NALANDA


Nalanda, 90 Kms south of Patna, literally means the place that confers the lotus. It was one of the oldest universities of the world. It has nine million books, ten thousand students, two thousand teachers and was a center of great learning which reached its zenith between 5th and 12th Century AD . Both Lord Buddha and Lord Mahavira visited this place. Emperor Ashoka built a Vihara, while Emperor Harshvardhan donated a 26 mtrs high copper image of Buddha and Emperor Kumar Gupta built a college of fine arts. In 1951, an International Center for Buddhist Studies was established in Nalanda. Nava Nalanda Vihar, 2 Kms from here, is a similar institution.

VAISHALI 

Vaishali, believed to be the first republic of the world, having an elected body of representatives, holds special significance for Buddhist devotees. At Kolhua, Lord Buddha delivered his last sermon, hitting at his impending departure from the mortal world. Later, Emperor Ashoka erected a huge pillar to commemorate the spot of the last sermon.

Vaishali was also the center of the IInd Buddhist Council congregation, held after 100 years of Buddha’s Parinirvana to discuss the ten pints of Vinaya, the rule of conduct under dispute.

At the excavated archaeological site of Raja Vishal Ka Garh is an ancient parliament house, which indicates that this republic flourished in the 6th Century BC. Vaishali is famous for Amrapali, the beautiful dancer and courtesan of Vaishali, who offered Buddha a mango orchard and impressed by his teachings became a nun (Bhikshu) in turn.

The excavations carried out in Vaishali have brought to light Buddha Stupa I (4th Century BC) and II, built in brick with a casket containing part of the ashes of Buddha.

Other sites of Historical importance in Vaishali include Chaumukhi Mahadeva, a lingam carved with four faces of Lord Shiva; the Bhawan Pakhar Temple, where a large number of Hindu deities are enshrined at one place and are worshipped together; Coronation Tank where the Lichhavi Kings were anointed before being crowned and; the Vaishali Museum which has a small collection of regional handicrafts. Also worth a visit is Kunupur, 4kms from here which is the birthplace of Lord Mahavira (6th Century BC) who spent 22 years of his initial years here.

These were some of the important places connected directly to the life of the Buddha. As the years went by important centers of Buddhist learnings kept coming up to spread his message all over India. We shall now highlight some important centers in each part of India beginning from the East, where Buddhism almost has a complete region under its strong influence.


RAJGIR

Rajgir, meaning "the Royal Palace", (Raja Griha) lies 12 Kms south of Patna. Rajgir is a site of great sanctity and significance for Buddhists. The Gridhakuta Hill, in Rajgir, was the seat from where Buddha delivered many of his sermons. It was here that the teachings of Buddha were recorded in writing for the first time. An aerial ropeway takes visitors up the hill where the Japanese have built a beautiful Stupa.

Many sites of historical and archaeological significance surround the holy city of Rajgir. Bimbisara Jail reminds one of the devoted Mauryan King Bimbisara (5th-6th Century BC) who, being a Buddhist chose this as a place to spend his last days. From here he could see Buddha climbing up the Grihakuta Hill to do his meditation.

Ajatshatru’s Fort is another place of tourist attraction. The sculpture, which depicts the ‘Parinirvana’ or the ‘great cessation’ of Buddha, is another monument of artistic and historical importance. It shows the Buddha lying on his right forearm resting under his head to commemorate the final salvation or ‘Mukti’, of the great founder of the Buddhist Faith.

Other prominent sites of importance at Rajgir include Saptdhara, the hot springs which supposedly have healing powers; Venuvan Vihara, the residence built by the king Bimbisara for Buddha; Jivaka’s Mango grove, residence of an ardent Buddhist follower, Jivak who was a surgeon, and the Karnada Tank, bathing site of Lord Buddha. Also the first Buddhist Council was convened here, at the Saptaparni Cave, after the Mahaparinirvana of Buddha. Getting There: The nearest airport is Patna at 107 kms. To reach Rajgir by rail, get on the Delhi-Howrah mainline for Bhakhtiyarpur, 54 kms from Rajgir. The loop line connects Rajgir directly. Rajgir is also connected by road to Patna, Gaya and Delhi/Calcutta.


