Five Sacred Buddhist Destinations
Buddhists round the world dream about visiting the sacred sites graced by The Buddha..The most significant of these are Lumbini where The Buddha was born, Nepal, Bodh Gaya in India where he attained enlightenment, Sarnath where he preached his first sermon, and Kushinagar where he died. There are also places sacred to Buddhists in Thailand, Sri Lanka, and Indonesia .
Nepal is proud of its link to The Buddha. Even the airport in the town of Bhairahawa near Lumbini is known as Gautam Buddha Airport. You’ll find the exact location of The Buddha’s birth in the inner shrine of the Maya Devi Temple. The temple is dedicated to Mahamaya, the mother of Lord Buddha. Until 1886 The Buddha’s birthplace was a mystery. Then along came Dr. Alois A Fuhrer, a German archaeologist who discovered the stone pillar erected by King Ashoka the Great. The inscription on the pillar mentioned Lumbini as the birth place of The Buddha.
To Buddhists, perhaps Bodh Gaya is the most important pilgrimage destination. It was here that Siddhartha Gautama became The Buddha (The Awakened One). The descendant of the bodhi tree beneath which he meditated and attained enlightenment still stands today on the premises of the MahabodhiTemple. You’ll see green, red and white prayer flags fluttering from the branches and seven shrines that represent The Buddha’s seven weeks in this small town. The Buddha preached his famous dramatic Fire Sermon in Bodh Gaya. Interestingly, T.S. Elliot included part of this sermon in his poem, The Wasteland’.
While in Bodh Gaya, don’t forget to visit other places linked to The Buddha. There’s Rajgir where the First Buddhist Council was held three months after The Buddha’s death. Visit the serene cave on VulturePeak where The Buddha meditated and the bamboo grove where he spent cool afternoons in the heat of summer.
Nearby, Nalanda was famous for the world’s first international Buddhist university. A visit to the ruins of NalandaUniversity is a must. Today there is still an international center for Buddhist studies here and 40% of the students come from overseas.
Five weeks after his enlightenment, The Buddha traveled to this deer park to preach his first sermon. On the very spot where he preached, stands the enormous Dharmekh Stupa in tranquil green surroundings. It was built by Emperor Ashoka and is said to house a relic of The Buddha.
There are many monasteries around Sarnath, home to monks from all over the world.
A large number of Buddhists come to Kushinagar every day. The Buddha died here at the age of eighty after eating a dish of poisonous mushrooms offered by a well meaning devotee. Inside the MahaparinirvanaTemple, you can see the Nirvana statue which is among the most famous images of The Buddha in the world. This 5th century sandstone statue of the dying Buddha is covered with gold and shrouded in silk. The stupa next to the temple is said to mark the place of The Buddha’s cremation.
When Buddhism arrived here in the 4th century BC, Anuradhapura was the capital of this island country. Today it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You can visit the eight main places of worship here, including the holiest of them all – the Sri Maha Bodhi temple. This temple boasts the world’s oldest recorded tree It is a fig tree said to be descended from the original bodhi tree in India beneath which The Buddha attained enlightenment.
Polonnaruwa became the capital after the destruction of Anuradhapura. You can see wonderful statues of The Buddha in Gal Vihare, including one which is 46 feet tall.
The 11th century Atadage (House of Eight Relics) here is said to be the first temple built to house the tooth relics.
Kandy, famous for its Temple of the Tooth (it houses a tooth of The Buddha) was also the capital of Sri Lanka at one time.
At Dambulla, the rock caves with huge images of The Buddha are a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
You’ll find Buddhist places of interest across Thailand where Buddhism is the major religion. The best places to visit are Bangkok and Ayutthaya. Bangkok, the capital of Thailand today has numerous Buddhist temples worth seeing. Among these, the most interesting are Wat Phra Kaew, Wat Pho, and Arun.
In Ayutthaya you can find the most well preserved medieval monuments such as stupas with typical Thai "lotus bud" domes in the AyutthayaHistoricalPark.
Buddhism is a minor religion in Indonesia, but the country possesses the largest Buddhist monument in the world – the stupa of Borobudur on the island of Java. The massive 9th century stupa carved from volcanic stone is embellished with 1460 reliefs and 1212 decorative panels.