Buddhist India Circuits

India is the land of the Buddha. Here the Buddha was born, here he gained enlightenment, here he first revealed the four noble truths and the eight-fold path, and here he passed into the immortal realm. From East to West, North to South, India is replete with memories of the Buddha and his times. These ancient places buzz with activity even to this day and new monasteries continue to come up around important Buddhist sites.


Bihar derives its name from vihara, or monastery. It was once a land of monasteries, and forms a significant part of the Buddhakshetra, the domain of the Great Master's pursuits. It has four significant sites of Buddhist pilgrimage- Bodhgaya, Rajgir, Nalanda and Vaishali.

(A) Bodhgaya: It is at Bodhgaya that, in the sixth century BC, a young ascetic Siddhrtha gained enlightenment to become the Buddha. Bodhgaya is therefore the spiritual home of Buddhists. Its chief attraction is the Bodhi Tree, under which the Buddha was enlightened. The present tree has grown from a sapling of the tree in Anuradhapura (Sri Lanka), itself grown from a cutting of the original tree. The Mahabodhi Temple is a pyramidal sandstone structure rising to a whopping 54 metres. The sanctum contains a colossal golden Buddha. An ancient stone railing- dating from 100 BC- surrounds the temple on three sides.

(B) Rajgir : Five hills and the meandering Banganga river ensconce Rajgir, the abode of kings. During the Buddha's lifetime, it was the capital of the powerful Magadha Empire. Must-sees here include the Griddhakuta Hill (Vulture's Peak), the Japanese Vishwa Shanti Stupa and the Venuvana Vihara (Monastery of the Bamboo Grove).

(C) Nalanda: Founded by the Gupta emperors, Nalanda was one of the great universities of the ancient world. It had nine million books, 10,000 students and 2000 teachers, and attracted scholars from the world over. One of its most famous visitors was the Chinese traveler Hiuen Tsang. The modern- day Nava Nalanda Mahavira carries on the tradition. Pali literature and Buddhism are studied here.

(D) Vaishali: Lord Buddha visited Vaishali five years after attaining enlightenments. He preached the Ratna Sutra to those who came to welcome him, and 84,000 people embraced the new faith. Things to see include the Kutagarshala Vihara, Abhishek Pushkarini (Coronation Tank) and the Site Museum.

Uttar Pradesh

(A) Kushinagar: Gautam Buddha breathed his last- or gained 'mahaparinirvan'- here, then capital of the Malla republic. The Buddha's funeral pyre was lit here- at Mukutbandha Vihara (Rambhar Stupa). Not much remains today of this magnificent stupa except a large brick mound rising to a height of fifteen metres. The Mahaparinirvan Temple enshrines a six-metre long statue of the Buddha in the 'parinirvana' posture. A short distance from the temple is the smaller Mathakuar shrine, built on the spot where the Buddha delivered his last sermon. A fifth-century stone image of the Buddha in the 'bhumisparsh' posture graces the shrine. Buddhist organizations from several countries have built temples and monasteries here. The Sri Lanka Japanese Foundation Monastery has an 'ashtadhatu' (eight-metal) Buddha. Next to their meditation centre is the Kushinagar Museum.

(B) Sarnath: The Buddha preached his first sermon here at Sarnath, near Varanasi. The fifth-century Dhamekh Stupa can still be seen. In front of it, an Ashokan Pillar records the emperor's visit to Sarnath.

(C) Sravasti: Sravasti is where the Master and his 'Sangha" congregated for their annual rain retreat.

(D) Lumbini: Lumbini, on the Indo-Nepal border, the Buddha's birthplace, is a must-visit for the devout.

Madhya Pradesh

(A) Sanchi: Sanchi was once on the important North-South trade route, the 'Dakshinapatha'. It's a great classic destination that has it all- grand stupas, elaborate 'torana dwars' (gateways), and an all-pervading peace.

Himachal Pradesh

(A) Dharmashala: This pristine hill station built by the British is the spiritual home of Tibetan

Buddhism: The fourteenth Dalai Lama calls it home and it's the base of the Tibetan Government-in -exile. The main sights are in and around the 'Tsuglagkhang Complex' in McLeodganj (Upper Dharamshala), including Namgyal Monastery and the Kalachakra Temple.

(B) Lahul & Spiti: But Himachal's Buddhist tradition goes back a long way. The remote valleys of Lahaul and Spiti- but close to Tibet and the influence of Tibetan Buddhism- are dotted with numerous ancient monasteries. The greatest of these is Tabo Monastery, over 1000 years old.

Andhra Pradesh

Buddhism came to Andhra very early, in the lifetime of Buddha himself. Testimony to this is the nearly fifty Buddhist sites scattered all over the state.

(A) Nagarjunakonda: The ancient Buddhist site would have been submerged at the time of the construction of the Nagarjunasagar Dam. In a stupendous act, structures were relocated on a hill that now forms an island in the reservoir's middle. The hill is called Nagarjunakonda in honour of Acharya Nagarjuna, founder of Mahayana Buddhism. A vihara-shaped museum on the island contains reliquary from the Buddhist centres Sriparvat and Vijaypuri. Remains of a Buddhist university have been relocated to Anupu, four kilometres from here.

(B) Amaravati Amaravati was capital of the Satvahans, the earliest rulers of Andhra, and is the most important Buddhist site in the state. The largest Stupa in India is here.


(A) Ajanta & Ellora: At this World Heritage Site, from the second century BC to the sixth century AD, master artists under the supervision of monks, have painted and sculpted images with a distinct Buddhist ethos.


Orissa has Buddhist treasures too. Ashokan rock edicts at Dhauli, eight kilometres from Bhubaneshwar, the capital, stand testimony to Ashoka's conversion to the gentle faith. Of note is the Buddhist Triangle of Ratnagiri, Udaigiri and Lalitagiri.

North East India

Tawang Monastery in Arunachal Pradesh, at a height of 3400 metres, is one of India's largest. The present monastery is from the seventeenth century, built at the site of a much more ancient one. Sikkim , famed for its 'gompas' is home to the grand Rumtek and Pemagyantse Monasteries.

There is a very good reason to do India's Buddhist circuit : the Buddha himself recommended it. Just before passing away, he instructed his disciples to visit the four places associated with his life: Lumbini (where Lord Buddha was born), Bodhgaya (where Buddha attained enlightenment), Sarnath (where Lord Buddha held his first sermon) and Kushinagar (the site of Lord Buddha's 'mahaparinirvana'). This makes them the most sacred Buddhist sites in the world.

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