BODHGAYA

Bodhgaya, in the state of Bihar, reckoned as the most important pilgrimage center, is the place where Lord Sakyamuni (Gautam Buddha) entered into meditation after being moved by the sufferings of mankind. The giant Bodhi Tree (Peepal) that we see today is believed to have grown from the original Bodhi Tree under which, sitting on the raised platform, Prince Siddharth meditated and finally attained Nirvana. Then there is Chaukramana, the Jewel Walk, where it is believed that the Buddha strolled while in deep thought.

The magnificent Maha Bodhi temple in Bodhgaya is an architectural amalgamation of many cultures. The temple bears the stamp of the architecture of the Gupta Dynasty and subsequent ages. On the walls of the temple, one sees Buddha carved in different aspects, and in the sanctum sanctorum, a colossal Buddha is seen touching the ground, which has mythological significance in the Buddhist lore. The temple carries inscriptions recording the visits of pilgrims from Sri Lanka, China and Myanmar in the 7th and 10th Centuries AD Hieun Tsang, the Chinese traveler, also visited the temple in the 7th Century.Other Places of Interest Adjacent to the Mahabodhi temple is the Shaivite Monastery that has a cluster of four temples. Surrounded by enchanting greenery and marked by architectural marvels, these temples have several samadhis (commemorative stones) in their vicinity. Just across are a number of cells, meant for residential purposes of monks.

Not far from the Shaivite Monastery is the Jagannath Temple, which is dedicated to Lord Shiva and has the statue of the deity, carved in glistening black stone.

Finally, a visit to the Bodhgaya Archaeological Museum is a must for a religious art lover as it initiates one into the age of Buddha’s centered art forms. The Buddhist sculpture collection from 1st Century BC to 11th Century AD is housed here at one place. Reflected through several art forms, it is more like a treasure house of artistic expression. Bodhgaya is 245 Kms from Varanasi and 178 Kms from Patna via Rajgir and Nalanda.

In the vicinity of Bodhgaya, there are several other places of tourist interest such as the Surya Temple at Deo, 20 Kms from Gaya; the Sun God Temple at Umya; the Konchishwar Maha Deva temple at Konch; Barabar Caves just 40 Kms away; the Buddhist Rock-Cut Caves of 3rd Century BC at Sasaram 123 Kms away.

Getting There: Bodhgaya is a mere 16 kms from Gaya, the nearest railhead. The nearest airport is Patna at 105 kms. Daily deluxe coaches of the Bihar State Tourism Development Corporation are available from Patna. 


GAYA

A place of religious sanctity for Hindus, Gaya lies 12 Kms from Bodhgaya between Pretshila and Ramshila hills and is washed by the shores of river Phalgu. Gaya has a large number of Buddhist temples also. While Buddha was doing severe penance, he became weak, tired and hungry. He rested under a tree where, a condemned village woman named Sujata offered him food, To everybody’s surprise Buddha accepted her offerings. Legend has it, that after having consumed the food, Buddha’s countenance assumed a divine glow and he realised the Supreme Truth; that neither extreme self indulgence nor self-mortification is ever required. What is needed is to follow the Middle Path. Sujata Sthan or Durgeshwari Temple stands as a symbol commemorating this event. 


SIKKIM

Sikkim is situated in the Eastern Himalayas, along the borders of Bhutan (East), Tibet (North), Nepal (West) and West Bengal (South). Its capital, Gangtok has a lot to see, specially the Research Institute of Tibetology, a World center for the study of Buddhist philosophy & religion and has a rare collection of Thankas, statues and over 200 Buddhist icons, 24 Kms away, you approach the Rumtek Monastery which houses among the most unique art objects in the world. 3 Kms from Gangtok is the Enchey Monastery built almost 200 years ago and was blessed by the great tantric master Lama Druptab Karpa.



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