Buddhist India

The town of Dharamsala is situated in Himachal Pradesh, on the high slopes in the upper reaches of Kangra Valley. With the Dhauladhar Mountains serving as its backdrop, the town presents a picturesque sight. Dharamsala is divided into two parts, the Upper Dharamsala and the Lower Dharamsala, differing by approximately 1000 m in altitude. The town serves as the headquarters of the Tibetan government in exile. Dharamshala is also the seat of His Holiness, The 14th Dalai Lama in India.

It houses a large settlement of Tibetan refugee. Monks in their robes and old Tibetans walking with rosaries in their hands or turning the prayer wheels is a common sight here. There are a number of monasteries and temples in Dharamsala, which serves as the major attractions for the tourists coming here. There are also several institutes here, set up to conserve the art, culture and traditions of Tibet.

The town of McLeodganj is situated in Himachal Pradesh, India. The town dates back to the mid 19th century when it was established as a British garrison. Mcleodganj was initially the home of the semi-nomadic Gaddi tribe. Today, it serves as the residence of His Holiness, The 14th Dalai Lama - Tenzin Gyatso. However, even now, a considerable number of Gaddi families live in the villages around Mcleod Ganj.

Stongdey Ladakh
The monastery of Stongdey lies 18 kms. To the north of Padum, on the road leading to Zangla. An old foundation associated with the Tibetan Yogi, Marpa, Stongdey is now the second largest monastic establishment of Zanskar, inhabited by the resident community of about 60 Gelukpa monks. The sprawling whitewashed complex has a number of temples, each a repository of the region's rich monastic legacy. Stongdey can be reached by foot in about 4 hours along the recently laid rough road. The climb up to the monastery is rather strenuous, but it is worth the trouble for the breathtaking scenery of the valley available from here.

Shey Monastery - Ladakh
SHEY, 15 Kms upstream from Leh. The palace is belived to have been the seat of power of the pre-Tibetan kings.A 7.5 metre high copper statue of Buddha,plated with gold,and the largest of its kind,is installed in the palace. Leh and once the capital of Ladakh, is now all but deserted, the royal family having been forced to abandon it by the Dogras midway through the nineteenth century. Only a semi- derelict palace, a small gompa and a profusion of chortens remain, clustered around a bleached spur of rock that just into the fertile floor of the Indus Valley. The ruins overlook the main highway, and can be reached on the frequent minibuses between Leh bus stand and Tikse.Alternatively; you could walk to Shey from Tikse monastery along a windy path that passes through one of Ladakh’s biggest chorten fields with hundreds of whitewashed shrines of varying size scattered across the surreal desert landscape.

The First Monastery Of Lamayuru
The first Lamayuru monastery was built under Rinchen Zangbo at the end of the 10th century, under orders from the king of Ladakh , who altogether had 108 Gompas built in west Tibet. It was built on the broken mountain in the valley and consisted of five buildings, of which only the central building stands today. One can still see some remains of the four corner buildings to the west.

The Gompa has an impressive 11-headed, 1,000-eyed image of Chenrezig. In its heyday up to 400 monks lived in the monastery but today there are only 20 to 30 who belong to the yellow hat sect. Many Lamas from Lamayuru now go out to other parts of Ladakh as teachers.

Likkir Monastery
Five kilometers to the north of the main Leh-Srinagar highway, shortly before the village of Saspol, the large and wealthy gompa of Likkir, home to around one hundred monks, is renowned for its new 75-foot –high yellow statue of the Buddha-to-come which towers serenely above the terraced fields. A pleasant break from the bustle of Leh, the village of Likkir now offers a small but adequate choice of accommodation which, along with the sheer tranquility of the surroundings, tempts many travelers to linger a few days.

Bodhisattva, having renounced the luxurious life of Prince Siddhartha, became Gautama, the ascetic. After leaving his home, he started walking in the southeastern direction from Kapilavastu and came to Vaishali. There, he listened briefly to the teaching of Arada Kalapa, an aberrant samkhya, but left dissatisfied. Crossing the river Ganges, he once again entered the kingdom of Magadha and came to Rajgir, its capital, where he listened to the yogic teachings of Rudraka. Again dissatisfied, he left the place, followed by five ascetics. Along with them, he came to the village of Uravilva, situated on the banks of the Nairanjana River, close to the place now known as Bodhgaya. There, they engaged in long, austere practices. For the first two years, Gautama ate only one grain of rice a day and for the next four years, he ate nothing at all. Despite almost full degeneration of his body, he remained sitting in continual meditation.

Nalanda is situated in the state of Bihar. Founded in the 5th century AD, it lies at a distance of approximately 90 km from the capital city of Patna. Nalanda had the honor of being visited by Lord Buddha a number of times, in His lifetime. Even Hieun Tsang, the famous Chinese Traveler, stayed in this village for approximately 12 years, in the 7th century AD. Nalanda came to be recognized as a famous center of Buddhist learning in India, only between 5th century and 12th century.

The university of Nalanda, apart from being the largest and oldest university of ancient time, was also first residential international university of the world. Around 2,000 teachers and 10,000 students, from all over the Buddhist world, stayed at this university. Emperor Ashoka and Harshavardhana got a number of temples, monasteries and viharas built here. Some time back, in 1951, an International Center for Buddhist Studies was set up at this place.

Rajgir is situated in the state of Bihar, encircled by five holy hills. It lies at a distance of approximately 34 km from the city of Gaya. The name of the town has been derived from the words 'Raj Griha', meaning 'the abode of the king'. During the lifetime of Lord Buddha, Rajgir served as the capital city of the Magadh Empire. It also has the distinction of serving as the host to Lord Buddha, during the reign of King Bimbisara.

