The temple's architecture is superb but its history is shrouded in obscurity. It was constructed with the main intention of making it a monument and not a receptacle for the relics of the Buddha. Several shrines were constructed with enshrined images for use as places of worship.
The basement of the present temple is 15m square, 15m in length as well as in breadth and its height is 52m which rises in the form of a slender pyramid tapering off from a square platform. On its four corners four towers gracefully rise to some height. The whole architectural plan gives pose and balance to the observers. Inside the temple there is a colossal image of the Buddha in the "touching the ground pose", bhumisparsha mudra. This image is said to be 1700 years old and is facing east exactly at the place where the Buddha in meditation with his back to the Bodhi tree was enlightened.
The Bodhi Tree
For seven days after the Enlightenment, the Buddha continued to meditate under the Bodhi tree without moving from his seat. During the second week he practiced walking meditation. A jewel walk, Chankramanar, was built as a low platform adorned with nineteen lotuses which are parallel to the Maha Bodhi temple on its north side.For another week the Buddha contemplated the Bodhi tree. In this place a stupa was built called Animeschalochana situated to the north of the Chankramanar.
The present tree is considered only as the descendant of the original tree. There is a tradition that Ashoka's wife had it secretly cut down because she became jealous of the time Ashoka spent there. But it grew again and a protective wall was also built at the time.
Many sacred trees in India and other countries are originally raised from seeds brought from the ancient Bodh Gaya tree. A shoot of the original Bodhi tree was taken to Sri Lanka in the 3rd century B.C. by Bhikkhuni Sangamitta, daughter of Ashoka, where the Lankan king Devanampiyatissa planted it at the Mahavihara monastery in Anuradhapura where it still flourishes today.