The Buddha attained enlightenment at the age of 29 in the town of Bodhgaya in India. After settling under a tree, the Buddha made the resolve not to move until he had achieved enlightenment. After three days and nights of profound meditation this goal was realised. The bodhi tree under which the Buddha sat has been destroyed both intentionally and naturally many times since this time of enlightenment. It has continued to re sprout and is visible today.
The Mahabodhi Temple marks Bodhgaya. The origins of the Temple are unclear. Some claim the Temple could have been built as early as the third century by Ashoka, others claim the Temple was built between the fifth and seventh centuries. A thriving Monastic Order continues in the area today, with three monasteries catering for locals and foreigners alike.
Kushinagar is the place where Shakyamuni entered Mahaparinirvana. When Lord Buddha reached His eighty-first year, He gave his last major teaching. The subject of the teaching consisted of the thirty-seven wings of enlightenment. After this, He left Vulture's Peak with Ananda to journey north. After sleeping at Nalanda, he crossed the Ganges for the last time at the place where Patna now stands and came to the village of Beluva. Here, the Buddha fell ill, but he suppressed the sickness and continued towards Vaishali. This was a city where Shakyamuni had often stayed in the beautiful parks that had been offered to him. It was also the principal location of the third turning of the wheel of Dharma.
At Sarnath in the Ganges Valley of India, the Buddha proclaimed the law of faith. It was here that he taught the keys aspects of Buddhism: the four noble truths, the eightfold path and the middle way philosophy. The Buddha encouraged followers to avoid extremes of austerity or pleasure. The remains of monasteries dating from the third century B.C.E. to the first century C.E. indicate a thriving monastic community.
Rajgir is another place in the Ganges Valley where the Buddha walked and preached. Perhaps the most important event of the Buddha's visits to Rajgir was the conversion of two future disciples, Sariputra and Maudgalyayana. While Sariputra was credited with greater intelligence, Maudgalyayana wielded a greater power for miracles.
The new version of the ancient Kaushambi, which was frequently adored by the Buddha, is one of the holy places for the Buddhists all over the world. The old site of Kaushambi, one of the six most prosperous Indian cities in the Buddha's period, was visited by the Buddha in the 6th and 9th years after having attained enlightenment. During His both the visits, Lord Buddha delivered several sermons at Kaushambi, thereby making it a center of learning for the Buddhists. Although the modern Kaushambi is only a shadow of its glorious past and not as highlighted and developed as it used to be, but still it is considered to be one of the major pilgrimages for the Buddhists.
One of the most important place of Buddhist pilgrimage is Lumbini, located near the Nepal-India border. This is where Gautam Buddha was born to a royal family in 556 B.C.E. Many auspicious signs accompanied the Buddha's birth, including the sprouting of the bodhi tree. The great Buddhist ruler Ashoka visited the site two centuries later, constructing a stupa (mound, usually of earth) and pillar in recognition. Although largely destroyed now, these remain important marks of the Buddha's birthplace.
Another of the most commonly visited places of Buddhist pilgrimage is Shravasti. It is here that the Buddha is said to have performed great miracles. One story tells of how on throwing down the seed of a mango, a great mango tree instantly arose. Another story tells of how the Buddha stood in the air, the lower part of his body engulfed in flames, with five hundred jets of water streaming from the top of his body.
Vaishali district is situated in the state of Bihar. It lies at a distance of approximately 60 km from the capital city of Patna. The place gains significance from the fact that it is here that Lord Buddha announced the imminence of his Mahaparinirvana. Vaishali also witnessed one of the eight great events in the life of Lord Buddha. It was here that a monkey offered Him a bowl of honey. Lord Buddha also visited Vaishali five years after the attainment of His enlightenment. The Lichhvis offered a grand welcome to the Lord on his arrival in Vaishali.
Nalanda is important both because it was blessed with the presence of the Buddha, and because of the famous monastic university developed there. This university also named Nalanda (meaning 'insatiable in giving') played a central role in the development of Buddhism in India.
The city of Varanasi is situated along the west bank of the Ganges in the north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. Called Benaras by the British, Varanasi is an important pilgrimage centre for the Hindus.
The ancient Kapilvastu Piprahava is located abut 110 kms. from Gorakhpur in U.P. Railway station of Naugarh, on Gorakhpur Gonda-loop line, is the nearest railway station. Kapilvastu was the ancient capital city of the Sakaya Clan, one of the 16th Mahajanapadas or republics. It was in open environs of Kapilvastu, that the holy soul of the Prince Siddharth (Later Gautam Buddha) spent his childhood. The site is now represented by two closely situated mounds locally known as Ganvarla and Piprahava – containing the ruins of the residential area and the Maha-stupa respectively. A large number of Kushana sealings bearing the name of Kapilvastu provided the clinching evidence to the identification. Piprahava revealed the large stupa containing two different relics caskets through different excavations. One of the caskets contains reference to the brothers, sisters etc. of Buddha, thus further lending credence to the identification of the site with Kapilvastu.
India being the heart of Buddhism boasts many pilgrimage centers particularly in places which are connected with the life of Lord Buddha. These pilgrimage spots vary from temples like Mahabodhi Temple, monasteries to centers of Buddhist learning. Even caves are component of Buddhist pilgrimage destinations. One such cave is Mahakala (Dungeswari) cave, Bodhgaya. Usually a Buddhist cave narrates the life of Buddha through its beautiful rock cut carvings, statues and paintings and in same manner Mahakala (Dungeswari) cave also do same. These caves have been used by Buddhist monks as a place of meditation and also been used as a resting place for travelers.
Mahakala (Dungeswari) cave, Bodhgaya is actually situated 12 kms from the main town of Bodhgaya. Nestled on a hillside, the cave feels mysterious and consists of two caves. One of them is quite small which has a statute of Buddha representing him when he was leading a life of strictness.
About 2 km to the west of Bodh Gaya, flows the Phalgu River. There lies a small shrine (Sujata temple) dedicated to Sujata, the tribal woman who offered kheer to the starving Siddhartha.
The modern city of Patna is situated on the southern bank of the Ganga. The city also straddles the rivers Sone, Gandak and Punpun. The city is approximately 25 km long and 9 km to 10 km wide. Patna is actually situated 112 kms from Bodhgaya.
The Barabar and Nagarjuni Hills are situated about 41 km. from Bodhgaya (25 kms north of Gaya) and contain, in all, seven rock-cut caves of which four are in the Barabar hills. Barabar Caves is an important achaeological site. The caves carved out from solid rocks bear details of the life of Buddha.
Two of the caves, dedicated by Ashoka to Ajivika monks, are in the form of a plain rectangular outer hall. At one end of which is an inner chamber with carved wall and over hanging caves.
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