In India, there are numerous historical Buddhist Sites in India, because Buddha acquired enlightenment and spent most of his life in India.
Astamahasthanas are eight great holy places associated with Buddha’s life. These include four pilgrimage sites associated with Gautama Buddha’s life, namely Lumbini, Bodhgaya, Sarnath, and Kushinagar, as well as four other sites, namely Sravasti, Sankasya, Rajgir, and Vaishali.
Buddhism in India
Buddhism started in India over 2,600 years ago as a way life that had a potential of transforming a person.
It is one of the important religions of South and South-Eastern Asian countries.
The religion is based upon the teachings, life experiences of its founder Siddhartha Gautam, born in circa 563 BCE.
He was born into royal family of Sakya clan who ruled from Kapilvastu, inLumbini which is situated near the Indo-Nepal Border.
At the age of 29, Gautama left home and rejected his life of riches and embraced a lifestyle of asceticism, or extreme self-discipline.
After 49 consecutive days of meditation, Gautama attainedBodhi (enlightenment)under a pipal tree at Bodhgaya, a village in Bihar.
Buddha gave his first sermon in the village of Sarnath, near the city of Benares in UP. This event is known as Dharma-Chakra-Pravartana (turning of the wheel of law).
He died at the age of 80 in 483 BCE at a place called Kushinagara a town in UP. The event is known as Mahaparinibban.
Buddhist Sites in India
Sarnath, Uttar Pradesh
Sarnath is the site of Gautam Buddha’s first sermon, when he taught the four noble truths and the eightfold path known as Dhamma, as well as establishing a monastic society known as Sangha.
You’ll also find centuries-old stupas and relics here.
The Ashok Pillar and the Indian National Emblem are two additional noteworthy sights to view here.
Bharhut, Madhya Pradesh
Bharhut is a hamlet in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, in the Satna district. It is well-known for its remarkable Buddhist stupa relics.
Buddhism was practiced in Bharhut until the 12th century.
Around 1100 AD, a small Buddhist temple was expanded and a new Buddha statue was placed.
At the site, a big Sanskrit inscription from the same date was discovered, although it appears to have been lost.
This differs from the Lal Pahad inscription from AD 1158, which mentions the Kalachiri monarchs.
It was under a Pipal tree in Gaya that Lord Buddha attained enlightenment.
It is well-known as the location where Gautama Buddha is claimed to have received enlightenment under the Bodhi Tree.
Bodh Gaya has been a place of devotion and veneration for Hindus and Buddhists alike since antiquity.
Mahabodhi Temple, Bihar
The MahaBodhi Temple Complex is one of the four sacred locations associated with the life of the Lord Buddha, particularly his enlightenment (Bodhi).
Lumbini (Birth) in Nepal, Sarnath (Dharma-Chakra-Pravartana – 1st Sermon) in Uttar Pradesh, and Kushinagar (Mahaparinirvana-death) in Uttar Pradesh are the other three.
The Mauryan emperor Ashoka erected the original building.
It was, however, completely rebuilt in brick during the late Gupta dynasty.
The current temple was built in the fifth or sixth centuries.
The Mahabodhi Temple site contains outstanding records of the events surrounding Buddha’s life and subsequent adoration.
Sravasti, Uttar Pradesh
Sravasti (ancient Savatthi), the historical capital of Kosala Mahajanapada, is a major Buddhist pilgrimage site.
Lord Buddha and his disciples are said to have spent 24 years preaching in this city.
There are various ancient stupas, monasteries, and temples in this city.
Kushinagar, Uttar Pradesh
Lord Buddha is said to have accomplished ‘Maharparinivana,’ the highest level of salvation, in Kushinagar.
One of the main attractions is the Ramabhar Stupa, which stands about 50 feet tall and is located where Lord Buddha was cremated.
Mahanirvana Temple, which houses a six-meter-long reclining Buddha statue; Mathakuar Temple, which houses a black stone image of the Buddha with inscriptions dating from the 10th to 11th centuries.
Kapilavastu, Uttar Pradesh
Kapilvastu holds significant historical significance as the birthplace of Lord Buddha.
There are multiple Stupas in the area, and stone caskets containing remains thought to be those of Buddha have been discovered during archaeological investigations.
Stupa Complex, where the inscriptions of ‘Deoputra’ (Kanishka of the Kushana Dynasty) may be found; Palace Site, which is thought to be the ruins of King Shuddhodhan, Prince Gautam’s father, are among the prominent sites in Kapilvastu.
Ajanta caves, Maharashtra
The Buddhist Caves of Ajanta are a group of 30 rock-cut Buddhist cave structuresin the Aurangabad district of Maharashtra, India, that date from the 2nd century BCE to around 480 CE.
The Ajanta Caves are a collection of ancient Buddhist monasteries and prayer rooms carved into a 75-meter (246-foot) rock wall.
