Buddhist Pilgrimage sites
The Four pilgrimage sites mentioned by Buddha in sutras are BodhGaya, Kapilavastu(Lumbin), Kusinagara and Deer Park (Varanasi/Saranath). Some Tibetan text mentions about 24 pilgrimage sites related to Buddhism.
Bodh Gaya(Tib: Dorje Den/VajraSana); Samyak SamBodhi; Bodhi Tree
BodhGaya was indentified by Sir Cunningham. He wrote in 1862 "
The Celebrated Bodhi Drum, or "Tree of Wisdom," still exists, but it is very much decayed. Immediately to the east of the tree there is a massive brick temple, nearly 50 feet square at base, and 160 feet in height. This is beyond all doubt the Vihar that was seen by Hwen Thsang in the seventh century, as he places it to the east of the Bodhi-tree, and describes it as 20 paces square at base, and from 160 to 170 feet in height."
Hiuen Tsang, 639AD, saw a monastery and wrote " Outside the northern gate of the walls of the Bodhi Tree is the
Mahabodhi Monastery. It was built by a former king of Sri Lanka. This edifice has six halls, with towers of observation of three stories; it is
surrounded by a wall of defence thirty or forty feet high. The utmost skill of the artist has been employed; the ornamentation is in the
richest colours. The statue of the Buddha is of gold and silver, decorated with gems and precious stones. The stupas are high and large in
proportion; they contain relics of the Buddha ".
Sidhartha Gautama, the prince, attained Nirvana under this Bodhi Tree at Bodh Gaya. He become Sakyamuni Buddha, the founder of Buddhism. He
remained in Bodh Gaya for 7 more weeks at seven different spots (sattaMahatthana) before he moved on to Varanasi and never
To safe guard the Bodhi Tree from elephants in 1st or 2nd Century BC stone railing was build to protect it. " The gift of Kurangi, the
mother of living sons and the wife of King Indragnimitra, son of Kosiki. The gift also of Srima of the royal palace shrine " an
King Ashoka (Tib: ChoGyal NyaNyinMe), in 262 BC, made a pilgrimage to Bodh Gaya (SamBodhi) and may have built the first temple. His
daughter (Sanghamitta) brought a sapling of Bodhi Tree to Sri Lanka(Ceylon).
HT wrote, "Sasanka-raja having cut down the Bodhi tree, wished to destroy this image ; but having seen its loving features, his mind had no rest or determination, and he returned with his retinue homewards. On his way he said to one of his officers, "We must remove that statue of Buddha and place there a figure of Mahesvara.
The officer having received the order, was moved with fear, and, sighing, said,
" If I destroy the figure of Buddha, then during successive kalpas I shall reap misfortune ; if I disobey the king, he will put me to a cruel death and
destroy my family ; in either case, whether I obey or disobey, such will be the consequences ; what, then, shall I do?"
On this he called to his presence a man with a believing heart (i.e., a believer in Buddha) to help him, and sent him to build up across the chamber and before the figure of Buddha a wall of brick. The man, from a feeling of shame at the darkness, placed a burning lamp (with the concealed figure) ; then on the interposing wall he drew a figure of (or, he made a figure of) Mahesvara-deva."
The Buddha image in above paragraph is also mentioned by HT. it is 11 foot 5 inches in height, 8 foot 8 inches from one knee to the other and shoulder width is 6 foot and 2 inches. He is in sitting postion, right hand touching the ground. it had all the 32 signs of Sakyamuni Buddha which can be viewd in the morning with a help of a mirror which reflect sun beam into the inner sanctume where the statue is.
A Tibetan pilgrim, lama Choeje(Dharma Asvamin), found BodhGaya deserted in 1234 AD but for 4 monks.
Sir Alexander Cunningham (1814-93), a military engineer turned archaeologist, became head of new Archaeological Survey of India in 1861. He referred mainly to French and English translation of Fa Hien’s (399 - 412AD; 12 year tour) and Hiuen Tsiang’s (629-645AD;16 year tour) pilgrimage to Buddhist countries(Gopi Desert, silk Road, Khotan or Xinjiang(Tib:Li Yul), Kyrgyzstan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, part of Iran, India, Shri Lanka, Bangladesh) and excavated Lumbini, Bodh Gaya and hundreds of other Buddhist sites when India and Pakistan were under one British Raj.
