On a very cold morning, while the sun still lurked below the skyline, I sat at the edge of a frosty granite bench, shivering under the woolen jacket, which despite being profusely compact, barely kept the cold out. The shiver was so intense that I could hear the sharp chatter of my teeth. I’d been out in the cold for long, and my face, exposed to the bitter midwinter airstream, felt numb; I could barely move my eyelids. Then, after what felt like an everlasting spell of winter, came the train, huffing and puffing, and I threw myself in, feeling comforted by the warm respite which the carriage offered. A seven hour journey would take me to Bodhgaya…
Bodh Gaya is a place filled with fascinating temples, laced in myriad of architectural styles. One can easily explore the town on foot; but for those looking for some leverage, a bicycle can be easily availed at the Mahabodhi complex. This is the place where Siddhartha—the gauthama became Buddha (the enlightened one) under the Bhodhi tree!
The Story of Buddha goes like this:
Prince Siddhartha, following a prophecy that he would either become a great king or a spiritual leader was kept oblivious of the worldly sufferings (since his parents who wanted a powerful ruler for the kingdom believed that the unsatisfactory nature of the world would turn him into a saint). Surrounded with every kind of pleasure, he grew up to be a tall, strong, handsome man, and was given five hundred attractive ladies( though he went on learn combat training and won his wife ‘Yashodhara’ in an archery contest to spend the life with.)
Things were going great, until one day, at 29, he suffered from something (let’s call it existential crisis), which changed the course of his life. He was on a royal outing far away from his luxurious palace, when he saw someone desperately sick (he had never seen such sickness before !). Next day he saw an utterly old person on the verge of dying, and finally he saw a dead person. He was very upset to realize that old age, sickness and death would come to everyone he loved, and all his wealth and abundance could do nothing to help them.
Siddhartha decided to secretly leave the kingdom and his family in search of truth. He wandered in the forests and on the way met many meditative teachers who taught him the nature of mind and meditation. Finally at a place called Bodhgaya he sat under the Bodhi tree until he knew mind’s true nature, and six days upon constant meditation he reached enlightenment on the full moon of May, which is celebrated as Buddha Purnima. (I was born on the full moon day of May; may be that’s why I’m so awesome 🙂 )
Having achieved enlightenment, Buddha traveled on foot throughout north India, influencing people of all castes and professions. Later the pilgrims and travelers visiting India from different parts of the world carried the wisdom of Buddha outside Indian subcontinent. Today there are more than 520 million followers of Buddhism (including me) and it is the world’s fourth largest religion.
To know more about the teachings of Buddha Read: The middle path.
Interesting Fact: Emperor Ashoka, the grandson of Chandragupta Maurya (who founded the Mauryan empire 2300 years ago), after committing a sadistic massacre at the Battle of Kalinga, had a change of mind. He converted to Buddhism and vowed to spread the teachings far and wide. Last year I visited the legendary kingdom of Kalinga (now in Orissa). If you missed out stories from my visit to Orissa, you can read it here: