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SJK Architects
20 Apr 2024

Hotel at Bodh Gaya: Immersive Design That Embodies the Tenets of Buddhism

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Bodh Gaya, where Lord Buddha is deemed to have received enlightenment, is one of the holiest and oldest pilgrimage sites for Buddhists. Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims and tourists from around the globe visit the city annually. 

Spread over 5-acres, not far from the Mahabodhi Temple (one of the four holy sites related to the life of Lord Buddha), ‘Bodh Gaya’ responds to the religious tourism in the region – designed as an ode to the historical roots of Buddhism in India. 

The 78-key hotel consists of two zones – the public block closer to the northern access road and the guest block on the site's southern end. All vehicular movement is restricted to the site periphery.The public block has spaces arranged around a long, central courtyard, which forms the physical and emotional heart of the hotel. This zone comprises a reception, banqueting facilities, a health centre with a spa, a gym, a swimming pool, and a restaurant. A linear waterbody oriented east-west separates this public zone from the residential block comprising guest rooms and suites.

The Hotel in Bodh Gaya invokes memory through traditional features of Buddhist architecture such as vaults, corbelled arches and stepped jambs.
Gentle, layered transition spaces and a soothing colour palette of muted whites and warm terracotta help convey simplicity, compassion, and serenity.
Ideas from Buddhist philosophy and symbology are translated into the hotel’s interiors, artwork and signage, which also eases navigation.

"Portals are formed at the edges of these transitional spaces. Viewing spaces through these frames is like viewing the passage of life and its different phases. A banyan tree, the same tree species under which the Buddha is said to have received enlightenment, sits at the other end of the central courtyard, which is seen through these frames – signifying Buddhism’s ultimate goal of enlightenment."

Invoking Memory and Emotion
Each space in the hotel represents the tenets of Buddhism through two key architectural lyrics – memory and emotion.
The first one – memory – is invoked through traditional features of Buddhist architecture. Vaults, corbelled arches and stepped jambs are re-envisioned in a contemporary idiom across all spaces in the hotel – reminiscent of the past but designed for the present.
Lyric of Emotion
The other architectural lyric of emotion conveys the Buddhist ethos of simplicity, compassion and serenity through a series of gestures.

In that spirit, a sequence of layers from outside to inside in the form of outdoor, semi-outdoor and indoor spaces allow for a gentle transition as one enters the public block.  

The building embraces the human scale, which is conveyed through the proportions of the courtyards, verandahs, arches and windows. The soothing colour palette of muted whites and warm terracotta further lends to the lyric of emotion.

The landscaping of exterior spaces, including the linear, river-like water body with floating lotus plants (associated with the purity of body, speech and mind in Buddhism) gives rise to calmness and tranquillity. Edged by ghat-like steps (ceremonial stairway to a river), the water body allows visitors to rest and rejuvenate in the outdoors.  

Buddhist Philosophy and Symbology as a Tool for Wayfinding: Contemporising Traditional Narratives

Ideas from Buddhist philosophy and symbology are translated into the hotel’s interiors, artwork and signage, which also eases navigation.  

The five wisdoms associated with Buddhism, represented in the Buddhist icon of Vajradhatu Mandala, are expressed in the five public spaces – reception, cafe, banquet, lounge and spa-gym-pool. These are fearlessness, the wisdom of dharma, giving and sharing, unity with oneself and oneness with the earth. 

The mandala associates each wisdom with a mudra (a symbolic hand gesture). Each mudra is further associated with specific colours, seasons, elements and symbols, which are translated into interior design schemes for the spaces. For instance, the spa-gym-pool, which represents the wisdom of ‘oneness with the earth’, is associated with the colour blue – which has been used in all the internal walls of the space. The wisdom’s connection to the winter season is represented through the motif of a bare tree on one wall, and its link to the symbol of the vajra (a ritual object extensively employed in Tibetan Buddhist ceremonies), is represented by a wall pattern derived from an abstraction of the symbol. Finally, the wisdom’s association with water is conveyed through the swimming pool, and an abstract motif denoting the element of water, which is used in the signage for the space.    

The interiors of the five public spaces correspond to the colours, seasons, elements and symbols associated with the five wisdoms in the Buddhist icon of Vajradhatu Mandala. The residential blocks, located along the edge of the water body, are named after the 5 lotuses associated with the Dhyani Buddhas, symbolising tranquillity and peacefulness.

