Gaya, city in northeastern India, in Bihar State, on the Phalgu River (an affluent of the Ganges). A number of sacred shrines are located in and near Gaya, notably the Vishnupad Hindu temple built in 1787, and Buddh Gaya to the south, the site of the Great Enlightenment of Buddha. The temples are regularly visited by hundreds of thousands of pilgrims each year. The city, which became a municipality in 1865, is the site of Magadh University (1962) and of an archaeological museum. The principal products manufactured in the city include metal articles, mats, bamboo baskets, cotton rope, and jute twine. Population (1991) 291,675.
Bodh Gaya History
The Buddha attained enlightenment under the Bodhi Tree 2500 years ago. A relative of that tree is growing at the same spot. The Buddha spent six or seven weeks in Bodh Gaya contemplating the great event! He gave "the two refuges" to two merchants in Bodh Gaya. Today all Buddhists take the "three refuges" to the Buddha, the Dharma (his teachings) and the Sangha (the spiritual community). Those first refuge seekers only took two refuges because the spiritual community didn't exist yet. Later on, maybe around Asoka Maurya's time, a stone fence was built around the area. Later still the big stupa was built. Bihar was covered by forests back then, now it is very flat farmland. People in the area told me that the British were responsible for clearing the area's forests. Drought is now a serious recurring problem in the area, perhaps because of the deforestation.
Bodh Gaya has always received pilgrims, but for a long time, starting around 1100 or 1200 CE, there were very few indeed, maybe a few from Burma and that is it. A few hundred years ago a Hindu Maat set up in Bodh Gaya, and pretty much took over the town. The Maha Bodhi Society started restoring the Mahabodhi Stupa in the 1930s. Nowadays there is tension about whether the temple should be administered by Buddhists or Hindus. The temple is currently run by a committee with a Hindu majority. The Hindus say there is a large Shiva Lingam under the stupa, and that the Buddha is an Avatar of Vishnu. So they want to use it, too. Many Buddhist think the temple should be run by Buddhists, and Hindu Shrines should be removed from the compound. I suspect the solution will take years to work out, if not decades. For now everyone must share, and by and large people do so peacefully.