Model of the Mahabodhi Temeple

12th–13th century
Gilt stone
Overall: 5 x 1 1/2 x 3 1/2 in. (12.7 x 3.81 x 8.89 cm.)
Arts of Asia
Dallas Museum of Art, gift of David T. Owsley via The Alvin and Lucy Owsley Foundation
Image courtesy Dallas Museum of Art

General Description

This partially gilded stone model of the Mahabodhi Temple was created in the 12th or 13th century in India, probably for pilgrims visiting the temple to take home for their devotions. The 180-foot-high Mahabodhi Temple was built on the site where the Buddha Shakyamuni (the historical Buddha) manifested enlightenment in the 6th century BCE. It is located in Bodhgaya, in the present-day Indian state of Bihar. According to Buddhist tradition, Bodhgaya—known as Vajrasana to practicing Buddhists—is the site where all buddhas of former and future eons come to attain enlightenment. It was here that the Buddha Shakyamuni spent years in meditation under the Bodhi tree (Ficus religiosa) before manifesting enlightenment. It became the primary pilgrimage site for his followers, and a temple was erected next to the Bodhi tree.

Although this sculpture is quite miniature, the details give a vivid picture of the great architectural original. The base of this model (and of the temple itself) contains images of Buddhist heroes and heroines, buddhas and bodhisattvas, who embody enlightenment and support those who seek it. The original temple was expanded by the emperor Ashoka in 250 BCE, and then by the illustrious Buddhist teacher and philosopher Nagarjuna in the 1st century. It was badly damaged in the Muslim invasion of Bihar in the late 12th century. While the temple itself has been damaged and restored over the centuries, small models like this one, dating to the Pala dynasty (8th-11th centuries), give a good idea of its medieval appearance. Small models of the original Mahabodhi Temple, such as this one, were used in later restoration efforts. In 1880, the British government sponsored a major restoration. The temple, together with the Bodhi tree beside it, continue to this day to be the main pilgrimage site for Buddhists from around the world.

Adapted from

  • Robert Warren Clark, "Model of the Mahabodhi Temple" in The Arts of India, South East Asia, and the Himalayas, Anne R. Bromberg (Dallas: Dallas Museum of Art; New Haven: Yale University Press, 2013), 73.

  • Anne Bromberg, DMA unpublished material, 1999.

Fun Facts

  • Art under the Pala dynasty greatly influenced the development of later Buddhist art in the Himalayas and Southeast Asia.

  • This model of the Mahabodhi Temple is missing the small stupa that usually is on top of the spire. This stupa is found on top of the temple in Bodhgaya and also on other scale models that are found in Buddhist temples and on Buddhist altars. The soaring spire represents the stages on the path to enlightenment. The missing stupa that would have originally appeared on top represents the ultimate goal of the path: the enlightened mind of a buddha.

Web Resources

  • Unesco
    Explore the Mahabodhi Temple Complex.