To Brick or Not to Brick: Critically Evaluating Traditions for the Current Context

The romance of working with brick, widely used in Bodh Gaya’s local and traditional architecture, was immense. However, the sandy soil on the site with a poor bearing capacity made brick foundations prohibitive. Furthermore, brick vaults are not accepted in the Indian Standard Codes for earthquake resistance. Studies conducted also suggested that Autoclaved Aerated Concrete (AAC) blocks would insulate the interiors 1.5 times better than brick, thus saving costs and energy in the long run. Ultimately a combination of materials was chosen – RCC, local brick and AAC blocks for the structure, and terracotta-tinted concrete for the vaults – each material doing what is best for the project.

Collaborating with the Local Community: Employing Architecture as a Tool for Empowerment

The hotel uses locally-made earthy roof tiles, known as 'country tiles', to insulate the RCC vault roof - a conscious choice born out of opportunity and need to support the local economy. 

These half-round clay tiles, crafted by part-time farm labour, are unique to the region, made intuitively on a potter's wheel. Collaborating with 26 local families from 12 villages near Bodh Gaya, 80,000 of these clay tiles were handcrafted from earth sourced locally, providing a sustainable and cost-effective insulation for the vaulted ceilings.

A combination of local bricks, AAC blocks, and RCC vaults topped with handcrafted clay tiles is employed to develop a well-insulated envelope that responds to the region’s climatic conditions
Handcrafted clay tiles for the roof celebrate the regional context while providing employment opportunities to 26 families from neighbouring villages.
Courtyards facilitate natural ventilation, while layered transitional spaces around courtyards further protect indoor spaces from the harsh sun. Additionally, water bodies on site further aid evaporative cooling.

Channelling, Conserving and Restoring Water 

The hotel’s extensive water management system illustrates the Buddhist idea of mindfulness and conscious consumption. 

The site, near the Falgu river on a low-lying paddy field, is raised to the level of a nearby culvert to avoid flooding during the monsoon season. 

To make water available even during harsh summers rainwater is harvested through underground pits, tanks, and bioswales. A pond is created in the lowest portion of the site to serve as an emergency water holding area in case of a flash flood.

Deeply contextual, the design of the Hotel in Bodh Gaya goes beyond the client’s brief, which demanded a cookie-cutter design across three different sites of religious tourism. It delves deep into avenues of meaningful engagement with the local culture, environment, and communities, exemplifying the practice's ethos. Beyond evoking a deeply emotional response, the project also presents a holistic, sustainable development model with a positive cultural, environmental, and socio-economic impact - serving as a yardstick for future development.

PROJECT TITLE: Hotel in Bodh Gaya

LOCATION: Bodh Gaya, Bihar

PRACTICE: SJK Architects

DESIGN TEAM: Shimul Javeri Kadri, Vaishali Mangalvedhekar, Roshni Kshirsagar, Ipsita Mallick, Aparna Kale 


STRUCTURAL CONSULTANTS : M/s. Engineering Creations Consultancy (I) Pvt. Ltd. 

MEP CONSULTANTS : M/s. AEON Integrated Building Design Consultants LLP


LIGHTING CONSULTANTS : M/s. KSA Architectural Lighting Designers

GRAPHIC DESIGNERS & SIGNAGE    : M/s. Tarasha Design works

PMC : M/s Masters



PLOT AREA: 4.5 Acres

BUILT-UP AREA: 76,000 sq.ft.

PHOTOS BY: Niveditaa Gupta

About the Author

SJK Architects

SJK Architects is an architecture, interior design and master planning practice founded in 1990 by Shimul Javeri Kadri, and led by her and Partners Vaishali Mangalvedhekar, Sarika Shetty and Roshni Kshirsagar. Over 30 years, their collaborative approach has shaped a diverse portfolio encompassing hospitality, healthcare, commercial, institutional, residential, industrial, and workspace projects. Notable accolades include the World Architecture Festival Prize (2012), Futurarc Green Leadership Award (2012), Prix Versailles Award (2016 and 2022), and recognition in the UIA Guidebook for advancing the UN's Sustainable Development Goal 3. Each of the firm’s projects is guided by solid research and intuition, and offers a design response attuned to climate, culture, history, technology, and above all – people. The featured project, Hotel in Bodh Gaya, too, is an embodiment of these principles.

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