Tigress-Feed (Tib: TagMo LuGin) is in Pakistan, not Nepal, according to Hiuen Tsiang. He visited this place in 631AD. Stupa is on Mankiala Road. It is about 29 km South-East of Rawal Pindi or follow the GT Road from Rawalpindi or simply Pindi. Google Earth location is (33°26'53.30"N, 73°14'36.50"E) or click here And Zoom in or out
Bodh Gaya is 12km from Gaya City, Bihar. From Delhi it is 1030km. GE location coordinate is ( 24°41'45.38"N 84°59'29.58"E)
King Dharma Asoka, around 260BC, built a small shed over the place(VajraStana:dorjeDen) where Buddha sat and meditated beside a Bodhi Tree. Later other kings made a fence around the Bodhi Tree. Ground or spot next to the Bodhi Tree is the main object of veneration.
To the east of the Bodhi Tree, a huge Temple or Vihara was built by a Burmese King Thado Mang, or King Sado around 400AD, according to Sir Cunningham(1877Ad). To the north of the Bodhi Tree there used to be a huge monastery or SanghaRama built by Sri Lanka king around 300AD. These sites are reported by Fa Han and Huen Tsang both in 300AD and 635AD respectively when they visited India.
Present shape and size of MahaBodhi Temple is not one structure. It is a result of many layered construction of bigger temple over the previous smaller temple. There are at least 3 temples within what we see today.
Whatever Buddhist sites, we enjoy today, were restored by Sir Cunningham in 1875 ad according to an ancient wooden model found at some other Buddhist location. These Buddhist sites were lost for almost 650 years, from 1230-1875ad until Sir Cunningham excavated them out.
Buddha meditated under Bodhi Tree for 6 years. After His enlightenment He remained 49 days more without preaching at 7 different spots. These seven spots are sacred. Buddha sat here and meditated. What else can be more profound?
Note: copy above GE coordinates, within the bracket, and paste it either in Google Map or Google Earth Search Box and Press Go to view. Zoom in for detail.
Here are the seven spots :
VajraSana is the very spot under the Maha Bodhi Tree where Guatama meditated and attained Nirvana. Buddha also remained here for 7 days more after attaining Nirvana. The Tree and the spot is now protected by physical barrier. A raised platform(VajraSana-Diamond Seat; VajraSila-the rock of Diamond) lay between the Temple and the
Maha Bodhi Tree.
2) Animisa-lokana (Animisa Cetiya)
About 60 meters to the north of the Maha Bodhi Tree, there is Animisa Ceti(Unblinking shrine). Buddha meditated for the 2nd
week here at this spot for 7 days " unblinking gaze " fixed at the Maha Bodhi Tree.
3) Cankamana(RatanaCanKama Cetiya)
To the north of MahaBodhi Temple base, there is a raised platform. Buddha spend the 3rd Week performing " walk meditation
" for 7
days. 7 Lotus spring up where Buddha stepped on.
4) Ratanaghara(Jewel house shrine)
Ratnaghara is at north-west of the MahaBodhi Tree. Small image of recent made Buddha is installed there. Buddha spend 7 days of
4th week here performing deep meditation and spectrum of light emanate from his body which now became colors of Buddhist flag.
5) Ajapala Nigrodha
Enter the main gate and descend stairs to find a stone pillar. This pillar marks the spot where Buddha spend 7 days of the 5th
week in meditation under Ajapala Tree.
6) Mucalinda lake
Lake on south of MahaBodhi Tree or Temple is a lake where
Buddha did meditation for 7 days of the 6th week. Modern image of Buddha and serpent is a gift of Myanmar
mission. Asoka built a pillar here to mark the spot.
This spot, South of MahaBodhi Temple, is where Buddha spend 7 days of the last 7th week. Two merchants, from Burma, offered him honey and rice cakes. In return Buddha offered hair strand and it is believed that these relics are still in Burma.
