Experience the happiness in the peaceful lanes of Uttar Pradesh
We all wish for happiness. We all wish to attain peace, and spend our whole life working hard to fulfil this wish. Sometimes we come across the landscapes or places that reveal the secret joy confined within us. Buddhism by its very nature, aims to free us from the bonds we have placed around ourselves. The Buddhist pilgrimage sites emanate a sense of delight that calms the soul and refreshes the mind. Enveloped in serenity, Uttar Pradesh along with modern Bihar forms the core of early Buddhism. It was from here that Buddhism spread to the rest of the world.
Away from the extremes of self-indulgence, Lord Buddha- the founder of the religion, has emphasized four main sites of pilgrimage: Lumbini (Buddha’s birthplace); Bodh Gaya (the place of his Enlightenment); Sarnath (where he delivered his first sermon) and Kushinagar (where he achieved Parinirvana). Among these, the last two exist in Uttar Pradesh. Apart from these 2, Uttar Pradesh also has several other sites commemorating the significant aspects of Buddha’s life. It is a place where the fragrance of the Lord subsists in the air. From austere stupas to ancient monasteries, the devout would explore every bit of Buddha’s life on a visit to the state. Here are some prominent Buddhist pilgrimage sites in U.P.-
The capital of the Shakya kingdom, it was in Kapilavastu’s affluent environs that Buddha spent most of his early childhood. He was the son of king Shuddhodhana of this clan and led a luxurious life with his wife and son Rahul until the age of 29, when he renounced worldly life and left for Nirvana from here.
Chinese Buddhist pilgrim named Xuanzang (Hsüan-tsang, 602-664 CE) reported his visit to Kapilavastu in his work Buddhist Records of the Western World, in which he wrote: “…There are a couple of Deva temples, in which various sectaries worship (live). Within the royal precincts are some ruined foundation walls; these are the remains of the proper palace of Suddhodana-raja; above is built a vihdra in which is a statue of the king. Not far from this is a ruined foundation, which represents the sleeping palace of Mahamaya, the queen. Above this they have erected a vihdra in which is a figure of the queen.”
The present day town of Piprahwa is located 27 kms south of Lumbini, in Siddharthnagar district of Uttar Pradesh. The place contains relics of Lord Buddha. It is also dotted with numerous stupas built by Ashoka and the Gupta Kings. It entails a mystic charm and could soothe the mind of the traveller due to its mesmerising aura. Indeed the archaeological importance of the region makes it one of the most frequently visited tourist destinations.
Popularly known as Isipatana (the name used in the Pali Canon), Sarnath is an important Buddhist pilgrimage centre where Lord Buddha delivered his first sermon and turned the wheel of the dharma, after attaining enlightenment. Located about 13 kilometres north-east of Varanasi, the city is renowned for ancient remains of Buddhist stupas, monasteries and temples.
The massive Dhamek Stupa, constructed by the Mauryan king Ashoka, signifies the seat of the holy Buddha. Pilgrims circumambulate this sacred Stupa and worship Lord Buddha. Then there is Chaukhandi Stupa which was originally a terraced temple during the Gupta period. It marks the place where Lord Buddha met his first disciples as he travelled from Bodh Gaya to Sarnath. Besides, Sarnath Museum contains a colossal collection of 6,832 sculptures and Buddhist artefacts. It also exhibits the Lion Capital of Ashoka. This famous sandstone sculpture was originally erected around 250 BCE on the top of the Ashoka Pillar and is now India’s National Emblem. The wheel “Ashoka Chakra” from its base has been placed onto the centre of the National Flag of India. Moreover, a journey to Sarnath would be incomplete without a visit to the library at Mugandh Kuti Vihara that comprises some amazing frescoes done by Koset Nosu.
Gautama Buddha passed the larger part of his ascetic life in Shravasti, then known as Savatthi. Located near the West Rapti River about 170 kilometres north-east of Lucknow, Buddha is believed to have spent 24 Chaturmases here. The town being his annual rainy season retreat, Buddha meditated in its calm ambience during the monsoons. Said to be founded by the Vedic period king Shravasta, the place holds ruins of numerous ancient stupas, magnificent monasteries and beautiful temples.
