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A Guide to the Buddhist Pilgrimage Circuit in India

Walk the path Buddha walked! Explore the sacred sites of the Buddhist pilgrimage circuit in India, from Lumbini's birthplace to Kushinagar's Parinirvana Stupa.

A serene Buddha statue amidst lush garden plants, radiating tranquility and harmony.
Gautam Buddha

India itself is a picture in which you can see the many ethnic groups and some of the oldest traditions. Because of this, Buddhists from different parts of the world consider India particularly sacred. Inside its diverse landscapes, there is the Buddhist Pilgrimage Circuit (BPC), a series of routes that trace the footsteps of Buddha. However, this journey of self-discovery is about more than visiting the important sites;  it is a very intimate look into enlightenment, giving the pilgrims a chance to grasp the Buddha teachings and embark upon a spiritual journey. As Buddh Poornima will be celebrated this year on 23 May, nowadays it is the ideal time to plan your visits to these pilgrimage circuit sites and get a closer look at the life journey of Gautam Buddha.

Following the Threads of Enlightenment

There are many places of great importance situated on this route, all of which influenced Buddha’s life and the rise of Buddhism. While Lumbini, in Nepal, is considered Buddha's birthplace and often included in the itinerary, the core Indian leg boasts a wealth of historical and spiritual significance:

Lumbini, Nepal

Situated in the land of Nepal, Lumbini is that sacred place where Gautama Buddha was born about 2500 years ago. It is the first and foremost checkpoint of the Buddhist pilgrimage circuit as it is associated with the beginning of Sidhartha’s journey as a mortal. See the Maya Devi Temple, set up near his birthplace, and the holy Pushkarini pool. Besides, Lumbini has Peace Gardens and monasteries associated with several Buddhist traditions.

Must Experience in Lumbini:

Maya Devi Arti: Discover the soul-stirring arti ceremony at Maya Devi Temple. 

Bodh Gaya, Bihar 

This is the place where Siddhartha Gautama, the one who is known as the Buddha now, became enlightened, under the shade of the Bodhi Tree that is considered sacred. Tourists from various backgrounds come to the Mahabodhi Temple, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, to meditate in the very place where Buddha is said to have achieved enlightenment. It is the tranquil environment and the spiritual force that exudes throughout the temple complex that makes a person feel at ease and leads to deep inner reflection.

Must Experience in Bodh Gaya:

Mahabodhi Tree circumambulation: Participate in the daily ritual of walking around the Bodhi Tree while reciting prayers or mantras.

Rajgir and Nalanda, Bihar

Rajgir, an antique city with a rich history, is said to have been Buddha's monastic refuge. Pilgrims can visit the Gridhakuta Hill, where the Buddha enunciated profound thoughts that have been absorbed into the hearts of followers over the years. Nalanda, only 12 kilometers away, offers remains of an ancient prestigious university. Nalanda, which for a long time was the focus of Buddhist learning in the world, accommodated thousands of scholars and monks for several centuries. Walking past the pillars, pilgrims get the feeling that there is a buzz of academia all around and can envision the intellectual gatherings among the scholars that once took place here.

Must Experience in Rajgir and Nalanda:

Saptaparni Caves: Explore these ancient caves where monks once resided during the monsoon season.
Nalanda Museum: See artifacts excavated from the Nalanda University ruins, offering a glimpse into its past academic life.

Sarnath, Uttar Pradesh 

This holy place commemorates the site where Buddha preached his first speech after his enlightenment. The revered Dhamek Stupa, an impressive and imposing monument, symbolizes this event that has changed the course of history. There is also the quiet Deer Park as one of the places that the pilgrims can visit where Buddha spent his first week as he taught his disciples the core values of Buddhism. The calm environment within the park helps in the inward search and the reflection of the key lessons as revealed by the Buddha.

Must Experience in Sarnath: 

Tibetan Temple and Deer Park monasteries: Immerse yourself in the vibrant cultures of Tibetan and other Buddhist traditions.

Sravasti, Uttar Pradesh

It is believed that Gautama Buddha spent 24 Chaturmases here in this place located near the West Rapti River. Consequently, this site is considered one of those closely related to the life of Buddha as after his enlightenment, he spent most of his life in this place. Since Buddha spent a considerable number of years residing in Sravasti, he taught many of his Suttas (sermons) from here. 

Sravasti is one of the most revered sites of Buddhism as Buddha’s teachings have driven many famous entities to adopt the path of peace. He has performed his “Sravasti miracles” – “great miracle” and “twin miracle” in this place, hence contributing to add to the religious value of the location.

Must Experience in Sravasti:

Ananda Stupa: Visit the stupa dedicated to the Buddha's closest disciple, Ananda. 
Shravasti Archaeological Park: Explore the ongoing excavations that might reveal further secrets of this ancient city.

Kushinagar, Uttar Pradesh

Kushinagar is beloved by all Buddhist people as the place where Buddha attained Parinirvana, which is his final release from the wheel of existence. The believers come to the Parinirvana Stupa which symbolizes the place where Buddha's remains are believed to be. Facing the peaceful nature while contemplating, one realizes the impermanence of life and liberation in the teachings of Buddha.

Must Experience in Kushinagar:

Ramabhar Stupa: See the stupa marking the cremation site of the Buddha according to some traditions. 
Meditation centers: Spend time in quiet reflection at one of Kushinagar's many meditation centers.


Beyond the Sights: A Multifaceted Experience

The Buddhist Pilgrimage Circuit doesn't just include historical sites but certain characteristics as well. It’s a highly personal and soul-enriching journey that enables pilgrims to experience an especially close contact with Buddha’s teachings. Practicing meditation sessions in a monastery, listening to the melodic chants of monks, and socializing with fellow pilgrims involves reconnecting to the global Buddhist community and the source of spiritual recharge. The trip becomes a meditative exercise in itself by promoting mindfulness and in-depth thinking every step you take.

Tailoring Your Pilgrimage

The circuit is very popular with tourists, taking into account the wide range of choices in terms of convenient transport, from affordable trains to luxurious buses. Planes are the easiest and most convenient means of connection between major cities. While the best period is October through to March when the weather is favorable and allows visitors to have a spiritual retreat, you can also visit any time of the year because the park is always available. Besides, a number of tour operators provide guided itineraries that target the pilgrims desiring a defined travel plan. Nevertheless, the loop has as well an independent route, thus opening up the view for more individual and versatile access to the route.


A Legacy That Endures

These pilgrimage circuits are not limited to the mere pursuit of faith and religion but further extend to the deeper meanings of life. These sites offer a beautiful opportunity for everyone to seek the deeper meaning of life by connecting with their inner self and nature, leading them to make the best out of their existence. The teachings of Buddha are mere methods, than the rules of religion, which are purposed to help humans discover the deeper density of peace and purpose within themselves, and perhaps this is the end goal of enlightenment.