The Buddha was the greatest sage and mystic of the East and one of the greatest spiritual teachers of the world. On his preachings, philosophy, and 4 noble truths were founded Buddhism, the 4th largest religion in the world today. He was called ‘the Awakened One’ or ‘the Enlightened one’.
The Buddha was born in 563 BCE in the part of India which is now Nepal, set in motion the Wheel of Dhamma in India, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, and all of Southeast Asia, including Japan and China. There are several important Buddhist sites in India to embark on a spiritual journey like no other. We’ve divided them into Buddhist spiritual sites, Buddhist monasteries, and ancient Buddhist cave sites. Take a look at 18 essential Buddhist pilgrimage sites in India.
This is one of four main Buddhist pilgrimage sites. In Gaya, under the Bodhi Tree, the Buddha attained enlightenment.
The Mahabodhi Temple was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and it houses the Bodhi Tree and the Vajrasana or Diamond Throne, the Mahabodhi Stupa, an 80-foot Buddha statue, a lotus pond, a meditation garden, Chinese, Japanese, Bhutanese, Taiwanese, Bangladeshi, Thai and Tibetan monasteries.
This is a sacred site where the Buddha delivered his first sermon, taught the Dhamma (including the four noble truths and eightfold path), and formed the Sangha (monastic community). In Sarnath lies the Dhamek Stupa (128 feet high) as well as relics of other ancient stupas.
The Ashoka Pillar remains are also here. Visit the Sarnath Museum to see the lion capital which is the National Emblem of India. Also, visit several monasteries from other Buddhist nations.
Another major pilgrimage site, Kushinagar is the place where the Buddha attained Parinirvana (nirvana after death). The Buddha breathed his last here. The site is mainly visited not by regular tourists but devout Buddhist followers and monks.
The Parinirvana Stupa has the reclining statue of ‘dying Buddha’, Ramabhar Stupa which is the cremation site of the Buddha, and Matha Kuar Shrine which has a giant statue of the Buddha.
Shravasti, Uttar Pradesh
An ancient city, one of the largest during the Buddha’s lifetime is a significant pilgrimage site for Buddhists or lay travelers. Buddha spent most of the time after enlightenment in Shravasti.
The Twin Miracle was said to have occurred here, where the Buddha emitted flames from the upper part of his body and water from the lower. Places of interest are Jetavana Monastery, Anathapindika and Angulimala Stupas, and Anandabodhi Tree.
Sankasya or Sankassa, Uttar Pradesh
This ancient site is where the Buddha is said to have returned after preaching the dhamma in the world of gods (devas or celestial beings) after the twin miracle was performed by him. The Buddha is said to have descended here accompanied by Indra and Brahma after preaching the dhamma to his mother in heaven.
In the olden times’ ladders were built where Buddha lay his foot upon the descent, but now you can see Ashoka Pillar and a shrine with an elephant where the Buddha put his right foot on the ground. Also, visit Burmese and Korean temples here.
The Vulture Peak at Rajgir was Buddha’s favorite retreat and here he delivered many important sermons. Buddhist caves of Saptaparni is where the first Buddhist council was held after his death.
Places to see in Rajgir are Shanti Stupa to see four beautiful Buddha statues, Gridhakuta Hill where he delivered Lotus Sutra and Prajnaparamita, Jivakameavan Gardens, and Ajatshatru Fort. Visit Nalanda about 15 kms away to see the world heritage site of Nalanda Mahavihara, an important teaching place where main Buddhist streams of thoughts originated.
Key Monastery, Himachal Pradesh
Located at an altitude of more than 13,000 feet, Key Monastery is an important Tibetan center of religious training for Llamas. A stunning work of monastic architecture, the monastery has various murals and houses a good collection of scriptures and Buddha images.
The beautiful 3-storeyed monastery is located in a remote region, thus visited by adventure travelers and hardcore Buddha followers. Visit from May to October.
Dalai Lama Temple Complex, Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh
The main seat of Tibetan Buddhism, the Dalai Lama Temple is an ornate monastery complex, colorful and enchanting. The residence of Dalai Lama is also here. He delivers his sermons here.
The temple has a large idol of the Buddha. Morning and evening chants here are immensely captivating and this is an interesting place to spot the llamas performing their daily duties. Also, visit Norbulingka Institute and Namgyal Monastery in the area.
Namdroling Monastery, Karnataka
A place that over 5000 monks and nuns call home, Namdroling Monastery is an important spiritual center of Nyingma Tibetan Buddhism. It has humble beginnings as the founder Pema Norbu Rinpoche started to build it when he had only Rs 300 to his name.
It was first made out of bamboos, but now has great big premises, colorful architecture, peaceful ambiance and a heavy footfall of tourists.