Have you ever experienced a tryst with yourself? If not, get set for a serene tour with Uttar Pradesh’s Buddhist trail. The splendour of this magical land shall sweep you off your feet, as you reach to a world of sanctity.
The Buddhist heritage of Uttar Pradesh is something that would satiate your urge for inner peace. Considered to be one of the major Buddhist destinations in India, Uttar Pradesh is a cradle of early Buddhism. From grave stupas to ancient monasteries, the pilgrims would discover every fragment of Buddha’s life on their sojourn to the state.
The historical founder of Buddhism, Siddhartha Gautama was the son of King Śuddhodhana, the ruler of the Shakya clan. Born with a silver spoon in his mouth, Prince Siddhartha was born at Lumbini in Rupandehi district of Nepal and grew up as a child in the luxurious environs of Kapilvastu, the then capital of the mighty kingdom. Identified with the present day township of Piprahwa, the place is located 27 kilometres south of Lumbini in Siddharthnagar district of Uttar Pradesh.
Leading an affluent life with his wife Yasodhara and son Rahul, Prince Siddhartha is said to have spent the first twenty-nine years of his life in Shakya capital- Kapilvastu before setting out in search of truth and enlightenment. He then left his princely abode and lived the life of an ascetic, leaving for Nirvana from here. Indeed, the place is vital to envision as the lavish days of the Lord who had bestowed much upon humanity by giving up his own luxury and princely class.
Chinese traveler Faxian recorded his visit to Kapilavastu in his work “A Record of the Buddhistic Kingdoms”, in which he wrote:
“…At the spot where stood the old palace of king Suddhodana there have been made images of the prince (his eldest son) and his mother; and at the places where that son appeared mounted on a white elephant when he entered his mother’s womb, and where he turned his carriage round on seeing the sick man after he had gone out of the city by the eastern gate, topes have been erected. The places (were also pointed out) where (the rishi) A-e (Asita) inspected the marks (of Buddhaship on the body) of the heir-apparent (when an infant…”
Primarily being an archaeological location, the village has a mystic charm and is frequently thronged with numerous visitors. The place is dotted with countless stupas built by Ashoka and the Gupta Kings. The remnants of Lord Buddha are also present here. Certainly, the mesmerizing attractions, as well as the charm of Kapilvastu are sure to captivate all kinds of tourists.
After attaining Enlightenment Gautama Buddha went to Sarnath, a city located 13 kilometres north-east of Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh. It is the place where more than 2,500 years ago Buddha delivered his first sermon, and where the Buddhist Sangha came into existence through the enlightenment of Kondanna. Commonly known as Isipatana, this city is mentioned by the Buddha as one of the four major spots of pilgrimage to which his devout followers should visit. The other three include Lumbini (Buddha’s birthplace); Bodh Gaya (the place of his Enlightenment) and Kushinagar (where he achieved Parinirvana).
Here in the Deer Park, Buddha first taught the Dharma, and set in motion the Wheel of Law (Maha-Dharmachakra Pravartan). Built over the relics of the Buddha by Ashoka in the 3rd century BCE, remains of the Dharmarajika Stupa are still found here. This small circular structure, about 13.5 meters in diameter is supposed to be the place where Buddha rested and meditated in Sarnath.
The most impressive structure in Sarnath, the Dhamekha Stupa connotes the “seat of the holy Buddha.” A gleaming Ashoka Pillar, erected by Emperor Ashoka here, is surmounted by the “Lion Capital of Asoka” (presently on display at the Sarnath Museum) which is now India’s National Emblem. Besides, there is the Chaukhandi Stupa, the Mulagandhakuti vihara and numerous monasteries that depict the stories from Buddha’s life.
Another city associated with the life of Gautama Buddha is Shravasti. Located near the West Rapti River some 170 kilometres north-east of Lucknow, Shravasti played host to Lord Buddha for 27 years and was his annual rainy season retreat. It is believed to be the place where he spent 27 monsoons and showed his divine prowess.
The site of Jetavana monastery is the main pilgrim destination here, with meditation and chanting mainly done at the Gandhakuti (Buddha’s hut) and the Anandabodhi tree (under which Lord Buddha Meditated for a night). Indeed, the holy place offers the pilgrims and visitors the opportunity to experience an impression of Buddhist architecture from various cultures.
Identified with the present village of Basantpur in Farrukhabad district of Uttar Pradesh, Sankisa is as interesting and enchanting as the stories related to Buddha. It is the place where the Buddha descended from heaven along with Lord Brahma and Devraj Indra after giving a discourse to his mother, Mayadevi.
After the Gautama Buddha’s Mahaparinirvana (passing away) emperor Ashoka developed this place and installed one of his famous Pillars of Ashoka in the city, from which the elephant capital survives. He also constructed a stupa and a temple commemorating the visit of the Buddha here.
Another Buddhist pilgrimage site that has a history steeped in myth, and whose every monument stands testimony to faith fused into reality is Kaushambi. It is considered to be the place where Lord Buddha passed his 6th and 9th year after attaining enlightenment. He delivered several sermons here, elevating it to a centre of higher learning for the Buddhists.
Standing around 60km. from Allahabad, the city is archaeologically significant due to its wonderful history, right from the Mahabharata age. Excavations have revealed remnants of an Ashokan Pillar, an old fort and the Ghositaram Monastery, besides a huge number of sculptures and figurines, cast coins and terracotta objects.