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Buddhist Shrines
Pilgrimage Destinations of India


Buddhist Shrines

INTRODUCTION

Buddhism is a dynamic faith that was born and thrived in India for 1,700 years. The religion flourished in India between the 5th century BC and 12th century AD. The Buddhist remnants scattered all over India were originally the monasteries and stupas of Buddhist culture. Located in the far-flung corners of eastern Uttar Pradesh are some of the holiest centers of Buddhism, a religion that gave mankind the gospel of peace and love.

The message of the Buddha went straight into the hearts of millions due to its simplicity and forthright acceptance of the realities of life. The various Buddhist shrines like Sarnath, Sravasti, Sankisa and Kushinagar are fascinating because they open up chapters of religion, art and philosophy

SHRINES

Sarnath

To enter Sarnath at dawn is to discover the captivating sound of a huge Japanese bell. The first eye-catching landmark is Chaukhandi, an elevated structure of brick with a characteristic octagonal top. The ancient park where Buddha delivered his first sermon is also here. Half a kilometer north is a gigantic structure of stone and brick called Dhamekh Stupa. It houses a stone slab with Buddhist inscriptions dating back to the 6th century BC. In its vicinity, one can see the Mulagandhakuti Vihara, a temple constructed by Dharmapala, a devout Buddhist.

Sravasti

Sravasti has two villages: Sahet and Mahet. Sahet sprawls over an area of 400 acres and has a collection of ruins. Mahet is ancient fortified city that houses a beautiful crescent-shaped gateway. The Sobhnath Temple, Pakki Kuti, Kachchi Kuti and many stupas tell the story of the great monasteries that once stood here. Remnants of Jeetavana—a splendid monastery built by a rich devotee with inscriptions dating back to the 12th century—is considered one of the favorite sites of the Buddha. There is a sacred pipal tree (Ficus religiosa) here—a sapling from the original Bodhi tree under which the Buddha had meditated. Sravasti was also under the influence of Jainism, and the splendid Shwetambar Temple here is visited by thousands of Jain pilgrims

Sankisa

Sankisa is another Buddhist historical site. It was here that the Buddha preached high gospel of truth to his mother and other devotees. Many Buddhist motifs reflect the event that took place here when Buddha, after his enlightenment, descended from heaven, accompanied with Brahma and Sakra. Chinese travelers Fahien and Huien Tsang have given interesting descriptions of the life in Sankisa. There is also the famous temple of Bisra Devi here.

Kushinagar

Kushinagar, also known as Kasia or Kasinara, represents a grand end to the story of the Great Teacher. Buddha passed away here, near the Hiranyavati River. He was cremated where the Ramabhar Stupa now stands. It was once a celebrated center of the Malla kingdom. Many of its stupas and viharas date back to 230 BC–AD 413 when its prosperity was at the peak. Ashoka added grandeur to this place by getting the magnificent statue of Buddha carved on a single piece of red sandstone. Lord Alexander Cunningham excavated many important remnants such as the Matha Kua and Ramabhar Stupa during the preceding century.

The main site has the Mahaparinirvana Temple, with its world famous reclining statue of Buddha. The 20-ft-long statue is seated on a brick platform. Ruins of as many as eight monasteries are situated around at the main site of which the two monasteries—Mahaparinirvana Vihara and Makutabandhara Vihara—are quite famous.

All the sacred sites are along the main road. Towards the east, several temples of various Buddhist countries have come up. The procession organized by Burmese temple every year on Buddha Poornima day is attended by thousands of people. Other attractions are the Indo-Japanese and Sri Lankan Center for Cultural Association, meditation center and archeological museum. Nature lovers can take a trip to the Tamkuhi forest area, which also has a forest rest house for staying overnight.

ACCOMMODATION

Accommodation options are available at the Birla Rest House, UP State Tourist Bungalow and many dharamshalas in Sarnath.

HOW TO REACH

By Air

The nearest airport is Varanasi, 32 km from Sarnath. Regular Indian Airlines and Sahara flights operate between Varanasi and Delhi.

By Road

Sarnath is on National Highway 29 and is a 45-minute drive from Varanasi.

By Rail

Varanasi and Mughalsarai are the nearest rail junctions. They are linked to all major towns and cities in India.



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