Â Utter Pradesh has been graced by many luminous personalities. Prominent among those who traversed the land was Gutam Buddha almost 2500 yrs ago . Gutam Buddha , towards the last stages his life, had advised his devotees to visit Lumbini, Bodgaya , Sarnath and Kushinagar.
ÂBihar(ancient Magadha) marked the Buddha’s realization of the truth, while He attained enlightenment at Bodh Gaya. After achieving enlightenment , Lord Buddha meditated for seven weeks at the same place and then moved on towards Uttar Pradesh in search of His five fellow ascetics, who had earlier accompanied Him. At Sarnath in Uttar Pradesh, he met them, who were surprised to see the mesmerizing glowing countenance of the Buddha. The Buddha convinced them and delivered before them His first sermon based on the ‘middle path’, and thus was laid foundation of the Buddhist Sangha on the land of Uttar Pradesh. The next 45 years of the Buddha’s life, till His mahaparinirvana, were further spend at different places in Uttar Pradesh along with parts of Bihar.Â Later, the Indian rulers mainly Mauryan emperor Ashoka and Gupta rulers also promoted Buddhism in the land of Uttar Pradesh including other parts of India. The Indian emperor, Ashoka, who had converted to Buddhism, visited Sarnath, Kushinagar and other Buddhist sites of the region and got erected the doctrines of Dhamma on the pillars and rock edicts and built temples, and stupas to promote Buddhism. The tradition followed till the Turks and Arabs arrived in India in the 12th century BCE and demolished the stupas, monasteries and temples. But, in the 19th-20th century, again Buddhism was revived in India and like other Buddhist places, the sites of Uttar Pradesh were revived too only to make the state a host to major Buddhist destinations in India.
Major Buddhist Places in Uttar Pradesh
Having Pilgrimaged to Lumbini. the birthplace of Lord Buddha, the devotees reach nearby Kapilvastu (93 km.) only to get lost in a world altogether different. Once the capital city of the mightly Sakya clan, it was in Kapilvastu’s opulent environs that prince Siddharth (later Lord Buddha) spent most of his early childhood. Kapilvastu was the seat of kind Suddhodhana, the father of the Enlightened One. The site has been excavated betwen 1971 and 1977 and identified with the present day township of Piprahwa. One and a half kilometer away from Piprahwa lie the two excavated mounds. The bigger one, with a thick walled structure was supposedly Suddhodhana’s palace. The Second is identified as the ruins of Piprahwa Stupa, erected by Sakya rulers. While excavating this site an inscribed seal was discovered, which read ‘Om Devaputra Vihare Kapilvastu Bhikku Sanghas’ (This is the Devaputra Vihara of the Kapilvastu Bhikshu Sangha). There also lies a small Sri Lankan monastery, the Mahindra Mahavihara in the vicinity of these ruins. Meandering their way through Kapilvastu, the devotes feel transferred thousands of years back to an era when young Prince Siddharth having sen the pains of life, renounced all worldly riches and pleasures in search of the path which leads to cessation of suffering and salvation for which he proceeded to Bodhgaya, now in Bihar.
After his edification Lord Buddha himself chose Sarnath, in Uttar Pradesh, for deliverance of his first historic sermon. He choose Sarnath, then known as ‘Rishipattan’, due to its immediacy to the world renowned city of Kashi or Varanasi, the then hub of scholarly and cultural activities. Being about 240 km. from Bodhgaya and there being no means of transportation in those days, did not deter Buddha from proceeding to Sarnath.
