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Buddhist Places in India

From Siddharth to Sakyamuni and finally to the Buddha or the Enlightened one, it has been an incredible transformation of a prince to an enlightened teacher, who walked on the earth more than 2500 years ago. Upon seeing sorrow, misery, pain and death, prince Siddharth decided to discover their causes and means of overcoming their occurrences. Thus renouncing worldly pleasures and leaving home and family behind, he traveled from place to place until he finally attained enlightenment by meditating under the Bodhi Tree. Then, he preached the truth he discovered, and exhorted his disciples to follow the Eight Fold Path for the cessation of the endless cycle of birth and re-birth. There are several major sights and schools of Buddhist learning in India which reflects the life and teachings of the Buddha and the influence of Buddhism. Some of these famous Buddhist sites in India are Bodh Gaya, Nalanda, Rajgir, Vaishali, Kapilavastu, Ajanta Caves, bhaja Caves, Junnar Caves, Kanheri Caves, Kaushambi, Kerla caves, Sankisa, Tabo and Tawang.

Ajanta Caves

The Ajanta caves consist of 30 Caves including the unfinished ones, which belongs to 200 BC to 250 AD. These caves are situated about 104 kms. from Aurangabad. These caves are cut from the volcanic lava of the Deccan in the forest ravines of the Sahyadri Hills and are set in beautiful surroundings. These caves were discovered accidentally by a British Captain, John Smith in 1819, on a hunting expedition. Ajanta provides a unique combination of architecture, sculpture and paintings. Two basic types of monastic Buddhist architecture are preserved at Ajanta. These architectures are the Chaitya or prayer hall (Cave 9, 10, 19, 26 and 29) and Vihara or monastery (remaining 25 Caves). These caves suggest a well defined form of architecture, broadly resolving into two phases with a time gap of about 4 centuries from each other. In the Hinayana Phase, two Chaitya Halls (Cave 9 and 10) and 4 Viharas (Cave 8, 12, 13 and 15A) are included. In the Mahayana Phase, 3 Chaityas (Cave 19 and 26 and 29 being incomplete) and 11 exquisite Viharas (Cave 1, 2, 4, 6, 7, 11, 15, 17 and 20 to 24) are included. Cave 1 is one of the finest monasteries in Ajanta.

Bodh Gaya

Bodh Gaya, a quiet village is situated near the Niranjana river in the state of Bihar. Bodh Gaya is one of the most sacred place to the Buddhists as at this place, the Prince Gautama attained enlightenment under the shade of a Bodhi tree in 533 B.C. and came to be known as Buddha. Bodh Gaya is also known for the Mahabodhi temple, one of the most ancient temples in the world and the Bodhi tree. The Bodhi tree is the peepal tree under which the Prince Gautama, also known as Siddhartha meditated and gained enlightenment in 533 BC and came to be known as Buddha is still grown here from its saplings. The red sandstone slab, the Vajrasila, under the tree marks the place where Gautama sat in meditation. The Ashoka erected a shrine near the Bodhi tree which was replaced by the Mahabodhi temple in the 2nd century. The temple bears the stamp of the architecture of the Gupta Dynasty and subsequent ages. The Mahabodhi Temple has a huge gilded image of the Buddha in the seating pose, signifying enlightenment, which has mythological significance in the Buddhist lores.

Bodhi Tree, Bodh Gaya
Bhaja Caves

Bhaja Caves are located about 12 kms. from Lonavala and can be reached by an uphill climb of half-hour from the Malavali. Bhaja has 18 caves that belongs to the 2nd century BC. Cave No. 12 is the largest cave and has a fine stilted vault. The last cave to the south has excellent sculptures including the famous ‘Dancing Couple’.

Junnar Caves

Junnar, the birth place of the Maratha chieftain Chhatrapati Shivaji, is situated about 177 kms. from Mumbai on the Mumbai-Aurangabad route. The hills surrounding the plains of Junnar have various Buddhist caves, which are divided into three distinct groups. These caves belongs to the 2nd Century BC to 3rd Century AD. The Tulija Lena Group is situated 5 kms to the west and has a circular dome ceiling in the Chaitya Hall. The second group of caves are located 1.5 kms south of the town, towards the Manmodi Hills. It has a well preserved façade. The Ganesh Lena Group is located 4 kms south of Junnar. There are a large number of small cells and viharas in this group. In this group, the main cave is the Cave No. 6 and it is also known as the Ganesh Lena.


