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Buddhist Circuit

Some Journeys are made for sensual gratification, others purely for internal peace. Negotiating the Buddhist Circuit falls in the latter category. A journey through the austere Stupas and the ancient monasteries reverberating with the mystical chants of sacred Buddhist Mantras, will instantly transport you to a time zone 2500 years back in history, when a prince renounced all worldly pleasures to turn into an ascetic, centuries before the birth of Christ.

The story is so old, that every point on the Buddhist circuit has a history steeped in myth and meaning; every monument stands testimony to faith fused into reality, as centuries passed and people lost bits of their oral heritage. In Sanskrit the word "Bodh" means knowledge, Buddha would thus mean " One who has attained all knowledge,"or one in whom their is no conflict, no suffering---in short, one, who has mastered himself. The Chinese would call him the Zen Master.

If you are looking for the same 'Buddha' in you, the main sites of interest would be:-

Lumbini 

Immensely overwhelmed by the roadmap of Lord Buddha's life, the believers have an undying urge for pilgrimage to the birthplace of Lord Buddha, i.e. Lumbini. Being just 27 km. away and conveniently connected by road from Sonauli-in the state of Uttar Pradesh, India is obviously 'The Gateway to Lumbini'.

On the full-moon day of May, the year 623 B.C. at the Lumbini Park, near Kapilvastu, a noble Prince was born. He was named Siddhartha Gautam, meaning "wish fulfilled." An Ashokan Pillar, built in 249 B.C., marks the exact spot where Buddha was born and right next to it stands the pool in which he performed ablutions.

Fa-Hien mentioned this site several hundred years later in his travelogues but was unfortunately not able to locate it. Faded from public memory, the original site got lost somewhere in the deep forest. It was located again in 1980, almost 1,500 years after Fa-Hien's visit and traced to a small village in Nepal. Rudiments of a broken Ashokan Pillar, an old monastery, statues of Buddha's mother maya Devi, etc. all helped in establishing the true identity of Lumbini.

On the south of this temple lies the bathing pool, Puskarni, where the Queen is believed to have taken a bath before the delivery. A nepalese Buddhist temple was built sometime in 1956, followed by a Tibetan monastery of the Sakya order in 1975, which has a beautiful shrine, adorned with the traditional Buddhist Murals. One can spot young monks studying Buddha's teachings at this Shrine in their attempt to preserve some vestiges of the lost Tibetan traditions.

Bodhgaya

Set on the banks of river Niranjana, Bodhgaya is held as one of the most sacred places for the Buddhists. Here, under the Bodhi (Peepal) Tree (Tree of Awakening) prince Siddharth attained supreme knowledge and became Buddha, or the 'Enlightened One' on the full moon day of Vaisakh,623 B.C.A. Peepal tree still stands there, marked by a raised platform, although this one is believed to be an offspring of the original tree under which Buddha meditated. River Niranjana in which the Buddha bathed after attaining enlightenment, flows quietly besides the tiny hamlet. Then there is Chaukramana, or the Jewel Walk, where Buddha is believed to go for strolls and the magnificent Maha Bodhi Temple, which is an architectural amalgamation of many cultures. The temple houses a mammoth statue of Buddha.

Sarnath

After his edification Lord Buddha himself chose Sarnath, in Uttar Pradesh, for deliverance of his first historic sermon. He choose Sarnath, then known as 'Rishipattan', due to its immediacy to the world renowned city of Kashi or Varanasi, the then hub of scholarly and cultural activities. Being about 240 km. from Bodhgaya and there being no means of transportation in those days, did not deter Buddha from proceeding to Sarnath.About 10 km. from the holy city of Varanasi, Sarnath is the place where more than 2,500 years ago Buddha delivered his first sermon after attaining enlightenment. 

Kushinagar

A small, dusty hamlet in eastern U.P., the Buddha is believed to have breathed his last amidst the pastoral surrounding of Kushinagar. Earlier known as Kusinara, Kushinagar lies 53 km west of Gorakhpur. The place is venerated as the site of the Buddha's Mahaparinirvana (his death) under a sal tree at the age of 80, on a full moon day. The exact spot is marked by the cremation Stupa-the Rambhar Stupa. Legend has it that after cremation, Buddha's ashes were divided into eight equal parts and distributed among his eight disciples who later built these stupas in his memory. This is also the place, where Tathagata, or 'The speaker of truth' breathed his last words,"Behold now, brethren, I exhort you, saying, decay is inherent in all component things! Work out your salvation with diligence!" A temple dedicated to this event-the Mahaparinirvana temple, stands amidst a serene grove of sal trees. The huge statue of the reclining Buddha, excavated in 1876 at the temple site, presents one of the most stunning sights for the devout.

Kapilvastu

Having Pilgrimaged to Lumbini. the birthplace of Lord Buddha, the devotees reach nearby Kapilvastu (93 km.) only to get lost in a world altogether different. Once the capital city of the mightly Sakya clan, it was in Kapilvastu's opulent environs that prince Siddharth (later Lord Buddha) spent most of his early childhood. Kapilvastu was the seat of kind Suddhodhana, the father of the Enlightened One. The site has been excavated betwen 1971 and 1977 and identified with the present day township of Piprahwa. One and a half kilometer away from Piprahwa lie the two excavated mounds. The bigger one, with a thick walled structure was supposedly Suddhodhana's palace. The Second is identified as the ruins of Piprahwa Stupa, erected by Sakya rulers. While excavating this site an inscribed seal was discovered, which read 'Om Devaputra Vihare Kapilvastu Bhikku Sanghas' (This is the Devaputra Vihara of the Kapilvastu Bhikshu Sangha). There also lies a small Sri Lankan monastery, the Mahindra Mahavihara in the vicinity of these ruins. Meandering their way through Kapilvastu, the devotes feel transferred thousands of years back to an era when young Prince Siddharth having sen the pains of life, renounced all worldly riches and pleasures in search of the path which leads to cessation of suffering and salvation for which he proceeded to Bodhgaya, now in Bihar.

