May I be an island for those who seek
And a lamp for those desiring light...
- Shantideva, Bodhicaryavatara
The Mahabodhi Mahavihara is not a stupa but a Gandola - a temple with a stupa on top. The temple you see today was erected during the Gupta period and was described by the Chinese monk Xuan Zang in his records of traveling in India during the early Tang Dynasty. It was the largest brick spire in ancient India and survived destruction because the lower floors were buried when the Temple was abandoned. As such it is the prototype of all the spire temples in Northern India.
The Temple was built in a number of phases, marking its central importance as a place of pilgrimage in ancient times. The earliest structures date from King Ashoka, who erected a railing around the original Bodhi Tree.
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