Kanheri Caves

Kanheri Caves are situated in the heart of the Borivili National Park, about 42 kms. north of Mumbai. The Kanheri Caves were once protected by a dense jungle. There are 109 caves belonging from 1st century BC to 9th century AD, each connected with a flight of steps. The most important cave is the Cave No. 3 of the 6th century which has the last of the excavated Chaitya Hall of the Hinayana Order. It has 34 pillars and is like a colonnaded hall. These pillars encircle a 5 meters high Dagoba or Stupa and have carvings that depict the elephants kneeling and worshipping the Stupa. The other important places are Cave 11, the Durbar Hall or the Assembly hall with a statue of the Buddha occupying the central place and the cells for Buddhist monks. Cave 34 is a dark cell and has paintings of the Buddha on the ceiling. Cave 41 has a figure of the eleven headed Avalokiteshvara. Cave 67 is a big cell, with the figure of Avalokiteswara as savior flanked by two female figures in the verandah. There are also images of the Buddha depicting the miracle of Sravasti.


Kapilavastu (Piprahwa)

Kapilavastu is situated about 110 kms. from Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh. Kapilavastu was the capital city of the Sakya clan, and one of the earliest republics. In Kapilvastu, the prince Siddharth (Gautam Buddha) spent his childhood. Here he saw sorrow, pain, disease and death. Then, finally when he saw the Sadhu who had conquered all these, he decided to renounce all worldly riches and pleasures to seek truth and embark on the path of salvation. This place holds significant value for Buddhist pilgrims and has several Stupas. The archaeological excavations done here have revealed stone caskets that contains the relics of Buddha.


Karla Caves

The Karla caves are situated at a distance of 11 km from Lonavala and just off the Mumbai-Pune road. The Karla Caves belongs to the 2nd century BC. The magnificent Chaitya hall at Karla is the largest hall and the most evolved example of its class. Three important features of the interior of the hall are columns or pillars, the roof vault and the great sun windows. There are 37 columns, out of which 30 have interesting capitals which shows prosperous men and women riding elephants and horses and bowing in humility to the Great Buddha. The vaulted roof has wooden supports. This is the only place in India where 2000 year old wood work can be seen. At the far end of the hall stands a stupa, above which is held an umbrella, a symbol of royalty. The whole system of lighting depends on the enormous sun windows through which cleverly diffused light with its light and shadows gives a great sense of solemnity.



Kaushambi is situated about 54 kms. from Allahabad in Uttar Pradesh. Kaushambi was visited by Buddha in the 6th and 9th year after his enlightenment. He delivered several sermons here, elevating it to a centre of learning for Buddhists. Today one can see the ruins of an Ashokan Pillar, an old fort and the Ghositaram Monastery. The archaeological excavations which were done here have yielded a large number of sculptures, figures, coins, punch-marked and cast coins and terracotta sculptures which show the importance of the city in the olden days.


Kushinagar is situated about 55 kms. away from Gorakhpur and a revered place for Buddhist pilgrims. Kushinagar or Kushinara of Yore is the place where the Lord Buddha died, at the age of 80 and was cremated and achieved the state of Parinirvana. The last rites were performed with all the honour that is due to a universal monarch (Chakravartin), as he was held in reverence by all people. The kings of eight Indian states of the Gangetic basin came for the funeral rites and divided his ashes in eight parts. Each king carried these back to his kingdom and built a ‘Stupa’ over the mortal remains of Lord Buddha. The main tourist attraction in Kushinagar is the Mahaparinirvana temple, containing the reclining statue of Lord Buddha. This temple is dedicated to the Lord Buddha where he attained Parinirvana. The statue of Buddha was excavated in 1876 at the temple, and one of the most momentous sight for the devotees.


Lumbini is only a few kilometers across the Indian border in Nepal. It is a small town in the Terai region, situated south of the foothills of the Churia Range. Lumbini is the most important site for the followers of Lord Budha and those interested in Buddhism. The Lord Buddha was born in Lumbini, around 544 BC. His mother was on her way to her father’s house when he was born at a small place where she had halted. Emperor Ashoka visited Lumbini in 259 BC to worship at the place where the Buddha was born. In order to identify the place with Lord Buddha, he erected a giant pillar which is the only proof that Lord Buddha was born here.



