Buddhist Circuit Tourist Train - Destinations
According to Buddhist traditions, 500 BC Prince Gautama Siddhartha, wandering as a monk, reached the sylvan banks of Falgu River, near the city of Gaya. There he sat in meditation under a bodhi tree. After three days and three nights of meditation, Siddhartha attained enlightenment and insight, and the answers that he had sought. He then spent seven weeks at seven different spots in the vicinity meditating and considering his experience. After seven weeks, he traveled to Sarnath, where he began teaching Buddhism.
Disciples of Gautama Siddhartha began to visit the place where he had gained enlightenment during the full moon in the month of Vaisakh (April-May), as per the Hindu calendar. Over time, the place became known as Bodhgaya, the day of enlightenment as Buddha Purnima, and the tree as the Bodhi Tree.
As the place of the Buddhas Enlightenment, Bodhgaya is the spiritual home of Buddhists. Located in Bihar, 115 kms from Patna, the land is rich and fertile, dotted with green fields and watered by the river Phalgu - the same ancient Nairanjana River
where the Buddha bathed after attaining enlightenment. A range of low forested hills silhouette the small hamlets flanking the glistening, sandy banks of the river. Monks and nuns rub shoulders with tourists and believers from all over the world. An all-pervading calm envelops the town, giving visitors a sense of peace.
The Maha Bodhi Temple
The historical place at which the Enlightenment took place became a place of pilgrimage. Though it is not mentioned in the scriptures, the Buddha must have visited Bodh Gaya again in the course of his teaching career. About 250 years after the Enlightenment, the Buddhist Emperor, Ashoka visited the site and is considered the founder of the Mahabodhi Temple. According to the tradition, Ashoka, as well as establishing a monastery, erected a diamond throne shrine at this spot with a canopy supported by four pillars over a stone representation of the Vajrasana, the Seat of Enlightenment. The temple's architecture is superb but its history is shrouded in obscurity. It was constructed with the main intention of making it a monument and not a receptacle for the relics of the Buddha. Several shrines were constructed with enshrined images for use as places of worship.
The basement of the present temple is 15m square; 15m in length as well as in breadth and its height is 52m which rises in the form of a slender pyramid tapering off from a square platform. On its four corners four towers gracefully rise to some height. The whole architectural plan gives pose and balance to the observers.
Inside the temple there is a colossal image of the Buddha in the "touching the ground pose", bhumisparsha mudra. This image is said to be 1700 years old and is facing east exactly at the place where the Buddha in meditation with his back to the Bodhi tree was enlightened. In the center of the temple there is also a Siva-linga that was installed about 860. This temple is also sacred to the Hindus because Lord Buddha is the ninth incarnation of Lord Vishnu.
The Bodhi Tree
For seven days after the Enlightenment, the Buddha continued to meditate under the Bodhi tree without moving from his seat. During the second week he practiced walking meditation. A jewel walk, Chankramanar, was built as a low platform adorned with nineteen lotuses which are parallel to the Maha Bodhi temple on its north side. For another week the Buddha contemplated the Bodhi tree. In this place a stupa was built called Animeschalochana situated to the north of the Chankramanar.
On the back of the main temple situated to the west (see picture) there is an ancient pipal tree Ficus religious or Bodhi tree. It was under this tree that Gautama sat for enlightenment. The present tree is considered only as the descendant of the original tree. There is a tradition that Ashoka's wife had it secretly cut down because she became jealous of the time Ashoka spent there. But it grew again and a protective wall was also built at the time.
Many sacred trees in India and other countries are originally raised from seeds brought from the ancient Bodh Gaya tree. A shoot of the original Bodhi tree was taken to Sri Lanka in the 3rd century B.C. by Bhikkhuni Sangamitta, daughter of Ashoka, where the Lankan king Devanampiyatissa planted it at the Mahavihara monastery in Anuradhapura where it still flourishes today. While the Vajrasana was the specific site of the enlightenment, the Bodhi tree, closely linked to the Buddha's accomplishment, became a central focus of devotion early in the history of the Sangha. Pilgrims sought the Bodhi Tree's seeds and leaves as blessings for their monasteries and homes.
Around the Bodhi tree and the Mahbodhi temple there are quadrangular stone railings around 0.2m high with four bars including the top piece. These are of two types and can be distinguished from each other in style and material used. The older set is dated to about 150 BC and made of sandstone while the latter set is probably of the Gupta period (300-600 AD) and constructed from course granite. The older set has a number of designs representing scenes from the purchase of Jetavana by Ananthapindika at Sravasti, Lakshmi being bathed by elephants, Surya riding a chariot drawn by four horses, etc. On the latter set there are figures of stupas, Garudas, etc. In most of these railings lotus motifs are commonly used.
Other Treasures of Bodhgaya
80 ft Statue of the Buddha, Lotus Tank, Buddha Kund, Rajayatana, Brahm Yoni, Chinese Temple & Monastery, Burmese Temple, Buddhist Monastery of Bhutan, International Buddhist House & Japanese Temple, Thai Temple & Monastery, Tibetan Monastery, Archaeological Museum.
Accordingly, after teaching in Sarnath, the Buddha travelled to Rajgir, the royal capital of Magadha, followed by over a thousand monks of the new order.
The meandering river Banganga and five hills ensconce picturesque Rajgir, ancient Rajgriha (literally, the abode of kings). During the lifetime of the Buddha this was the capital of the powerful Magadhan kingdom, ruled by the virtuous king Bimbisara. Like many others in search of Truth, Prince Siddhartha, after he renounced his royal heritage came to this city to seek the path of salvation. Later, he overwhelmed the citizens of Rajagriha with his serenity and grace and converted King Bimbisara of Magadha and countless others to his religion. The hills and caves surrounding Rajagriha were home to spiritual teachers, ranging from the materialism of the early Charavaka School to the metaphysics of Upanishadic philosophers. In fact the first Buddhist council after the Buddha was hosted here at the Saptaparni caves.
It was Rajgir which saw Gautam Buddha spending several months meditating, and preaching at Griddhkuta, (Hill of the Vultures). He also delivered some of his famous sermons. The rich merchant community here soon became the Buddhas followers and built many structures of typical Buddhist architecture.When Gautama the ascetic first visited Rajgir on his way to Bodhgaya he was met by King Bimbisara. The king was so impressed by the bodhisattva that he tried every means to persuade him to stay. Failing in this, he received a promise that Gautama would return to Rajgir after his enlightenment.
Towards the Southeast of Patna, the Capital City of Bihar State in India, is a village called the 'Bada Gaon', in the vicinity of which, are the world famous ruins of Nalanda University. Founded in the 5th Century A.D., Nalanda is known as the ancient seat of learning. 2,000 Teachers and 10,000 Students from all over the Buddhist world lived and studied at Nalanda, the first Residential International University of the World. A walk in the ruins of the university, takes you to an era that saw India leading in imparting knowledge, to the world the era when India was a coveted place for studies. The University flourished during the 5th and 12th century.
Nalanda - the most renowned university in ancient India derived its name from Na-alam-da, meaning Insatiable in Giving, one of the names by which the Lord Buddha was known. Nalanda was one of the worlds first residential universities, i.e., it had dormitories for students.
In its heyday it accommodated over 10,000 students and 2,000 teachers. The university was considered an architectural masterpiece, and was marked by a lofty wall and one gate. The subjects taught at Nalanda University covered every field of learning, and it attracted pupils and scholars from Korea, Japan, China, Tibet, Indonesia, Persia and Turkey.
The Buddha is mentioned as having several times stayed at Nalanda. When he visited Nalanda he would usually reside in Pavarikas mango grove, and while there he had discussions with Upali-Gahapati and Dighatapassi[, with Kevatta, and also several conversations with Asibandhakaputta. The Buddha visited Nalanda during his last tour through Magadha, and it was there that Sariputta uttered his "lions roar, affirming his faith in the Buddha, shortly before his death. Also, Nalanda was the residence of Sonnadinna. Mahavira is several times mentioned as staying at Nalanda, which was evidently a centre of activity of the Jains.
Varanasi: is a sacred city of Hindus one of the oldest cities in the world For more than two thousand years, people from all walks of life have been coming from different part of world and India to Varanasi with their cultural heritage & lineage. This amalgamation of Oriental cultures & lifestyles of west made this colossal city a panorama
The city of Varanasi is situated along the west bank of the Ganges in the north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. Called Banaras by the British, The land of Varanasi (Kashi) has been the ultimate pilgrimage spot for Hindus for ages. Often referred to as Benares, Varanasi is the oldest living city in the world. These few lines by Mark Twain say it all: "Banaras is older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend and looks twice as old as all of them put together". Hindus believe that one who is graced to die on the land of Varanasi would attain salvation and freedom from the cycle of birth and re-birth. Abode of Lord Shiva and Parvati, the origins of Varanasi are yet unknown. Ganges in Varanasi is believed to have the power to wash away the sins of mortals.
Varanasi is one of the holiest places in Buddhism too. It was believed that over twenty-five centuries ago, a sage travelled 200 kms from Bodhgaya, where he had attained Nirvana to reach the ghats of Varanasi of Kashi as it was then called. The city had seen saffron clad spiritual teachers before him, who came here, drawn by its magnetic, inexplicable spiritual power. The Sage was looking for five Hindu ascetics, old companions from whom he had parted, because they had insisted that the only path to salvation was through self-mortification.
The Buddha found them at Rishipattana, the Deer park near Kashi, and gave them the gift of the spiritual knowledge which he had attained since he parted with them, and they became his first followers, and the first members of the Sangha.
Ganges is said to have its origins in the tresses of Lord Shiva and in Varanasi, it expands to the mighty river that we know of. The city is a center of learning and civilization for over 3000 years..
Varanasi or Kashi is older than traditions. Varanasi presents a unique combination of physical, metaphysical and supernatural elements. According to the Hindu mythology, Varanasi liberates soul from human body to the ultimate. It is the Ganga Ghats of Varanasi that complement the concept of divinity. Ghats of Ganga are perhaps the holiest spots of Varanasi. The Ganga Ghats at Varanasi are full of pilgrims who flock to the place to take a dip in the holy Ganges, which is believed to absolve one from all sins.
There are number of temples on the bank of the Ganga River in Varanasi. It is believed that people are cleansed physically, mentally and spiritually at Ganga Ghats. It is at the Ganga Ghats where we see life and death together. For thousands of years people have been thronging these Ghats to offer their morning prayers to the rising sun. There are more than 100 ghats alongside Ganga in Varanasi. Some of the prominent and popular Ghats at Varanasi are the Dasaswamedh Ghat, Manikarnika Ghat, Harischandra Ghat, Kabir Ghat and Assi Ghat.
Sarnath – 10 kms from the holy city of Varanasi, is the blessed locale where more than 2,500 years ago Buddha chose to deliver his first sermon, after attaining Nirvana. The five disciples who had followed him were surprised to see the mesmerizing glowing countenance of Buddha, who convinced them and delivered his first sermon before them, now termed Dharma chakra Pravartan. This set in mot in the great Buddhist tradition of the Sangha, for popularizing the teachings of the great ascetic, worldwide. Gautam Buddha with his five disciples formed the first Sangha along with Yasa of Varanasi and his 54 friends. The beginning of the celebrated Mantra, “Buddham Sharanam Gachhami” owes its origin to Sarnath. The three jewels “I go for refuge to the Buddha, I go for refuge to the Wheel of Law, I go for refuge to the Sangha” first laid down here, have remained unchanged ever since. Hence rightly, every Buddhist Pilgrim after Bodhgaya endeavors to be blessed with a visit to Sarnath in his lifetime.
After attaining enlightenment at Bodh Gaya the Buddha went to Sarnath; and it was here that he preached his first discourse in the deer park to set in motion the 'Wheel of the Dharma'. It is one of the most holy sites as in this place the stream of the Buddha's teaching first flowed.
Gautama Buddha started teaching not to debate but for the advantage of and out of compassion for human beings. He explained the middle way which avoids extremes, the Four Noble Truths, and prescribed the Eight-fold path.
The Four Noble Truths are:
- There is suffering
- Suffering has a cause
- The cause is removable
- There are ways to remove the causes. So as to remove the causes the Buddha prescribed an
Eight-fold Path: Right speech, Right action, Right livelihood, Right effort, Right mindfulness, Right concentration, Right attitude and Right view.
There are remains dating as far back as the 3rd century B.C. when Emperor Ashoka founded various institutions, stupas, monasteries and pillar edicts. The runs at Sarnath and the art collection in the Archaeological Museum are representations/ examples of the glorious past of Sarnath. Archaeological remains are open from Sunrise to Sunset.
Lumbini (meaning "the lovely") is a Buddhist pilgrimage site located in Rupandehi District, Lumbini Zone of Nepal, near the Indian border. Lumbini is the Mecca of every Buddhist, being one of the four holy places of Buddhism. It is the place where Mayadevi gave birth to Siddhartha Gautama, who later became a Buddha (Gautama Buddha), and founded the religion of Buddhism. Gautama Buddha lived between approximately 563 BCE and 483 BCE. For Buddhists, this is one of the four main pilgrimage sites based around the life of Gautama Buddha, the other three being Kushinagar, Bodhgaya, and Sarnath.
Lumbini is located 25 km east of the municipality of Kapilavastu, the place where the Buddha grew up and lived up to the age of 29. Kapilvastu is the name of place as well as the neighbouring district. Lumbini has various Buddhist temples including the Mayadevi temple. There is also the Puskarini pond and remains of Kapilvastu palace in Lumbini. There are other sites near Lumbini where, according to Buddhist tradition, previous Buddhas were born and achieved enlightenment and died.
The Ashoka Pillar
The Ashoka Pillar Discovered by German archaeologist Dr. Fuhrer, the pillar is evidence relating to the life of Lord Buddha and also the most visible landmark of the garden. The great Indian Emperor Ashoka visited the site in the twentieth year of his reign and as homage to Buddha’s birthplace, erected the pillar. The inscriptions in the pillar roughly translate as: “Kin Piyadesi beloved of the Gods, having been anointed 20 years, came himself and worshipped saying Here Buddha Shakyamuni was born: And he caused to make a stone (capital) representing a horse; and he caused (this) stone pillar to be erected. Because the worshipful one was born in the village of Lumbini, has been made free of taxes and recipient of wealth".
South of the Ashoka Pillar, there is the famous sacred pool- ‘Puskarni’ believed to be the same sacred pool in which Maya Devi took a holy dip just before giving birth to the Lord and also where infant Buddha was given his first purification bath. The single
most important place of the Lumbini (and to the entire Buddhist world for that matter) is the stone slab-located deep in the Sanctum sanctorum.
At this location, near the Hiranyavati River, The Buddha's last days are described in the Pali text called the Great Parinirvana Sutra (Parinirvana meaning "completed nirvana"). The Buddha's living nirvana, achieved during enlightenment, at death transforms to nirvana without human residue. Self-possessed, without psychological pain, untroubled by the thoughts of death, the Buddha identifies four places of future pilgrimage: the sites of his birth, enlightenment, first sermon, and death. "But don't hinder yourself by honoring my remains," he added.
It is said that the Buddha had three reasons for coming to Kusin to die:
- Because it was the proper venue for the preaching of the Mah-Sudassana Sutta
- Because Subhadda would visit him there and, after listening to his sermon, would develop meditation and become an arahant while the Buddha was still alive; and
- Because the brahman Doha would be there, after the Buddhas death, to solve the problem of the distribution of his relics.As the scene of his death, Kusinara became one of the four holy places declared by the Buddha (in the Mahaparinibbana Sutta) to be fit places of pilgrimage for the pious, the other three being Kapilavatthu, Buddhagaya and Isipatana.
Char Dham for Buddhist Pilgrims
Before his Mahaparinirvana, Buddha announced the four spots associated with his life which should be considered most sacred for pilgrimage by his disciples and followers according to Mahaparinirva Sutra or 'Mahaparinibbana Sutta' as it was
originally called in Pali. These include his birthplace Lumbini; Bodh Gaya - the place where he attained enlightenment; Sarnath - the place where he preached his first sermon, formed his Sanga with five disciples and set the wheel of Dharmachakra in motion; and Kushinagar - where he preached his last sermon, breathed his last, was cremated, his relics were distributed and interred. These, for all practical purposes, constitute the Char Dham Yatra for Buddhist pilgrims.
