Kushinagar, Uttar Pradesh
The Parinirvana Temple is one of three of the great Buddhist pilgrimage sites in India (the fourth great Buddhist pilgrimage site being located in Nepal). According to tradition, Kushinagar is the place where Siddhartha Gautama died and where he achieved Parinirvana, or Nirvana after death. There are actually two sites of importance here: the temple, where he died, and the stupa where he was cremated. Thanks to its proximity to Nepal, it is one of the most visited Buddhist sites in India.
In the latter years of his life, Siddhartha Gautama traveled periodically to the town of Kushavati (now Kushinagar). At some point he came to the conclusion, either by contemplation or revelation, that Kushavati would be the correct place for him to die. It is uncertain how long he remained in Kushavati prior to his death, but he did in fact die there. At the moment of his death, Buddhists believe he achieved the Paranirvana, a state of eternal peace and deliverance from the cycle of reincarnation.
His funeral was a momentous occasion in Kushavati, and his corpse was carried in and out of the city in great procession. It was brought to a site east of Kushavati and cremated, the site of which is now marked by a stupa. Parts of the body were preserved and subsequently distributed to Buddhist shrines in many places.
Kushavati almost certainly became an overnight pilgrimage destination, and early shrines were known to have been at the site. A greater shrine was constructed during the reign of the emperor Ashoka. However, with the arrival of Hinduism and Islam in the area, the original Parinirvana holy sites were eventually abandoned and sadly forgotten.
However, in the mid-19th century, British investigators rediscovered the site and ultimately determined it to be the site of the Buddha’s death. Since then, a new Parinirvana Temple has been constructed on what is believed to be the site of his death, while the stupa on th site of his cremation has been somewhat restored. Together they are now once again one of Buddhism’s four most important pilgrimage destinations.
The Parinirvana Temple is a surprisingly small structure essentially dating from the 19th century. It consists primarily of a large, white building in the shape of a dome over the site of the Parinirvana. An additional somewhat modern-looking annex is adjacent to the dome and visually dominates the main approach to the shrine. Inside the temple is a very large golden statue of the Buddha lying down on its side, a hint of a smile on his face as he enjoys his eternal rest.
Not to far from the temple are the ruins of the great ancient stupa that once stood here. Rediscovered in the 19th century, this former temple may have marked the site of the Buddha’s funeral pyre. The ruins tend to be of greater historic interest for those curious about the archaeology of the ancient site.
The Parinirvana Temple stands near the center Kushinagar approximately 400 miles east of New Delhi. Unlike most of India’s other major religious sites which are located in densely populated urban areas, the Parinirvana Temple is surrounded by small clusters of buildings and large tracks of farmland, adding to the feeling of tranquility here. As of this writing no visitor information was available. Web: www.up-tourism.com/kushinagar (official tourism website of Kushinagar).
In addition to the above sites, Kushinagar is home to the Ramabhar Stupa as well as to the Government Buddha Museum. The latter has ancient artifacts discovered in and around the area. Not too far away in the city of Sarnath is the Dhamek Stupa where the Buddha gave his first lecture.