The Buddha was the greatest sage and mystic of the East and one of the greatest spiritual teachers of the world. On his preachings, philosophy and 4 noble truths were founded Buddhism, the 4th largest religion in the world today. He was called ‘the Awakened One’ or ‘the Enlightened one’.
The Buddha was born in 563 BCE in the part of India which is now Nepal, set in motion the Wheel of Dhamma in India, Sri Lanka, Myanmar and all of Southeast Asia, including Japan and China. There are several important Buddhist sites in India to embark on a spiritual journey like no other. We’ve divided them into Buddhist spiritual sites, Buddhist monasteries and ancient Buddhist cave sites. Take a look at 18 essential Buddhist pilgrimage sites in India.
Buddhist Tourist Places In India: Pilgrimage Sites
1. Bodh Gaya
This is one of four main Buddhist pilgrimage sites. In Gaya, under the Bodhi Tree, the Buddha attained enlightenment.
The Mahabodhi Temple which was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and it houses the Bodhi Tree and the Vajrasana or Diamond Throne, the Mahabodhi Stupa, an 80-foot Buddha statue, a lotus pond, a meditation garden, Chinese, Japanese, Bhutanese, Taiwanese, Bangladeshi, Thai and Tibetan monasteries.
- Where: Gaya, Bihar
This is a sacred site where the Buddha delivered his first sermon, taught the Dhamma (including the four noble truths and eightfold path) and formed the Sangha (monastic community). In Sarnath lies the Dhamek Stupa (128 feet high) as well as relics of other ancient stupas.
The Ashoka Pillar remains are also here. Visit the Sarnath Museum to see the lion capital which is the National Emblem of India. Also visit the several monasteries from other Buddhist nations.
- Where: Near Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh
Another major pilgrimage site, Kushinagar is the place where the Buddha attained Parinirvana (nirvana after death). The Buddha breathed his last here. The site is mainly visited not by regular tourists but devout Buddhist followers and monks.
The Parinirvana Stupa has the reclining statue of ‘dying Buddha’, Ramabhar Stupa which is the cremation site of the Buddha and Matha Kuar Shrine which has a giant statue of the Buddha.
- Where: Near Gorakhpur, Uttar Pradesh
An ancient city, one of the largest during the Buddha’s lifetime is a significant pilgrimage site for Buddhists or lay travellers. Buddha spent most of time after enlightenment in Shravasti.
The Twin Miracle were said to have occurred here, where the Buddha emitted flames from the upper part of his body and water from the lower. Places of interest are Jetavana Monastery, Anathapindika and Angulimala Stupas and Anandabodhi Tree.
- Where: Near West Rapti River, Uttar Pradesh
5. Sankasya or Sankassa
In this ancient site is where the Buddha is said to have returned after preaching the dhamma in the world of gods (devas or celestial beings) after the twin miracle was performed by him. The Buddha is said to have descended here accompanied by Indra and Brahma after preaching the dhamma to his mother in heaven.
In the olden times’ ladders were built where Buddha lay his foot upon the descent, but now you can see Ashoka Pillar and a shrine with an elephant where the Buddha put his right foot on the ground. Also visit Burmese and Korean temples here.
- Where: Uttar Pradesh
6. Rajgir & Nalanda
The Vulture Peak at Rajgir was Buddha’s favorite retreats and here he delivered many important sermons. Buddhist caves of Saptaparni is where the first Buddhist council was held after his death.
Places to see in Rajgir are Shanti Stupa to see four beautiful Buddha statues, Gridhakuta Hill where he delivered Lotus Sutra and Prajnaparamita, Jivakameavan Gardens and Ajatshatru Fort. Visit Nalanda about 15 kms away to see the world heritage site of Nalanda Mahavihara, an important teaching place where main Buddhist streams of thoughts originated.
- Where: Bihar
The ancient city of Vaishali was considered one of the earliest examples of a republic. Here’s where the Buddha preached his last sermon before he attained his parinirvana. After renunciation, his spiritual training initiated here and here’s where he initiated the first woman disciple Gautami into his order.
Visit the Ashoka Pillar near the remains of a brick stupa where the last sermon was delivered, and pay respects at the Coronation Pond which contains the ashes of the Buddha.
- Where: Bihar
Although technically located in Nepal, Lumbini forms the fourth important pilgrimage places in Buddhism, it can be easily reached from India. This is where the Buddha was born. It is also a world heritage site.
There are several temples, monasteries and monuments you can visit here. Places to see are the Ashoka Pillar, 2nd century BCE Buddhist temples, the Lumbini Museum and the Japanese Peace Stupa.
