Buddhist Sites in India : Art & Culture | UPSC Notes

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Buddhist Sites in India

• There are many historical Buddhist sites in India. This is because Buddha found enlightenment and lived most of his time there.

• The Astamahasthanas are eight very holy places that have something to do with the life of Buddha. These are Lumbini, Bodhgaya, Sarnath, Kushinagar, and Sravasti, Sankasya, Rajgir, and Vaishali. These are four pilgrimage places that have something to do with the life of Gautama Buddha.

Buddhism in India

Buddhism began in India more than 2,600 years ago as a way of life that could change a person.

It’s one of the most important faiths in South and Southeast Asia.

• The faith is based on what its founder, Siddhartha Gautam, who was born around 563 BCE, taught and did in his life.

He was born into the royal family of the Sakya clan. They ruled from Kapilvastu, which is near the border between India and Nepal, and Lumbini.

• When Gautama was 29, he left home and gave up his wealthy life for a life of asceticism, which means extreme self-discipline.

Gautama reached Bodhi (enlightenment) after 49 days of meditation in a row. He did this under a pipal tree in Bodhgaya, a village in Bihar.

• Buddha’s first lecture took place in the village of Sarnath, which is close to the city of Benares in UP. This is called the “turning of the wheel of law,” or “Dharma-Chakra-Pravartana.”

He died at the age of 80 in the town of Kushinagara in UP in the year 483 BCE. Mahaparinibban is the name of the event.

Buddhist Sites in India

Sarnath, Uttar Pradesh

• Gautam Buddha’s first sermon, in which he taught the four noble truths and the eightfold way known as Dhamma, took place in Sarnath. He also started a group of monks there, which is known as the Sangha.

• There are also relics and stupas here that are hundreds of years old.

• Two other interesting things to see here are the Ashok Pillar and the Indian National Emblem.

Bharhut, Madhya Pradesh

• Bharhut is a small town in the Satna district of the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh. It is known for the beautiful Buddhist stupa relics that can be found there.

• Up until the 1200s, Buddhism was practised in Bharhut.

• Around the year 1100, a small Buddhist temple got bigger, and a new figure of Buddha was put there.

• A big Sanskrit writing from the same time period was found at the spot, but it seems to have been lost.

• This is different from the inscription from Lal Pahad in the year 1158, which talks about the Kalachiri kings.

Bodhgaya, Bihar

• Lord Buddha found wisdom under a Pipal tree in Gaya.

• It’s a well-known place because it’s said to be where Gautama Buddha found enlightenment under the Bodhi Tree.

• Since ancient times, Hindus and Buddhists have come to Bodh Gaya to pray and honour it.

Mahabodhi Temple, Bihar

• The MahaBodhi Temple Complex is one of the four holy places connected to Lord Buddha’s life, especially his awakening (Bodhi).

Lumbini (Birth) is in Nepal, Sarnath (Dharma-Chakra-Pravartana – 1st Sermon) is in Uttar Pradesh, and Kushinagar (Mahaparinirvana-Death) is also in Uttar Pradesh.

• The first building was made by the Mauryan emperor Ashoka.

During the late Gupta period, however, the whole thing was rebuilt out of brick.

• The current temple was built around 500 or 600 CE.

• The Mahabodhi Temple site has great records of what happened during Buddha’s time and how he was loved afterward.

Sravasti, Uttar Pradesh

• Sravasti, which used to be called Savatthi, is a major Buddhist pilgrimage place. It was once the capital of Kosala Mahajanapada.

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• Lord Buddha and his followers are said to have preached here for 24 years.

• This city has a number of old stupas, churches, and temples.

Kushinagar, Uttar Pradesh

• In Kushinagar, Lord Buddha is said to have reached Maharparinivana, which is the greatest level of salvation.

• The Ramabhar Stupa, which is about 50 feet tall and sits where Lord Buddha was cremated, is one of the main sights.

• Mahanirvana Temple, which has a six-meter-long reclining Buddha statue. • Mathakuar Temple, which has a black stone Buddha picture with writing from the 10th to 11th centuries.

Kapilavastu, Uttar Pradesh

• Kapilvastu is important in history because it is where Lord Buddha was born.

• There are a number of Stupas in the area, and during historical digs, stone caskets with what are thought to be Buddha’s bones were found.

The writings of “Deoputra” (Kanishka of the Kushana Dynasty) can be found on the Stupa Complex, and the Palace Site is thought to be the ruins of King Shuddhodhan, Prince Gautam’s father.

Ajanta caves, Maharashtra

• The Buddhist Caves of Ajanta are a group of 30 Buddhist cave buildings carved out of rock in the Aurangabad district of Maharashtra, India. These caves were built between the 2nd century BCE and around 480 CE, during the time of the Buddha.

• The Ajanta Caves are a group of old Buddhist monasteries and prayer rooms carved into a 75-meter (246-foot) rock wall.

