Religions of South Asia, Vol 4, No 1 (2010)

Gayā-Bodhgayā: The Origins of a Pilgrimage Complex

Matthew R. Sayers
Issued Date: 22 Feb 2011

Abstract


In this paper I bring the history of the Hindu traditions of śrāddha and the traditions surrounding Gayā to bear on the history of Gayā and Bodhgayā in order to answer a simple question: Why did the Buddha go to Bodhgayā to achieve enlightenment? The first half of my paper briefly address the textual history of śrāddha in the Brahmanical sources from the earliest domestic ritual manuals, the Gṛhyasūtras, to the dharma and Epic literature, where its centrality to the Gayā pilgrimage is commonly accepted. I then examine the Buddhist texts from the same time frame that evidence the practice of śrāddha, highlighting the conceptions of ancestor worship shared by both Brahmanical and Buddhist sources. In the second half of my paper I synthesize the history of śrāddha and the evidence of the Hindu conception of Gayā and the Buddhist descriptions of Gayā and Uruvelā to describe Gayā during the life of the Buddha and reflect upon why the Buddha is said to have gone there to achieve enlightenment. In the end I hope to expand the context within which we study Bodhgayā, problematizing it to some degree, in order to understand why this place attracted the Buddha.

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DOI: 10.1558/rosa.v4i1.9

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