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Buddhist Pilgrimage Sites

The most important places in Buddhism are located in the Gangetic plains of Northern India and  Southern Nepal, in the area between New Delhi and Rajgir. This is the area where Gautama  Buddha lived and taught, and the main churches connected to his life are now important places of pilgrimage for both Buddhists and Hindus. However, many countries that are or were predominantly Buddhist have shrines and places which can be visited as a pilgrimage.

Four main pilgrimage sites listed by Buddha himself

Gautama Buddha himself had identified the following four sites most worthy of pilgrimage for  his followers, observing that these would produce a feeling of spiritual urgency:

  • Lumbini: birthplace of Gautama Buddha (in Nepal)
  • Bodh Gaya: (in the current Mahabodhi Temple, Bihar, India), is the most important religious site and place of pilgrimage, the Mahabodhi Temple houses what is believed to be the Bodhi Tree where Prince Siddhārtha attained enlightenment (Nibbana) and became known as Gautama Buddha.
  • Sarnath: (formally Isipathana, Uttar Pradesh, India) where Gautama Buddha delivered his first sermon (Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta), and He taught about the Middle Way,  the Four Noble Truths and Noble Eightfold Path.
  • Kuśinagara: (now Kushinagar, Uttar Pradesh, India) where Gautama Buddha died and attained Parinirvana.

THE EIGHT GREAT PLACES OF PILGRIMAGE  

In addition, the four main sites mentioned earlier (Lumbini, Bodh Gaya, Sarnath, and Kushinagar), the Buddhist texts were later written by Buddha’s followers also mention four more  sacred sites where a certain miraculous event is reported to have occurred, thus completing the  list of “Attha-mahathanani” (Pali for “The Eight Great Places”) in India:

  • Sravasti: Place of the Twin Miracle, showing his supernatural abilities in performance of miracles. Sravasti is also the place where Buddha spent the largest amount of time,  being a major city in ancient India.
  • Rajgir: Place of the subduing of Nalagiri, the angry elephant, through friendliness. Rajgir was another major city of ancient India.
  • Sankassa: Place of the descending to earth from Tavatimsa heaven (after a stay of 3  months teaching his mother the Abhidhamma).
  • Vaishali: Place of receiving an offering of honey from a monkey. Vaishali was the capital of the Vajjian Republic of ancient India.

LUMBINI

  • Lumbini is a Buddhist pilgrimage site in the Rupandehi District of Province No. 5 in  Nepal.
  • It is the place where, according to Buddhist tradition, Queen Mahamayadevi gave birth to Siddhartha Gautama in 563 BCE.
  • Lumbini is one of many magnets for pilgrimage that sprang up in places pivotal to the life of the Buddha.
  • Lumbini has a number of older temples, including the Mayadevi Temple, and various new temples, funded by Buddhist organisations from various countries, have been completed or are still under construction.
  • Many monuments, monasteries and a museum, and the Lumbini International Research  Institute are also within the holy site.
  • Also, there is the Puskarini, or Holy Pond, where the Buddha’s mother took the ritual dip prior to his birth and where he had his first bath.
  • At other sites near Lumbini, earlier Buddhas were, according to tradition, born, then achieved ultimate Enlightenment and finally relinquished their earthly forms.
  • Lumbini was made a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1997.  
  • In 1896, General Khadga Samsher Rana and Alois Anton Führer discovered a great stone pillar at Rupandehi, according to the crucial historical records made by the ancient  Chinese monk-pilgrim Xuanzang in the 7th century CE and by another ancient Chinese monk-pilgrim Faxian in the early 5th century CE.
  • The Brahmi inscription on the pillar gives evidence that Ashoka, emperor of the Maurya  Empire, visited the place in 3rd-century BCE and identified it as the birth-place of the  Buddha. The inscription was translated by Paranavitana
  • Excavations beneath existing brick structures at the Mayadevi Temple at Lumbini provide evidence for an older timber structure beneath the walls of a brick Buddhist shrine built during the Ashokan era (3rd-century BCE).

PROJECTS 

  • A non-governmental organisation called “Asia Pacific Exchange and Co-operation  Foundation” (APECF) backed by the chairman of the Unified Communist Party of Nepal  (Maoist) and then Prime Minister Prachanda, the Chinese government and a UN group called “United Nations Industrial Development Organization” (UNIDO) signed a deal to develop Lumbini into a “special development zone” with funds worth $3 billion.

