Bihar And Uttar Pradesh Are Reviving Their Buddhist Heritage To Attract Pilgrims

(MENAFN- NewsIn) By K/Sunday Observer

Colombo, May 19: Bihar and Uttar Pradesh are two North Indian States which are inextricably linked to the life and work of the Buddha (563 to 483 BC). Though born in Lumbini in Nepal, the Buddha obtained Enlightenment, spread his revolutionary doctrine and attained Nirvana (liberation) in India.

The Buddha travelled mainly in the Gangetic plain where Bihar and Uttar Pradesh lie, though he is said to have visited Sri Lanka also.


The Buddha succeeded in his mission to liberate Indians from the thraldom of caste and ritualism in a large measure. And his impact was boosted later by the political patronage given to Buddhism by Emperor Asoka (268 B.C.E to 232 B.C). Asoka helped spread the message through rock edicts he put up throughout his vast empire.

However, by 12 th AD, Buddhism had declined in India due to a variety of factors. And it was not until the last part of the 19th that it got rejuvenated thanks to the social and political awakening in India at that time.

Jawaharlal Nehru, who was among the top leaders of the Indian freedom movement, was attracted to Buddhism because it fitted with his passion for rational thinking, scientific temper and opposition to the invidious distinctions based on birth (the caste system). As India's first Prime Minister, Nehru made the three lions on the top of the column erected by Emperor Asoka at Sarnath, India's official logo.

In the 1950s, he made Buddha Jayanthi an international event. From then on, reclaiming India's Buddhist heritage became national policy. It fitted with Nehru's internationalism in which strengthening relations with Buddhist South East Asia was one of the main planks.

Later, efforts were made by the Bihar and Uttar Pradesh governments to preserve Buddhist monuments and use them to build bridges of friendship with Buddhist countries.

The current Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has also been promoting Buddhism. He identified Buddhism's links with his hometown Vadnagar in Gujarat and worked to develop these links.

Speaking at last World Buddhist Summit in New Delhi, Modi said:“The path of the Buddha is the path of the future, the path of sustainability. If the world had followed the teachings of the Buddha, a crisis like climate change would not have arisen. This crisis occurred because, in the last century, some countries did not think about others and about future generations.”


Bihar is the 'Cradle of Buddhism'. The State is adorned with UNESCO World Heritage sites like the Mahabodhi temple in Buddha Gaya and the ruins of the ancient Nalanda University. Major destinations like Buddha Gaya, Rajgir, Nalanda, and Vaisali are already popular among foreign tourists interested in Buddhism.

The“Mahaparinirvana Sutta” is a narration of events and discourses associated with the last days of the Buddha. As per the Sutta, the Buddha began his Mahaparinirvana Journey from Griddhkuta (Rajgir), and finally attaining Mahaparinirvana in Kusinara. The path is replete with Buddhist monuments built to mark the great event. The trail holds a special value to the followers of the Buddha all over the world.

Besides these are sites that are still to gain the attention of tourists because of lack of exposure and of course absence of basic infrastructure. There is a need to attend to these shortcomings

An organization called“Nava Nalanda Mahavihara” in collaboration with Department of Youth, Art and Culture, Government of Bihar, initiated a Project named“Revival of the Ancient Buddhist Pilgrimage in Bihar” (RABPB).

The Nava Nalanda Mahavihara's plan is to increase local participation and make the community more aware and responsible for the heritage they are holding. This strategy includes: documentation; organizing pilgrimages to Bodh Gaya, Lumbini, Sarnath and Kusinara, the four places associated with the life of the Buddha which find mention in the Mahaparinibbana sutta, the last discourse of the Buddha.

Emperor Asoka went on a pilgrimage to the four places of miracles together known as Atthamahathanani or the Eight Great Places. He named the pilgrimage as“dhammayatra” (Dhamma expedition) or a pilgrimage of piety.

Many important sites associated with“The footsteps of the Buddha” trail lie in Bihar and the time is opportune for the revival of these ancient pilgrimage routes. The first step towards achieving this objective would be to use a computer software GIS (Geographic Information System) to fix the exact locations.

Festivals are usually seasonal based on the lunar calendar. Planning events and exhibitions alongside these religious activities would draw art and culture-oriented patrons to these sites.

The Buddhist heritage is vast but the damage that has been done to the sites through centuries of neglect is also great. It would be impossible to restore these without public-private participation. The followers of the Buddha across the world could play a very significant role in this collaboration.