Its most important religious place is the Jetavana Monastery, which was erected in a garden outside the walls of the city and presented to the Buddha by a wealthy merchant, Anathapindaka. Similarly, the massive World Peace Bell is another attraction which was established with the help of the Japanese. The purpose was to convey Buddha’s message of humanity through the bell’s toll. Further, Anathapindika Stupa, Shobhnath Temple, the Ananda Bodhi Tree etc. also attract the visitors.
Located in the Farrukhabad district of Uttar Pradesh, Sankisa is a place of tremendous importance for the Buddhists. According to a Buddhist source, after delivering sermons to his mother and other devas in the Heaven, Buddha returned to earth at Sankisa. Thereafter, Emperor Ashoka developed this place and erected here an elephant pillar so as to mark this holy spot.
Nowadays, the place has ruins of ancient monasteries and Buddhist shrines. The Buddha temple standing at the spot where Lord Buddha descended after his stay in the Tushita heaven, is an important attraction here. Also the temple of Maya Devi, dedicated to the mother of Gautam Buddha stands at Sankisa. The ruins of Ashokan Elephant Pillar is worthy of a visit too. The pillar with an elephant in lieu of the usual lion is representative of the white elephant of which Mayadevi had a vision at the time of conception of Buddha. Besides the huge Shravan Mela held in the month of July- August also draws large number of tourists to Sankisa.
On his effort to spread the dharma, Gautam Buddha visited Kaushambi several times. The capital city of the then Vatsa Janpada, this place was used by Buddha to deliver the sermons after attaining the enlightenment, elevating it to a centre of higher learning for the Buddhists. One of Buddha’s principal disciples, Ananda mentions it as one of the places suitable for the Buddha’s Parinirvana.
A wealthy city during Buddha’s time, is however in ruins today due to the negligence of later rulers who had shifted their attention away from the place. Still, there are some old forts, stupas and sculptures that attract tourist’s attention, bearing the sign of an ancient civilized city. Excavations have revealed ruins of an Ashokan Pillar, an old fort and the Ghositaram Monastery, apart from several sculptures and figurines, cast coins and terracotta objects. The region is full of temples in which Sheetla temple of Kara Dham and the Jain temple of Prabhosa are the main charms.
An International Buddhist Pilgrimage Centre, Kushinagar is the place where Lord Budhha left his corporeal self and attained Mahaparinirvana. It has its mention in Ramayana and it is believed that the town got its name from the son of Lord Rama, Kusha. King Ashoka is said to have visited Kushinagar in 260 BCE and had built there several caityas and stupas to honour the Buddha’s place of Nirvana.
The excavations at this site leading to the finding of the copper vessel and the Brahmi inscription on it proving that Buddha’s ashes were buried here, made Nirvana Stupa suddenly an important destination for all Buddhists devotees. The Mahaparinirvana Temple contains a famous 6.10 m long reclining Nirvana statue representing the “Dying Buddha”. Around 1.5 km east of the main Nirvana Temple is the Ramabhar Stupa, also known as Mukutbandhan-Chaitya, which is the cremation -place of Buddha. Matha Kuar Shrine entailing Buddha seated under the “Bodhi Tree” in a pose known as “Bhumi Sparsh Mudra” is another important attraction of this place. Moreover, the famous Buddha museum features the various archaeological excavations that were found in Kushinagar. It exhibits Buddhist relics, sculptures and terracottas as well as some Tibetan thangkas (rectangular cloth paintings) and Mughal miniature paintings. The Stucco idol of Lord Buddha constructed in a stunning Gandhara Style forms one of the major attractions of the museum.
Thus, if you think that Buddhist pilgrimage sites are just for the elderly men with orange robes, think again! The trick is to enjoy life and find happiness. The journey to the Buddhist circuit would emanate peace and delight in the daily chaos of lives. So follow the reverent trails and get on to experience a connect with the inner self.