ON THE NEPALI RUPEE

  • Nepal’s central bank has introduced a 100-rupee Nepali note featuring Lumbini, the birthplace of Buddha.
  • The Nepal Rastra Bank said the new note would be accessible only during the Dashain,  Nepal’s major festival in the time of September/October.
  • It displays the portrait of Mayadevi, Gautam Buddha’s mother in silver metallic on the front.
  • The note also has a black dot which would help the blind recognise the note.  ∙ The name of the central bank in Latin script would be printed on the note along with the  date of printing in both the Christian Era and the Bikram Era

PLACES TO VISIT IN LUMBINI 

  • Maya Devi Temple
  • World Peace Pagoda
  • Myanmar Golden Temple
  • Ashoka Pillar
  • Lumbini Crane Sanctuary

KAPILAVASTU 

  • Kapilavastu was an ancient city on the Indian subcontinent which was the capital of the clan of the Shakyas. King Śuddhodana and Queen Māyā are believed to have lived at  Kapilavastu, as did their son Prince Siddartha Gautama until he left the palace at the age  of 29
  • Buddhist texts such as the Pāli Canon claim that Kapilavastu was the childhood home of  Gautama Buddha, on account of it being the capital of the Shakyas, over whom his father ruled
  • Kapilavastu is the place where Siddhartha Gautama spent 29 years of his life.
  • According to Buddhist sources, Kapilvastu was named after Vedic sage Kapila.
  • Some archaeologists have identified present-day Tilaurakot, Nepal, while some others have identified present-day Piprahwa, India as the location for the historical site of Kapilavastu, the seat of governance of the Shakya state that would have covered the region.
  • Both sites contain archaeological ruins

SHRAVASTI 

  • Shravasti was a city of ancient India and one of the six largest cities in India during  Gautama Buddha’s lifetime.
  • The city was located in the fertile Gangetic plains in the present-day district of the same  name, Shravasti, that belongs to Devipatan division of Uttar Pradesh near Balrampur
  • Shravasti is also known as the place of Twin Miracle since Lord Buddha showed his  supernatural abilities in performing miracles.
  • Shravasti is located near the West Rapti River and is closely associated with the life of  Gautama Buddha, who is believed to have spent 24 Chaturmasya here.
  • Age-old stupas, majestic viharas and several temples near the village of “Sahet-Mahet”  establish Buddha’s association with Shravasti.
  • It is said that the Vedic period king, Shravasta, founded this town.
  • Shravasti was the capital of the Kosala Kingdom during 6th century BCE to 6th century  CE.
  • This prosperous trading centre was well known for its religious associations.
  • Sobhnath temple is believed to be the birthplace of the Tirthankara Sambhavnath in  Jainism, making Shravasti an important center for Jains as well.
  • Jetavana monastery was a famous monastery close to Shravasti.
  • It is also known as the main temple of Gautama Buddha.

POPULAR ATTRACTION OF SHRAVASTI 

1. Jetavana Monastery 

Jetavana Monastery is one of the most famous Buddhist monasteries of India. It is the second monastery that was donated in respect to Lord Buddha.

2. Place of Twin Miracle 

This is the place where Lord Buddha is believed to have emanated fire and water out of his body and the place where Twin Miracle took place.

3. Shobhnath Temple 

This old temple located at Shravasti is dedicated to Jain Tirthankara and is quite popular among  Jain people.

4. The Anandabodhi Tree 

It is believed that Gautama Buddha meditated under this tree for a night and blessed all those devotees who meditate under this tree.

SARNATH 

  • Sarnath is a place located 10 kilometres north-east of Varanasi city near the confluence of the Ganges and the Varuna rivers in Uttar Pradesh, India.
  • The deer park in Sarnath is where Gautama Buddha first taught the Dharma, and where  the Buddhist Sangha came into existence through the enlightenment of Kondanna
  • Also referred to as Isipatana, this city is mentioned by the Buddha as one of the four places of pilgrimage to which his devout followers should visit.
  • It was also the site of the Buddha’s Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta, which was his first teaching after attaining enlightenment, in which he taught the four noble truths and the teachings associated with it.
  • Sarnath has been variously known as Mrigadava, Migadāya, Rishipattana and Isipatana throughout its long history. Mrigadava means “deer-park”.
  • “Isipatana” is the name used in the Pali Canon and means the place where holy men  landed
  • Buddhism flourished in Sarnath because of kings and wealthy merchants based in  Varanasi.
  • By the third century, Sarnath had become an important center for the arts, which reached its zenith during the Gupta period (4th to 6th centuries CE).
  • In the 7th century by the time Xuanzang visited from China, he found 30 monasteries and 3000 monks living at Sarnath.
  • At the end of the 12th century, Sarnath was sacked by Turkish Muslims, and the site was subsequently plundered for building materials.