Other important Buddhist places are :
Nirangana River and SitpaTsal DhuTro(Tib)
River flowing East of Bodh Gaya is Niranjana or Falgu. SilpaTsal DuTro is about 9 km from BodhGaya, North-East, across the river Niranjana. Small hill is known as Palden Shawa Ri in Tibetan.
Sarnath(tib:Varanasi; ISIPATANA in pali canon)
Sarnath is 247km West-North of Bodh Gaya or 10 km from Banaras, UP. Buddha gave his first sermon on 4 noble truths here. There is a giant Dhamek Stupa rebuilt in 500 AD, 28.5m in diameter and 42.6m high. Original Stupa was built by Asoka in 249 AD from where Buddha gave teachings. Hiuen Tsiang (640 AD) recorded that there was about 1,500 monks and Stupa was nearly 91m high. GE location coordinate is (25°22'51.28"N 83° 1'28.06"E)
Rajgir is modern name for RajaGaha(Royal Palace). It is 80 km north-east of Bodh Gaya. It is in Bihar. City is surrounded by five hills
(Vebhara, Pandava, Vepulla, Gijjhakuta, Isigili). Hot spring water is at hill Vepulla.
1) Vulture Peak(tib: ChaGoe PhungPo Ri)
Chhatagiri is former Grijjhakuta. Buddha gave his famous sermon Emptiness or Heart Sutra or Tib:Sherab NyigPo ( प्रज्ञापारमिताहृदयसूत्रं- PraJaParaMitaHirDyaSutra) at this place. Lake MaGang Sangmo(tib) is at the base of Vulture Peak and water-fall that comes out of it is known as Saravasti
(tib:Yangchen). GE location coordinate is ( 25° 0'6.53"N 85°26'47.86"E).
2) Bamboo Grove (Tib: VoeMae Tsal)
King Bimbisara(tib: SugChen Nyingpo) offered his bamboo garden(Veluvana) to Buddha and his 1000 Sanghas. Bamboo Garden is just
north of the hot-spring-water.
3) Pippala House
Pippala stone house is the residence of Maha Kassapa(Tib: WoeSung)
4) Sattapanni Caves
Venue of the first Buddhist Council convened here by Kassapa with other 500 Arahats, three months after Buddha passed away.
5) Shitavana Charnel Ground(Tib:JigSuRungWae Dudru; Sanskrit: Shitavana Shamsha in Shitavati Sutra)
It is said that Buddha stayed here for a day. It is south of Bamboo Grove. Another Tibetan Text locate it thus: A clear patch of land surrounded by thick forest in the North-West of Nalanda lay Shitavan Charnel ground.
King AjataSastru(Tib: MaKyeDra) built a new Rajgir outside the old Rajgir. Story is that AjataSatru imprisoned his own father, Bimbisara, who later died. Devadatta and AjataSatru chased a wild elephant to kill Lord Buddha. Buddha subdued the elephant. Ajatasatru filled with remorse submitted himself to Lord Buddha.
Note: Hot Spring Water at foot of Vepula hill is NOT pilgrimage importance for Buddhist. It is just there. Nalanda is 12-15 km North-East of Rajgir.
Sravasti (tib: U-Nyen-Yoe)
Sravasti/ Saravasti/ Shravasti / Savatthi or Saheth-Maheth refer to the same place. Buddha stayed here for 25 rainy seasons or 25 years. To me, this is the most blessed place. Buddha had spent 25 years of his best life here. Great many miracles were performed here.
Ananda once asked Buddha to allow a tree to be planted at Jetavana because when the Buddha was away his followers had no where to place their offerings of flowers and so forth. Maudgalyayana brought a seed of the bodhi tree and when the tree grew the Buddha was said to have blessed it by spending one night meditating under it. Today it is known as the Ananda Bodhi Tree.
Anathpindika, a rich merchant became Buddha’s disciple here in Sravasti.
It is in North of Varanasi, UP, and 160 km from Lucknow;17 km North-West of Balrampur (small) railway station; 50km North-East of Gonda Junction(major railway hub; GE location coordinate is ( 27°30'29.69"N 82° 2'19.74"E).
