Lumbini, Bodhgaya, Sarnath and Kushinagar are the primary pilgrimage places of Buddhist Circuits associated with the life and teachings of the Lord Buddha. There are numerous other sites where the Buddha and the saints that followed traveled during his life after his transformation, which are held in deep veneration. Visitors can travel through this Buddhist Circuit today, to savor the splendid beauty and great appeal of Buddhism.
The greatest impetus to Buddha’s teachings came from the Indian King Ashoka who went on a great pilgrimage visiting the important sites that are directly associated with his life, in the Footsteps of Lord Buddha. Primary amongst these holy places are Lumbini in Nepal, and Bodhgaya, Sarnath and Kushinagar in India. There are other places of lesser significance on the Footsteps of Lord Buddha visitor circuit associated closely with Buddha’s life. Amongst these are Buddha’s monsoon retreats of Vaishali, Rajgir and Sravastii in India, and his early home at Tilaurakot in Kapilavastu Nepal.
Lumbini: Lumbini in southern Nepal is where Queen Mayadevi gave birth to Prince Siddhartha. It is just a short distance from the Shakya capital of Kapilavastu. Pilgrimages focus on the sacred garden which contains the site of the birth, the Mayadevi temple, the Pashkarni pond and the Ashoka pillar. Designed by Japanese architect Kenzo Tange, the sacred garden of Lumbini is a World Heritage Site with monasteries from many Buddhist nations. It is recognised as a supreme pilgrimage site and symbol of world peace. Lumbini, the Lord Buddha's birthplace, evokes the same kind of holy sentiment to the millions of Buddhists all over the world as does Jerusalem to Christians and Mecca to Muslims. For centuries, Buddhists all over the world knew Lumbini was where the Buddha was born, however, the exact location remained uncertain and obscured until as recently as 1886 when a wandering archaeologist came across a stone pillar and ascertained the exact location.
The historic importance of the pillar is evidenced by the inscription engraved on it, in Brahmin script. It reads that Emperor Ashoa (sometimes spelled Ashoka) visited the site in the twentieth year of his ascendancy to the throne (around 300 BCE), and as homage to the birthplace, erected the pillar.
South of the Ashoa Pillar 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 the infant Buddha was given his first purification bath.
The single most important place in Lumbini is the stone slab located deep in the Sanctum Sanctorum. Revealed after hard and meticulous excavations under three layers of ruins over the site of a famous Maya Devi temple, the stone slab marks the exact spot of the birthplace of Lord Buddha.
In addition to the
Ashoa Pillar, the other shrine of importance is the bas-relief image
of Maya Devi, kept in a small pagoda-like structure. The image shows
Maya Devi, mother of the Lord, supporting herself by holding on with
her right hand to a branch of the Sal tree, with the newly born
infant Buddha standing upright on a lotus pedestal on an oval halo.
Two other celestial figures are depicted in an act of pouring water
and lotuses from heaven.
Primary points of homage are the Mahabodhi Temple, the Vajrasan throne donated by King Ashoka, the holy Bodhi Tree, the Animeshlochana chaitya, the Ratnachankramana, the Ratnagaraha, the Ajapala Nigrodha Tree, the Muchhalinda Lake and the Rajyatna Tree. The spiritual home of all Buddhists, devotees from many Buddhist countries have built temples around the complex in their characteristic architectural styles. Bodhgaya today is a vibrant and inspiring tourist attraction.
Sarnath: Buddha gave his first sermon at Sarnath after achieving enlightenment, about 10 km from the ancient holy city of Varanasi. The sermon, setting in motion the wheel of the teaching (dharamchakrapravartna) revealed to his followers the 4 noble truths, the concept of the 3 jewels of Buddha, Dharma and Sangha via the 8 fold path, for inner peace and enlightenment. It was here that the Buddha established his first disciples (sangha) to promote his new doctrine. The splendid Dhamekha Stupa at Sarnath was originally erected by King Ashoka, as was the famous lion capital pillar, now the proud symbol of India.
At Kushinagar close to Gorakhpur in eastern Uttar Pradesh,
India en route to Kapilavastu, Lord Buddha fell ill and left this
world in 543 BC. His mortal remains were preserved in eight
commemorative chortens, and then further distributed by King Ashoka
into 84,000 stupas across his kingdom and beyond. Important places
to see here are the Mukatanabandhana stupa and the Gupta period
reclining Buddha statue in red sandstone.
Vaishali: The Buddha preached his last sermon before his death at Vaishali in Bihar, 60 km away from its capital Patna. It was here that he told his disciple Ananda about his imminent demise. The Second Buddhist Council was held in Vaishala about 110 years later.
Rajgir & Nalanda University: About 70 km from Bodhgaya, Rajgir was Buddha’s monsoon retreat for 12 years whilst he spread his doctrine. It was at the holy Griddhikuta Hill that he expounded the precepts of his Lotus Sutra and the Perfection of Wisdom Sutra. The Saptaparni Caves set on Vaibhar Hill were the venue of the First Buddhist Council, held to compile the teachings of the Buddha in its authentic form, after his death. The world-renowned university of Nalanda is another important landmark site.
Shravasti: About 150 km from the city of Lucknow in Uttar Pradesh, Shravasti was Buddha’s favourite rainy season retreat where he Buddha performed his first miracle.