Buddhists are the followers of Gautam Buddha who found and taught the concepts of Buddhism, in the root of which are the Four Noble Truths, in Eastern India around 6th century BCE. In order to seek inner peace and spiritual salvation Buddhists embark upon a pilgrimage which takes them to places which are associated with Lord Buddha. During such endeavours they seek the fragrance of Buddha as it would enable them to find inner bliss. This article attempts to trace the places where the enlightened one’s shadow fell, from his birth in Lumbini to his Parinirvana in Kushinagar, as they are most significant sites of Buddhist Pilgrimage.
‘Lumbini’, in present day Nepal, is one of the four biggest sites of Buddhist Pilgrimage (the other 3 being Bodh Gaya, Sarnath and Kushinagar) as this was the place where Gautam Buddha was born. Emperor Ashoka erected an Ashokan Pillar (in 3rd Cent BCE) which can still be seen today. This place is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
‘Kapilvastu’ is the next place which features in the life of Gautam Buddha as it was here that he was raised. He got married at the age of 16 and lived here until the age of 29 when he renounced worldly pleasures and set out seeking enlightenment. The Stupa here and the Tilaurakot Archaeological site are some of the main sites of interest for the devotees.
‘Rajgir’ (originally known as Rajgriha) was the capital of Magadh, whose ruler, King Bimbisara, gave official patronage to the Buddha. This place has a lot of significance for the Buddhists as Gautam Buddha gave a lot of sermons here at Griddhakuta (Vulture’s Peak) and also converted King Bimbisara to Buddhism. While in Rajgir the Buddha used to stay in the Jivekarmavan Monastery but Emperor Bimbisara had also gifted Venuvana for Buddha’s convenience. It is believed that while on his way to Bodh Gaya on his quest for enlightenment the Buddha promised King Bimbisara that if he was successful, in his quest, he would come back to Rajgir and share his knowledge.
‘Bodh Gaya’ is the most important site of pilgrimage for Buddhists as it was here that Gautam Buddha attained enlightenment, while sitting under the Bodhi Tree. Another major spot of reverence in Bodh Gaya is the Mahabodhi Temple, believed to be constructed in 6th Century AD, which is located right next to the Bodhi Tree. This place has been deemed a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
After attaining enlightenment Buddha headed to ‘Sarnath’ where he gave his first sermon to the 5 companions with whom he had, initially, sought to attain enlightenment. The spot from where he gave his sermon is marked by the Dhamek Stupa (believed to be the world’s oldest stupa). Other places of importance in Sarnath include Chaukhandi Stupa, the ruins of Dharmarajika Stupa and the Mulgandhakuti Vihara (the place where Buddha passed his first rainy season).
‘Sravasti’ was a major city during the time of Gautam Buddha, 2500 years ago. It was the capital of Kosala kingdom. This place was Gautam Buddha’s annual monsoonal retreat and hosted Gautam Buddha for 24 years. Some of the major sites of interest in Sravasti include the Jetavana Monastery, the Ananda Bodhi Tree (offspring of the original Bodhi Tree, planted by Ananda a disciple of Buddha), stupa of Angulimala and the modern Daen Mahamongkol Chai (a Thai Meditation Centre) amongst other places.
‘Vaishali’ was a great city during the time of Gautam Buddha and it was here that he preached his last sermon. He also announced his approaching Parinirvana here and Emperor Ashoka installed a commemorative pillar at that spot in the 3rd century BC. Vaishali also assumes great significance for the Buddhist pilgrims as this city had two great stupas with relics of the Buddha in them. Those two stupas, the Ashokan Pillar and the modern Vishwa Shanti Stupa are some of the major sites a devotee visits here.
Last but not the least ‘Kushinagar’ was the place where Gautam Buddha achieved Parinirvana. He was cremated here and his relics were divided into 10 portions and distributed amongst the faithful. The Parinirvana Stupa, the Parinirvana temple and ‘the spot where his relics were divided’ are the major sites which a devotee visits.
While the Buddha attained Parinirvana more than 2500 years ago, he gave his followers directions to the path which would enable them to come out of the eternal cycle of life and death by achieving Nirvana. To the devotees these holy sites serve as a catalyst to reinvigorate their beliefs and keep walking on the paths taught by the Buddha to achieve inner bliss.