Tourist Hotel: Rahi Tourist Bangalow at Sravasti seems to be nice. Tariff ranges from Rs 400 for regular single room to Rs 1200 for double AC deluxe room-according to 2011 data. For more click http://www.up-tourism.com/online1/index.asp
Sir Cunningham identified present Vaishali (Tibetan call it YangPaChen), Bihar, with that of ancient Vaisali. It is 44km north of Patna, Bihar or 7km north-east of Maker, Chhapra. GE location coordinate is (26° 0'13.95"N 85° 4'53.80"E).
Buddha gave his last sermon here. He sojourns here in Mango orchard offered to his Sangha by lady Ambapali who was rich, beautiful and powerful. It is said that lady is a courtesan. This contradicts prevailing situation. Anyway, that is the story. She later joined his Sangha. Sakyamuni moved from this place to his last resting place Kusinagara.
Fa Hain, in 408 AD, found Vaisali a thick forest but for a double storyed Buddhist Temple.
Hiuen Tsang(HT), in 638 AD, found several hundreds of Buddhist monasteries in state of neglect. Only few monks left in 3 or 5 monasteries. There were several Hindu temples with numerous Pandits.
Tibetan’s know this place better by “Where Monkey Offered Honey”. A Buddhist council was held in Vaisali after 110 years since Buddha’s PariNirvana. The convocation was attended by 700 masters and saints, according to HT. It was during King Kalasoka's reign in connection with the ten rules of conduct for Sanghas followed in Vaisali that raised eye brows.
A Tibetan book says that it was once called VidhiHa, which confirms Sir Cunningham’s VaideHis, or LusPhakYul in Tibetan.
Asoka’s mother was from this place too. HT found a stupa where once Vimalakirtti’s house was.
Amdo Gendun Choepal, a Tibetan writer, believes that Prince Drime Kunden is from Vaisali, which is doubtful. Drime Kunden’s story, as told by HT, fits a place in present Mardan, Pakistan, place called Cave of Sudana in Mountain Dantaloka.
Patliputra(Tib: Kyanar Bue DrongKyar)
Historical Paliputra is, today, called Patna, Bihar. Patliputra was a major city of Magadha during Mauryans period. Lord Buddha was here briefly. It was known as Pataligrama during Buddha’s time. GE location coordinate is (25.611°N 85.144°E).
Sankassa (also Sankasia, Sankissa and Sankasya) is an important place for Buddhist. This is the spot where Buddha returned to earth after visiting heaven(Tib: 33 steps) where his mother was to pay her respect and return her kindness as she left him soon after giving birth. It is 47 km west of Farrukhabad, UP, India.GE location coordinate is (27°20'4"N 79°16'15"E).
Buddha was at Kosambi two times; 6th and 9th year after enlightenment. Ancient Kosambi is identified by Sir Cunningham, in 1861, with present Kaushambi. It is 150 km to the west of Varanasi or 50 km west of Allahabad, UP. India. Tibetan sources say that on invitation from professor DhangChen Buddha stayed for a year. GE location coordinate is (25°20'41.71"N 81°23'12.65"E).
In 635 AD, Hiuen Tsang, saw a 60 ft Buddhist Vihara(temple) in which there was a statue of Buddha of red Sandle-wood made by the King Udayana and 200ft high Asoka Stupa. Goshira's house and his garden, where Buddha stayed, was in ruin back in 635AD. Both Asanga and his half-brother Vasubandhu lived and composed Sastras in Kosambi. HT found Stupas built over their residences. Everything is gone but for a broken Asoka Pillar, today.
Kesariya(Kessaputta)-The biggest Stupa!!
Kesariya is in Bihar some 55 km North-west of Vaishali. Probably the biggest Stupa in the world is here. According to Sir Cunningham who visited the site in 1861, the Stupa was 62 feet high and 1400 feet in circumference at the base. It was known as Kesaputta during Buddha's time. He gave Kesputtiya Suttas (collective sutra) teachings here, one of them was Kalama Sutra. GE location coordinate is (26°20'3.58"N 84°51'17.13"E).