Paintings illustrating the Buddha’s previous incarnations and rebirths, pictorial tales from Aryasura’s Jatakamala, and rock-cut sculptures of Buddhist deities may also be found in the caverns.
Ellora caves, Maharashtra
Ellora is a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Maharashtra, India, located in the Aurangabad district.
It is one of the world’s greatest rock-cut Hindu temple cave complexes, with Buddhist and Jain monuments and artwork from the 600–1000 CE period.
Ellora is a collection of 34 big rock-cut caverns and more than 25 to 30 lesser excavations related to three major Indian religions: Buddhism, Hinduism, and Jainism.
Inscriptions mention the ancient name for this location, Elapura.
Pitalkhora Caves are a group of 14 rock-cut Buddhist caves on Chandora Hill that date back to the 2nd century BCE.
These basalt rock caves are among the country’s earliest instances of rock-cut construction.
Four of the caverns are chaityas (prayer halls), while the others are viharas (residence cells).
All of the caves date from the Hinayana period and feature Mahayana period murals (6th century CE).
The Sirpur Group of Monuments is an archaeological site in Mahasamund, Chhattisgarh, India, that has Hindu, Jain, and Buddhist monuments from the 5th to 12th century.
The site is located along the Mahanadi River’s banks.
Between the 5th and 12th centuries CE, it was a major Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain colony in the South Kosala kingdom.
Hieun Tsang, a 7th century Chinese Buddhist pilgrim, paid a visit here.
Ratnagiri is an important place in Odisha’s Diamond Triangle.
It held a Buddha monastery, known as a mahavira, that was erected in the 5th century, and its strategic location allowed the monks to keep it secure from invasions.
A 12 foot tall Buddha is flanked by Padmapani and Vajrapani inside a temple.
The courtyard is filled with various Buddha sculptures. This site has a total of 24 cells.
It is a large Buddhist complex in the Indian state of Odisha that includes huge stupas, ‘esoteric’ Buddha statues, and monasteries (viharas), and is one of the region’s oldest sites.
Lalitgiri is part of Puspagiri University, which is located on top of the same-named hills as Ratnagiri and Udayagiri.
The “Diamond Triangle” refers to the three complexes.
At this location, Tantric Buddhism was practiced.
The largest Buddhist complex is Udayagiri. It is made of important stupas and monasteries (viharas).
It is part of the “Diamond Triangle” of the “Ratnagiri-Udayagiri-Lalitgiri” complex, together with the neighboring complexes of Lalitgiri and Ratnagiri.
It was once thought that one or all of these were the Pushpagiri Vihara, which was mentioned in ancient documents, but it has recently been proven to be at a different location.
Udayagiri’s historical name was “Madhavapura Mahavihara,” according to epigraphical items discovered at the site.
This Buddhist complex, which was preceded by the monasteries of Ratnagiri and Lalitgiri, is thought to have been active between the 7th and 12th centuries.
In ancient Magadha, Nalanda was a prominent Buddhist monastic university.
Historians consider it to be the world’s first residential university, as well as one of the greatest centers of study in antiquity.
During the Gupta Empire, Nalanda was founded with the help of several Indian and Javanese benefactors, both Buddhists and non-Buddhists.
Its faculty featured some of Mahayana Buddhism’s most illustrious scholars throughout the course of 750 years.
The Hindu Vedas and its six philosophies, as well as grammar, medicine, logic, and mathematics, were taught at Nalanda Mahavihara, as were six important Buddhist schools and philosophies such as Yogacara and Sarvastivada.
Odantapuri, in what is now Bihar, India, was a well-known Buddhist Mahavihara.
It is thought to have been founded in the eighth century by Gopala I.
It was located in Magadha and is regarded as India’s second oldest Mahavihara after Nalanda.
Local Buddhist princes, like the Pithipatis of Bodh Gaya, are said to have backed the Mahavihara, according to inscriptions.
Along with Nalanda and Odantapuri, Vikramashila was one of the three most significant Buddhist monasteries in India during the Pala Empire.
The Pala ruler Dharmapala (783–820 AD) founded Vikramashila in response to a perceived decrease in the quality of study at Nalanda.
With over a hundred lecturers and over a thousand students, Vikramashila was one of the major Buddhist universities.
Atisha Dipankara, a founder of Tibetan Buddhism’s Sarma traditions, was the most distinguished and eminent of all.
Rajgir (historically known as Rajagriha) is known as “The City of Kings.”
The capital of the kingdom of Magadha, which would later become the Mauryan Empire, was the city of Rajgir.
Both Mahavira and Buddha preached their views in Rajgir around the 6th and 5th centuries BC, and King Bimbisara offered the Buddha a wood monastery.
King Kalasoka convened the Second Buddhist council here in 383 BCE, making it an important place in both the Jain and Buddhist religions.
