This multilayered historical ethnography of Bodh Gaya — the place of Buddha’s enlightenment in the north Indian state of Bihar — explores the spatial politics surrounding the transformation of the Mahabodhi Temple Complex into a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2002. The rapid change from a small town based on an agricultural economy to an international destination that attracts hundreds of thousands of Buddhist pilgrims and visitors each year has given rise to a series of conflicts that foreground the politics of space and meaning among Bodh Gaya’s diverse constituencies.
David Geary examines the modern revival of Buddhism in India, the colonial and postcolonial dynamics surrounding archaeological heritage and sacred space, and the role of tourism and urban development in India.
Note on Translation and Transliteration
Map of Bodh Gaya
1. The Light of Asia
2. Rebuilding the Navel of the Earth
3. The Afterlife of Zamindari
4. Tourism in the Global Bazaar
5. A Master Plan for World Heritage
The Rebirth of Bodh Gaya is a model ethnography that conveys, in attractively simple prose, the inevitable clash of scales and perspectives (high ideals, base commercial interests, hopes, and fears) that confront each other in one small town in Bihar -- where the Buddha happens to have achieved enlightenment.
David N. Gellner, University of Oxford
I read this book with great delight. Geary’s argument to go beyond viewing Bodh Gaya as a tourist site to one of global connection is an important and timely one as a transnational Buddhist public culture is flourishing across Asia.
Justin Thomas McDaniel, author of Gathering Leaves and Lifting Words: Histories of Buddhist Monastic Education in Laos and Thailand
Pathbreaking. This comprehensive treatment of Bodh Gaya as a center of religious pilgrimage and heritage tourism contextualizes exactly how this small town in India captured such a position of primacy within a global, transnational imaginary of Buddhist heritage.
Andrea Marion Pinkney, associate professor of Asian religions, McGill University