BODHGAYA, India — The mid-morning sun chased off the chill of a predawn taxi ride from the train station to one of the holiest sites in Buddhism.
The Mahabodhi Vihar, or “great awakening temple,” was built by Emperor Asoka in the third century BCE to commemorate the spot where Siddhartha Gautama reached a state of enlightenment under a bodhi tree, becoming known as the Buddha, or “enlightened one,” and launching one of the world’s great religions.
The brick structure, which passed through various incarnations and renovations over the centuries, possessed an ethereal presence, rising 180 feet into the cloudless blue sky. Yet the World Heritage Site had few clues within its architectural features to suggest its true scale, appearing to be large from a certain vantage point, as well as intimately small. Maybe it was the human element, the crowds of pilgrims, bowing and praying, or it could’ve been the beauty of the offerings laid along the temple’s perimeter and every available surface.
Marigolds, brilliant like little orange suns, comprised the bulk of the floral arrangements left by visitors.
Just around the corner from the temple stood perhaps the holiest tree in Buddhism, but I was in no rush.