There are many venerated sites across India that Buddhists like to visit for finding solace, spirituality and sheer peace of mind. In order to understand better, a person needs to know more about the various beliefs, traditions and practices followed in Buddhism. It is not an obscure fact that this religion is based on teachings of Siddhartha Gautama, famous as Lord Buddha. This religion preaches the practice of meditation, spiritual development and getting aloof from earthly desires to find inner peace and true awareness about self enlightenment, which conclusively put an end to worldly sufferings.
India is considered the birthplace of Buddhism and has been visited by scholars, preachers and personalities belonging to other religions, since ancient times. This non theistic religion has a deep-rooted association with this country, which is why there are several revered sites for it all over India. Different places in this nation have monasteries, stupas and other edifices, which belong to various sects of Buddhism. While the northern regions are abound with Tibetan Buddhism shrines, other parts of the country have places of worship belonging to Mahayana, Vajrayana and Theravada Buddhism.
Buddhist pilgrimage destinations in the country are visited by numerous tourists throughout the year. People are likely to find spirituality at such places along with abundant knowledge transcending to the heart and mind. In other words, a trip to these places may end up as an incredible experience; sometimes changing their outlook towards the world. The more we know about these places, relics, statues and other details, more we are able to acknowledge the religion and its teachings. After visiting several Buddhist sites across India, some of which that left an indelible mark on my mind are:
Located near Varanasi, Sarnath is the sacred deer park that has a strong association with the inception of Buddhism in the country. It is regarded as the holy place, where Lord Buddha delivered his first lesson of Dharma. Related to the sacred sermons of Buddhism, this site is highly venerated amongst followers of Buddhism worldwide. Several stupas were constructed at this park, only some of which have survived till date. Dhamek Stupa, Chaukhandi Stupa and Ashoka Pillar are the prime attractions of the site and are considered important when it comes to history, religion and archaeology. Sarnath is one of the four places, which were designated by Lord Buddha as prime pilgrimages for Buddhists.
Amaravati is a wonderful place to visit as it houses the largest Buddhist Stupa of the country along with ages-old holy relics. The majestic Amaravati Stupa stands 27 metres in height and was built in 2nd to 3rd century BC, during the golden reign of the great Emperor Ashoka. It is believed that Lord Buddha came here and imparted valuable religious learnings to his followers. Even in present times, this stupa manages to attract huge gatherings of Buddhism followers and interested travellers.
Tawang is a small hamlet in Arunachal Pradesh that is famous for housing the largest Buddhist monastery in the country. The Tawang Monastery owes its establishment to Mera Lama Lodre Gyasto, who founded it in the 17th century under the Gelugpa sect of Tibetan Buddhism. The main highlights of this monastery are the imposing golden Buddha statue, a big library having a collection of ancient texts and manuscripts, the three-storey assembly hall and gold inscribed scriptures (Tangyur and Kangyur). Besides this, some other religious sites in Tawang include Urgyelling Monastery and various Ani Gompas.
Bodh Gaya, located in Bihar, is considered to be among the most sacred places for Buddhists in India. It is the place that witnessed Lord Buddha attaining enlightenment under the sacred Bodhi tree and thus, carries utmost significance for Buddhists. The Mahabodhi Temple at Bodh Gaya is listed as an acclaimed UNESCO World Heritage Site and is known for its sacred throne and tree. It has been a long time since I visited this place, but when someone mentions it, I still close my eyes in admiration and recall the grandeur of the Mahabodhi Temple and Bodhi tree. A venerated site for Buddhism followers, Bodh Gaya is certainly something that should not be missed at all while taking a tour of Buddhist religious destinations.
Sirpur, located on the bank of River Mahanadi, is a small town that is around 80 km from Raipur. It is counted as a significant place for Buddhists in India and was an important centre of religious learnings from the 6th to 10th century BC. There are many famous archaeological monuments in Sirpur, making it an important tourist spot with a rich cultural and architectural heritage. The highlight of this town is the Buddhist monastery, which dates back to somewhere around 8th century. This sacred site consists of more than 100 Buddhist Viharas, which were sacred monk dwellings and monasteries in the past.
Some know Goa only as a place of beautiful beaches and the nerve centre of tourism in the country. It might come as a surprise that this Indian state houses a large number of ancient Buddhist caves. In fact, even I was not aware of this, until hearing from a Buddhist traveller about the existence of these caves. While on Goa tour, enjoy the beauty of its beaches and warmth of the sand, but do not forget to make an escape to different Buddhist Caves, namely Lamgao, Arvalem and Rivona. These sites are of great archaeological and religious significance, thus attracting several Buddhist pilgrims throughout the year.
Dharamshala is a famous hill station in Himachal Pradesh that is surrounded by oak trees and snow peaks. Its popularity increased manifold in the mid 20th century, when McLeodGanj – a small hamlet located here – was selected as the home of Dalai Lama. Today, it serves as the centre of the Tibetan government in exile and is known by the name of Little Lhasa in India. Those who want to deep-dive into the various realms of Buddhism will find it an ideal place to study the religion and literature associated with it. Several monasteries, Buddhist temples and monastic residences are dotted across the area, which is why the place is considered a major stronghold of Tibetan Buddhism in the country.
Ladakh gets recognition as the land of sheer bliss, a place of astounding beauty, great landscapes and religious establishments. With respect to Buddhism, this place has been under the heavy influence of Tibetans and as such there are over 36 monasteries waiting to be explored. Some famous ones are Alchi, Thiksey and Hemis (find more here). Most of these monasteries belong to the Red Hat sect of Tibetan Buddhism while others are associated with the Yellow Hat sect. Whatever the followed lineage is, each of these monasteries carries huge significance in terms of religions and history. Housing precious religious relics, ancient artworks, Buddhist sculptures, sacred scriptures and several other artefacts, these monasteries in Ladakh are prominent landmark of the rich Buddhist culture. Ladakh comes to life during the celebration of the annual religious festivals of these monasteries that are marked by sacred monastic dances and other unique rituals.
Sanchi, a town in Madhya Pradesh, is internationally famous as a sacred pilgrimage destination for followers of Buddhism. The Great Stupa situated here is the earliest stone structure in the country and is listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Built under the patronage of Emperor Ashoka in the 3rd century BC, this stupa holds immense religious and archaeological reverence. The imposing architecture of this stupa has always fascinated travellers from all over the world. What stand as highlights of this stupa are its Brahmi inscriptions, which belong to various periods of time and carry great importance.
Ajanta and Ellora Caves
Ajanta and Ellora Caves are venerated sites of Buddhism in the country. These ancient rock-cut caves are globally known for their artistry and depict the degree of dexterousness, which craftsmen of ancient India possessed. The former of these caves are situated in Aurangabad and are given due recognition by both UNESCO and the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). Housing beautiful paintings and sculptures, these caves are regarded as important entities in terms of archaeology and history. Ellora Caves are symbolic of the exquisite rock-cut architecture, which was prevalent in ancient India. Listed as a protected monument under ASI, this site is of huge religious significance and historical value. Comprising monastic viharas, monasteries, prayer halls and living areas, the Buddhist caves at Ellora prove their worth as an important site for the religion in ancient times.
There is no dearth of religious sites related to this global religion in this country. Collectively, these Buddhist pilgrimage sites offer a wonderful spiritual and learning experience to travellers. In order to understand Buddhism better, people should visit these places for sure. Exemplary of excellent architecture, sculpting and heartfelt devotion, these pilgrimages are sure to enthral people. A trip to these top Buddhism destinations of India in order to gain a unique learning and spirituality is an experience to cherish.