Gautama Buddha preached his final sermon here before his death in 483 BCE, and the Second Buddhist council was convened here by King Kalasoka in 383 BCE.
Vaishali is also home to the Buddha relic stupa, which is supposed to contain the Buddha’s ashes and is arguably the earliest known example of a stupa.
Piprahwa, Uttar Pradesh
Piprahwa is a village near Birdpur in the Siddharthnagar district of Uttar Pradesh, India.
It is located in the historical Buddha’s homeland, 12 kilometers from Lumbini, the world heritage site where Gautama Buddha is said to have been born.
Piprahwa is most known for its archaeological site and excavations, which imply that it was the burial site for a portion of the Buddha’s ashes given to his Shakya kin.
The site contains a massive stupa, as well as the ruins of many monasteries and a museum.
At the nearby Ganwaria mound, ancient residential complexes and temples were discovered.
Sankisa, Uttar Pradesh
It is thought to be the location where Buddha descended from heaven after giving teachings to his mother.
Sankisa is famous for a Bisari Devi shrine and an unearthed Ashoka elephant pillar.
There is a Buddha Temple, which is said to be where Lord Buddha descended from heaven.
Temple of Maya Devi, which has Buddhist sculptures dating back to the Mahayana period on its walls; and the Shiva Linga, a massive Shiva Linga that is also a draw for Hindu worshippers.
Nagapattinam, Tamil Nadu
Chudamani Vihara is the name of a once-famous Buddhist Vihara in Nagapattinam, Tamil Nadu.
Vijayan King Sri Mara Vijayattunga Varman, with the support of Great King Raja Raja Cholan, built this Vihara in 1006 CE.
Nagapattinam was both one of the first and one of the last Buddhist centers in South India.
Around Nagapattinam, there are still spots like Sangamangalam, Buddha Mangalam, Putthakkudy, and others that serve as reminders of the city’s Buddhist past.
It was a prominent Chola port city having marine ties to several east Asian countries throughout the medieval period.
Dhauli, also known as Dhauligiri, is an Odisha hill located on the banks of the Daya River, 8 kilometres south of Bhubaneswar.
It is famous for the “Dhauli Shanti Stupa,” a peace pagoda established by Japan Budhha Sangha and Kalinga Nippon Buddha Sangha to commemorate the Great Kalinga War.
Buddhism has a strong presence in the Ladakh region.
Ancient monuments, monasteries, oral literature, art forms, fairs, and festivals all reflect Ladakh’s ancient culture.
Thikse Gompa or Thikse Monastery is a gompa affiliated with the Gelug sect of Tibetan Buddhism.
It is located on top of a hill in Thiksey approximately 19 kilometres east of Leh in Ladakh, India.
Sikkim is a major Buddhist site, with over 200 monasteries of the Nyingma and Kagyu orders.
Buddhism has influenced not just the local culture, but also the way of life of the people in Sikkim.
Even though Sikkim never had the opportunity to experience Buddha’s bodily presence, his words of wisdom inspired Sikkim’s life, making it one of the country’s most important Buddhist pilgrimages.
The Pemayangtse Monastery is a Buddhist monastery in Pemayangtse, near Pelling in the northeastern Indian state of Sikkim, located 110 km west of Gangtok.
Planned, designed and founded by Lama Lhatsun Chempo in 1647.
It is one of the oldest and premier monasteries of Sikkim, also the most famous in Sikkim.
Bharatpur Buddhist Monastery Complex, West Bengal
In the recent excavations, the Structural Complex of the Buddhist Monastery was found in the continuation of large Stupa, Black and Red ware pottery, and Sculptures discovered from excavation done 50 years ago at the same site in West Bengal.
An extended Monastery complex was found in an excavation done by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) in West Bengal’sPaschim Bardhaman district.
The outer wall of the monastery, containing nine layers of brick and a small circular structure has been revealed.
Buddhism in West Bengal:
The region was a bastion of the ancient Buddhist Mauryan and Pala empires when the Mahayana and Vajrayana schools flourished. South-Eastern Bengal was ruled by the medieval Buddhist Kingdom of Mrauk U during the 16th and 17th centuries.
Significance of Excavation:
The site was initially excavated fifty years ago between 1972 and 1975 when archaeologists from ASI found a Buddhist Stupa at the site.
Excavations can help in finding the spread of Buddhism in the South West Bengal region.
The discovery is also significant since black and red ware pottery from the chalcolithic age makes the village settlement on river Damodar possible.
The complex makes the site religious while the settlement makes the site secular in nature.
The stupa found is large compared to stupas found from other Buddhist sites in the state like Karnasubarna in Murshidabad, Moghalamari in Paschim Medinipur, and Jagjivanpur in Malda where smaller votive stupas were found.