Buddhist pilgrimage sites in India

22/02/2019

William Hamblin

A modern Tibetan statue of the Buddha in Sarnath, India.

By  - Shyamal Sinha 

Siddhartha Gautama was the historical founder of Buddhism. He was born a Kshatriya warrior prince in ancient India which is now located in present-day Lumbini, Nepal.  The dates of his birth and death are still a point of controversy but most scholars "suggested that the Buddha died within approximately a few decades on either side of 400 B.C.". His particular family of Sakya Kshatriyas were of Brahmin lineage (Sanskrit: gotra), as indicated by the family name "Gautama".  e").

Buddhism is a world religion, which arose in and around the ancient Kingdom of Magadha (now in BiharIndia), and is based on the teachings of Siddhārtha Gautama who was deemed a  Awakened One, Buddhism spread outside of Magadha starting in the Buddha's lifetime..

According to the 2011 census, Buddhists make up 0.7% of India's population, or 8.4 million individuals. Traditional Buddhists are 13% and Navayana Buddhists (Converted or Neo-Buddhists) comprise more than 87% of Indian Buddhist community according to 2011 Census of India.

 Ashoka, the first Buddhist emperor of India, who ruled from around 268-232 B.C. Much like Constantine and his mother Helena founding church and memorials during the early fourth century at the important sites of the life of Jesus in ancient Palestine, Ashoka toured India in an attempt to locate the sites and relics of the Buddha and to commemorate them with monuments.

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William Hamblin

A Buddhist stupa at Sanchi in India where many of the ashes of the Buddha were buried by Ashoka, the first Buddhist emperor of India.

A sense of the original form of Ashoka’s Buddhist stupas - domed burial memorials in which relics of the Buddha are enshrined - can be seen at Sanchi, where many of the ashes of the Buddha were buried by Ashoka.

Likewise, Ashoka erected numerous tall pillars inscribed with both Buddhist laws and his spiritual biography. The best preserved of these is at the Firoz Shah Kotla Park in New Delhi, where it was carried and re-erected in the 14th century as a victory monument by the Muslim conqueror Firoz Shah.

Furthermore, these pillars were once surmounted by huge ornate capitals. The best preserved of these can be found in the Sarnath museum, where four royal lions facing the cardinal directions stand guard over the wheel of dharma resting on a lotus. This statue is now the official emblem of India, and it is found on most of India’s currency.

The great Buddhist pilgrimage sites of India were constantly expanded through royal patronage, both from within India and from later Buddhist kings in east Asia, and such patronage continues today from Buddhist-majority countries. At all of these sites, bigger was often thought of as better, as reflected in the Dhamek Stupa at Sarnath, built around A.D. 500 on the site of Ashoka’s earlier, smaller stupa. As the wealth of Buddhist monasteries and kings grew during the Middle Ages, ornamentation of Buddhist shrines often became more extravagant.

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William Hamblin

Four royal lions facing the cardinal directions stand guard over the wheel of dharma resting on a lotus this is column ornate capital at the Sarnath museum in India.

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William Hamblin

As the wealth of Buddhist monasteries and kings grew during the Middle Ages, ornamentation of Buddhist shrines often became more extravagant.

Throughout the Middle Ages, famous Buddhist scholars from throughout Asia - such as Xuanzang of China (A.D. 602-664) - gathered to the Buddhist shrines and monasteries in the heartland of India in order to study the ancient scriptures and translate them into their own mother tongues.

sarnath  a city located 13 kilometres north-east of Varanasi near the confluence of the Ganges and the Gomati rivers in Uttar Pradesh, India. The deer park in Sarnath is where Gautama Buddha first taught the Dharma, and where the Buddhist Sangha came into existence through the enlightenment of Kondanna. Singhpur, a village approximately one km away from the site, was the birthplace of Shreyansanath, the Eleventh Tirthankara of Jainism, and a temple dedicated to him, is an important pilgrimage site.  

Sarnath was the site of the preaching of the “Sermon at the Deer Park” - a kind of “Sermon on the Mount” for Buddhists. In this sermon, the Buddha taught the Four Noble Truths and Eightfold Path, which provide the essence of Buddhism. The exquisite fifth-century statue of a seated Buddha at Sarnath shows the Buddha preaching this sermon.

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William Hamblin

The fifth-century statue of a seated Buddha at Sarnath shows the Buddha preaching “Sermon at the Deer Park.”

Modern Buddhist pilgrims from all over east Asia can be found touring the great sites commemorating the Buddha, just as Christians still tour the Holy Land in search of a spiritual connection with the land of the life of Jesus. And just as Christian monks and priests still live, teach at and care for the Christian holy sites in Israel, Buddhist monks still pray and meditate in new temples that surround the ancient pilgrimage monuments. Ancient scriptures are studied, while the Buddha and his teachings are proclaimed in sermon and hymn.

William Hamblin

Tibetan monks chant in Sarnath, India.

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Today, pilgrim prayers and chants can be heard in Tibetan, Thai, Chinese, Korean and Japanese throughout Buddhist shrines in India.  Buddhist tourist-pilgrims from throughout the world can be seen meditating, chanting, praying and scurrying about the monuments taking selfies, proud that their countries continue the tradition of patronage of Buddhist shrines in India that dates back to two millenia.

Another Buddhist Pilgrimage ,The   Rajgir is derived from Rajgriha ‘Above of the Kings’ This city has witnessed several episodes of Buddha’s life. Here he preached various semons proselytized Empeor Bimbisar at Griddhakoota- Valture Hill and meditation many times. The Jivekarmavan monastery at Rajgir was the favourite residence for Buddha. His teaching were penned down at Rajgir and this was also the venue for the first Buddhist council. The reverie of Rajgir is now a prime Buddhist Pligrim spot.   Rajgir, 19 kms from Nalanda, was the ancient capital of Magadha Empire. Lord Buddha often visited the monastery here to meditate and to preach. Rajgir is also a place sacred to the Jains, Since Lord Mahavira spent many years here.  


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Hamblin

A modern Japanese Vishwa Shantistupa in Rajgir India.

Buddhism was prominent in communities of merchants, who found it well suited to their needs and who increasingly established commercial links throughout the Mauryan empire.

"Merchants proved to be an efficient vector of the Buddhist faith, as they established diaspora communities in the string of oasis towns-Merv, Bukhara, Samarkand, Kashgar, Khotan, Kuqa, Turpan, Dunhuang - that served as lifeline of the silk roads through central Asia."

 

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