The Mahabodhi Temple Complex at Bodh Gaya in Bihar was declared a world heritage site in 2002. It is one of the four holiest sites related to the life of the Lord Buddha, where he finally attained Enlightenment after severe penance. The temple complex was originally believed to be built in the 3rd century BC by Emperor Asoka but the present complex belongs to 5th or 6th centuries, the late Gupta period. It is said to be the earliest Buddhist temple in India built entirely in brick and in a good state of preservation. The most important, oldest and sacred of the Buddhist temples in India, it throws important light on the development of architecture over the centuries. The site itself preserves many sacred records related to Buddha's life. The stone balustrades showcase beautiful sculptures and are some of the earliest examples of bas-reliefs. It was here that Prince Sidhhartha attained Enlightenment and became Buddha. It is the second site in the Hearth of Buddha Pilgrimage Way that starts from Lumbini in Nepal, where Prince Siddhartha was born.
However, it is considered even more important for it was here that
Buddhism took birth and Siddhartha finally denounced asceticism and
embraced the 'Middle Way', the core of Buddhist philosophy. Even today,
we can see monks meditating under the sacred Bodhi tree enshrined in the
Mahabodhi temple. It is important to note that the Bodhi tree in the
Mahabodhi Temple today is not the original tree but its offspring. It is
said that King Ashoka sent his daughter Bhikkuni Sangamitta as a
Buddhist missionary to Sri Lanka with a branch of the great Bodhi tree,
which was planted at the Mahavihara monastery in Anuradhapura. Soon it
flourished. Later, when the original tree was destroyed in India, a
branch of that tree was again sent back to India to replace it. Devotees
tie flags or light lamps in front of the tree as a way of paying their
homage to Budhha. It is sacred both to Hindus and Buddhists alike.