Kaushambi

In his bid to spread his message Lord Buddha also visited Kaushambi, 60km. frin Allahabad, counted one amongst the most prosperous cities of those times. It was the Capital city of the then Vatsa Janpada, with Udayan as the king. This place is believed to have ben visited by Lord Buddha in the 6th and 9th year after attaining enlightenment. He delivered several sermons here, elevating it to a centre of higher learning for the Buddhists. Excavations have revealed ruins of an Ashokan Pillar, an old fort and the Ghositaram Monastery, besides a huge number of sculptures and figurines, cast coins and terracotta, objects.

Sankisa

Sankisa is identified with the present village of Basantpur in Farrukhabad district of Uttar Pradesh. Situated on the banks of river Kali, Sankisa is most easily accessible from agra which is 175 km away on the Agra-Mainpuri road. The nearest railhead is pakhna which is 11.5 km away. Sankisa is the place where the Buddha descended from heaven along with Lord Brahma and Devraj Indra after giving a discourse to his mother, Mayadevi. Emperor Ashoka erected a pillar here with an elephant capital to mark this holy spot.

Sravasti

After attaining Enlightenment Lord Buddha was constantly mobile spreading his message of humanity, Universal brotherhood and salvation amongst the different segments of the society. This service to humanity would stop for a brief period in the monsoons. This period too, however, would be used by Lord Buddha to meditate and preach, on choosing an ambient place. It was during this process that Lord Buddha turned towards Shravasti, 134km. from Lucknow. During Buddha's time, Shravasti was one of the big towns in the entire Indo-gangetic plan and the capital of the ancient kingdom of Kosala. The town played host to Lord Buddha for 27 years and was his annual rainy season retreat. Believed to be founded by the mythological king Sravast (hence names after him), the site holds ruins of many ancient Stupas, majestic monasteries and beautiful temples. This place also has an Anand Bodhi tree, an offspring of the original bodhi tree, planted by Buddha's main disciple Anand.

Excursions

Govt. museum Mathura, Archaeological Museum Sarnath and the museums at Allahabad and Lucknow. Apart from the museums at Varanasi, Kushinagar and Gorakhpur, fine collections of Buddhist Sculptural art are treasured in the museums of Mathura, Sarnath, Allahabad and Lucknow. The Govt. Museum at Mathura, famous for the largest collection of Kusana Art, is a repository of Buddhist art too. Buddha images housed here of the Gupta period are among the master pieces of world art.

The Sarnath museum is another treasure trove of Buddhist sculptural art. Some of the finest images of Buddha and Panels depicting important episodes from his life can be seen here. The museums at Allahabad and Lucknow also have seizable collection of Buddhist sculptural art.

Weekly closure day For all museums: Monday Visiting Hours: 10:30am to 4:30pm hrs.

How to Get There

Air: For Sarnath-Babatpur, Varanasi, connected with Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Khajuraho, Agra, Lucknow, Kathmandu, is 30 km. Kushinagar-Gorakhpur 46 km., Babatpur, Varanasi 288 km. For Kapilvastu-Gorakhpur 109km., Amausi, Lucknow 310km, Babatpur, Varanasi 330km. For Sravasti-Amausi, Lucknow 186 km. For Sankisa-Kheria, Agra 207km., Amausi, Lucknow 245 km. For Kaushambi-Bamrauli, Allahabad 40 km., Babatpur, Varanasi 200 km., Amausi, Lucknow 260 km.

Rail: Convenient Rail connections to Buddhist sites are available from Varanasi 10 km. (for Sarnath), Deoria 35 km. and Gorakhpur 53 km. (for Kushinagar), Naugarh 20 km. (for Kapilvastu), Balrampur 17 km. (for Sravasti), Pakhana 10 km. and Neemkaroli 14 km. (for Sankisa), Bharwari 15 km. and Allahabad 50 km. (for Kaushambi).

Road: Buddhist Circuit is well Connected with a good network of roads. Some major road distances are-from Sarnath:Varanasi 10 km., from Kushinagar: Gorakhpur 53km., Kapilvastu 157km., Lumbini (Nepal) 170 km., Sarnath 253 km., Sravasti 274km. from Kapilvastu: Sonauli 48km. Lumbini (Nepal) 86km. Gorakhpur 104 km., Sravasti 147km., Kushinagar 157km., Lucknow 308km., Varanasi 327km., from Sravasti:Balrampur 17km., Bahraich 48 km., Lumbini (Nepal) 165 km., Gorakhpur 196km., Varanasi 306 km., Sarnath 315km., from Sankisa:Fatehgarh 40km., Farrukhabad 45 km., Kanpur 175km., Agra 200km., from Kaushambi: Allahabad 60km., Kanpur 150km., Varanasi 185km., Sarnath 190km., Lucknow 260km.