Friday, March 30, 2007

A special train connecting Buddhist circuit

New Delhi, March. 25 (PTI): Religious tourism in the country is set to get a boost with the introduction of a special train that connects several prominent Buddhist pilgrim centres in India and Lumbini in Nepal.

Christened 'Mahaparinirvana Special', the train will be flagged off by Railway Minister Lalu Prasad on March 28 at the Safdarjung railway station here.

The train is aimed at promoting Buddhist tourism in the country and targets tourists from South East Asian nations like Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam and Sri Lanka, said Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) officials.

The train would cover religious centres like Bodh Gaya, Nalanda, Rajgir, Varanasi, Shravasti besides Taj Mahal and Fatehpur Sikri in a week.

The fully air-conditioned train offers a complete package with facilities like plush accommodation, food in star hotels and road travel by luxury buses, the officials said.

Besides, the foreign tourists would also be helped in getting visa.

"The USP of the train is that every thing is taken care of once the tourists board the train. It will be a pleasant experience to them," said A Brar, Group General Manager (Tourism and Marketing) of IRCTC.

The train also offers attractive fare structure. From October to March the fare is USD 150 per day per passenger in first AC, USD 105 in second AC and USD 88 in AC three-tier.

The fare is relatively cheaper during April-September. It is USD 140 per day per passenger in first AC, USD 98 in second AC and USD 80 in AC three-tier.

Another source of information on the eight places of Buddhist Pilgrimage
The Eight Places of Buddhist Pilgrimage
Jeremy Russell

Back to Pilgrimage Index

First published in 1981 by Mahayana Publications, Tushita Mahayana Meditation Centre. This article first appeared in Teachings from Tushita, Journal of Tushita Mahayana Meditation Centre.

Born and educated in England, Jeremy Russell’s interest in Buddhism was initially sparked during his first visit to Dharamsala in the early 70. He subsequently studied at the Library of Tibetan Works & Archives for several years. He has lived in Dharamsala with his family since 1981, dividing his time between working as an editor for several offices of the Tibetan government-in-exile and leading trekking groups into the nearby mountains. He is editor of Chö-Yang, the Journal of Tibetan Culture.


1. Introduction
2. Lumbini—birthplace of the Buddha
3. Bodhgaya—site of Buddha's enlightenment
4. Sarnath—first turning of the Wheel of Dharma
5. Rajgir—second turning of the Wheel of Dharma
6. Shravasti—teachings in the Jetavana Grove
7. Sankashya—where Lord Buddha descended from Tushita Heaven
8. Nalanda—site of the great monastic university
9. Kushinagar—where Buddha entered mahaparinirvana
10. Conclusion and Books Consulted


Across the world and throughout the ages, religious people have made pilgrimages. The Buddha himself exhorted his followers to visit what are now known as the four great places of pilgrimage: Lumbini, Bodhgaya, Sarnath and Kushinagar. Many great teachers of the buddhist tradition maintained the practice of pilgrimage and paying respect to the holy sites. Nagarjuna, father of the mahayana, restored the temple in Bodhgaya and protected the bodhi tree, while the great Indian master Atisha, later on as important as Nagarjuna to the Tibetan tradition, also often visited Bodhgaya and indeed attained many realizations there.

Of the many places in northern India associated with the Buddha, eight in particular have become special objects of pilgrimage: the four great places above, and four others, namely, Rajgir, Shravasti, Sankashya and Nalanda, each of which is regarded as having been blessed by the Buddha. After the Buddha's passing away and the cremation of his body, the relics were divided into eight portions and various beings erected a great stupa over each. So arose the tradition of eight places of pilgrimage.

The actions of the Buddha in each of these places, recalling which is an important aspect of making pilgrimage, are described within the canons of the scriptures of the various traditions of his teaching, such as the sections on Vinaya, and also in various compendia describing his life. The sites themselves have now been identified once more with the aid of records left by three pilgrims of the past. The great Emperor Ashoka, although initially opposed to Buddhism, later became a zealous follower who in the second decade of his reign made a great pilgrimage to numerous buddhist shrines. As well as other buildings, he left inscribed pillars at each site to indicate the significance of each place. Many remains of these ancient structures survive even today.

In the early fifth century AD, the Chinese pilgrim Fa Hien walked from China to India in search of buddhist books on discipline, the Vinaya. He was followed two centuries later by Hsuan Chwang. Records of the travels of both, which contain detailed accounts of the holy places they visited, have survived in Chinese. Translated into English in the last century, they are now available in most western languages.

The practice of Buddhism flourished long in India, perhaps reaching a zenith in the seventh century AD, at which time the Buddha's teaching began to be firmly established in Tibet. After this it began to decline because of the invading muslim armies, and by the twelfth century the practice of the Dharma had become sparse in its homeland. Thus, the history of the eight places of pilgrimage from the thirteenth to the mid-nineteenth centuries is obscure and they were mostly forgotten. However, it is remarkable that they all remained virtually undisturbed by the conflicts and developments of society during that period. Subject only to the decay of time they remained dormant, waiting for rediscovery.

From the middle of the last century, the Archeological Survey of India, under the auspices of the British Government, and one Englishman in particular—General Sir Alexander Cunningham—unearthed and identified many sites, including the eight places of pilgrimage. Since that time, owing to a renewed Indian interest in Buddhism and the devotion and hardship of many individuals, the pilgrimage sites have been revived. Now, two and a half millennia after the Buddha, there are once more active buddhist establishments and practitioners of the Dharma from many lands resident in all but one of the eight places.

The following account is intended less to present a purely historical record of the places of pilgrimage than to offer some information and perhaps inspiration to other pilgrims, with the wish that this revival may increase.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Spring Cleaning for the Giant Buddha
Wednesday, March 21st, 2007

The ceremony of cleaning the image of the Great Buddha of the Tôdai-ji Temple, in Japan, is performed every year.

First, before cleaning can begin, priests step on the sacred image and a ceremony of taking out the spirit of Buddha must be performed.

With the spirit safely removed, about 230 people, including priests, work in the dusting of this 16-metre giant statue. The cleaners have to climb all over Buddha to be able to polish the hands and feet and ride in baskets hung from the ceiling in order to clean its head.

The statue is the largest and the oldest bronze Buddha image in the world. It was made at the order of Emperor Shômu and completed in 752.