Kusinagara (Tib: TsamChokDrong)
Historical city Kusinagara was indentified by Sir Cunningham with present Kushinagar, UP, India. It is 51 km east of Gorakhpur. GE location coordinate is (26°44'21.71"N 83°53'24.13"E).
Buddha passed away, PariNirvana, in Kusinagara. People commonly refer to it as the Sleeping Buddha.
After cremation, his relics were shared among the 8 kings. Kusinagara did not flourish afterwards. Hindu King Shashanka (HT writes Sasanka-Raja), present Bengal, persecuted Buddhism according to HT.
Mallas were dominant clan of Kusinagara in ancient India.
Recently a huge stupa was found 1.5km east of present Kushinagar, Gorakhpur, UP, India. GE location coordinate is (26°44'9.81"N 83°54'17.77"E). Locally this stupa is called Ramabhar.
Lumbini: Kapilavastu Capital
Kapilavastu is the Capital city of Kingdom of Sakayas. Lumbini is the Royal Garden of Kapilavastu King. Lumbini is in Nepal, just at the border of India. It is 197km from Sravasti, UP, India. Buddha was born as Prince Sidhartha Gautam (Sidhartha Gautama-pali).
He was married and had a son. He gave up fame, wealth, throne, mundane pleasure and began an ascetic journey in search of the truth. He became Buddha, the founder of Buddhism who preached love for all livings(animal, plant) without exception. GE location coordinate is ( 27°28'11.03"N 83°16'32.61"E).
Nalanda is 68km East-North of Bodh Gaya or 13km north of Rajgir. It is near modern village Baragaon, Bihar. Nalanada was built around 1st century AD. Hieun
Tsang paid a visit to Nalanda in 638 AD and he studied here for 4 years. He found more than 10,000 students and 2,000 teachers.
GE location coordinate is ( 25° 8'6.93"N 85°26'34.24"E).
For more go here
Ancient Nalanda University
Odantapuri / Odantapura/Uddandapura/Otanapuri
Today it is buried under Bihar Sharif, Bihar. Once it was a huge university as Nalanda was. Vihara, learning Center, became Bihar. It is10km North-East of Nalanda.GE location coordinate is ( 25°12'14.46"N 85°30'15.11"E).
Samye Monastery, the first monastery of Tibet, was modeled after it. Naropa stayed at this hill Phula Hari. Tibetan book describes this hill as " hill at the north
of Nalanda " . MilaRepa wrote, " shape of the hill bows to Tibet " . 6th Dalai Lama TsangYang Gyatso wrote that he went to this monastery where there were about 500 resident monks. He offered grand tea and stayed here for 6 months. 6th Dalai Lama acknowledges how blessed India was by so many Buddha and its spiritual power. He did ChakarSamva meditation. " spiritual achievement made in one day meditation at Phula Hari was far greater than one year in Nepal " , he wrote.
Other Buddhist universities were Nalanda,Vickramasila, Somapura, Jagaddala and Vallabhi.
Sanchi, Raisen District, Madhya Pradesh, India is a small village. It is located 46 km north east of Bhopal. GE location coordinate is (23°28'46.35"N 77° 44'22.70"E). Several Stupas and Monastery foundations were found near Satdhara which is 9km west of Sanchi; GE location coordinate of Satdhara is ( 23°29'12.51"N 77°39'5.69"E). It was discovered by General Taylor in 1818. Stupa has four gateways, Toranas, with ornate design and shape. Such gateway designs are found in Japan. They call it Tors. Asoka’s mother was here and her son Mahendra too.
Bodhgaya(Bihar): 12km from Gaya. Attained enlightenment after 6 years of meditation under Bodhi Tree.
Saranath(UP): 247km West of Bodh Gaya in UP. First sermon; Four Noble Truth.
Rajgriha(Bihar): 66km NorthEast of Bodh Gaya, Bihar. Mad elephant was subdued; Heart Sutra.
Nalanda(Bihar): 79km EastNorth from Bodh Gaya/12km from Rajgir. 4-5th AD century built famous Buddhist university.
Sravasti(Bihar): 160km from Lucknow,UP;17km from Balrampur railway station;50km from Gonda junction(major railway hub)-this is a better choice;Buddha was here for 20 rainy seasons and performed many
Vaishali(Bihar): 151km from Bodh Gaya, Bihar. Monkey offered honey to Buddha.
