Buddhist Pilgrimage in India

Buddhism is the fourth largest religion in the world. Founded by Gautam Buddha, it is a path of spiritual development that helps a person in finding the true nature of life. Buddhism emphasizes on experiencing, rather than teaching or learning. It considers meditation as the means to enlightenment and is based on a number of principles. The followers of Buddhism do not worship any God and follow the noble eight-fold path to lead a meaningful existence.

Some of the Buddhist pilgrimage destinations in India include:
1. Ajanta & Ellora Caves are located near the city of Aurangabad in Maharashtra. The cave shrines were all cut out of rock, by hand, and rank amongst some of the most outstanding specimens of ancient Indian architectural heritage. The 34 caves at Ellora and the 29 caves at Ajanta depict the story of Buddhism.

2. Bodhgaya is one of the holiest buddhist pilgrimage centers since it is here that Buddha attained enlightenment under the Bodhi tree. 

3. Rajgir is situated in the state of Bihar, encircled by five holy hills. It lies at a distance of approximately 34 km from the city of Gaya. The name of the town has been derived from the words 'Raj Griha', meaning 'the abode of the king'. During the lifetime of Lord Buddha, Rajgir served as the capital city of the Magadh Empire. Prince Siddhartha (early name of Lord Buddha) came to Rajgir, after he renounced the luxuries of life and undertook asceticism. Two of the rock-cut caves of Rajgir were the favorite retreats of the Buddha. It was here that He preached two of his most renowned sermons.

4. Vaishali is situated at a distance of approximately 60 km from the capital city, 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. He displayed some extraordinary and divine presentations of his spiritual superiority here. This led to mass induction of people into Buddhism. Infact, it is believed that at that time around eighty four thousand people adopted Buddhism. One of the most important events that took place at Vaishali was the induction of females into the Sangha. It is believed that even Mahaprajapati Gautami, the foster mother of Buddha, joined the order here, along with the other Sakya-women.

5. Nalanda Nalanda is situated in the state of Bihar. Founded in the 5th century AD, it lies at a distance of approximately 90 km from the capital city of Patna. Nalanda had the honor of being visited by Lord Buddha a number of times, in His lifetime. Even Hieun Tsang, the famous Chinese Traveler, stayed in this village for approximately 12 years, in the 7th century AD. Nalanda came to be recognized as a famous center of Buddhist learning in India, only between 5th century and 12th century.

6. Dharamshala is the main Buddhist center located in the Kangra district of  in Himachal Pradesh. Upper Dharamashala or Mcleodganj  is best known as the home of the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso. You will find Buddhist monks walking around in their burgundy robes. There are a number of Buddhist monastries in and around Mcleodganj. The most important Buddhist site in the town is Tsuglagkhang or Tsuglag Khang, the Dalai Lama Temple. 

7. Kushinagar is another principal centre of Buddhism, worth a sincere admiration, is the place where Lord Buddha passed away at this place near the Hiranyavati River and was cremated at the Ramabhar stupa. It was once a celebrated center of the Malla kingdom. Many of its stupas and viharas date back to 230 BC-AD 413. when its prosperity was at the peak. In 543 BC, on a full moon night of Magh the legend delivered lecture to his Sangha and declared that he is going to leave the mortal world soon enough. 
The excavations led by general Cunningham has revealed some antique artifacts and structures related to all sects of Buddhism. Kushinagar also expresses the common thread of all sects of Buddhism through its magnificent Viharas, Chaityas, temples and Tibetan monasteries. In ancient times, the town was also known as Kushinara and Kasia.

8. Sarnath At a distance of only 10-km from the famous Hindu pilgrimage Varanasi, after attaining Enlightenment the Buddha went to Sarnath. 
Lord Buddha had visited Sarnath looking for his five companions who abandoned him in Rajgir while they deviated from the viewpoint of Lord Buddha on self-mortification. Here in the Deer Park, he delivered his first sermon, set in motion the Wheel of Law (Maha-Dharmachakra Pravartan). The Emperor Ashoka (c 304 - 232 BC), who spread the Buddha's message of love and compassion throughout his vast empire, visited Sarnath around 234 BC, and erected a stupa here. Several Buddhist structures were raised at Sarnath between the 3rd century BC and the 11th century AD, and today it presents the most expansive ruins amongst places on the Buddhist trail. The ruins, the museum and temple are all within walking distance.

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