The Buddhist Circuits are the Places of all High
Significance Holy Sites of Buddhism ; where Lord Buddha was born,
attained Enlightenment, preached first Sermon and reached Nirvana.
Lumbini, Bodhgaya, Sarnath and Kushinagar are the primary pilgrimage
places of Buddhist Circuits associated with
the life and teachings of the Lord Buddha. There are numerous
other sites where the Buddha and the saints that followed traveled
during his life after his transformation, which are held in deep
veneration. Visitors can travel through this Buddhist Circuit
today, to savor the splendid beauty and great appeal of Buddhism.
The greatest impetus to Buddha’s teachings
came from the Indian King Ashoka who went on a great pilgrimage
visiting the important sites that are directly associated with
his life, in the Footsteps of Lord Buddha. Primary amongst these
holy places are Lumbini in Nepal, and Bodhgaya, Sarnath and Kushinagar
in India. There are other places of lesser significance on the
Footsteps of Lord Buddha visitor circuit associated closely with
Buddha’s life. Amongst these are Buddha’s monsoon retreats of
Vaishali, Rajgir and Sravastii in India, and his early home at
Tilaurakot in Kapilavastu Nepal.
Lumbini in southern Nepal is where Queen Mayadevi gave birth to
Prince Siddhartha. It is just a short distance from the Shakya
capital of Kapilavastu. Pilgrimages focus on the sacred garden
which contains the site of the birth, the Mayadevi temple, the
Pashkarni pond and the Ashoka pillar. Designed by Japanese architect
Kenzo Tange, the sacred garden of Lumbini is a World Heritage
Site with monasteries from many Buddhist nations. It is recognised
as a supreme pilgrimage site and symbol of world peace. Lumbini,
the Lord Buddha's birthplace, evokes the same kind of holy sentiment
to the millions of Buddhists all over the world as does Jerusalem
to Christians and Mecca to Muslims. For centuries, Buddhists all
over the world knew Lumbini was where the Buddha was born, however,
the exact location remained uncertain and obscured until as recently
as 1886 when a wandering archaeologist came across a stone pillar
and ascertained the exact location.
The historic importance of the pillar is evidenced
by the inscription engraved on it, in Brahmin script. It reads
that Emperor Ashoa (sometimes spelled Ashoka) visited the site
in the twentieth year of his ascendancy to the throne (around
300 BCE), and as homage to the birthplace, erected the pillar.
South of the Ashoa Pillar is the famous sacred
pool "Puskarni'' believed to be the same sacred pool in which
Maya Devi took a holy dip just before giving birth to the Lord
and also where the infant Buddha was given his first purification
The single most important place in Lumbini
is the stone slab located deep in the Sanctum Sanctorum. Revealed
after hard and meticulous excavations under three layers of ruins
over the site of a famous Maya Devi temple, the stone slab marks
the exact spot of the birthplace of Lord Buddha.
In addition to the Ashoa Pillar, the other
shrine of importance is the bas-relief image of Maya Devi, kept
in a small pagoda-like structure. The image shows Maya Devi, mother
of the Lord, supporting herself by holding on with her right hand
to a branch of the Sal tree, with the newly born infant Buddha
standing upright on a lotus pedestal on an oval halo. Two other
celestial figures are depicted in an act of pouring water and
lotuses from heaven.
Bodhgaya: It was in Bodhgaya
in Bihar, India that Prince Siddhartha found Enlightenment (nirvana)
under the bodhi tree after meditating for 49 days. No longer a
bodhisattva (mentor), he became Lord Buddha, the Enlightened One.
Primary points of homage are the Mahabodhi
Temple, the Vajrasan throne donated by King Ashoka, the holy Bodhi
Tree, the Animeshlochana chaitya, the Ratnachankramana, the Ratnagaraha,
the Ajapala Nigrodha Tree, the Muchhalinda Lake and the Rajyatna
Tree. The spiritual home of all Buddhists, devotees from many
Buddhist countries have built temples around the complex in their
characteristic architectural styles. Bodhgaya today is a vibrant
and inspiring tourist attraction.
Buddha gave his first sermon at Sarnath after achieving enlightenment,
about 10 km from the ancient holy city of Varanasi. The sermon,
setting in motion the wheel of the teaching (dharamchakrapravartna)
revealed to his followers the 4 noble truths, the concept of the
3 jewels of Buddha, Dharma and Sangha via the 8 fold path, for
inner peace and enlightenment. It was here that the Buddha established
his first disciples (sangha) to promote his new doctrine. The
splendid Dhamekha Stupa at Sarnath was originally erected by King
Ashoka, as was the famous lion capital pillar, now the proud symbol
Kushinagar close to Gorakhpur in eastern Uttar Pradesh, India
en route to Kapilavastu, Lord Buddha fell ill and left this world
in 543 BC. His mortal remains were preserved in eight commemorative
chortens, and then further distributed by King Ashoka into 84,000
stupas across his kingdom and beyond. Important places to see
here are the Mukatanabandhana stupa and the Gupta period reclining
Buddha statue in red sandstone.
Besides the above Four Major High Significant
Buddhist Pilgrimage sites, there are other places that hold special
meaning in the life of Lord Buddha.
The Buddha preached his last sermon before his death at Vaishali
in Bihar, 60 km away from its capital Patna. It was here that
he told his disciple Ananda about his imminent demise. The Second
Buddhist Council was held in Vaishala about 110 years later.
Rajgir & Nalanda
University: About 70 km from Bodhgaya, Rajgir was
Buddha’s monsoon retreat for 12 years whilst he spread his doctrine.
It was at the holy Griddhikuta Hill that he expounded the precepts
of his Lotus Sutra and the Perfection of Wisdom Sutra. The Saptaparni
Caves set on Vaibhar Hill were the venue of the First Buddhist
Council, held to compile the teachings of the Buddha in its authentic
form, after his death. The world-renowned university of Nalanda
is another important landmark site.
About 150 km from the city of Lucknow in Uttar Pradesh, Shravasti
was Buddha’s favourite rainy season retreat where he Buddha performed
his first miracle.