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The Mahabodhi temple - Renovating Bodh Gaya temple
Mahabodhi temple in Bodhgaya , Bihar, India

The major part of the restoration work, that of replacing old molded plaster with new one, on the 52 meter high inward sloping spire of the Mahabodhi Mahavihara in Bodh Gaya, India, is expected to be completed in a month or two, according to a spokesman for the Bodh Gaya temple management committee.

"We are expecting to complete the work by the end of January 2007," the spokesman said.

Funded by the Bodh Gaya temple management committee and carried out by the Archaeological Survey of India, the major restoration work, being done after more than 120 years, began in 2002. The work had been stalled in 2004-2005 because of dispute between the temple management committee and the Archaeological survey of India.

"We know only that the Patna high court in Bihar ordered to continue renovation work early this year," said venerable P. Seewalee Thero of Maha Bodhi society of India in Bodh Gaya. He refused to give further details.

According to venerable P. Seewalee Thero, it is a major face-lift after 1880 although the government of India had done some repair work and enlarged the premises of the Mahabodhi stupa in 1956 on the occasion of 2500th Buddha Jayanthi celebrations.

It is believed that the temple was badly ruined in the mid 19th century and was extensively restored by the British archaeologists J.D. Beglar and Alexander Cunningham in 1880. Much of the Mahabodhi temple's exterior actually dates from that period.

According to a devout Buddhist from Bhutan, Lam Kunzang, who always travels to Bodh Gaya in winter, the renovation is symbolic of Lord Buddha's ever-presence and his dharma.

Bodh Gaya's spiritual history dates back to the 6th century B.C. when Prince Siddhartha Gautama, at the age of 35 years, attained enlightenment under the bodhi tree in the holy place where the Mahabodhi temple stands today.

History has it that after attaining enlightenment, Lord Buddha spent seven more weeks in meditation in seven different places around the bodhi tree.

But, it was only during the reign of King Ashoka in the 3rd century B.C. that this place came into prominence. King Ashoka first constructed the Vajrasana or Dorjidhen and then built a stupa in veneration of the Buddha which remained upto the 2nd century A.D.

The Mahabodhi Mahavihara or more popularly known as the Bodh Gaya Temple or the Great Stupa, is one of the shrines out of the 84,000 shrines erected by King Ashoka. The Mahabodhi Mahavihara is the sole surviving example of what was once an architectural genre.

Today, the main attraction for pilgrims at Bodh Gaya was to worship at the Vajraseat and the other six locations where the Buddha had meditated. Another attraction was the Mahabodhi image, the statue in the Mahabodhi temple that was believed to be the exact likeness of the Buddha himself.

The Mahabodhi temple was declared a world heritage site by the UNESCO on June 27, 2002.

Contributed by Rinzin Wangchuk, KUENSEL, Bhutan's National Newspaper 2006

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