• In the caves, you can find paintings of the Buddha’s past lives and rebirths, picture stories from Aryasura’s Jatakamala, and rock-cut sculptures of Buddhist gods.

Ellora caves, Maharashtra

• Ellora is a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the Aurangabad district of the Indian state of Maharashtra.

• It is one of the most important Hindu temple cave complexes in the world. It has Buddhist and Jain monuments and art from the time between 600 and 1000 CE.

• Ellora is a group of 34 large rock-cut caves and more than 25 to 30 smaller excavations linked to the three main Indian religions: Buddhism, Hinduism, and Jainism.

• Inscriptions show that Elapura was the old name for this place.

Pitalkhora, Maharashtra

• The Pitalkhora Caves are a group of 14 Buddhist caves that were cut into the rock on Chandora Hill in the second century BCE.

• These basalt rock caves are some of the oldest examples of rock-cut building in the country.

• Four of the caves are chaityas, which are places to pray, and the rest are viharas, which are places to live.

• All of the caves were built during the Hinayana period and have murals from the Mahayana era (6th century CE).

Sirpur, Chhattisgarh

• The Sirpur Group of structures is an archaeological site in Mahasamund, Chhattisgarh, India. It has Hindu, Jain, and Buddhist structures from the 5th to 12th centuries.

The spot is on the banks of the Mahanadi River.

• It was a major Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain settlement in the South Kosala country between the 5th and 12th centuries CE.

• Hieun Tsang, a Buddhist traveller from China in the 7th century, came here.

Ratnagiri, Odisha

• Ratnagiri is an important part of the Diamond Triangle in Odisha.

• It was home to a Buddha monastery called a mahavira, which was built in the 5th century. Because it was in a good spot, the monks were able to keep it safe from attacks.

• Padmapani and Vajrapani stand on either side of a 12 foot tall Buddha inside a temple.

• There are many statues of Buddha in the area. This place has 24 cells in all.

Lalitgiri, Odisha

• It is a large Buddhist complex in the Indian state of Odisha. It has big stupas, “esoteric” Buddha statues, and temples (called “viharas”). It is one of the oldest places in the area.

• Lalitgiri is a part of Puspagiri University, which is on the same hills as Ratnagiri and Udayagiri and has the same names.

• The “Diamond Triangle” is made up of the three buildings.

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• Tantric Buddhism was practised in this place.

Udayagiri, Odisha

• Udayagiri is the most important Buddhist site. It is made up of important temples and stupas.

• It is part of the “Diamond Triangle” of the “Ratnagiri-Udayagiri-Lalitgiri” complex, along with the nearby complexes of Lalitgiri and Ratnagiri.

• It was once thought that one or all of these were the Pushpagiri Vihara, which was described in old documents, but it has recently been shown that it is in a different place.

The old name for Udayagiri was “Madhavapura Mahavihara,” according to inscriptions found at the site.

• The monasteries of Ratnagiri and Lalitgiri came before this Buddhist structure. It is thought to have been used between the 7th and 12th centuries.

Nalanda, Bihar

• Nalanda was a famous Buddhist monastic university in the old city of Magadha.

• Historians think it was the first private university in the world and one of the best places to learn in ancient times.

• During the time of the Gupta Empire, Buddhists and non-Buddhists from India and Java helped to start Nalanda.

Over the course of 750 years, some of the most famous scholars of Mahayana Buddhism were on its staff.

• The Hindu Vedas and its six philosophies, as well as grammar, medicine, logic, and maths, were taught at Nalanda Mahavihara. So were six important Buddhist schools and theories, like Yogacara and Sarvastivada.

Odantapuri, Bihar

• Odantapuri was a well-known Buddhist Mahavihara in what is now the Indian state of Bihar.

• It is thought that Gopala I started it in the eighth century.

• It was in Magadha, and after Nalanda, it is thought to be India’s second largest Mahavihara.

• Inscriptions say that local Buddhist rulers like the Pithipatis of Bodh Gaya supported the Mahavihara.

Vikramashila, Bihar

• During the time of the Pala Empire, Vikramashila was one of the three most important Buddhist temples in India. The other two were Nalanda and Odantapuri.

• The Pala ruler Dharmapala built Vikramashila between 783 and 820 AD because he thought that the level of education at Nalanda was getting worse.

• Vikramashila was one of the most important Buddhist universities. It had more than a thousand students and more than a hundred teachers.

• Atisha Dipankara, one of the founders of the Sarma schools of Tibetan Buddhism, was the most famous and important of them all.

Rajgir, Bihar

• Rajgir is called “The City of Kings.” In the past, it was called Rajagriha.

• The city of Rajgir was the capital of the country of Magadha, which later became the Mauryan Empire.

• Around the 6th and 5th centuries BC, both Mahavira and Buddha taught their ideas in Rajgir. King Bimbisara gave the Buddha a wood monastery.

