Buddhist circuit – In pursuit of “Enlightenment”

Siddhartha Gautama was the name of Gautama Buddha. He was a prince who left his luxuries and kingdom in search of true inner happiness.  A prince who could have enjoyed his royal dynasty, but he chose to give up his family life and live an ascetic life instead to search for the true meaning of his existence. When the prince, Siddhartha Gautama left his kingdom , he was just 29 years old. At the age of 34, he attained the supreme enlightenment at Bodh Gaya.

The holy places of Buddhism, where Lord Buddha was born and he taught, preached, and attained ‘Enlightenment’ and ‘Nirvana’, are termed as Buddhist Circuit. These are the spiritual homes of Buddhism, housing temples and monasteries of high religious significances, where followers of Buddhism associate themselves with the teachings of Lord Buddha. The holy place of Lumbini (located in present-day Nepal), where Lord Buddha was born is one of the four most sacred Buddhist pilgrimage destinations in the World, the other three being Bodhgaya in Bihar, where he attained enlightenment, Sarnath in Varanasi , where he preached and Kushinagar in Uttar Pradesh where he achieved salvation. Besides these four, there are some other Buddhist monasteries and temples across India.

Lumbini: Situated in the Rupandehi district of Nepal, Lumbini is the place where Lord Buddha was born. Today, it is an important Buddhist pilgrimage site. Being a neighbouring country, Lumbini is generally included in the Buddhist Circuit tours that are conducted in India.

Bodhgaya: Located in Bihar, this is the place where Prince Siddhartha found enlightenment under the Bodhi Tree. After meditating for 49 days, he became Lord Buddha, the Enlightened One. In Bodhgaya, the important tourist attractions are Bodhi Tree, Mahabodhi Temple, Vajrasana Throne donated by King Ashoka, Muchalinda Lake, Animesh Lochan Chaitya, some other holy trees like Ratnachankramana, Ratnagaraha, Ajapala Nigrodha and Rajyatna alongwith various Buddhist monasteries and temples, thus making it a major tourist attraction.

Sarnath: This is the place where Lord Buddha gave his first sermon. This was given after he achieved enlightenment. Sarnath is about 10 km from the holy city of Varanasi. It was at Sarnath that Buddha established his sangha or first disciples to promote his new doctrine. The proud symbol of India, the famous lion capital pillar or the Ashoka pillar was erected by King Ashoka originally at Dhamekh Stupa in Sarnath. You also can see Chaukhandi Stupa, Mulagandha Kuti Vihar and Sarnath Ashram here.

Kushinagar: This place is located in the Gorakhpur district in eastern Uttar Pradesh, India. It is en route to Kapilvastu and is the place where Lord Buddha fell ill and died in 543 BC. It is said that the mortal remains of Lord Buddha were distributed by King Ashoka into more than 80,000 stupas across his kingdom and outside. Important places to see here are Mukatanabandhana Stupa and the reclining Buddha statue in red sandstone. Other attractions are Wat Thai Temple, Chinese Temple, Japanese Temple, Mahanirvana Temple, etc. This is the place where Lord Buddha attained salvation.

Vaishali: This was the place where Lord Buddha gave his last sermon. The place is 60 km away from the capital of Bihar, Patna. It is said that Buddha told his disciple Ananda about his imminent demise in this place.

Rajgir: Rajgir which is about 70 kms from Bodhgaya in the Nalanda district, was the Lord’s monsoon retreat for 12 years.The serene ambience of this place will refresh your mind and soul. It is the destination where Gautam Buddha is believed to have given many sermons. The knowledge of Buddha was written in this place and it also serves as the place for the first Buddhist Council. Not only this, it has water ponds which are deemed to have medicinal properties helping in the treatment of scores of skin diseases.

Shravasti: Shravasti was Buddha’s favourite rainy season retreat. It is located about 150 km from Lucknow in Uttar Pradesh and it was at this place Buddha performed his first miracle.

Sanchi: Sanchi is small village about 46 kms from Bhopal in Madhya Pradesh. It is one of the oldest pilgrimage points in India and showcases the Buddhist architecture that flourished during the Kingship of Ashoka. The glorious Sanchi Stupa is believed to be the oldest stone structure in the world and is one of the UNESCO World Heritage Site in India

Kapilvastu: This place is where Gautam Buddha grew up and spent his younger days. It is now known as Lumbini in Nepal. At Kapilavastu, the Lord Gautama Buddha led a family life with his wife and son Rahul till he left for Nirvana. The Ashoka Pillar is situated at Kapilvastu. This place is located in the Himalayan ranges of Nepal. Kapilavastu is the district and comes under Lumbini Zone, Nepal.

Nalanda: A magnificent site of culture and learning, Nalanda is among the most popular religious centers of India. It is indeed a fantastic destination for history lovers. The relics of the ancient university are the main appeal in the entire town of Nalanda. In addition to this, beautiful temples also represents the splendid past of Nalanda.

Ajanta and Ellora Caves: Celebrated as one of the best examples of rock cave architecture in India, Ajanta and Ellora Caves situated in the state of Maharashtra near Aurangabad are one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites.  They are nestled at a distance of approx more than 95 km from each other. Using only chisel and hammer Buddhist monks carved murals and sculptures depicting the life of Buddha. These are still considered as one of the most splendid work of Buddhist art in India.

Amravati: Amaravati is nestled in the Guntur District in the beautiful state of Andhra Pradesh. It is an ancient significant pilgrimage site with a superb collection of Buddhist monuments dating back to 2000 years old. It is also known as Dhanyakataka and is famous for its Amareswara Shrine devoted to Lord Shiva. Another main attraction of Amaravati is the ancient Stupa, famous for the carved pillars.

Bavikonda: Located on the north west of Timmapuram just 9 miles from the beautiful city of Vishakapatnam, Bavikonda is amongst the most famous and oldest Buddhist sites in India. The remains of this place stand as a testimony to the great Buddhist Empire that once existed in the southern part of India. The site attained the name owing to the presence of the wells on the mount. There is a Bavikonda Monastery that was erected in the 3rd century BC which one must visit.

Nagarjunakonda: Located in Guntur district of Andhra Pradesh, it is named after the renowned Buddhist Monk Nagarjuna who imparted his summons over here. Now what looks like an island was once an important settlement during the 1st and 2nd Century BC. It is an important Buddhist learning centre with rich flora and fauna and an archaeological paradise. The place is flaunted with stone age tools, Buddhist stupa, statues, pillars, monasteries, waterfalls, forest and a museum.

Thotlakonda: Nestled on  top of a hill at an altitude of 128m above sea level enroute to Bheemili town, Thotlakonda is an idyllic destination for Buddhists. The name literally means “Hill with stone wells” due to its stone wells that collected water for Buddhist people. Thotlakonda complex is beautiful with magnificent structural designs and meditation halls constructed to tender peace and harmony to monks. The Buddhist monks would arrive from places like China, Burma and many other countries and would stay at this site for months before finishing their learning.

Salihundam: A historically renowned village lying atop the hill on the south bank of vamsadhara River about 9 miles from Srikakulam town, Salihundam is a noted Buddhist place that allures people from every nook and corner of the world. There are numerous Buddhist stupas nestled on a hill amid the picturesque surroundings.