Bodhgaya’s a temple town. Pretty much every country with a significant Buddhist population has set up a shrine here, the reason being the nearby Mahabodhi temple (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) and its celebrity Bodhi tree, underneath which Gautama Buddha is said to have attained enlightenment.
We stayed in Bodhgaya just shy of a week. Most of my time there was spent in bed, regaining my strength and appetite. But when I was finally feeling up to braving the heat again (and the challenge of taxing activities like, say, walking), it was off to explore.
According to Wikipedia, Bodh Gaya is, for Buddhists, the “most important of the main four pilgrimage sites related to the life of Gautama Buddha”. I enjoyed the town largely for the historical lesson in cultural cross-pollination.
Juxtaposing one temple against the next allowed you to see what had, throughout the years, managed to travel from one country to another, and how it had become altered after each journey across a new border. There were recurring themes, images and rituals throughout all temples, but every country had a different take on them.
They had each put their own personal spin on the Buddhist religion (or, as some consider it, philosophy) and its practices and iconography, reminiscent of their country and whatever style, politics and architecture was trending, both at the time of the religion’s adaptation and into the present day.
It never ceases to baffle me how someone can observe something like that, and still believe that their religion has remained uninfluenced by the politics of the times that preceded their own. How can someone believe a book passed down through generations is pure – even swear to lay down their life or, worse, someone else’s based on it – when today we can’t even get through a government term without someone taking a red pen to ‘rules’ that were meant to govern our moral behavior in the past?
I’m not going to slag anyone their personal spirituality. But if you try to convince me that your special directional guide to life is pure and untouched since its very original form, when evidence to the contrary is staring you direct in the face, I’m going to call shenanigans.
On a lighter note (but still along the vein of how time and location can shape the evolution of religion), check out this fantastic billboard:
And on a completely different note altogether: If Bodhgaya is any indication, Buddhists are quite the technophiles. Wandering through the tranquility of Mahabodhi’s public grounds, I noted a disproportionate number of monks fiddling with electronics. When I reached the main temple, the monk stationed at its entrance glanced up at me only briefly before returning to his text.
By the time we left Bodhagaya I was feeling a lot better, both physically and mentally. A couple destinations had had to be cut from my itinerary [due to sickness] but I was largely proud of how I’d dealt with it all – I’d accepted that shit happens, and had adjusted plans accordingly.
We were heading to Patna as a part of that adjustment. Pete and I planned to cut our travel time short by loading our bikes onto a train and riding it as far as Siliguri (which, I don’t care which language you speak, is a ridiculous name for a town). While I was feeling better I was still fairly weak, and wasn’t really feeling up to the 5 days of hard riding that it would take for us to get to our next destination: The Eastern hill station of Darjeeling.
*This post is about travels that took place in Bodhgaya, India between April 09 and 14 of 2012.
*The full photo set from Bodh Gaya can be viewed over Flickr here, or on the Facebooks where you’ll find me as Krys C Wanders.