Though the Buddha was born in Lumbini in Nepal, he spent his life in India where he attained enlightenment as well as mahaparinirvana. As such, India figures prominently on the Buddhist pilgrimage circuit. Majority of the important Buddhist pilgrimage places are in North, Central and East India and Buddhist religious tours are regularly organized for Indian and international Buddhist pilgrims to take them to these places.
One can also visit Western India to observe what Buddhists left behind in Ellora and Aurangabad and travel to the South where his influence reached. With time as a constraint, Buddhist pilgrims can focus on few but important destinations in India. A typical tour would comprise these places:
Your Buddhist religious tour could start with Bodhgaya, important for the fact that Buddha attained enlightenment here under a Banyan tree on the banks of the river Phalgu. A Mahabodhi temple now marks the spot with descendent of the original banyan tree gracing the compound. Bodhgaya is about 17 km from Gaya, another important Buddhist pilgrimage destination for Buddhists. In addition to the beautiful temple that is a depiction of the Gupta architecture with its pyramid shape and cylindrical neck, the Mahabodhi tree is also important as is the Vajrasana or the stone on which the Lord meditated before attaining enlightenment. From here one can go on to Rajgir, the site of magnificent remnants of Buddhist culture.
Sarnath is another important Buddhist pilgrimage destination because this is where the Buddha delivered his first sermon after attaining enlightenment. Deer Park is the place that is still preserved. His followers that included Emperor Ashoka, spread his message and erected the Dhameka stupa that is famous throughout the world. The emperor also built the Ashoka Pillar that figures on the flag of India. The Buddha came here looking for his five companions and he met them at a place that is today known as Chaukhandi, with a tower marking the spot. Apart from these relics there is a monastery that preserves artifacts from the surrounding areas and depicts his life in paintings on the wall.
About 53 km from Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh, Kushinagar is where the Lord finally attained mahaparinirvana or passed on to his heavenly abode near the Hiranyavati River. On your Buddhist religious tour to this place you will visit the Nirvana stupa and the Mahaparinirvana temple to pay respects at the feet of the reclining 6 metres statue of the Lord. The site now has a number of Buddhist temples such as the Wat Thai temple, the Chinese temple, the meditation park and the Ramabhar stupa, about 1.5 km away.
These four are the “must visit” places on your Buddhist pilgrimage tour of India. There are dozens of other sites, the most important of which are Sravasti, Ajanta and Ellora Caves, Nalanda, Ladakh, Kapilvastu, Dhauli Hills and Rajgir, to name the most important ones.
Important Things to Keep in Mind
- Some of the sites may be remote and it is important you have your own transportation. Food to your taste may not be available at these places so carry along snacks while you take a trip from the main city to these destinations.
- Some of the places along the route to the Buddhist pilgrimage places may not be safe for individual travelers, especially women, so it is better to join a packaged Buddhist tour.
- Pick tour operators specializing in organizing Buddhist religious tours since they understand what is involved and what Buddhists like to do when they undertake.
- There are other safety precautions like keeping your valuables on your body, drink only Buddhist pilgrimage.
- Then bottled water and keep first aid medications for headache and nausea. If you travel in India in winter, the northern destinations can be quite cold so keep woolens with you.
That said, apart from fulfilling your religious obligations, you could also enjoy the sights, sounds and tastes of India.