About 10 km. from the holy city of Varanasi, Sarnath is the place where more than 2,500 years ago Buddha delivered his first sermon after attaining enlightenment. The five disciples who followed him there were surprised to see the mesmerising, glowing countenance of Buddha, who was now ready to address his disciples. This moment in history is known as Dharamachakra Pravartan, which set the Sangha tradition. An imposing conical structure, 34 meters in height, called Dhamek stupa signifies the “seat of the holy Buddha.” There are also the ruins of Dharmarajika Stupa, besides the original Mulgandhakuti Temple, which according to Hieun Tsang was about 61 mtr. high. That’s the place where Buddha rested and meditated in Sarnath. After converting to Buddhism, Emperor Ashoka visited Sarnath in 273-232 B.C. and erected a smooth glistening stone pillar here, to mark the foundation of the Buddhist Sangha. The Lion Capital on top of this pillar is now India’s National Emblem. Then there is the Chaukhandi Stupa, which was a terraced temple during the Gupta period (4th to 6th century) but later in 1588 A.D., Govardhan, the son of Raja Todarmal, built an octagonal tower to commemorate the visit of Humayaun, the Mughal emperor. His descendant Akbar, finally raised the present stupa in 1555 A.D. All three stupas– Dharmarajika, Chaukhandi and Dhamek are outstanding in their architectural features. A journey to Sarnath would be incomplete without a visit to the library at Mugandh Kuti Vihara, which houses some amazing frescoes done by Koset Nosu. The Sarnath Museum, not far from the site, also houses some of the finest specimens of Buddhist sculpture (timings: 09.00 a.m. to 5.00 p.m., closed on Friday, Entry fee Rs.5/-
After attaining Enlightenment Lord Buddha was constantly mobile spreading his message of humanity, Universal brotherhood and salvation amongst the different segments of the society. This service to humanity would stop for a brief period in the monsoons. This period too, however, would be used by Lord Buddha to meditate and preach, on choosing an ambient place. It was during this process that Lord Buddha turned towards Shravasti, 134km. from Lucknow. During Buddha’s time, Shravasti was one of the big towns in the entire Indo-gangetic plan and the capital of the ancient kingdom of Kosala. The town played host to Lord Buddha for 27 years and was his annual rainy season retreat. Believed to be founded by the mythological king Sravast (hence names after him), the site holds ruins of many ancient Stupas, majestic monasteries and beautiful temples. This place also has an Anand Bodhi tree, an offspring of the original bodhi tree, planted by Buddha’s main disciple Anand.
This site of Mahet is spread over an area of 400 acres. The two main attractions here are the Pakki Kuti and the Kachchi Kuti while Sahet, spread over an area of 32 acres and a little distance away from Mahet, it was here that Anathpindak, a wealthy merchant, constructed the Jetavana Vihar. The remants of several temples, Stupas and Viharas have been found here. Like wise the huge World Peace Bell is another attraction, which was established with the help of the Japanese. The motive was to convey the message of humanity of Lord Buddha through the bell’s toll. There are also the Thai-Sri Lankan-Myanmar-Chinese-Korean Buddhist Temples, the Shobhnath Temple, Swarna Gandha Kuti, the Ananda Bodhi Tree and the Angulimal Cave here.
Sankisa is identified with the present village of Basantpur in Farrukhabad district of Uttar Pradesh. Situated on the banks of river Kali, Sankisa is most easily accessible from agra which is 175 km away on the Agra-Mainpuri road. The nearest railhead is pakhna which is 11.5 km away. Sankisa is the place where the Buddha descended from heaven along with Lord Brahma and Devraj Indra after giving a discourse to his mother, Mayadevi. Emperor Ashoka erected a pillar here with an elephant capital to mark this holy spot.
In his bid to spread his message Lord Buddha also visited Kaushambi, 60km. frin Allahabad, counted one amongst the most prosperous cities of those times. It was the Capital city of the then Vatsa Janpada, with Udayan as the king. This place is believed to have ben visited by Lord Buddha in the 6th and 9th year after attaining enlightenment. He delivered several sermons here, elevating it to a centre of higher learning for the Buddhists. Excavations have revealed ruins of an Ashokan Pillar, an old fort and the Ghositaram Monastery, besides a huge number of sculptures and figurines, cast coins and terracotta, objects.
A small, dusty hamlet in eastern U.P., the Buddha is believed to have breathed his last amidst the pastoral surrounding of Kushinagar. Earlier known as Kusinara, Kushinagar lies 53 km west of Gorakhpur. The place is venerated as the site of the Buddha’s Mahaparinirvana (his death) under a sal tree at the age of 80, on a full moon day. The exact spot is marked by the cremation Stupa-the Rambhar Stupa. Legend has it that after cremation, Buddha’s ashes were divided into eight equal parts and distributed among his eight disciples who later built these stupas in his memory. This is also the place, where Tathagata, or ‘The speaker of truth’ breathed his last words,”Behold now, brethren, I exhort you, saying, decay is inherent in all component things! Work out your salvation with diligence!” A temple dedicated to this event-the Mahaparinirvana temple, stands amidst a serene grove of sal trees. The huge statue of the reclining Buddha, excavated in 1876 at the temple site, presents one of the most stunning sights for the devout. It is believed to have ben installed here by a monk, Haribala, who ferried it from Mathura, during the reign of KIng Kumar Gupta in 5th Century A.D.
There are stupas all over Kushinagar, including the relic stupa-Mukutbandhana and the Chaitayas and Viharas built by royal patrons in the Gupta period. It was several years later that Chinese travellers Fa Hien, Hiuen Tsang and I. Tsing visited Kushinagar and gave a graphic account of the place, which by the had fallen to bad times. The existing historical sites at Kushinagar can be divided into three Categories:the Mahaparinirvana Temple, which houses the statue of the reclining Buddha, the Mata Kunwar Shrine, which houses a 10th Century blue schist image of Buddha, and the Rambhar Stupa, which is supposed to be the spot where Lord Buddha was cremated. For a long time Kushinagar remained lost in the jungles till the British rediscovered it in 1880. Most of the religious structures were constructed between 3rd century BC and the 5th century AD. Extensive excavations have revealed the presence of a large community of monks living in Kushinagar as late as 11th Century A.D., While it was an important centre of learning during the reign of the mauryan EmperorÂ Â Ashoka.