Most of the ancient buildings and structures at Sarnath were damaged or destroyed by the  Turks. However, amongst the ruins can be distinguished:

  • The Dharma Chakra Jina Vihar: An inscription mentions the building of this massive vihara. It mentions that Govindachandra had protected Varanasi from the Turushkas. This was the last construction at Sarnath before it was devastated.
  • The Ashoka Pillar erected here, originally surmounted by the “Lion Capital of Ashoka”  (presently on display at the Sarnath Museum), was broken during Turk invasions but the base still stands at the original location. The Lion Capital now symbolizes the modern state of India. The Lion Capital served as the base of a large 32-spoke stone dharma chakra, which was found broken into many pieces. The seal of the Supreme court of  India displays the Dharma Chakra as it must have originally appeared. 
  • The ruins of the Mulagandhakuti vihara mark the place where the Buddha spent his first rainy season. This was the main temple marked by the presence of the Ashoka Pillar at the front. The famous Sarnath Buddha in dharmachakra pravartana mudra was found in the vicinity.
  • The Dharmarajika Stupa is one of the few pre-Ashokan stupas remaining, although only the foundations remain.
  • The Dhamek Stupa; it is an impressive structure, 128 feet high and 93 feet in diameter.
  • The Chaukhandi Stupa commemorates the spot where the Buddha met his first disciples, dating back to the fifth century or earlier and later enhanced by the addition of an octagonal tower of Islamic origin. In recent years it is undergoing restoration.
  • Digambar Jain Mandir: while the current structure is from the 19th century, it occupies an ancient spot.
  • The modern Mulagandhakuti Vihara is a temple built in the 1930s by the Mahabodhi  Society, with beautiful wall paintings with a replica of the famous Sarnath Buddha in dharmachakra pravartana mudra. Behind it is the Deer Park (where deer are still to be seen).
  • The Sarnath Archeological Museum houses the famous Ashokan lion capital, which miraculously survived its 45-foot drop to the ground (from the top of the Ashokan  Pillar), and became the National Emblem of India and national symbol on the Indian flag. The museum also houses a famous and refined Buddha-image of the Buddha in Dharmachakra-posture.
  • There is also a Bodhi tree planted by Anagarika Dharmapala which has grown from a  cutting of the Bodhi Tree at Bodh Gaya.

INVASIONS AND RESTORATIONS

  • Dharmarajika stupa is the one said to have been built by Ashoka to commemorate  Buddha’s first sermon. 
  • After Ashoka, the other rulers who added to Sarnath’s glory were the Kushans, the  Guptas and Harshavardhana.
  • Under the Guptas, the Dhamekh stupa (synonymous with Sarnath) was encased with stone-carved floral designs.
  • Sarnath suffered from the Huna invasions, but Harshavardhana later restored some of the earlier buildings. The Chinese pilgrim Hiuen-Tsang (602-664) left detailed accounts of the Dharmarajika Stupa and Ashoka’s lion pillar. 
  • Sarnath also suffered when it was attacked by Mahmud of Ghazni in the 11th century.  After that, Mahipala, the Pala king, restored the monuments.
  • The last great monument of Sarnath, a monastery named Dharmachakra Jina Vihara was built in the 11th century by Kumaradevi, wife of Govindachanda of the Gahadavala dynasty. 

BODH GAYA

 

  • Bodh Gaya is a religious site and place of pilgrimage associated with the Mahabodhi  Temple Complex in Gaya district in the Indian state of Bihar.
  • It is famous as it is the place where Gautama Buddha is said to have attained  Enlightenment (Pali: bodhi) under what became known as the Bodhi Tree.
  • Since antiquity, Bodh Gaya has remained the object of pilgrimage and veneration for both Hindus and Buddhists.
  • For Buddhists, Bodh Gaya is the most important of the main four pilgrimage sites related to the life of Gautama Buddha, the other three being Kushinagar, Lumbini, and  Sarnath. In 2002, Mahabodhi Temple, located in Bodh Gaya, became a UNESCO World  Heritage Site. 
  • Bodh Gaya is the holiest place for Buddhists.
  • Situated by the bank of river Niranjana the place was then known as Ursula.
  • King Ashoka was the first to build a temple here
  • The uprights have representations of the Vedic gods Indra and Surya, and the railing medallions are carved with imaginary beasts.
  • The shrine was replaced in the Kushan period (2nd-century CE) by the present  Mahabodhi temple (designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2002) 
  • Bodhi tree, also called Bo tree, according to Buddhist tradition, the specific sacred fig  (Ficus religiosa) under which the Buddha sat when he attained Enlightenment (Bodhi) at
  • Bodh Gaya in Bihar, India. The Mahabodhi Temple, which marks the place of the  Buddha’s Enlightenment, features a descendant of the original Bodhi tree and is a major site of pilgrimage.
  • Mahabodhi Temple, one of the holiest sites of Buddhism, marking the spot of the  Buddha’s Enlightenment (Bodhi). It is located in Bodh Gaya (in central Bihar state,  northeastern India) on the banks of the Niranjana River.
  • The Mahabodhi Temple is one of the oldest brick temples in India. The original structure, later replaced, was built by the Mauryan emperor Ashoka (died c. 238 BCE),  one of Buddhism’s most important proselytes, to commemorate the Buddha’s  Enlightenment.