Kushinagar – The Land Where The Buddha Sleeps Eternally

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Kushinagar-Buddha-Sleeping
Image – Bo Jayatilaka

A small district in the Eastern side of UP sharing its border with Bihar and Nepal, would never have been in my bucket list if one of my family members would haven’t been posted there. I have always been fascinated by hills and mountains, so any holidays hill station is the absolute choice. But last Diwali after a lot of persuasion from my sister I decided to spend the holidays at her place. Little did I know when I was embarking journey with my toddler that, this little sleepy town which I have never pondered to visit as a tourist would make some memoirs that would always be etched in my heart forever. The history is so vivid. A place of immense spiritual significance and sanctity. Not only once, but I visited this place around three times in a span of just six months. Now as they relocate from this place to a new destination, I was nothing but sort of compelled to pen down about the warmth and affection that I have received in this place.

Kushinagar
Kushinagar – Prince Roy

It was a week before Diwali. The mornings have started becoming chilly and foggy. We boarded the Naharlagun express from Delhi and reached Gorakhpur around 4am in the morning. From Gorakhpur the distance to Kushinagar is around 50 KMs. As we started heading towards our destination, I could slowly see the night making way for dawn. On the way I was shown the roads and the entrances to some of the important Buddhist shrines and temples. We reached her place after a drive of around 90 mins. I was given a warm welcome by their in-house staff members. As I was also working remotely, after freshening up I had to settle down with my work, without much caring to venture out. Evening we went out to one of the prominent shrines in Kushinagar, The Wat Thai temple. It was already dark so couldn’t get much of this place. But there I came across an elderly person, who owns a café in one of the prime locations of Kushinagar next to some of the important tourist spots. He was fondly known as Dada (Assamese/Bengali synonym for elder brother) in Kushinagar. Hailing from the same state, Assam, I was overjoyed to have met him. Apart from that what mesmerized is his immense historical knowledge of that place. It seemed he has lived that place from the time of Buddha, so vivid and clear. He decided to tour us around the place.

As mentioned above, I was working for most of the days. So decided on for an early morning tour of that place. Next day, early in the morning we left for dada’s café. A quick cup of tea and started my expedition. As I have been a mountain lover immensely, I have a special fascination for Buddhist pagodas and stupas. So decided to start my tour by first visiting the Burmese temple.

Kushinagar - Burmese-temple
The-Burmese Temple

Nestled among other important shrines and stupas, the temple is an architectural grandeur. The circular shrine hosts a magnificent Buddha statue made of asta dhatu or eight elements. Due to the ongoing pandemic, access to the inner chamber was prohibited. Outside the chamber are the carvings of the seven days on seven different sides, the outer ring surrounded by the wooden sculptures of Buddhist monks.

Walking past the premises of the Burmese Temple, a narrow trail lad us to the most important Shrine of Kushinagar, the Mahaparinirvana temple, believed to be one of the most sacred shrines of the Buddhists. History goes, the Buddha during his last days travelled to Kushinagar, gave his last sermon there. Finally he attained Parinirvana and he was cremated along the banks of River Hiranyavati and relics were preserved there.

Kushinagar, relics around Mahaparinirvarna Temple
The relics around Mahaparinirvarna Temple

The ancient town of Kushinagar was earlier known as Kushinara, the capital of Mallakas, one of the sixteen mahajanpads of the 6th BC. Kushinara continued to be a living city even during the times of Ashoka. The original stupa of the Mahaparanirvana temple was built by Ashoka to mark Buddha’s Parinirvana alongwith a temple with a reclining statue of Buddha built of monolithic redstone. The statue is 6.1 metres long representing the Dying Buddha, reclining on his right. This statue was unearthed by a British archaeologist in the 19th century. Since then, this place has become an important site for Buddhist pilgrimage.

The temple premise consists of a beautiful garden known as the Meditation Park with lush greenery and soulful ambience which help in soothing the chaotic mind. The garden consisted of various excavated ruins, that is believed to have dated back to 1200 CE and supposed to be the living places of the Buddhist monks of that era. They abandoned the place and fled to escape the Islamic invasion, after which the site decayed. It was in 19th century after archaeological excavation the site and ruins were restored and the current horizontal cylindrical shaped temple was built by the government in the year 1956.

Kushinagar Mahaparinirvarna Temple
The Mahaparinirvarna Temple

Right behind the Mahaparinirvana temple lies Nirvana Stupa on the same platform and believed to be the death place of Buddha. Known as the Nirvana Chaitya, it is said that Buddha’s body was kept here seven days, while he was waiting Parinirvana, while his soul started liberating from his body starting from his toes moving upwards.

Kushinagar-Stupa
Nirvana Stupa

Our next stop, adjacent to the Mahaparinirvana temple was the Ramabhar Stupa. Also, known as the Makutabandhana Chaitya, which is a heap like structure built of old bricks, excavated around 1910 AD. Now this is the place where Buddha’s earthly remains were supposed to be cremated with due respect and divinity by his one of the oldest disciples Mahakassapa. The Malla dynasty, ruling at that time tried to keep all the relics, meanwhile seven other clans arrived and tried to claim over the relics. Finally by a Brahmin named, Drona the relics were divided into ten parts, eight consisted of the bones, one ashes and one part was used to make pithos to contain the relics. 

Kushinagar, Stupa
Ramabhar Stupa

Nothing was more soul captivating than the cool breeze of an autumn morning in a lush green area, with monks chanting with devotion or the calmness of their deep meditation. 

Between Ramabhar Stupa and Mahaparinirvana Temple on the other side of the road lies the Matha Kaur temple, which hosts a bluestone statue of Lord Buddha. It is believed Buddha gave his last sermon at this place. 

Crossing the Ramabhar Stupa a left turn leads to the Hiryanavati Ghat, where the ashes of Buddha were presumed to have been immersed. The mention of this river is found in Mahabharata also.

Kushinagar, Temple
Thai Temple

Apart from these important and sacred shrines and stupas, there are various other Buddhist temples of architectural grandiose. The Wat Thai temple opposite to the Ramabhar Stupa is a perfect amalgamation architectural grandiose and captivating greenery and nature. The garden of roses and lilies with riots of colours truly enchanted our mind and soul. 

Another modern temple that lies within vicinity is the Linh-Son Vietnam/Chinese Buddhist Temple. The main shrine which is a two-storey built in Vietnamese and Chinese architecture, hosting a captivating Buddha statue.

Kushinagar, Chunda Place Buddha's last meal
Chunda Place Buddha’s last meal

In the next coming days we visited many other places of tourism prominence like the Chunda place in Chatthi Gaon, where Buddha was supposed to have taken his last meal. Another prominent spot, 17kms from Kushinagar is the Sun Temple, built during the Gupta Period. 

The trip to Kushinagar would have not been so memorable without the hospitality and sumptuous meals fed by those local acquaintances. The lip smacking pakodas by Sanjay’s (my bro-in-law’s PA) wife made the Diwali evenings a bit more gratifying. The winter visit was made heartwarming by Nusharat’s and her husband’s elaborate Mughlai dinner and not to forget the inhouse staff litti chokha and mutton cooked in the wood fire, regaling us with anecdotes of their lives and the mouth melting Kerela styled mutton Korma by Priscila Mam made my last trip to Kushinagar an unforgettable nostalgia. Your paths may cross or may not. I may travel to this place again or may not. But these memories of love, amiability and endearment will always travel in my heart in this journey of life.

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