A small temple built on the Buddha’s last resting place, in front of a sal grove, which too has now ben restored. The best feature of Khushinagar is that it’s ben a meeting point of various nationalities and culture. On one side stands a former Chinese temple, which has been converted into an international meditation centre. Next to it stands a large Burmese temple. Then there is a small Tibetan monastery with stupas constructed in distinct Tibetan style. Blessed with a tropical climate, much tourist flock to Kushinagar during Buddha Purnima to celebrate the birthday of Lord Buddha. It goes without saying that Uttar Pradesh is a virtual theatre where different aspects of Lord Buddha’s life are elaborated for the fortunate to see and experience. So it is clear that what a devout can perceive of the entire life of Lord Buddha in Uttar Pradesh, cannot be replicated anywhere else. The fragrance of the Lord still lingers in Uttar Pradesh. It’s only a question of visit to experience it.
Other Major Monuments of the State
Taj Mahal, Agra :Â The Taj Mahal, a symbol of the eternal love, was built by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in the memory of his beloved wife, Mumtaz Mahal. A huge hit with the tourists from all over the world, the white marble monument Taj Mahal, with its splendid architecture and aesthetic beauty, is also privileged to be the eighth wonder of the world.
Fathehpur Sikri, Agra :Â The city of Fatehpur Sikri was built by the Mughal emperor, Akbar in the honour of a great saint Sheikh Salim Chisti, by whose grace the emperor was blessed with a son, Salim, later known as Jahangir. Fatehpur Sikri, now a heritage site, not only symbolises the unique combination of the Hindu and Muslim architecture, but at the same time, also witnesses a large number of pilgrims especially during the holy month of Ramzaan.
Agra Fort, Agra :Â The Agra fort, built by the Mughal emperor, Akbar, is one of the major attractions of Uttar Pradesh. It is a massive structure made of red sandstone with several palaces and halls inside the fort. The river Yamuna flowing along this huge structure further adds to its beauty.
Kashi Vishwanath Temple, Varanasi :Â Dedicated to the Hindu God Shiva, the Kashi Vishwanath temple or the Golden temple stands along the banks of the river Ganges in Varanasi. The Shivalingam installed in the temple is one of the 12 Jyotirlingas of Lord Shiva and believed to have the divine powers.
Bathing Ghats, Varanasi :Â Stretched over an area of 4 kilometers along the holy river Ganga in Varanasi, the bathing ghats offer a picturesque sight especially in the evenings with devotees offering prayer to the Goddess Ganga. It is believed that, the cremation of one’s body at the Ghats of Varanasi helps one attain salvation.
Bada Imambara, Luckhnow :Â Built by Asaf-Ud-Daula in 1784 CE as a part of a famine relief project, the Bada Imambara, which is a fort like structure, attracts a number of tourists because of its splendid architecture.
Shri Krishna Janma Bhoomi, Mathura :Â One of the major sacred places for the Hindus, the Shri Krishna Janma Bhumi is believed to the spot where the Hindu God Krisna was born inside the prison of His maternal uncle Kansa.
The climate of Uttar Pradesh is tropical monsoon, but still some variations are there owing to the difference in altitudes. The winters which fall during the months between mid-November to January, are chilled with the temperature falling to 4 degree Celsius. The summers are generally hot with the temperature saturating as high as 46 degree Celsius. In the monsoon season from July to September, the eastern part of the state receives heavy rainfall, though its a bit less towards the north-east
The ideal time to visit the places of the state is from October to March.
How to Reach
By Air -Â All four major domestic airports of Uttar Pradesh – Luckhnow, Kanpur, Agra and Varanasi are connected with flights from all major cities of the country to name a few like Patna, Delhi, Mumbai,Â Â Â Â Â Â HyderabadÂ Â andÂ Â Â Â Kolkata.
By Rail -Â The major stations of Uttar Pradesh such as Varanasi, Mughalsarai, Gorakhpur, Allahabad, Agra, Kanpur and others are connected with other parts of the country via a good network of railways.
By Road -Â The Natioanl Highway numbers 3, 7, 11, 19, 25, 28 and others connect the places of Uttar Pradesh to different parts of India i.e. Kanyakumari towards south, Patna in the east, Bikaner in the west and parts of Punjab in the north.