India is known world over for many things from Raj Mahals to Snake Charmers, from Sachin Tendulkar to Yoga but one thing, one export of this great sub-continent that has captured the imagination of the world has to be the great religion of Buddhism. Buddhism one of the most widely followed religious beliefs in the world was founded in this very land by the disciples of one of the greatest human beings ever to lay foot on the face of the earth – Siddhartha a.k.a Gautam Buddha. The teachings, the methods and the values that Gautam Buddha taught the world were preserved and spread by his earliest disciples some 2300 years ago. People from Sri Lanka till China from Japan till South Korea and in recent ages in Western countries as well have been enchanted by his teaching and way of life and it is to trace back the origins of this great human being that people come from all parts of the world to travel the Buddhist Circuit in India.
Gautam Siddhartha was born in a moonlit night of 563 B.C in a small village at the periphery of North-eastern India in modern-day Nepal called Lumbini. He was a son of the King of Shakya Republic on the foothills of the Himalayas and was usually kept away from the harsh realities of life, as he grew up he got increasingly frustrated with the suffering in the world and decided to renounce all worldly pleasures and become an ascetic in search of true knowledge and enlightenment which shall help him take away the sufferings of people around him. He travelled all across the North-eastern region of India in present –day states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Jharkhand in order to search for the greatest truth and it these sites that he traveled after becoming an ascetic till his death that comprise the Buddhist Circuit Tour. The Buddhist Circuit tour is one of the great tours that one can have in their life especially those who seek the truth and meaning of life, tracing the path of enlightenment through Lumbini, Kapilavastu, Bodh Gaya, Sarnath, Sravasti, Sankisa, Kaushambi and Kushinagar.
The tour of the Buddhist Circuit is one of great joy, learning, self-searching and peace. It is a tour that gives you an insight into the life and times of the Great Lord Buddha and his journey towards attaining Nirvana. The circuit starts at a small village located just at the border of India and Nepal some 27 km away from the town of Sanauli in Uttar Pradesh called Lumbini which was the birth place of Lord Buddha, people come to this place to witness the origins of their lord and find the truth. There is a 2300 years old Ashokan Pillar here which marks the exact location of the Gautam’s birth, an old monastery in ruins and some statues of Lord Buddha’s mother. The village was lost to mankind for over two millenias before it was found again in 1980 and declared the Lord’s birthplace. Next up on the tour is the city of Kapilavastu which was the capital of the Shakya Republic of which Siddhartha Gautam was the prince; this ancient city is located just few kilometers away from Lumbini in Nepal. The site was excavated in the 1970s and is today just a kilometer from the town of Piprahwa. The ruins take you in the setting where Lord Buddha spent most of his childhood and a place from where he was inspired to find a means to end human suffering.
From Nepal you come back to the holiest city in Buddhsit culture, the city of Bodh Gaya in the Indian state of Bihar which is the place where Siddhartha Gautam became from a prince to ‘the enlightened one’ Lord Buddha. It was here sitting under a Peepal tree called the ‘tree of awakening’ that Lord Buddha attained supreme knowledge of being. Here you can visit the very same Peepal tree and the famous Maha Bodhi Temple, which is one of the holiest sites in Buddhism housing a mammoth statue of Buddha. After attaining enlightenment Buddha traveled some 240 kilometers to the west to a great city of Ancient India known as Kashi, today’s Banaras, where in a place called Sarnath he delivered his first sermon to the world some 2500 years ago, this particular event in history is known as Dharmachakra Pravartan. Sarnath, located just 10 km outside the city of Banaras, is a great spiritual center of Buddhism and is a place of great importance for Buddhist around the world. This site of his first sermon is marked by an enormous structure known as the Dhamek Stupa, near that Emperor Ashoka erected a white stone pillar marking the beginning of Buddhism and there is also the Chaukhandi Stupa.
As Lord Buddha traveled across Northern India to spread his message and knowledge he used to stop for sometime during the season of monsoon at a place called Shravasti, which was the capital of the Kingdom of Kosala and one of the biggest cities of the time. He used his time here to meditate and rest, the site holds within itself many ancient stupas, monasteries and beautiful temples dedicated to the Lord. Sankisa, in the next stop on the tour, and is famous as the place where Lord Buddha descended from heaven after giving a discourse to his mother, Emperor Ashoka marked this place with another Ashokan Pillar with an Elephant capital. And finally at the end of this enchanting tour comes the small eastern Uttar Pradesh hamlet of Kushinagar which is believed to be the resting place of Lord Buddha, the place where he took his last breath. The exact spot of his death is marked by a cremation stupa called Rambhar Stupa. This event of Lord Buddha’s death is known as Mahaparinirvana and is marked by a huge temple known as mahaparinirvana which houses a giant statue of the reclining Buddha which was excavated from the temple premises. The Buddhist Circuit tour is a mesmerizing journey through past and gives an understanding of peace, knowledge and a spiritual high.