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, hinting 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 2nd Buddhist Council congregation, held after 100 years of Buddha’s Parinirvana to discuss the ten points 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 B.C. 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.
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.
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, he was offered food by a condemned village woman named Sujata.
Kushinagar, (Kushinara of Yore), is a revered place for Buddhist pilgrims, 55 kms away from Gorakhpur. It was here that the Tathagata, the reciter of truth, breathed his last with the last words, “behold now, brethren, I exhort you, saying , decay is inherent in all component things ! Work out your salvation with diligence !
Sarnath, about 10 kms from the holy city of Varanasi, is the blessed locale where more then 2,500 years ago Buddha chose to deliver his first sermon, after attaining Nirvana. The five disciples who had followed him were surprised to see the mesmerising glowing countenance of Buddha, who convinced them and delivered his first sermon before them, Now termed Dharamachakra Pravartan. This set in motion the great Buddhist tradition of the Sangha, for popularising the teachings of the great ascetic, world-wide. Gautam Buddha with his five disciples formed the first Sangha alongwith Yasa os Varanasi and his 54 friends. The begining of the celebrated Mantra, ‘Buddham Sharanam Gachhami’, owes its origin to Sarnath. The three Jewels ” I go for refuge to the Buddha, I go for refuge to the Wheel of Law, I go for refuge to the Sangha First laid down here, have remained unchanged ever since. Hence rightly, every Buddhist Pilgrim after Bodhgaya, endeavors to be blessed with a visit to Sarnath in his life time. Dhamekh Stupa bears particular significance at Sarnath as it signifies the “seat of the holy Buddha”, as he proclaimed his faith. It is about 34 mtrs. in height and including the foundations, it can be measured upto 42 mtrs. Besides Dhamekh Stupa and that of the original Mulgandhakuti Temple which according to Hieun Tsang was about 61 mtrs. high. Buddha is said to have rested and meditated and here while in Sanath. Emperor Ashoka (273-232 B.C) .
Site of the great University
“What do you think householder? Is this town
of Nalanda successful and prosperous. is it
Populous and crowded with people?”
“Yes, venerable sir, it is”
Although Nalanda is one of the places distinguished as having been blessed by the presence of the Buddha, it later became particularly renowned as the site of the great monastic university of the same name, which was to become the crown jewel of the development of Buddhism in India. The name may derive from one of Shakyamuni’s former births, when he was a king whose capital was here. Nalanda was one of his epithets meaning “insatiable in giving.” Shakyamuni stayed here on a number of occasions, for a mango grove had been offered to him by 500 merchants. Hsuan Chwang mentions a number of temples and stupas marking places where Buddha had taught. On one visit he preached to men and gods for tree months, and a stupa containing his hair and nail clippings of that period was erected. A remarkable tree that had been miraculously produced from a discarded tooth stick of the Buddha stood in this area. Next to water tank, a stupa marked the place where a non-Buddhist, holding, a bird in his hand, had challenged the Buddha to divine whether it was alive or dead. The Buddha declined to answer him. Another stupa commemorated the occasion that a foreign monk had prostrated himself before the Buddha, praying for a rebirth as a university monarch. The sitting place of Shakyamuni and the Buddha who had come before him was marked by a stupa, as was the spot nearby where Bimbisara first came to greet the Buddha. In two neighboring villages, Ashoha built temples and stupas where Sariputra and Maudgalyayana were born and also entered par nirvana. During his stay at Nalanda, Hsuan Chwang saw a number of temples in and around the monastery. Some contained images of the Buddha , other of Avalokiteshvara and also Arya tara, whom he describes as having been a popular object of devation at that time. He also mentions the great temple erected by King Baladitya, which was similar to but slightly larger than the Mahabodhi Temple. The ruins of this are now prominent of the site.
The Ajanta caves consist of 30 Caves including the unfinished once, dating back from 200 BC to 250 AD. These Caves are situated 104 kms from Aurangabad and 52 kms from Jalgaon Railway Station. The caves are cut from the valcanic lava of the Deccan in the forest ravines of the Sahyadri Hills and are set in beautiful sylvan surrounding. They were discovered accidentally by a British Captain, Jahn Smith in 1819, and while on a hunting expedition. Ajanta provides a unique combination of architecture, sculpture and painting. Two basic types of monastic Buddhist architecture are preserved at Ajanta, the Chaitya or prayer hall (Cave Nos. 9,10,19,26, & 29) and Vihara or monastery (remaining 25 Caves). These caves suggest a well defined from of architecture, broadly resolving into two phases with a time gap of about 4 Centuries from each other. In the Hinayana Phase are included two Chaitya Halls (Cave Nos. 9 & 10) and 4 Viharas (Cave Nos. 8,12,13 & 15A). In the Mahayana Phase are included 3 Chaityas (Cave Nos. 19 & 26 and 29 being incomplete) and 11 exquisite Viharas (Cave Nos. 1,2,4,6,7,11,15,17 and 20 to 24). The Ajanta sculptures of the Mahayana Phase establish a formal religious imagery. While the Hinayana monuments at the site are vitally devoid of carvings, Cave 1, is one of the first monasteries and the interior painting here, are among the greatest at Ajanta. Graciously posed Bodhisattvas namely Padmapani and Vajrapani with elaborate lead dresses flank the antechamber doorway.
Sanchi is a serene hill crowned by a group of stupas, monasteries, temples and pillars dating from 3rd Century BC to the 12th Century AD. The glory that was Sanchi , an ancient seat of Buddhist learning and place of pilgrimage, can still be experienced in its complex structures where many Buddhist legends founds expression in the rich sculpture. The Buddha is not represented through figures at Sanchi, but through symbols, as was the tradition in the early period of Buddhism. The lotus represents the Buddha’s birth the tree signifies his enlightenment, the wheel represents his first sermon and the stupa represents his nirvana or salvation. The footprints and the throne denote the Buddha’s presence. Sanchi was virtually forgotten after the 13th Century until 1818, when General Taylor, a British Officer rediscovered it, half buried and well preserved. Later in 1912, Sir John Marshal, Director General of Archaeology ordered the restoration work at the site. Some of the important monuments in Sanchi.