Buddhist Heritage Foundation

Bodh Gaya

April 1st, 2012


3 Restorations Yet To Be Undertaken
A new chapter in the history of the Mahabodhi Temple, Bodh Gaya was written on the 26th of June, 2002, when this very ‘sacred site’ attained the status of a World Heritage monument. It is seven years since this event happened, and we, friends and well wishers of the Mahabodhi Temple, expected that the Management Committee would make an effort to undertake the restorations that we had requested them to look into, and if possible, in collaboration with the Archaeological Survey of India, actually undertake the project. Unfortunately, the Committee, Government Representatives, and anyone else on the UNESCO panel for the recommended changes according to the guidelines, suggested every imaginary way of developing Bodh Gaya so as to attract a lot more tourists. Ideas, such as fantastic market complexes, garbage, compost recycling plants, lakes, theme/heritage parks, multipurpose auditoriums and innumerable recreational facilities. What these modern day developers forgot was Bodh Gaya is a venue for pilgrimage – place of reverence, not Zurich, Hamburg or London. Here, people from Asia and Western Countries come in worship and therefore if anything needed to be looked at, it was the Mahabodhi Temple, where 3 important landmarks need to be restored. It is sad, that in spite of our constant reminders to the Management Committee over the last seven years, fell on ‘deaf years.’

1.    The first site on the list was the third floor, or more famously referred to as the topmost floor. It’s relevance to the Buddhist faith can very well be justified as each of the three floors represent the 3 Jewels i.e. The Buddha, the Dhamma and the Sangha. There are records that the Chinese Pilgrim Huien Tsaing saw it and recorded its existence during his visit to the holy site in the 7th century. He refers to the eastern porch, which he said was built later than the main body of the temple and consisted of three storeys with projecting eaves. The most important evidence to the third floor are the paintings of the British soldiers as well as the first photographs taken before Cunningham and his associated undertook the final restoration. Then we have the first modern written evidence of the existence of the third floor. The first Explorer, and Surveyor of the East India Company, Dr. Francis Buchanan, on his visit to Bodh Gaya in 1811-12, noted in his records; “above this chamber (sanctum) are two others, on the level of the old terrace, and the other still higher; but with these, the falling has cut of all communication. Several of the people, however, in the vicinity remember the porch standing and have frequently been in the chamber, a stair from the terrace leading to the uppermost.” Francis Buchanan’s Book related to his exploration of Northern India, in which he mentions about the Mahabodhi Temple, was published by Montgomery Martin in 1838, exactly 42 years before the final British restoration. Had Cunningham and Company read his Book, I am sure they would not have created the blunder of shutting the third floor rather they would have restored it. The British restoration team too, has referred to the third floor. One refers to the chamber itself , ‘showing two walls of a corbelled vault with great beams apparently propping up the walls.’ This statement refers to the description of the photograph taken by Alexander Cunningham and referred in his account of his visit to Bodh Gaya in 1880-81, where he mentions clambering up its scaffoldings in order to get to the top most chamber through its corbelled opening. Cunningham’s description (as the last person to visit it before Maj. Beglar walled up the entrance) is worth quoting here: “It is commenced on a square base, and the width of the chamber diminishes towards the top by the bricks over lapping each other about 8 inches in course of brick-work, thus leaving an obeliscal opening about 65 feet high from the ground floor. The chamber is covered in at the top with massive planks of wood.” The final reference is that this chamber was measured by Rajendra Lal Mitra (a member of the British Archaeological restoration team), he mentions it as a square of nineteen feet. There are no records as to what motivated the British Archaeologists to shut up this chamber rather than restore it. I am confident that if this shrine-room could be restored it would definitely increase the number of pilgrims visiting Bodh Gaya.

2.    The second most important place that needs immediate attention is the ‘inner Vajrasana.’ This place is the platform on which the magnificent Buddha, enclosed in a glass case sits in the main shrine room. While restoring the inner chamber of the temple, Alexander Cunningham removed the stone slab, and found to his surprise an earlier Vajrasana Throne, which was smaller than the one you can presently see outside under the Bodhi Tree. This old Vajrasana Throne has a plaster facing, which when scrutinized, was found to be made up of lime mixed with tiny corals, sapphires, crystals, pearls, and ivory. A ball of clay was also found, which, when broken, yielded a large number of gold objects-flowers, disks and beads; semi precious stones, and an impression in thin gold dating back to 160 CE., indicating that this second shrine may have been constructed or restored at that time. Further investigation revealed the existence of a third Vajrasana seat, which is probably the original ‘Diamond Throne’ (which could date back to the Enlightenment of the Buddha). Consisting of a broken highly polished plain sand stone which depicted the one in the Barhut relief (presently preserved in the National Museum, Kolkata). There are some Scholars who believe that this older Vajrasana was part of the original temple built by King Asoka in the 3rd century BC. If the Mahabodhi Temple Management Committee and the Archaeological Survey of India with its technical expertise were to retrieve these stone slabs and enclose them in glass cases within the premises of the Temple, it would surely attract a lot more pilgrims who would find themselves blessed to be actually venerating the original slab on which the Buddha probably sat on that epochal occasion.

3.    After the restoration of the Mahabodhi Temple by the Britishers, an inscription was cemented into the arch above the entrance to the inner chamber. It read; ” THIS ANCIENT TEMPLE OF THE MAHABODHI ERECTED ON THE HOLY SPOT WHERE PRINCE SAKYA SINGHA BECAME A BUDDHA, WAS REPAIRED BY THE BRITISH GOVERNMENT UNDER THE ORDER OF SIR ASHLEY EDEN, LIEUTENT GOVERNOR OF BENGAL; ARCHAEOLOGICAL ADVISOR TO THE GOVERNMENT, MAJOR GENERAL A. CUNNINGHAM; ARCHITECT, JOSEPH DAVIDITCH BEGLAR. AD. 1880. Since the early 1950s the sign was sealed on the order of the Secretary of the Management Committee and therefore hidden from public view in spite of its importance to the history of the Temple as any of its other inscriptions. The location of the sign was brought to the notice of this Explorer by the Hindu Pujaree (Hindu priest) who had been in the service of the Mahabodhi Temple Management Committee since its inception and had witnessed the sealing of the inscription. A description of this sign has also been mentioned in the book ‘Navel of the Earth’, compiled by Ven. S. Dhammika, also an eminent writer and explorer of Ancient Buddhist sites in India. Hopefully, good sense will prevail and the present Management Committee will uncover the sign and thereby honour those who saved the great Vihara from complete destruction.

Reference: The Mahabodhi Temple – A World Heritage Site; Suresh Bhatia; Pilgrim Books, Varanasi, 2007

Ancient vajrasana below Buddha Image

British Inscription sealed in this niche

Three floors as depicted by a british artist

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