Look! A photo-filled post! 😀
An elaborate temple complex, Mahabodhi, developed on the site where the Buddha historically attained enlightenment. People hawking marigolds, hibiscus, and lotus flowers to the devotees line the wide walkway up to the entrance. Boys hold bunches of the lotus flowers, hoping for a quick sale because they will fade by late morning, petals sagging beyond value. I wonder how they strike a balance between bringing enough to make a profit and losing their work to nature’s decay, especially having waded into ponds to collect them: I wish the Buddha had chosen a sturdier flower.
Gardens frame the central towered structure which contains a golden Buddha statue: I spend roughly five minutes there as waves of worshipers arrive and depart, bowing and touching the stone below the figure. The gardens themselves are full of devotional symbols and offerings. Incense sticking out at auspicious sites, flowers draping various statues, oil or water in small portions, and sometimes layers of single marigold blooms placed in tiny plastic cups.
These wooden planks are everywhere, always aimed at the stone temple. Tarps spare them from rain and cover the cushions or blankets left behind. Sometimes a book or two remains behind. They facilitate a particular form of prayer which involves prostration: moving quickly from flat to kneeling to standing with folded hands, swooping from sky to earth and back: an act done in deep reverence. Hands landing on folded fabric, sliding down the plank until the chest meets the wood and then sweeping back up and into the next position. Experienced practitioners fold and flatten in a smooth movement, visually at ease — although you could argue that the whole thing looks like an aerobics move. If their hands weren’t folded in prayer.
Each Buddha carving receives lotus flowers each morning from the young Indian boys selling them on the street.
Walking clockwise around the central tower, the already-peaceful atmosphere increases its soft touch. The bodhi (or peples) tree’s giant branches peek around the corner of the stone structure. It is not the Original under which Siddhartha meditated; it is a grown offshoot of another descendant. But it still casts a magical ambiance over those who come to meditate and pray beneath its extensive branches. Young monks and schoolchildren dive for every solitary fallen leaf, some gripping seven or eight. Hungry for peace? One realizes that he’s snapped one up at my feet where I am sitting, and shyly hands it to me. Or maybe he just thought I needed one, although I hadn’t gone for it myself.
Like nowhere else I have been on earth, there is a sacred peace to the space beneath its spread; the power may be in that peace coming unbidden, pre-meditation. A contentment and easy contemplation, a raw sense of goodness in the world. Although its base is cut off by a stone fence, its heavy branches extend to include the entire crowd passing beneath it, which is funneled past its central point.
Some position themselves in the wall’s gaps to meditate, others funnel through snapping photos. Most are devotees, Buddhists coming to pray or reflect in the traditionally most sacred religious site. The photo captures a rare, empty moment for the space dedicated to group meditation and chanting (I’m uncomfortable photographing people, or take photos in general). Buddhists from all over the world travel to visit this spot, expressing faith and philosophy through many different cultures; the population of this corner in India is exceptionally diverse. Peace manifests in another form here: the coexistence of many different approaches, and the common ground found between them all.