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The Story of the “rediscovery” of Bodh Gaya
Bodh Gaya today is a classic and living example of how some silent pages in history can acquire voice after ages, and can become part of the mainstream lore. Imagining a visit to Bodh Gaya today, without knowing the story of the Buddha, and his association with the site may seem ridiculous today.
It is indeed difficult to imagine so since the Buddha’s existence is so deeply connected to the town. But surprisingly as it stands, such indeed was the state of affairs one would have encountered, had one visited the site just two centuries back. The site had lost its importance in the turbulent phases and turmoils of history, so much so that in the early 19th century, no such individual existed there in Bodh Gaya who followed the Buddha’s preaching, or even one who could narrate the story of the Buddha.
Due to decline in Buddhism in India, and, due to the absorption of the Buddha as one of the avatars of Vishnu in Hinduism, different legends were in place then about the existence of Bodh Gaya and about its historical importance. The site was then popular extensively as an abode of the Shaivaite Sanyasis, belonging to the traditional Hindu religion. The premises of what today houses the Mahabodhi temple were once a part of the private property of the Shaivaite Sanyasi Math still in existence nearby, and the significance of the ruins was actually unknown to the locals. A site of international pilgrimage was lost, only to be rediscovered in the late nineteenth century. The story of the silent pages of Bodh Gaya is interesting indeed.
To be continued...