Mahabodhi Temple at Bodhgaya
- Place of origin:
12th century (made)
- Materials and Techniques:
- Museum number:
- Gallery location:
Buddhism, Room 20, The Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation Galleries of Buddhist Art, case 1
This is a model of the Mahabodhi temple, the holiest of Buddhist pilgrim sites. The temple marks the place where the historical Buddha Gautama attained Enlightenment while meditating beneath a pipal tree. The site of his Enlightenment continues to be marked by a tree, presumed to be a descendant of the original tree.
A temple existed on the site by at least the 5th century CE, as described in Chinese pilgrims’ accounts. This piece is a gem of Indian miniaturised sculpture, replicating with remarkable precision the elements of medieval Indian temple architecture. The architectural style suggests that this model post-dates the extensive renovations of the temple undertaken by Burmese donors in the late 11th century at the behest of the kings of Pagan.
Models of this kind have been found in Buddhist lands beyond India, most notably Tibet and Burma. This suggests that these models were transported to distant Buddhist lands where they served as a surrogate pilgrim site. Devotees who could not make the perilous journey to the eastern India could meditate on the model and its message instead.
A number of monasteries in Tibet are recorded as once having had models, in stone or wood, of not just the Mahabodhi temple but of the entire complex, complete with its medieval enclosure wall and four gateways described by the Chinese pilgrims.
The Mahabodhi temple marks the site at which the historical Buddha Gautama attained enlightenment whilst meditating beneath a pipal tree. A tree which is believed to be the descendant of that tree still marks the site and a temple is recorded at the site by Chinese travellers from the 5th century onwards. Descriptions at Bodhgaya refer to periodic restorations and the architectural style evident in this model suggests that it post-dates the extensive renovations of the temple by Burmese donors in the late 11th century.
Place of Origin
12th century (made)
Materials and Techniques
Height: 12 cm, Width: 5 cm, Depth: 7.5 cm
Object history note
Purchased for £6000 from David Tremayne, King's Road, Chelsea
Historical context note
This remarkable model of the great Bodhgaya temple, the holiest of Buddhist pilgrim sites, is a gem of Indian miniaturised sculpture, replicating with remarkable precision the elements of medieval Indian temple architecture.
Mahabodhi Temple at Bodhgaya, schist, Bihar, eastern India, 12th century
Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)
Guy, John: 'Indian Temple Sculpture', London V & A Publication, 2007, p.77. pl.87.
Guy, John (ed.),L’Escultura en els Temples Indis: L’Art de la Devocio, Barcelona : Fundacio ‘La Caixa’, 2007. p 161, cat.123.
Labels and date
5. Model of the Mahabodhi Temple
The Mahabodhi temple is the holiest of
Buddhist pilgrim sites. It marks the place where
the Buddha gained enlightenment, meditating
under the bodhi tree. Pilgrims could take
models of the temple back to their homeland,
where they acted as a surrogate pilgrim site
for worshippers who were unable to travel.
Examples have been found in Tibet and South-
Eastern India (Bodhgaya, Bihar)
Museum no. IS.21-1986
Bihar, eastern India
Sculpture; Buddhism; Architecture
South & South East Asia Collection