Vaishali, Bihar

• In 383 BCE, King Kalasoka held the Second Buddhist meeting here, making it an important place for both Jainism and Buddhism.

• This is where Gautama Buddha gave his last lecture before he died in 483 BCE. It is also where King Kalasoka held the Second Buddhist council in 383 BCE.

• The Buddha treasure stupa is also in Vaishali. It is thought to hold the Buddha’s ashes and may be the oldest known example of a stupa.

Piprahwa, Uttar Pradesh

• Piprahwa is a village near Birdpur in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. It is in the Siddharthnagar district.

• It’s in the historical Buddha’s home country, 12 kilometres from Lumbini, the place where Gautama Buddha was said to have been born and is now a World Heritage Site.

• Piprahwa is best known for its archaeological site and digs, which suggest that it was the place where the Buddha’s Shakya relatives buried some of his ashes.

• There is a huge stupa, the remains of many monasteries, and a museum on the site.

Ancient homes and shrines were found on the Ganwaria mound, which is close by.

Sankisa, Uttar Pradesh

• People believe that this is where Buddha came down from heaven after teaching his mother.

• Sankisa is known for a shrine to Bisari Devi and an Ashoka elephant pillar that was found.

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• There is a temple called the Buddha Temple. People say that this is where Lord Buddha came down from heaven.

• The Temple of Maya Devi, which has Buddhist sculptures from the Mahayana period on its walls, and the Shiva Linga, which is a big Shiva Linga that Hindu followers also like to see.

Nagapattinam, Tamil Nadu

• Chudamani Vihara is the name of a Buddhist Vihara that was once well-known in Nagapattinam, Tamil Nadu.

• This Vihara was built in 1006 CE by the Vijayan King Sri Mara Vijayattunga Varman with help from the Great King Raja Raja Cholan.

• Nagapattinam was both one of the first Buddhist centres in South India and one of the last.

• Places like Sangamangalam, Buddha Mangalam, Putthakkudy, and others around Nagapattinam are still there as memories of the city’s Buddhist past.

• During the Middle Ages, it was a major Chola port city with sea connections to several East Asian countries.

Dhauli, Odisha

• Dhauli, also called Dhauligiri, is a hill in Odisha that is 8 km south of Bhubaneswar. It is on the banks of the Daya River.

• The “Dhauli Shanti Stupa,” a peace pagoda built by the Japan Budhha Sangha and the Kalinga Nippon Buddha Sangha to remember the Great Kalinga War, is one of its most well-known features.


• There are a lot of Buddhists in the Ladakh area.

• Ancient monuments, monasteries, oral literature, art forms, fairs, and festivals all show Ladakh’s ancient culture.

The Thiksey Monastery

• Thikse Gompa, also called Thikse Monastery, is a Tibetan Buddhist gompa that is part of the Gelug school.

• It is on top of a hill in Thiksey, which is about 19 miles east of Leh in the Indian state of Ladakh.


• There are more than 200 temples of the Nyingma and Kagyu orders in Sikkim, which is a major Buddhist site.

• Buddhism has changed not only the culture of Sikkim, but also the way people there live.

• Even though Buddha never visited Sikkim in person, his words of advice changed the way Sikkim lived, making it one of the most important Buddhist pilgrimages in the country.

Pemayangtse Monastery

• The Pemayangtse temple is a Buddhist temple in Pemayangtse, which is west of Gangtok and near Pelling in the northeastern Indian state of Sikkim.

• Lama Lhatsun Chempo planned, developed, and began building it in 1647.

• It is one of the oldest and most important temples in Sikkim, as well as the most well-known.

Bharatpur Buddhist Monastery Complex, West Bengal

• The Structural Complex of the Buddhist Monastery was found in the continuation of a big stupa, Black and Red ware pottery, and sculptures that were found at the same site in West Bengal 50 years ago.

• The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) dug in the Paschim Bardhaman area of West Bengal and found a large monastery complex.

• The outside wall of the abbey has been found. It has nine layers of bricks and a small circular building.

• Buddhism in West Bengal:

When the Mahayana and Vajrayana schools were strong, this area was a stronghold of the ancient Buddhist Mauryan and Pala powers. During the 16th and 17th centuries, the Buddhist Kingdom of Mrauk U ruled over South-Eastern Bengal.

• Why digging is important:

The site was first dug up by ASI researchers between 1972 and 1975, when they found a Buddhist stupa there.

Digs can help us find out how Buddhism spread in the South West Bengal area.

The find is also important because black and red ware pottery from the Chalcolithic Age made it possible for people to live in villages along the river Damodar.

The religious nature of the place comes from the complex, while the secular nature comes from the settlement.

The found stupa is big compared to other Buddhist sites in the state where smaller tribute stupas were found, such as Karnasubarna in Murshidabad, Moghalamari in Paschim Medinipur, and Jagjivanpur in Malda.