Literally, it means the temple of 'Great Awakening'. The Mahabodhi Temple remains one of the earliest Buddhist temples to have been built totally in brick dating back to the Gupta period (320 to 550 CE).
The Bodhi tree in Bodhgaya is directly linked to the life of Lord Buddha; the story behind it is - Around 530 BCE, Prince Siddhartha Gautama a young boy was exposed to the pain and suffering in the world. In search of a way to end it - he reached the banks of the River Falgu where he sat and meditated. Contemplating under a peepul tree for three days and three nights he gained enlightenment in the form of answers he had sought.
It is concluded that 250 years after this episode, Emperor Ashoka visited this same place. He is said to be the creator of the original Mahabodhi temple.
Many different myths are associated with the temple. Some people state that the navel of the earth is exactly located at this spot. Another story claims that when the earth will be destroyed this will be the last place to disappear, and the first one to reappear on re-creation. A legend states that a Bodhi tree sprang up on the day Gautama Buddha was born.
On visiting the site one can see the temple sitting in the centre. It is tall rising high above the mesh of small temples, stupas and open spaces. The Mahabodhi temple has a long intricately carved spire that ends in a miniature stupa and a Chhatravali on the base. The niches on the spire enclose carved effigies of Buddha. Geometrical recesses holding carved images of deities, with floral patterns and symbolic animals are created all over the temple. Different types of stupas can be found scattered throughout the area, with isolating spaces for contemplation and reflection.
With the decline of Buddhism in India, the temple was abandoned and forgotten. Buried under layers of soil and sand it was later restored to its former glory by Sir Alexander Cunningham