I was in the queue, adjusting my mask & ensuring social distancing. My family was already inside the premises & I was still at the security check. Queues frustrate me – not because I have to wait for my turn but because there’s always some pushing & shoving going on. People behind you want you out of the way, and people ahead of you take their own sweet time. And on top of that, there are some oversmart ones who would join the queue in the middle. No one wants to start from the scratch, you see. Everyone wants some leverage. So, naturally I take it upon myself to bring in some order at such places. You probably can’t spot me in crowded places but you sure can hear me. I am often found yelling at people, asking them to go back to the original queue, reprimanding them for jumping the queue & telling them – “Line Yahan hai. Peeche Jaiye (Queue is here. Go to the back & take your spot.)“. So, when people pushed me in the queue of the security check of ‘Mahabodhi Temple’, I lost it a little bit. I turned back and told the bunch of girls behind me, “Maintain social distancing. These are COVID times.”
“Sorry didi, peeche se dhakka aa raha hai. Aap jaiye aage. Ham khade hain yahan. (Sorry didi, we got pushed. Please go ahead. We will maintain distance)”
I have graced this planet with my presence for the last 34 years, and not even once, not even in my dreams, I have heard someone calling me – didi – in a queue especially the person that I have yelled at (a bit). They maintained their distance. I crossed the security check in another 3 mins. And joined my family in another one minute. But for the next few minutes, I kept wondering, “Are people really this nice in here?”
As I turned and looked to my right, there it was – the MahaBodhi Temple – standing tall like a tree where there was space for one & all, rude as well as polite, unruly as well as civilised, sinner as well as saint. When you catch the first glimpse of the Mahabodhi temple, you tend to ask yourself, “My God! What a foolish thing to say that Bihar isn’t beautiful! This, in front of me, is what, if not magnificent”
At the entrance, there was a decent looking man, dressed in decent clothes. He was a registered tourist guide & we were tourists. In his simple & polite language, he began giving us a tour of the temple, sharing stories, pointing towards the ancient architectural remains. Around then, a family came & started testing their vocal cords by shouting at the loudest possible levels. Our guide looked towards them, gave a look and decided to say something when a bunch of kids came running and entered the gardens, trying to pluck flowers. Kids, you know – the same everywhere. This guide of ours walked up to the family & politely asked them to keep it down. There were monks chanting & meditating nearby, and this unnecessary noise doesn’t reflect well on us. The family responded to the guide by taking their ‘noise’ & ‘noisy kids’ elsewhere.
When the guide was showing us around, he kept mentioning the gifts that the temple received from Taiwan, Japan, China , Nepal and other such countries. After a while, we asked the most natural question – “And what’s Indian Government’s contribution to this?”. To which, the guide smiled & pointed towards the general upkeep of the place & the fact that the temple is managed & governed so well.
The highlight for me was the Mahabodhi tree. Although this isn’t exactly the same tree, but you may say that it’s the grandchild of the original. It’s the sapling of the sapling from the original tree. Around the tree, you meet a bunch of folks, meditating, praying or trying to find their peace. It’s the most gorgeous scene that can’t be matched by anything in this world. The scent of flowers, incense sticks, the sounds of chants and the whole aura of the place is surreal. All I wanted to do at that time was to walk. And I did. I walked for a while & I had never felt that free, that calm & that silent.
When we finished the tour & reached the starting point once again, we found another bunch of kids, ringing the bells incessantly. The guide again asked them to stop that act of menace & let people meditate peacefully. The kids kept laughing & ringing the bells until their parents came & threatened to make a different kind of music by pounding on them.
After the guide left, I sat on a bench nearby in silence, and kept looking at the temple. The evening colors changed and soon it was dark. Colourful lights shone around the temple & the moon joined them in the background. I could hear some chanting sounds coming from a distance. I closed my eyes and offered a silent prayer, “May I get to come here once again.”
Mahabodhi temple is a world UNESCO Heritage site. One of the four main sacred sites of Buddhism, this is the place where Lord Buddha attained spiritual enlightenment under the Bodhi Tree (inside temple premises). The first temple was built in 3rd century BC, while the current temple is believed to be made between 6th or 5th century BC. What’s incredible about the temple is that it’s been made of bricks – an architectural masterpiece. There are seven distinct spots inside the temple premises where lord Buddha spent a week each after attaining enlightenment.