important place of Buddhist pilgrimage is Lumbini, located
near the Nepal-India border. This is where Gautam Buddha was
born to a royal family in 556 B.C. Many auspicious signs
accompanied the Buddha's birth, including the sprouting of
the bodhi tree. The great Buddhist ruler Ashoka visited the
site two centuries later, constructing a stupa (mound,
usually of earth) and pillar in recognition. Although
largely destroyed now, these remain important marks of the
The Buddha attained enlightenment at the age of 29 in the
city of Bodhgaya in India. After settling under a tree, the
Buddha made the resolve not to move until he had achieved
enlightenment. After three days and nights of profound
meditation this goal was realized. The bodhi tree under
which the Buddha sat has been destroyed both intentionally
and naturally many times since this time of enlightenment.
It has been continued to resprout and is visible today.
during the sixth century BC a solitary, wandering ascetic
sat to meditate beneath a shady tree, resolving not to rise
until he had attained the ultimate knowledge of spiritual
enlightenment. Thus began Buddhism, one of the world's great
religions and pilgrimage traditions.
There are between four and sixteen principal Buddhist
pilgrimage sites, with the most important located primarily
in the Ganges Valley of India.
Temple marks Bodhgaya. The origins of the Temple are
unclear. Some claim the Temple could have been built as
early as the third century by Ashoka, others claim the
Temple was built between the fifth and seventh centuries. A
thriving Monastic Order continues in the area today, with
three monasteries catering for locals and foreigners alike.
At Sarnath in the Ganges Valley of India, the Buddha
proclaimed the law of faith. It was here that he taught the
keys aspects of Buddhism: the four noble truths, the
eightfold path and the middle way philosophy. The Buddha
encouraged followers to avoid extremes of austerity or
pleasure. The remains of monasteries dating from the third
century B.C. to the first century B.C. indicate a thriving
Another of the most commonly visited places of Buddhist
pilgrimage is Shravasti. It is here that the Buddha is said
to have performed great miracles. One story tells of how on
throwing down the seed of a mango, a great mango tree
instantly arose. Another story tells of how the Buddha stood
in the air, the lower part of his body engulfed in flames,
with five hundred jets of water streaming from the top of
In Sankashaya the Buddha descended from the Tushita Heaven.
It is said that during the forty-first year of the Buddha's
life, he went to the Tushita Heaven to teach Dharma to his
mother, who had died shortly after the Buddha's death.
Ashoka later built a Temple on the site. Today, little of
the site's glory remains. This is the only important place
of Buddhist pilgrimage where no temples, or monasteries
Nalanda is important both because it was blessed with the
presence of the Buddha, and because of the famous monastic
university developed there. This university also named
Nalanda (meaning 'insatiable in giving') played a central
role in the development of Buddhism in India.
Rajgir is another place in the Ganges Valley where the
Buddha walked and preached. Perhaps the most important event
of the Buddha's visits to Rajgir was the conversion of two
future disciples, Sariputra and Maudgalyayana. While
Sariputra was credited with greater intelligence,
Maudgalyayana wielded a greater power for miracles.
Other commemorative monuments of Buddhism in
India include Sanchi, Bharhut, Amaravati, and Nagarjunakonda
where great Buddhist stupas and Buddhist university sites
remain. India also boosts the famous Buddhist Cave Temples,
Ajanta, Ellora, Kanheri and Karli located in western India.
The places of birth and enlightenment are perhaps the two
most important sites of pilgrimage for Buddhists in the
world today. These are accompanied by a number of other
sites marking the spread of Buddhism throughout the Indian