At the young age of 35, Siddhartha Gautama sat beneath a fig tree and received enlightenment. Around 1000 years later, the Buddhist authority in the area finally got around to building a monastery and temple in honor of the sacred location where enlightenment was first achieved.
Today, the Mahabodhi Temple’s towering central point reaches a height of 180 feet, and casts a shadow over the tree that shaded Siddhartha during his meditation. While it is not the same tree from 2500 years ago, the tree that stands in the location today is a direct descendent of the original Bodhi tree, and was planted at the site in 288 B.C. Although the tree at Mahabodhi is considered a cutting from the original tree and in the original meditation location, a number of other cuttings exist around the world and are also frequently visited by Buddhist pilgrims.
Besides the sacred tree and temple, the area is similarly dotted with Buddhist relics, marking the locations where Buddha reflected on his enlightenment. One of the most prominent sites is the unblinking stupa, which stands in front of the tree. Following the legend, the stupa is supposedly in the same place where Buddha stood and stared at the Bodhi tree after attaining enlightenment.
In 2002, the entire area was nominated for preservation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and is frequently visited by pilgrims and curious onlookers alike.