Ruins of Nalanda University, Nalanda

Nalanda is situated about 90 kms. south of Patna. Nalanda literally means the place that confers the lotus. Nalanda was founded in the 5th century AD on an ancient site of pilgrimage and teaching which had been visited by both the Lord Buddha and Lord Mahavir. Nalanda was the continuation and intellectual nerve centre of Buddhism. It is known for the world famous and one of the oldest Buddhist university. Once 2,000 teachers and 10,000 students from all over the Buddhist world lived and studied here. This university was a center of great learning which reached its zenith between 5th and 12th century AD. This university was the school of various scholars and later destroyed by Muslim invaders. This university is now in ruins.


Rajagriha or Rajgir means the Royal Palace. The Buddha liked Rajgir and often came here to retreat at the Jivakamaravana monastery in a beautiful orchard. One of his most devoted and prosperous devotee and surgeon, Jivaka also lived here. The Buddha also converted the great Mauryan king Bimbisara, at the Griddhakuta hill, where he delivered many of his sermons as well. The Buddha also spent most of his summers on one of its hills which is now the main pilgrimage centre. After the Buddha reached ‘parinirvana’ his followers met at the first Buddhist Council. It was here that the teachings of the Buddha were written down for the first time.



Sankisa is situated in central Uttar Pradesh. It is believed to be the place where Buddha, along with Brahma and Devraj Indra descended after giving sermons to his mother in heaven. At the place where he descends, stands a temple with a statue of the Buddha. Sankisa is also known for the temple dedicated to Bisari Devi, a colossal Shiva Linga and an excavated Ashokan Elephant Pillar. A large fair is also held in Sankisa in the month of Shravan (July-August).


Sarnath, a world famous Buddhist site is situated about 10 kms. from Varanasi. After attaining enlightenment at Bodhgaya, Lord Buddha went to Sarnath. In Sarnath, the stream of the Buddha's teaching first flowed. At this place, the Buddha encountered the five men who had been his companions of earlier austerities. Here in the Deer Park, he delivered his first sermon, or in religious language, set in motion the Wheel of Law (Maha-Dharmachakra Pravartan) in Buddhism. The Emperor Ashoka, who spread the Buddha's message of love and compassion throughout his vast empire, visited Sarnath around 234 BC, and erected magnificent stupas and structures. Sarnath became one of the great centres of Buddhism.



Tabo was founded in 996 AD. by the initiative of the great teacher Rinchensang Po, also known as Mahaguru Ratnabhadra. In June-July 1996, Tabo celebrated millennium of its glorious existence. Tabo is often known as the Ajanta of the Himalayas, due to its breathtaking murals and stucco images. Here, the art of religion and deep faith was also born. The Tabo Monastery at a height of 3050 meters is a complex that holds 9 temples, 23 chortens, a monks chamber and an extension that houses the nuns chamber. This core is bounded by an earthen wall and covers an area of 6300 square meters. The contemporary monastic structures are located near the monastery. On the sheer cliff-face above the enclave are a series of caves which were used as dwelling units by the monks and includes an assembly hall. The dim traces of the paintings that once adorned the rock face are visible on the caves.



Tawang is a beautiful district in Arunachal Pradesh. The walled and fortified Tawang Monastery is situated in the heart of the Tawang town. This monastery overlooks the valley and is surrounded by the mountains which seems to be guarding the valley and its inhabitants. This monastery has a superb collection of ancient scriptures, images, Thankas and 8 meter high gilded image of Buddha. The monastery is believed to be about 400 years old. Over 500 Lamas lives in its 65 residential buildings.



Vaishali is situated about 55 kms. to the north of Patna in Bihar. Vaishali derived its name from King Vaishala, a famous ruler mentioned in the Ramayana. Vaishali was a famous city during the days of the Buddha. The Lord Buddha preached his last sermons here, before attaining enlightenment. Vaishali is also known for the beautiful dancer and courtesan of Vaishali, Amrapali, who offered Buddha a mango orchard and impressed by his teachings became a nun. Here, in the garden of the courtesan Amrapali, he delivered his last sermons and announced his nirvana from the world. It is also said that once the city experienced a terrible plague. The citizens requested the Buddha to visit the city. With his arrival, the plague ended. The Buddha liked Vaishali and visited here several times to preach his gospels. Later, Emperor Ashoka built a huge lion pillar here in memory of the Buddha, to commemorate the place where he delivered his last sermon.

Ashoka Pillar, Vaishali

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