As a sacred site for pilgrimage, Bodhgayā became even more prominent from the sixth and seventh centuries onward, when the rebuilding of the Mahābodhi Temple coincided with the installation of a Buddha statue with the earth-touching gesture, symbolic of the Buddha’s calling upon the earth to bear witness to his victory over evil. Miracles enshroud the creation of the image itself, and later it became a famous icon widely copied throughout the Buddhist world.
This essay investigates the image’s origins and its dissemination to China. Further, it argues that the legends surrounding the image that developed in China contributed to Chinese pilgrims visiting India to pay homage to the site and the sacred statue, and to seek experiences of the numinous and validation of their piety. In turn they brought replicas of the statue back to China, contributing to the spread of the image type. Pilgrims’ accounts of miracle-performing images and their depictions in visual forms affirm, to the pious, the efficacy of the divinities, not seen as separate from their material forms