Sankasya (UP): 47km from Farrukhabad, UP. Descended from heaven(33 steps).
Kushinagar/Kusinara (UP): 225km from Srasvati, UP, India): Parinirvana.... passed away
Lumbini/Kapilvastu(Nepal): 197km from Srasvasti, UP, India): Buddha was born as prince Sidhartha Gautama.
Kesariya(Bihar): Remains of probably the biggest Stupa in the world.
Patliputra(Patna, Bihar): 97km from Bodh Gaya): Patna, Bihar;
Odantapuri (Bihar City):
Sanchi (Madhya Pradesh): West of Bodh Gaya.
Taxi rate, 2009, is about Rs. 6 to 7 per kilo meter.
Tips for Trips
Group them according to directions and distance. Bihar is a not safe place to travel by night.
1 Bodh Gaya, Rajgir, Nalanda, odantapuri, patliputra
2 Vaishali, Kesariya, Kshinagar
3 Lumbini, srasvati, sankasya
4 Varanasi, Sanchi
Note: Most historic places in India and elsewhere are in state of ruins. As a pilgrimage, one must strive to visit these RUINS, feel the
energy, compassion, and aura. Make time for reflection and meditation. " These blessed site are unique " 6th Dalai Lama wrote.
New temples, manicured gardens and hot spring water are not main object of veneration but ruins are.
Other Buddhist sites are:
It is located in Riwalser, Mandi, HP, India. Recently Tibetans built a huge Guru Statue overlooking town or the lake. For more go here
Guru Padma Sambawa(tib:Guru Rinpoche) was born here in this beautiful valley. It is in Peshawar, Pakistan. Alexander the great, Huang
Tsang(7th century AD), a Tibetan yogi Ugen Rinchen Pal(600 years ago) visited this place.
Presently, SWAT valley is under Taliban(Muslim Fanatic) control and many Buddhist ruins are destroyed intentionally.
Kangra: Main spot is “Lhamo Nagmo”. It is 2 hours drive from Dharamsala.
Past the RothangLa, North of Kulu, there is GharSha Khado, Phakpa JigtenSumGon(Avaloteshawara). Down the valley, there is Bagwati,
Ajanta & Ellora Caves
Ajanta: (1st Century BC – 6th century AD) UNESCO
It is at 109km from Aurangabad city, Maharastra. Ajanta has 29 caves with paintings, sculptures, shrines curved out of rock are awe
inspiring. 5 caves are shrines. Rest are Viharas or monasteries. Caves 8,9,10,12 and 13 are of simple paintings-hinayana school. Remaining
caves have elaborate paintings- Mahayana school.
Decoration themes are Life of Buddha and Sangas. Cave 4 is 35.08m X 27.28m or 115 feet X 90 feet in size. For more
tip: Flashlight is required as caves are dark.
Ellora (600 AD – 1000AD) UNESCO
It is 76km from Ajanta or 29km from Aurnagabad city. There are 34 caves extending 2 km. However, it is site for Buddhist, Jain and Hindu
KamaRupa: It is also called Pragjyotisha. It is present Guwahati, Assam.
Otibisha or Kalinga: Present Orrisa is OtiBhiSha. Here you will find famous Jagannath Temple- a Hindu lord Vishnu. It is mentioned here to
confirm as a land mark for Otibhisha.
Drepung Stupa(tib: Drepung Choeten)
Drepung Choeten is in Guntor, Andhara Pradesh. Amravati is towards the NorthEast of Guntur, near Krishna River. It is where Buddha gave
VajraYana teachings. NagarJuna lived here.
Vikramshila Vihara: It is in SultanGanj, Bihar. In middle of river Ganga Vikramshila remains are suppose to be there.
Bhagalpur, Bihar, is nearby SultanGanj. Lopon ShewaTso and JowoJet were from this place. SaHor too is nearby.
I hope YOUR next pilgrimage tour will be a meaningful one.
Ref: Buddhist pilgrimage sites in India by Sherig Parkang, Dharamsala.