In the tranquil Indian town of Bodh Gaya, the roots of Buddhism stretch deep. Located in Bihar, a state in northeast India, the community was home to the famed Bodhi tree, an ancient fig under which Gautama Buddha achieved enlightenment. Today, this sacred land is home to the Mahabodhi Temple and recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Nearby, the 7,060-square-metre Marasa Sarovar Premiere hotel quietly meets the quaint local landscape.
Designed by the Mumbai-based SJK Architects, the newly-built complex spans five acres along the Falgu River. Characterized by creamy white low-slung horizontal volumes prominently topped by clay-tiled roofs, the region’s serenity and spiritual essence are embodied within. Guests find themselves in meditative silence while leisurely strolling along the brick-vaulted verandas that wrap around green courtyards and glistening pools. The architecture guides visitors through a journey from indoor to semi-outdoor and finally to outdoor spaces, with each new experience building on the last.
A long tranquil central courtyard sits near the heart of the property, framed by the hotel’s shared facilities. Alongside the reception area, the entry volume houses banquet halls, a spa and health centre, as well as a gym, swimming pool, and restaurant.
To ensure privacy, the guest rooms are housed in a separate volume, which is fronted by a tranquil water feature. Inspired by ceremonial Ghat steps along on the banks of the Ganges River, the long pool meets a series of stairs that separate the public and residential blocks, while also providing evaporative cooling and a sense of privacy. The river-like water is accented by floating lotus plants, symbolizing purity of mind, speech, and body.
Comprising 78 rooms overlooking panoramic vistas, the hotel’s residential block is oriented north-south to minimize heat gain from the western facade and create an oasis from the arid heat. Other passive design strategies like aerated concrete blocks, double-glazed windows, and a double roof system topped with clay tiles create a well-insulated envelope. Inside, the elegantly understated guest rooms are decorated with vaulted ceilings tinted with terracotta hues and accent walls showcasing exposed brick. Linen curtains, light cotton bedding, and minimal furniture further enhance the soothing palette.
Within the hotel’s grounds, every space is intended as a vessel for the essence of Buddhism, refracted through the prisms of memory and emotion. SJK Architects channeled the spirit and features of Buddhist architecture through the design vocabulary — of corbel arches, vaults, and stepped jambs — that echoes across the hotel. The tenets of Buddhism that underpin the public spaces are found in the icon of Vajradhatu Mandala: fearlessness, dharma, giving and sharing, unity with oneself, and oneness with the earth. Each distinct space was further depicted by a mudra — a ritual hand gesture — accompanied by distinct colours, seasons, and symbols.
Consider, for instance, the recreational area, which features a spa, gym, and pool. It embodies the concept of unity with nature and is themed around the colour blue, reflected in the interior walls. A connection to the winter season is expressed via a bare tree motif on one wall. Meanwhile, the symbol of the vajra is abstracted into a wall pattern, representing its significance in Tibetan Buddhist practices.
The architecture is also distinguished through the use of locally available natural materials to render a warm, textural, and monastic aesthetic. On the design team’s many trips to Bodh Gaya, they explored the region’s rich 2,000-year-old tradition of brick-making history and the “country tiles” unique to the area. SJK Architects has integrated both of these into the Marasa Sarovar Premiere. A collaborative effort involving 26 local families from 12 villages near Bodh Gaya yielded the 80,000 tiles which now clad the pitched roofs across the property. The handmade half-round clay tiles contrast the plaster-covered walls, which are painted a refreshing pure white.
A prevailing sense of tranquillity and stillness underpins every experience on the property. SJK Architects’ philosophy was to craft a space that serves as a bridge to a greater purpose, a sanctuary from the hurried pace of modern existence, and a gentle beckoning to embark on a personal journey of discovery.
Bombay-based SJK Architects creates a meditative retreat that embodies the region’s spiritual heritage.