Bodhgaya is a city in Gaya district, part of Bihar state on the northeast India. Besides being a holy place like many others in India this has two very important features. The first one is that it is the mecca of Buddhist religion in India and the second one is that it is located in the poorest state all over India.
This place is considered holy in Buddhism because according to their beliefs, is there where Prince Siddhartha Gautama attained enlightenment and became Buddha. The most important place in this city is the Mahabodhi Temple where the Bodhi tree also known as religious ficus is located. It is said that under this tree, Buddha used to sit to conduct their meditations and was there, where after three days and nights of continuous meditation attained nirvana. Since then, Bodhgaya is a place of pilgrimage for Buddhists from around the world.
Around this city are Buddhist monasteries of different nationalities, in its streets can be seen devotees of various Asian countries wearing their traditional costumes; Westerners, monks and nuns of all ages. I confess that before my visit to this place, between my ignorance, I used to think that there were only monks, because the movies only show us chubby monks with rosy cheeks and not really tall. But there I realized that there are also many Buddhist nuns. Moreover, it is a city with beautiful gardens for meditation.
In the main temple where the tree is located, different pilgrimages and meditations are performed. In the morning, this temple is the epicenter for thousands of Buddhists who live here or are visiting the city, all of them come together to make their morning meditation which consists of over a thousand prostrations. Around the temple you may see something similar to a bed of wood almost at ground level which are used to perform prostrations, these start standing with hands clasped at heart level, then using two cloths or pads on the palms of the hands, the body slides forward over the wood bed until be completely lying, holding position for a few seconds, then they slide back getting back on its feet with his hands in the same position. Then they rise their hands towards the sky and the same motion is repeated more than thousand times. This type of meditation aims to achieve a fusion between the body, mind and emotions. So you can reach the point you make the prostrations having a blank mind or that you no longer think, that you are making it. Actually I watched them and could only think of the physical condition of these people, for me it should be a “crazy thing”.
At night, the Buddha’s followers gather at the temple to recite mantras and do meditation, plus thousands of faithful who come to visit, perform a ritual around the temple and the tree while carrying a white cloth and recite mantras. The tree is surrounded by pillars which makes it not possible to access it directly, but there is a window through which people can touch it, so the faithful come to rub with foils of gold color, I really have no idea why they do it. Inside the temple it is forbidden the entry of all kinds of cameras, so you must have your mind very clear, so you can save a bit of each experience.
As I come telling you, Bodhgaya is in the poorest state of India and is very noticeable the separation between the area where Buddhist monasteries and temples are located and where the city itself begins. When I made my trip to India, I decided I would travel through Couchsurfing, a social network that lets you find free accommodation in different places of the world, through this was possible to stay for free and meet 9 families in different states and cities India; apart from places where I paid hotel. Bodhgaya was one of the places where I stayed with an Indian family, a big advantage of this is that really lets you get close and know the essence of a place.
This city has big problems with electricity service and water, there are very few days in which it has electricity 24 hours, when I was there about a year ago, the energy came only once a day and in this time the people take advantage to charge a small electricity plant or batteries used to meet their needs the day, and at night, candles are used. This makes going around on the streets during the night more difficult.
On the other hand, it is common for families to resort to systems like the ram to provide water home. Basically the people here live from the tourism and Buddhist pilgrimages. As a Buddhist city is very difficult (but not impossible) to get alcohol, throughout the city there is only one place where you can acquire. It is also not surprising that mice walk over your feet while you’re in a restaurant, because they do not kill them (they are Buddhists and all is about loving and forgiving).
Versión en Español: BODH GAYA, LA CIUDAD DONDE BUDA ALCANZÓ LA ILUMINACIÓN