Accordingly, Buddha arrived at Kushinagar on the appointed day and delivered his last sermon. Then, he asked his favourite disciple Ananda to prepare his bed between two Saal trees. He lay down on the bed and passed away after a drink of water from Hiranyavati river fetched by Ananda on Vaishak Purnima. The Mahaparinirvana Temple is believed to be the site where Buddha breathed his last in 543 CE. The main stupa containing the holy relics of Buddha stands next to the Mahaparinirvana Temple within the same complex.
Cremation of Buddha
Kushinagar was the capital of Mallas in those days. They carried the mortal remains of Buddha to the most sacred site of Mallas - Mukuta Bandana - where his mortal remains lay in state for six days. Buddha's body was consigned to fire on the seventh day upon the arrival of Maha Kasyapa - the father of the Sanga. The Ramabhar Stupa or Mukuta Bandana Chaitya was the site at which the cremation of Buddha is believed to be have been performed
Distribution Of Relics
A dispute broke out among eight groups that staked claims to the relics of Buddha after the cremation. The dispute was settled by a learned Brahmin by the name of Drona who divided the relics into eight portions and distributed them among the eight groups. A small shrine has been raised at the site of distribution of the holy relics of Buddha near the Wat Thai Temple. According to Buddhist traditions, the relics were further divided into 84,000 portions and interred in stupas all over India and abroad by Emperor Ashoka.
Sravasti, the capital of the ancient kingdom of Kosala, has the honour for sheltering Buddha for 24 rainy seasons in the Jetvana Gardens . The city believed to be founded by the mythological king Sravast, has age-old stupas, majestic monasteries and several temples. Buddha is said to have performed some miracles here.
This holy place also has the famous Anand Bodhi tree, an offspring of the one, said to have been planted by Buddhas main disciple. Another famous incident in Sravasti was - during the time of Sakyamuni, Sudatta, a rich and pious merchant, lived in Sravasti. While on a visit to Rajgir, he heard the Buddhas sermon and decided to become the Lords disciple. But he was caught in dilemma and asked the Lord whether he could become a follower without forsaking worldly life. To his query, the Master replied that it was enough that he followed his vocation in a righteous manner.
Shravasti an ancient city connected with the life of Gautama Buddha is one of the important Buddhist pilgrimage centers in India. There are ancient stupas, grand vihāras and monasteries constructed by different countries such as South Korea, Śri Lanka, Myanmar, and Thailand and so on. It certainly has become an important historical and religious attraction for Buddhist and tourists alike from all over the world
Buddha spent 25 years living in the monastery of Jetavana, and he delivered many his sermons here. According to the history of Buddhism, it was here at Shravasti that Lord Buddha performed many miracles to confound his critics. As per legend, Lord Buddha was sitting on a lotus with a thousand petals; manifesting him a million fold times as fire and water emanating from his body. It was also here where Lord Buddha transformed Aṇgulimāla from a dacoit into a Buddhist monk
Shravasti was a flourishing center of learning during the Gupta period. When the famed Chinese traveler Hiuen Tsang visited this site, he found several damaged stūpa, ruins of monasteries and a palace. The importance of Shravasti can be analyzed from the fact that it was here where Buddha spent the longest amount of time with the largest amount of discourses and instructions leading to the path of Nirvana
Agra - at the time of the Mughals, in the 16th & 17th centuries, Agra was the capital of the grand Mughal Empire. During this period the city became a leading centre of art, science, commerce and culture. Akbar the Great made Agra great. The city's origins are dim but Akbar's grandfather Babur is credited with Agra's founding.
Taj Mahal – The New 7 wonder of the world and Monument of Love in the, which was built in 1630 by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan as a tomb for his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal. Construction of the Taj Mahal began in 1631, and is believed to have taken 18 years to complete, with over 20,000 craftsmen working around the clock. The design and construction is said to be that of the legendary architect, Ustad Ahamad Lahori. Legend has it that once construction was completed, what makes the Taj Mahal unique is its perfect proportions, distinct femininity, medium of construction and ornamentation. Its marble exterior reflects rose and golden tints at sunrise and sunset, while it is dazzling white during the day. It is impossible to visualize the Taj Mahal in any surrounding others than its paradoxical garden. Paradise, in Islam, is visualized as a lush garden where running streams flow. When the Mughal brought this concept to India they elevated it to heights of Incomparable artistry.