Buddhism, an esoteric tradition and way of life, arose to teach people how to experience life in a more meaningful way, bringing intrinsic serenity and pleasure. It aspires to live in perfect harmony with the greatest outpouring of love, honesty, and compassion possible. There’s a lot to discover about this 2500-year-old religion and its global appeal. Explore these locations to be awestruck by their beauty and to learn more about Buddha’s teachings.
Bodh Gaya is India’s Buddhist epicenter. The tiny village of Bodh Gaya in Bihar reverberates with a serene atmosphere infused with profound devotion. This 2,500-year-old Buddhism cradle, studded with temples and monasteries, welcomes people from all across the globe to soak up its spiritual and holy vibes, follow Lord Buddha’s footsteps, and hear about his teachings at the very spot where he attained enlightenment. The serenity pervades every wind in this tiny village. Prince Siddhartha, better renowned as Lord Buddha, is claimed to have taken shelter under the most sacred tree in the vicinity, the Bodhi tree, there he meditated till enlightenment.
The beautiful Mahabodhi Temple, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is one of Lord Buddha’s four sacred shrines. The renowned sandstone temple stands 52 meters tall in the heart of Bodh Gaya town, amidst lush green gardens. The existing Bodhi tree, most likely the sixth generation of the first, a prominent emblem in Buddhism, is located to the left of the Mahabodhi Temple. It commemorates the spot where Lord Buddha attained enlightenment underneath the first Bodhi tree. Buddha meditated for about a month in Bodhgaya under a holy fig tree. Bodhi Day, which honors Buddha’s enlightenment under the Bodhi tree, is observed every year on Dec 8 by Buddhists all around the world.
It’s a delightful surprise, with exquisite engravings and arch motifs on the tower. A golden figure of Lord Buddha in his renowned bhumisparsha mudra, with one finger touching the ground and asking it to witness his enlightenment, can be found inside the temple. A statue of Mayadevi, Lord Buddha’s mother, is housed in a room at the top.
Sarnath,10km from Varanasi, was the starting point for Buddha’s teachings and preaching. Buddha gave his first lectures after nirvana in this very location. Sarnath is one of India’s four holiest Buddhist sites, with constructions like the Dhamekh Stupa and Chaukhandi Stupa highlighting its historical importance.
The solid cylindrical structured Stupa made of red bricks and stone reaches a height of 43.6 m and a diameter of 28 m. This historic site is significant because it represents the site where Lord Buddha delivered His first teaching to His 5 monks following achieving enlightenment in Bodh Gaya. Buddhist pilgrims from all across the world come to Sarnath to worship Lord Buddha.
Lord Buddha’s remains were dispersed and buried beneath 8 mounds after his enlightenment, with the embers and urn buried beneath 2 additional mounds, for a total of 10 such memorials housing Lord Buddha’s relics.
Great Indian Emperor Ashoka of the Maurya Dynasty, who reigned over almost the entire Indian subcontinent from c. 268 to 232 BCE, constructed multiple Stupas across India bearing relics of Lord Buddha and his disciples, to spread Buddhism. At 249 BCE, he ordered the construction of the Dhamek Stupa at Sarnath, which was later reconstructed in 500 CE, as well as several other Sarnath structures.
Kushinagar is a well-known tourist destination associated with Gautama Buddha, located 51 kilometers east of Gorakhpur on National Highway No. 28. Buddha delivered his last and final preaching here in 483 BC. The statue of Lord Buddha in nirvana, which towers 6.10 meters tall and dates from the 5th century A.D., is built of monolith red-sandstone. The ‘Resting-Buddha’ is seen lying on his right side, facing west. It is a holy pilgrimage place since it is where Lord Buddha breathed his last.
Kushinagar’s other attractions include the Indo-Japanese Temple, Burmese Temple, Chinese Temple, Thai Temple, Korean, Sri Lankan, Tibetan temples, 15-acre Meditation Park, and Museum.
Tawang Monastery, the largest monastery in India and the second largest in the world, located in Tawang city of Tawang district in the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, serves as the valley’s social, cultural, and spiritual hub. This monastery, perched on a hill about 10,000 feet above sea level, is India’s largest, with views of ravines to the south and west, a short ridge to the north, and a gradual slope to the east. During the winter, it is buried in snow, which enhances its splendor.
The Mandalas or Kying-Khores are painted on the Kakaling’s ceilings and inner roofs, while saints and divinities are depicted on the inside walls. On the monastery’s northern flank, after Kakaling, is the main gate. It has a 925-foot-long eastern wall. A 25-foot-high golden statue of Lord Buddha, perched on a lotus throne and flanked by his two chief attendants, Maudgalyayana and Sariputra, each bearing staff and a bowl, is a major attraction of the monastery. The Tawang Monastery, which is three stories tall and is enclosed by a 925-foot high compound wall, houses 65 residential buildings.
The monastery is historically notable as it was founded in 1681 per the wishes of Ngawang Lobsang Gyatso, the 5th Dalai Lama. The word ‘Tawang’ translates to ‘chosen by a horse,’ and legend has it that a horse belonging to the founder, Mera Lama Lodre Gyatso, chose the current monastery’s location. Tsangyang Gyatso, the sixth Dalai Lama, was born at Tawang, making it a significant Tibetan Buddhist pilgrimage destination.
The Ajanta Caves, 107 kms from Aurangabad and 60 kms from Jalgaon, were designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983. A protected monument in the care of the Archaeological Survey of India, it is a cluster of 32 Buddhist caves not far from a medieval village of the same name. Ajanta’s thirty rock-hewn caves, built into a cliff’s scarp, are either chapels or monasteries. Paintings adorn the cave walls, many of which retain their original colors. Exquisitely carved sculpture adorns the building’s outer walls. The Ajanta paintings’ Buddhist motif embodies the essence of Lord Buddha’s life and previous earthly events.