“Tree of Awakening”

Undoubtedly, the most sacred fig tree ever to grace the Earth was the Bodhi Tree at Bodhgaya, under which Prince Siddhartha, the founder of Buddhism, achieved enlightenment. Buddha was said to have stared unblinkingly at the tree in an awed gesture of gratitude and wonder after his enlightenment. Today, pilgrims and tourists alike flock here and attempt to do exactly the same thing, and the tree is considered the most important of Buddhism’s four holiest sites.

Known as Sri Maha Bodhi, the original tree was paid special attention by Ashoka, a mighty Indian emperor who ruled most of the subcontinent from 269 to 232 BC, a century or so after Buddha’s believed death. His wife, Tissarakkhā, wasn’t such a fan of the tree and in a fit of jealousy and rage, caused the original Bodhi Tree’s death by poisonous thorns shortly after becoming queen.

Thankfully, before its death, one of the tree’s saplings was carried off to Anuradhapura in Sri Lanka by Sanghamitta (Ashoka’s daughter), where it continues to flourish. A cutting was later carried back to Bodhgaya and planted where the original once stood. The red sandstone slab between the tree and the adjacent Mahabodhi Temple was placed by Ashoka to mark the spot of Buddha’s enlightenment – it’s referred to as the Vajrasan (Diamond Throne).

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