There are plans to launch a program to engage the youth as tourist guides and escorts; to create home-stay facilities; develop site specific souvenirs; organize cultural programmes and lastly train and educate locals about the sites and allow them to work out plans to promote spiritual tourism in their areas.

Bihar's Tourism Policy 2023, envisaged significant investments in the improvement of Buddhist sites. It conducted roadshows in Cambodia and Vietnam.
To incentivize tourism investments, the policy offers subsidies on capital investment, reimbursement of land conversion charges, of stamp duty and registration.

Uttar Pradesh

Uttar Pradesh is a treasure trove of Buddhist pilgrimage sites, each carrying a rich history and significance.

Sarnath, situated just a few miles from the ancient city of Varanasi, was where the Buddha delivered his first sermon, known as the“Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta.” The Dhamek Stupa, an awe-inspiring structure that stands as a sentinel, commemorates this pivotal moment. The stupa's intricate carvings depict scenes from the life of the Buddha, while its sheer size and grandeur evoke a sense of reverence. Rising to a height of over 40 meters, this cylindrical stupa is adorned with delicate carvings and inscriptions that narrate stories from the Buddha's life.

Kusinagara, the place where the Buddha attained Mahaparinirvana, radiates peace and introspection. The Mahaparinirvana Temple enshrines a reclining Buddha. This site holds a mirror to the Buddha's final moments and serves as a sanctuary for meditation and reflection. In August 2021, the Kusinagara airport was licensed to operate as a customs notified airport, facilitating the movement of international passengers especially Buddhist pilgrims.

Sravasti, nestled amidst lush greenery, is where the Buddha spent 24 monsoon seasons preaching his profound teachings. The Anathapindika Stupa and Jetavana Monastery are poignant reminders of his presence. The Jetavana Monastery, one of the Buddha's favourite retreats, echoes with stories of his discourses and interactions with his disciples.

Sankisa is believed to be the place where the Buddha descended from Tusitha heaven after delivering sermons to his mother. The Asokan Elephant Pillar, crowned with a magnificent capital, stands as a testimony to Emperor Asoka's reverence for Buddhism.

The Asoka Pillar at Kausambi has inscriptions that reflect Asoka's commitment to the principles of Buddhism. The Ghositaram Monastery complex, adorned with intricate carvings and stupas, provides a glimpse into the spiritual vibrancy of the past.

Sonbhadra, often overlooked in the context of Buddhism, boasts of rock-cut caves that house sculptures and inscriptions. These caves, scattered across the landscape, provide a glimpse into the artistic prowess of ancient Buddhist craftsmen.

Balrampur has the ruins of Pava, where the Buddha delivered his final sermon. The serenity of this place offers a tranquil retreat for introspection and connection with the Buddha's teachings. The adjoining museum further enriches the experience by presenting artefacts from the site's history.

Gonda's archaeological excavations have unearthed a treasure trove of artefacts and structures that hark back to the time of the Buddha. The Jetavana Monastery stands as testimony to the region's connection with the Buddha's journey. The excavated relics and artefacts provide a tangible link to the past.

The Anandabodhi Tree and Angulimala Stupa at Sravsthi are symbolic of the miracles and compassion that the Buddha embodied. The stories of Sravasthi continue to resonate, offering a glimpse into the multifaceted aspects of the Buddha's life and teachings.

The Uttar Pradesh Tourism Department showcased the state's rich heritage of Buddhist sites at the Buddha Bhoomi programme held from February 23 to March 3 in Thailand. This unique initiative allowed Thais to virtually experience the Mahaparinirvana site at

Addressing the gathering virtually, the UP Tourism and Culture Minister Jaiveer Singh said:“We belong to the land where Lord Buddha grew up and showed the world the path of peace and non-violence. Walking on this path, peace can be established in the world. I represent a land where Lord Ram and Lord Krishna were born, and it's the same sacred land that Lord Buddha chose for penance, teaching, and nirvana.”

Singh sought Thai investment in tourism in his State and said that his government was working on several essential projects to provide modern facilities at the Buddhist pilgrimage sites. He sought Public Private Partnerships (PPP) for the development of various tourist facilities such as guest houses catering to pilgrims, along with the establishment of heliports at the sacred sites.

“We aim to draw Buddhist devotees from across the globe to Uttar Pradesh and encourage them to explore the sacred sites linked with Lord Buddha, alongside destinations like Ayodhya and Kashi,” Singh said.




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