Prince Siddhartha (early name of Lord Buddha) came to Rajgir, after he renounced the luxuries of life and undertook asceticism. Two of the rock-cut caves of Rajgir were the favorite retreats of the Buddha. It was here that He preached two of his most renowned sermons

Vaishali district is situated in the state of Bihar. It lies at a distance of approximately 60 km from the capital city of Patna. The place gains significance from the fact that it is here that Lord Buddha announced the imminence of his Mahaparinirvana. Vaishali also witnessed one of the eight great events in the life of Lord Buddha. It was here that a monkey offered Him a bowl of honey. Lord Buddha also visited Vaishali five years after the attainment of His enlightenment. The Lichhvis offered a grand welcome to the Lord on his arrival in Vaishali.

He displayed some extraordinary and divine presentations of his spiritual superiority here. This led to mass induction of people into Buddhism. Infact, it is believed that at that time around eighty four thousand people adopted Buddhism. One of the most important events that took place at Vaishali was the induction of females into the Sangha. It is believed that even Mahaprajapati Gautami, the foster mother of Buddha, joined the order here, along with the other Sakya-women.

Kushinagar is the place where Shakyamuni entered Mahaparinirvana. When Lord Buddha reached His eighty-first year, He gave his last major teaching. The subject of the teaching consisted of the thirty-seven wings of enlightenment. After this, He left Vulture's Peak with Ananda to journey north. After sleeping at Nalanda, he crossed the Ganges for the last time at the place where Patna now stands and came to the village of Beluva. Here, the Buddha fell ill, but he suppressed the sickness and continued towards Vaishali. This was a city where Shakyamuni had often stayed in the beautiful parks that had been offered to him. It was also the principal location of the third turning of the wheel of Dharma.

Lumbini is the birthplace of Lord Buddha and located in Kapilvastu district of Nepal. Just before His birth, Bodhisattva was the lord of Tushita deva realm. There He had resolved to be reborn for the last time and show the attainment of enlightenment to the world. He had made five investigations and determined that this southern continent, where men lived for one hundred years, was the most suitable place and. Since the royal caste was the most respected at that point of time and the lineages of King Suddhodana and his Queen Mayadevi were pure, He chose to be born as their son, a prince of the Shakya dynasty. After placing crowning His successor Maitreya, Bodhisattva descended from Tushita to the world of man

Sravasti is one of the important Buddhist pilgrimage centres of India which during the lifetime of Buddha was one of the sixth largest cities of India and served as the capital of Kosala Kingdom. Not only this, it was also one of the prominent trading centre and centre of religious activities including Lord Buddha. Presently, the city of Sravasti is located in the Gonda district near the Rapti River in northeastern Uttar Pradesh. However, number of legends is associated with this place, according to history of Ramayana the city of Sravasti was created by Rama who had divided the Kingdom of Kosala into two parts and installed his son Lava at Sravasti and Kusha at Kushavasti. According to the legend of Mahabharata Sravasti is associated with the king Shravasta whereas the Buddhist tradition called this place as Savatthi after the name of the Buddhist sage.

Sanchi is situated in the state of Madhya Pradesh in India. It lies at a distance of approximately 52 km from the capital city of Bhopal and 10 km from Vidisha. The major attractions of Sanchi include a number of Buddhist stupas, monasteries, temples and pillars. All these structures date back to somewhere between 3rd century BC and 12th century AD. The Mauryan emperor Ashoka founded all the stupas at Sanchi in the honor of Lord Buddha. They have the distinction of being included by UNESCO in its list of World Heritage Sites.

However, the most magnificent as well as the largest one of these is the "Great Stupa of Sanchi". One of the best-preserved stupas, it is also the oldest of the existing structures in India, dating back to the Buddhist period. Encircling the Great Sanchi Stupa is a railing, with four carved gateways, each facing one of the four directions. It is believed that these gateways were carved around 100 AD. All the stupas at Sanchi, Madhya Pradesh, have a unique feature of not having any images of Lord Buddha in human form

The Ajanta caves are situated in the Aurangabad district of Maharashtra, India. The caves, thirty in number, are said to have witnessed the prosperity as well as the decline of the two sects of Buddhism, the Hinayana and the Mahayana. They are adorned with paintings, scriptures and architecture of both the sects. The Ajanta caves served as the residence of the Buddhist monks and religious devotees for more than 800 years.

Ajanta Caves signify the transition from the Hinayana sect of Buddhism to the Mahayana sect of Buddhism. The Hinayana sect made use of the stupas and other rock forms to represent Buddha. On the other hand, Mahayana sect used idols. Cave number 8, 9, 10, 12, 13 and 15 belong to Hinayana, the older sect. While, those of number 1, 2, 16, 17, 19 and 26 are related to Mahayana sect. The 19th and 26th caves are Chaityas. Some of the caves have not been finished till date.

Ellora Caves
Ellora Caves are situated in the state of Maharashtra, India. They lie at a distance of approximately 25 km from the Aurangabad district. The beautiful caves of Ellora symbolize three of the major religions of the world, namely Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism. They also hold the distinction of being declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Ellora Caves, cut out of the vertical face of a cliff, comprise of splendid chaityas (halls of worship), viharas (monasteries) and Hindu and Jain temples.

There are a total of 34 monasteries and temples inside these caves. All of them date back to somewhere between 5th century AD and 11th century AD and have been built in a linear pattern. All the caves have different religious inclinations. Twelve of the caves (cave number 1 to 12) belong to the Mahayana sect of Buddhism and were built between 550 AD and 750 AD. Seventeen caves (cave number 13 to 29) comprise of Hindu temples and were constructed between 600 AD and 875 AD.