Bodhgaya in eastern India is the site of the Mahabodhi temple and it has long been recognised as the place where the Buddha sat in meditation under the Bodhi tree and attained awakening or "enlightenment". Bodhgaya is located in the Middle Gangetic Plain, on the western bank of River Phalgu, 110 km south of Patna, the state capital of Bihar.
Alexander Cunningham, a British Army engineer and Director General of the Archaeological Survey of India from 1871 to 1885, started excavations at the Mahabodhi temple in 1878. The structure he excavated date to the 10th-12th century CE, an enlargement of an older brick temple dating to the 4th CE. Excavations revealed an earlier shrine (3rd century BCE, enlarged in the 2nd-1st century BCE). This enclosed the Bodhi tree, under which the Buddha sat to meditate, and the so-called "diamond throne" (vajrāsana), a stone slab marking the place where the Buddha attained enlightenment. The campaign of restoration that ran alongside the excavation led to the re-modelling of the fabric of the Mahabodhi temple and the reconfiguration of its precinct. A Buddhist monastery built in the 4th-6th century CE and enlarged in the 8th-12th century CE was excavated at the mound of Taradih, 100 m south-west of the temple, by the Bihar State Directorate of Archaeology between 1981 and 1999, and a stupa dating to the 8th-10th century CE was excavated by the Archaeological Survey of India at the mound of Bakraur, 1 km north-east of the temple, in 1973-74 and then again between 2001 and 2006.
A coherent appraisal of the archaeological evidence from Bodhgaya is still wanting. This represents an astonishing lacuna at the heart of Buddhist history and Buddhism itself with this project making a substantial start at filling this gap. The 3-year Excavations at Bodhgaya project is generously funded by the Shelby White and Leon Levy Program for Archaeological Publications at Harvard University.