But For the Sky
22Feb/12Off

Bodhgaya: Buddhist Disneyland

Still on a Buddhist kick, we made our way from Sikkim to Bodhgaya, a trip that took about 30 hours in total between Jeeps, trains, and rickshaws. Bodhgaya is the most important Buddhist pilgrimage destination and is the place where the Buddha himself apparently attained enlightenment under a pipal tree now known as the Bodhi (meaning "enlightenment") tree, in the sixth century BC. Going from the calm, peaceful, humble Tibetan Buddhist villages of Sikkim to the crowded, overwhelming, and artificial spiritual metropolis of Bodhgaya left us feeling a bit of culture shock.

Meditation Park Entry Fee

Meditation Park Entry Fee

The temple on the city's main site is in fact a Hindu temple, so perhaps it's due to the management of the sacred site by a Hindu group, who have a bit more flair for ostentation and lavish displays; perhaps it's the unavoidable encroachment of capitalism; or perhaps it's just impossible to maintain a peaceful, introspective, and respectful environment at a site which receives many millions of pilgrims a year, but for whatever reason, this town seemed to us more like Disneyland than a solemn religious site.

60ft Buddha Statue

60ft Buddha Statue

Our visit happened to overlap with the tail end of a cultural festival called Bodh Mahotsava, meaning that the city was bustling with monks, pilgrims, and other spiritual seekers. As we walked around the main temple complex, there were prayer mats laid all about in preparation for the "Inter-Religious Prayer for World Peace", as well as flower arrangements and miniature devotional statues, and our visit was benefitted by the soundtrack of dozens of red-robed monks chanting seemingly endlessly.

Tibetan Monks Praying

Tibetan Monks Praying

That night, we dropped in on a cultural presentation of traditional dances from all over India. Most went on a little too long, but we felt an affinity for the presentation from Sikkim, and especially enjoyed one that featured men twirling rings of fire in front of them and above their heads. Leaving the suitably commercialized end to a bit of a curveball of a holy site, we looked ahead to Varanasi, another of India's holiest cities.

Flowers at Mahabodhi Temple

Flowers at Mahabodhi Temple

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Posted by Nick

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