Buddhism is a dynamic
faith that was born and thrived in India for 1,700 years.
The religion flourished in India between the 5th century
BC and 12th century AD. The Buddhist remnants scattered
all over India were originally the monasteries and stupas
of Buddhist culture. Located in the far-flung corners
of eastern Uttar Pradesh are some of the holiest centers
of Buddhism, a religion that gave mankind the gospel
of peace and love.
The message of the Buddha
went straight into the hearts of millions due to its
simplicity and forthright acceptance of the realities
of life. The various Buddhist shrines like Sarnath,
Sravasti, Sankisa and Kushinagar are fascinating because
they open up chapters of religion, art and philosophy
To enter Sarnath at dawn
is to discover the captivating sound of a huge Japanese
bell. The first eye-catching landmark is Chaukhandi,
an elevated structure of brick with a characteristic
octagonal top. The ancient park where Buddha delivered
his first sermon is also here. Half a kilometer north
is a gigantic structure of stone and brick called Dhamekh
Stupa. It houses a stone slab with Buddhist inscriptions
dating back to the 6th century BC. In its vicinity,
one can see the Mulagandhakuti Vihara, a temple constructed
by Dharmapala, a devout Buddhist.
Sravasti has two villages: Sahet and Mahet. Sahet sprawls
over an area of 400 acres and has a collection of ruins.
Mahet is ancient fortified city that houses a beautiful
crescent-shaped gateway. The Sobhnath Temple, Pakki Kuti,
Kachchi Kuti and many stupas tell the story of the great
monasteries that once stood here. Remnants of Jeetavana—a
splendid monastery built by a rich devotee with inscriptions
dating back to the 12th century—is considered one of the
favorite sites of the Buddha. There is a sacred pipal
tree (Ficus religiosa) here—a sapling from the original
Bodhi tree under which the Buddha had meditated. Sravasti
was also under the influence of Jainism, and the splendid
Shwetambar Temple here is visited by thousands of Jain
Sankisa is another Buddhist historical site. It was here
that the Buddha preached high gospel of truth to his mother
and other devotees. Many Buddhist motifs reflect the event
that took place here when Buddha, after his enlightenment,
descended from heaven, accompanied with Brahma and Sakra.
Chinese travelers Fahien and Huien Tsang have given interesting
descriptions of the life in Sankisa. There is also the
famous temple of Bisra Devi here.
Kushinagar, also known
as Kasia or Kasinara, represents a grand end to the
story of the Great Teacher. Buddha passed away here,
near the Hiranyavati River. He was cremated where the
Ramabhar Stupa now stands. 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. Ashoka added grandeur to this place
by getting the magnificent statue of Buddha carved on
a single piece of red sandstone. Lord Alexander Cunningham
excavated many important remnants such as the Matha
Kua and Ramabhar Stupa during the preceding century.
The main site has the Mahaparinirvana
Temple, with its world famous reclining statue of Buddha.
The 20-ft-long statue is seated on a brick platform.
Ruins of as many as eight monasteries are situated around
at the main site of which the two monasteries—Mahaparinirvana
Vihara and Makutabandhara Vihara—are quite famous.
All the sacred sites are
along the main road. Towards the east, several temples
of various Buddhist countries have come up. The procession
organized by Burmese temple every year on Buddha Poornima
day is attended by thousands of people. Other attractions
are the Indo-Japanese and Sri Lankan Center for Cultural
Association, meditation center and archeological museum.
Nature lovers can take a trip to the Tamkuhi forest
area, which also has a forest rest house for staying
Accommodation options are available at the Birla Rest
House, UP State Tourist Bungalow and many dharamshalas
HOW TO REACH
The nearest airport is
Varanasi, 32 km from Sarnath. Regular Indian Airlines
and Sahara flights operate between Varanasi and Delhi.
Sarnath is on National Highway 29 and is a 45-minute
drive from Varanasi.
Varanasi and Mughalsarai are the nearest rail junctions.
They are linked to all major towns and cities in India.