BUDDHIST SITES IN INDIA
There are between four and sixteen
principal Buddhist pilgrimage sites in India, with the most important
located primarily in the Ganges Valley of India.
One of the most important place of Buddhist pilgrimage is
Lumbini, located near the Nepal-India border. This is where Gautam Buddha
was born to a royal family in 556 B.C.E. Many auspicious signs accompanied
the Buddha's birth, including the sprouting of the bodhi tree. The great
Buddhist ruler Ashoka visited the site two centuries later, constructing a
stupa (mound, usually of earth) and pillar in recognition. Although largely
destroyed now, these remain important marks of the Buddha's birthplace.
The Buddha attained enlightenment at the age of
29 in the town of Bodhgaya in India. After settling under a tree, the Buddha
made the resolve not to move until he had achieved enlightenment. After
three days and nights of profound meditation this goal was realised. The
bodhi tree under which the Buddha sat has been destroyed both intentionally
and naturally many times since this time of enlightenment. It has continued
to re sprout and is visible today.
The Mahabodhi Temple marks
Bodhgaya. The origins of the Temple are unclear. Some claim the Temple could
have been built as early as the third century by Ashoka, others claim the
Temple was built between the fifth and seventh centuries. A thriving
Monastic Order continues in the area today, with three monasteries catering
for locals and foreigners alike.
At Sarnath in the Ganges Valley of India, the Buddha
proclaimed the law of faith. It was here that he taught the keys aspects of
Buddhism: the four noble truths, the eightfold path and the middle way
philosophy. The Buddha encouraged followers to avoid extremes of austerity
or pleasure. The remains of monasteries dating from the third century B.C.E.
to the first century C.E. indicate a thriving monastic community.
Another of the most commonly visited places of Buddhist
pilgrimage is Shravasti. It is here that the Buddha is said to have
performed great miracles. One story tells of how on throwing down the seed
of a mango, a great mango tree instantly arose. Another story tells of how
the Buddha stood in the air, the lower part of his body engulfed in flames,
with five hundred jets of water streaming from the top of his body.
In Sankashaya the Buddha descended from the Tushita
Heaven. It is said that during the forty-first year of the Buddha's life, he
went to the Tushita Heaven to teach Dharma to his mother, who had died
shortly after the Buddha's death. Ashoka later built a Temple on the site.
Today, little of the site's glory remains. This is the only important place
of Buddhist pilgrimage where no temples, or monasteries exist today.
Nalanda is important both because it was blessed with the
presence of the Buddha, and because of the famous monastic university
developed there. This university also named Nalanda (meaning 'insatiable in
giving') played a central role in the development of Buddhism in India.
Rajgir is another place in the Ganges Valley where the
Buddha walked and preached. Perhaps the most important event of the Buddha's
visits to Rajgir was the conversion of two future disciples, Sariputra and
Maudgalyayana. While Sariputra was credited with greater intelligence,
Maudgalyayana wielded a greater power for miracles.
Other commemorative monuments to the spread in Buddhism in India
include Sanchi, Bharhut, Amaravati, and Nagarjunakonda where great Buddhist
stupas and Buddhist university sites remain. India also boosts the famous
Buddhist Cave Temples, Ajanta, Ellora, Kanheri and Karli located in western
The places of birth and enlightenment are perhaps the two
most important sites of pilgrimage for Buddhists in the world today. These
are accompanied by a number of other sites marking the spread of Buddhism
throughout the Indian sub-continent.