This shrine commemorates the place where the Bodhi tree was seen by Buddha. There is a third Buddhist temple Chankraman also at Bodh-Gaya. This shrine is located at the place where the Buddha paced up and down when he was in a state of indecision as to what step to take after he had attained nirvana.
Bodh -Gaya also is home to the famous Bodhi tree which is located on the banks of the river Neeraj Jana. Bodh Gaya has a history of 2600 years and many times it was razed by Muslim conquerors. For centuries the place was uncared and in poor condition as Buddhism had spread to other lands, but became extinct in India. But in the 20th century the place has been renovated and Buddhist shrines restored and new temples constructed. The Mahabodhi temple is recognized as a world heritage site in the list issued by UNESCO on 26 June 2002.
The history of Bodh-Gaya is well documented and one of the foremost accounts is by two Chinese pilgrims Faxian and Xuanzang in the 5th and 7th century AD.
Gaya can be easily reached from Calcutta by overnight train. One can fly down from Calcutta or Delhi to Patna which is the nearest airport and take a taxi or bus to Gaya 78 miles away.