- Where: Rupandehi, Province No 5, Nepal
Buddhist Tourist Places In India: Important Buddhist Monasteries in India
9. Key Monastery
Located at an altitude of more than 13,000 feet, Key Monastery is an important Tibetan centre of religious training for Llamas. A stunning work of monastic architecture, the monastery has various murals and houses a good collection of scriptures and Buddha images.
The beautiful 3-storeyed monastery is located in a remote region, thus visited by adventure travellers and hardcore Buddha followers. Visit from May to October.
- Where: Spiti Valley. Himachal Pradesh
10. Dalai Lama Temple Complex, Dharamshala
The main seat of Tibetan Buddhism, the Dalai Lama Temple is an ornate monastery complex, colourful and enchanting. The residence of Dalai Lama is also here. He delivers his sermons here.
The temple has a large idol of the Buddha. Morning and evening chants here are immensely captivating and this is an interesting place to spot the llamas performing their daily duties. Also visit Norbulingka Institute and Namgyal Monastery in the area.
- Where: Mcleodganj, Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh
11. Tawang Monastery
This is the largest Buddhist monastery in India and the second largest in the world. Tawang Monastery is one of the most popular places for a Buddhist spiritual tour, visited equally by tourists and monks and followers. Located at a height of 10,000 feet, the monastery is set in a picturesque setting of the Tawang valley.
The decorated tall statue of the Buddha in the main hall and the sacred texts in the library are worth seeing. The monastery is vibrantly colorful, serene and the architecture, decor and murals are breathtaking.
- Where: Tawang, Arunachal Pradesh
12. Rumtek Monastery
Famous for being the Dharma Chakra Centre, Rumtek Monastery is a political and spiritual centre of the Kagyu sect of Tibetan Buddhists.
The main temple is richly colored and beautifully decorated, and there is a bejewelled golden shrine commemorating the guru of the Kagyu lineage. The ancient relics and scriptures, as well as the architecture, are one of the best in the world.
- Where: Gangtok, Sikkim
13. Namdroling Monastery
A place which over 5000 monks and nuns call home, Namdroling Monastery is an important spiritual centre of Nyingma Tibetan Buddhism. It has humble beginnings as the founder Pema Norbu Rinpoche started to build it when he had only Rs 300 to his name.
It was first made out of bamboos, but now has great big premises, colourful architecture, peaceful ambience and a heavy footfall of tourists.
- Where: Bylakuppe, Karnataka
14. Thiksey Monastery
Similar to the Potala Palace in Tibet which is the world’s largest monastery, Thiksey Monastery belongs to the Gelug sect of Tibetan Buddhism. It is a gargantuan 12 storeyed building which is constructed in an ascending order and houses several stupas, statues, and relics of the ancient times.
It is famous for the Maitreya Buddha idol which is as tall as two storeys. The monastery has made notable contributions in uplifting the status of nuns in the Buddhist tradition.
- Where: Ladakh, J&K
15. Ghoom Monastery
Old Ghoom Monastery or Yiga Choeling Monastery is an important centre for the Gelug sect of Tibetan Buddhism. It is famous for a huge 15 feet tall statue of Maitreya Buddha. It was built by a Mongolian astrologer and monk in 1850.
There are several precious volumes of Tibetan Buddhist philosophy in the library collection. Two oil lamps in front of the Maitreya Buddha are kept burning all through the year.
- Where: Ghum, West Bengal
Buddhist Tourist Places In India: Important ancient Buddhist sites
16. Ajanta Caves
These are magnificent Buddhist rock-cut caves which are UNESCO World Heritage sites. They date back to the 2nd century BCE to 480 CE. Visit to be amazed by rock-cut Buddhist deities, depictions of Buddha’s past lives and rebirths, and ancient religious Buddhist art along with monasteries and prayer halls.
Paintings from the Jataka Tales are exceptionally awesome. Whether you are a history buff, a tourist or a Buddhist, Ajanta Caves should be on the list of must visit Buddhist sites.
- Where: Aurangabad, Maharashtra
Ancient Buddhist caves at Bojjannakonda, Bavikonda, Thotlakonda and Pavuralakonda are all a few kilometres away from each other.
These were important monasteries and teaching centres in the past that housed monks and travellers. They are believed to be made between 4th to 9th centuries A.D. They hold ancient stupas and rock carvings.
- Where: Andhra Pradesh
18. Karla and Bhaja Caves
Ancient groups of rock cut caves dating back to the 2nd century BCE, these caves are impressive heritage sites of Buddhism in India. The caves hold exquisite ancient viharas, stupas and chaityagrahas with extraordinary facades, exteriors, inner sanctums and carvings.
- Where: Near Lonavala, Maharashtra
Visiting Buddhist places of pilgrimage will be a uniquely gratifying experience in your travel diaries, comprising of peaceful and vibrant monasteries, historic sites and legendary tales of Buddha. Leave comments below: