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The Hidden Gems of Buddhist Pilgrimage in India

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Introduction: Delving Deeper into the Hidden Buddhist Sanctuaries of India – Buddhist Pilgrimage in India

India, often referred to as the cradle of Buddhism, boasts a rich tapestry of history, spirituality, and architecture intertwined with the life and teachings of Lord Buddha. This ancient land has witnessed the birth, flourishing, and eventual spread of Buddhism to other parts of Asia. 

While renowned pilgrimage sites like Bodh Gaya, where Buddha attained enlightenment, or Sarnath, where he delivered his first sermon, are frequented by devotees and tourists alike, there exists a myriad of lesser-known sanctuaries that remain shrouded in mystery and serenity.

Dungeshwari Hill Temples, Bodh Gaya The Hidden Gems of Buddhist Pilgrimage in India

These hidden gems, away from the bustling crowds and commercialized tourist circuits, offer a more intimate and profound connection to Buddhist heritage. They stand as silent sentinels to centuries of spiritual quests, scholarly debates, and the relentless passage of time. 

Each site, with its unique story and ambience, beckons the modern traveller to embark on a journey that transcends mere sightseeing. It’s a call to explore the depths of spirituality, understand the nuances of Buddhist art and culture, and connect with a past that resonates with timeless wisdom and tranquillity.

In this article, we aim to unveil these concealed treasures of Buddhist pilgrimage in India, guiding you through a spiritual odyssey that promises enlightenment, inspiration, and a deeper appreciation of India’s unparalleled Buddhist legacy.

Ratnagiri, Odisha: A Beacon of Buddhist Heritage and Artistry – Buddhist Pilgrimage in India

Historical Significance

Ratnagiri, situated in the Jajpur district of Odisha, is a testament to the flourishing Buddhist culture that once graced the region. Historical records and archaeological findings suggest that Ratnagiri was a vibrant centre of Buddhist learning and spirituality from the 5th to the 13th centuries. It played a pivotal role in the propagation of Mahayana and Vajrayana (Tantric) forms of Buddhism.

Ratnagiri, Odisha

Architectural Marvels

The site is adorned with a plethora of stupas, monasteries, and sculptures. The main stupa, surrounded by smaller votive stupas, stands as a symbol of the site’s religious importance. The intricate carvings on the doorways, walls, and pillars of the monasteries depict scenes from the life of Buddha, Jataka tales, and various Bodhisattvas. These carvings are not just religious symbols but also exemplify the zenith of ancient Indian artistry.

Unique Features

One of the standout features of Ratnagiri is its large number of votive stupas, which were constructed by devotees as offerings or to commemorate specific events. The presence of numerous Buddha and Bodhisattva images, especially those of Avalokiteshvara, indicates the site’s inclination towards Mahayana Buddhism.

Another intriguing aspect is the discovery of many tiny terracotta figurines, which provide insights into the socio-cultural life of the era.

The Experience – Buddhist Pilgrimage in India

Visiting Ratnagiri is akin to stepping back in time. The serenity of the location, coupled with the historical ruins, offers a meditative ambience. As you walk through the remnants of ancient monasteries, you can almost hear the echoes of Buddhist chants and visualize the monks engrossed in scholarly debates or deep meditation.

Ratnagiri, Odisha

Nearby Attractions

Ratnagiri is part of the “Diamond Triangle” of Odisha, which also includes the Buddhist sites of Udayagiri and Lalitgiri. A visit to Ratnagiri is often complemented by exploring these nearby sites, offering a comprehensive understanding of the region’s Buddhist heritage.


Ratnagiri is not just an archaeological site; it’s a journey into the heart of India’s Buddhist legacy. It offers a unique blend of spiritual solace, historical exploration, and artistic appreciation. For those seeking to understand the depth and diversity of Buddhism in India, Ratnagiri stands as an unmissable destination.

Tabo Monastery, Himachal Pradesh: A Timeless Sanctuary in the Trans-Himalayan Landscape

Historical Overview

Nestled amidst the rugged terrains of the Spiti Valley in Himachal Pradesh, the Tabo Monastery, often referred to as the “Ajanta of the Himalayas,” stands as one of the oldest continuously functioning Buddhist monasteries in India. Established in 996 AD by the great Tibetan Buddhist king, Yeshe-Ö, Tabo Monastery has served as a significant centre for Buddhist learning, meditation, and spiritual practices for over a millennium.

Tabo Monastery, Spiti Valley

Architectural Splendor

The architectural ensemble of Tabo Monastery is a harmonious blend of Indo-Tibetan design. The complex comprises multiple structures, including temples, stupas, and monk quarters. The mud-brick walls and earthen roofs of the structures seamlessly blend with the surrounding landscape, reflecting the region’s indigenous construction techniques.

The interiors of the temples are adorned with a vast array of frescoes, murals, and intricate paintings that depict scenes from the life of Buddha, various Bodhisattvas, and other deities. These artworks, preserved over centuries, showcase the evolution of Buddhist art in the Trans-Himalayan region.

Spiritual Essence

Tabo Monastery is not just an architectural marvel but also a spiritual haven. The serene ambience, accentuated by the surrounding barren mountains and the gentle murmurs of the Tabo River, offers an ideal setting for meditation and introspection. The monastery continues to be a hub for Buddhist teachings, drawing monks and spiritual seekers from across the globe.

Tabo Monastery, Spiti Valley

Unique Features

Ancient Manuscripts: The monastery houses a rich collection of ancient scriptures, manuscripts, and thangkas, preserving the wisdom of Buddhist teachings.

Assembly Hall (Du-khang): The main prayer hall, adorned with a golden statue of Buddha and surrounded by frescoes, serves as the focal point for religious ceremonies and rituals.

Chortens: Scattered around the monastery are several chortens (stupas) that are believed to enshrine the relics of revered monks and lamas.

Festivals and Celebrations

The annual Tabo Monastery festival celebrated with fervour and devotion, attracts pilgrims and tourists alike. The festival features traditional dances, rituals, and the unfurling of a giant thangka, creating a vibrant and spiritually charged atmosphere.

Tabo Monastery, Spiti Valley


Tabo Monastery is more than just a religious site; it’s a living testament to the enduring spirit of Buddhism in the challenging landscapes of the Himalayas. Its ancient walls, rich artworks, and spiritual aura offer a unique blend of history, art, and spirituality. 

For those venturing into the Spiti Valley, a visit to Tabo Monastery promises a soul-stirring experience that lingers long after the journey ends.

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Bhaja Caves, Maharashtra: An Ancient Odyssey into Buddhist Rock-Cut Splendor

Historical Backdrop

Carved into the green hills of the Sahyadri range near Lonavala, Maharashtra, the Bhaja Caves stand as a testament to the early phases of Buddhist architecture in India. Dating back to the 2nd century BCE, these rock-cut caves offer a fascinating glimpse into the evolution of Buddhist thought, art, and monastic life during the Mauryan and Shunga periods.

Bhaja Caves, Maharashtra

Architectural Grandeur

The Bhaja Caves complex comprises 22 caves, each showcasing the exemplary craftsmanship of ancient Indian artisans. The caves are categorized into chaityas (prayer halls) and viharas (monastic quarters).

Main Chaitya: The most prominent structure is the main chaitya, which houses an intricately carved stupa. The wooden beams, although replicas of the original, give an insight into the architectural techniques of the time. The horseshoe-shaped entrance, characteristic of early Buddhist rock-cut architecture, adds to the cave’s grandeur.

Viharas: The viharas, or monastic cells, are adorned with exquisite carvings depicting scenes from the Jataka tales, and the stories of Buddha’s previous births. These carvings serve both an artistic and educational purpose, narrating stories of morality and virtue.

Unique Features

Relief Carvings: One of the standout features of the Bhaja Caves is the rich relief carvings that adorn the walls. These carvings depict scenes from everyday life, providing valuable insights into the socio-cultural milieu of ancient India.

Bhaja University, Maharashtra

Waterfall: Adjacent to the caves is a seasonal waterfall, which cascades down the rocky facade, adding to the site’s natural beauty and serenity.

Ancient Inscriptions: Several inscriptions can be found within the caves, detailing donations made by individuals for the construction and maintenance of the caves. These inscriptions offer a glimpse into the patronage and support that Buddhist establishments received from the community.

Spiritual Essence

While the Bhaja Caves no longer function as active monastic centres, the aura of tranquillity and spirituality still permeates the site. The echoes of ancient chants, the cool interiors of the rock-cut chambers, and the panoramic views of the surrounding landscape make it a serene spot for reflection and meditation.

Significance in Buddhist Circuit

The Bhaja Caves, along with the nearby Karla and Bedsa caves, form an essential part of the Buddhist circuit in Maharashtra. These caves collectively highlight the prominence of the region as a significant centre for Buddhist learning and art during ancient times.

Bhaja Caves, Maharashtra


The Bhaja Caves are not just archaeological marvels but also windows into the rich tapestry of India’s Buddhist heritage. As you traverse the dimly lit chambers and gaze upon the ancient carvings, you are transported back in time, connecting with the spiritual quests and artistic endeavours of a bygone era. 

For history enthusiasts, spiritual seekers, and art lovers, the Bhaja Caves offer an unparalleled journey into the heart of ancient Indian Buddhism.

Nalanda, Bihar: The Ancient Epicenter of Buddhist Learning and Wisdom

Historical Context

Nalanda, located in the modern-day state of Bihar, stands as a symbol of India’s ancient academic and spiritual prowess. Established in the 5th century CE, Nalanda University was one of the world’s first residential universities and a beacon of Buddhist learning and scholarship. At its zenith, it attracted scholars, monks, and students from as far afield as China, Tibet, Korea, and Central Asia.

Nalanda University, Bihar

Architectural Brilliance

The ruins of Nalanda spread over 14 hectares, revealing a well-planned layout comprising monasteries, temples, meditation halls, and classrooms—the red-brick structures, though in ruins, showcase the grandeur and scale of the ancient establishment.

Stupas: Scattered across the site are numerous stupas adorned with intricate carvings depicting scenes from the life of Buddha and various Jataka tales.

Monastic Quarters: The remains of the monks’ quarters, with their small cells and communal courtyards, provide insights into the monastic life of the scholars who resided here.

Nalanda University, Bihar

Academic and Spiritual Legacy

Diverse Curriculum: While primarily a centre for Buddhist studies, Nalanda’s curriculum was diverse. Subjects like astronomy, medicine, mathematics, logic, and metaphysics were also taught, reflecting the holistic approach to education.

Library: The university boasted a massive library named “Dharmaganja” (Mountain of Truth). It was a three-story structure that housed thousands of manuscripts, making it one of the largest libraries of the ancient world.

Prominent Scholars: Nalanda was home to several renowned scholars like Nagarjuna, Aryadeva, and Dharmapala. The Chinese traveler and scholar, Xuanzang, also studied and taught here, leaving detailed accounts of the university’s magnificence.

Decline and Revival

Nalanda’s decline began in the 12th century following invasions and subsequent destruction. The once-thriving centre of learning lay in ruins for centuries until archaeological excavations in the 20th century brought its legacy to light.

In recent years, efforts have been made to revive Nalanda’s academic spirit with the establishment of Nalanda University in 2010, aiming to recreate its former glory as an international centre for education and research.

Modern Significance

Today, Nalanda is not just an archaeological site but a symbol of India’s rich academic and spiritual heritage. It serves as a reminder of the subcontinent’s contributions to global knowledge and spirituality. The site, recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, attracts historians, scholars, and tourists from around the world.

Nalanda University, Bihar


Nalanda stands as a testament to the golden era of Buddhist scholarship and academia in ancient India. Its ruins whisper tales of intellectual debates, spiritual quests, and the relentless pursuit of knowledge. For those treading the path of history, spirituality, or academia, Nalanda offers a profound journey into the heart of India’s ancient scholastic and spiritual traditions.

Ajanta Caves, Maharashtra: A Symphony of Art, History, and Spirituality

Historical Tapestry

Nestled in the Sahyadri hills of Maharashtra, the Ajanta Caves are a collection of 30 rock-cut Buddhist caves that date back to the 2nd century BCE. These caves, discovered accidentally by a British officer in 1819, serve as a window into the evolution of Buddhism in India, spanning from the Hinayana to the Mahayana phase.

Ajanta Caves, Maharashtra

Architectural and Artistic Grandeur

The Ajanta Caves are a harmonious blend of architectural precision and artistic mastery. They comprise both chaityas (prayer halls) and viharas (monastic quarters).

Murals and Frescoes: The walls and ceilings of the caves are adorned with intricate murals and frescoes depicting scenes from the life of Buddha, Jataka tales, and various Bodhisattvas. These paintings, preserved over centuries, are celebrated worldwide for their technique, colour palette, and emotional depth.

Sculptures: Majestic sculptures of Buddha, in various poses and expressions, grace the interiors of the caves. These statues, carved out of solid rock, exude serenity and spiritual magnetism.

Spiritual Essence

Beyond their artistic allure, the Ajanta Caves resonate with spiritual energy. The dimly lit interiors, accentuated by the natural play of light and shadow, create an ambience conducive to meditation and introspection. The echoes of ancient chants, the aura of the Buddha statues, and the profound narratives depicted in the murals make Ajanta a spiritual haven.

UNESCO World Heritage Site

Recognizing their historical, artistic, and cultural significance, the Ajanta Caves were designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983. This recognition has bolstered conservation efforts and has also placed Ajanta on the global map, attracting art connoisseurs, historians, and spiritual seekers from around the world.

Ajanta Caves, Maharashtra


The Ajanta Caves are more than just an archaeological marvel; they are a testament to India’s rich Buddhist legacy and artistic heritage. A visit to Ajanta is not just a visual treat but also a soulful journey that bridges the past with the present, art with spirituality, and the mortal with the divine.

Sirpur, Chhattisgarh: A Mosaic of Ancient Spirituality and Architectural Grandeur

Historical Panorama

Located on the banks of the Mahanadi River in Chhattisgarh, Sirpur (or Shripur) is an ancient town that once thrived as a prominent centre of Buddhist, Jain, and Hindu culture and learning. Its historical significance dates back to the 5th and 8th centuries AD, during which it emerged as a hub for religious, cultural, and trade activities.

Sirpur, Chattisgarh

Architectural Heritage

The archaeological remnants of Sirpur are a testament to its rich and diverse architectural legacy. The town is dotted with temples, monasteries, and stupas that reflect a harmonious blend of various religious influences.

Laxman Temple: One of the most iconic structures in Sirpur, the Laxman Temple is dedicated to Lord Vishnu. Built in the 7th century AD, this brick temple is renowned for its intricate carvings, door frames, and exquisite sculptures that depict various deities and scenes from Hindu mythology.

Sirpur, Chattisgarh

Buddhist Monasteries: Sirpur houses several Buddhist monasteries, showcasing the prominence of Buddhism in the region. These monasteries, with their courtyards, cells, and prayer halls, provide insights into the monastic life of ancient Buddhist monks.

Jain Temples: Reflecting the town’s Jain heritage, several Jain temples and sculptures have been excavated in Sirpur. These structures, adorned with images of Tirthankaras, highlight the religious diversity of the town.

Artistic Endeavors

The sculptures, carvings, and inscriptions found in Sirpur are not just religious symbols but also exemplify the zenith of ancient Indian artistry. From the detailed carvings on temple walls to the lifelike sculptures of deities, the artistic endeavours of Sirpur resonate with skill, devotion, and aesthetic sensibilities.

Festivals and Celebrations

In recent years, the Chhattisgarh government has been promoting Sirpur as a major cultural and tourist destination. The annual Sirpur National Dance and Music Festival attracts artists, performers, and tourists from across the country, celebrating India’s diverse cultural heritage against the backdrop of Sirpur’s historical monuments.

Sirpur, Chattisgarh

Modern Significance

Today, Sirpur stands as a symbol of India’s rich and diverse religious heritage. The ongoing excavations and restoration efforts aim to bring to light more of Sirpur’s hidden treasures. The town, with its serene ambience and historical allure, beckons history enthusiasts, spiritual seekers, and curious travellers to delve into its ancient tales and timeless beauty.


Sirpur, with its mosaic of temples, monasteries, and artistic remnants, offers a journey through the annals of time. It stands as a testament to the confluence of religions, cultures, and artistic traditions that have shaped the Indian subcontinent. For those seeking to connect with India’s ancient roots, Sirpur promises an experience that is both enlightening and soul-stirring.

Explore More with Prayag Samagam

As we traverse the pathways of these ancient Buddhist sanctuaries, the essence of mindful and respectful travel becomes paramount. Prayag Samagam, a pioneer in religious tourism, profoundly resonates with the sanctity of such pilgrimages. 

Great Buddha Statue

Dedicated to curating spiritually enriching journeys, Prayag Samagam ensures that every traveller not only discovers the profound depths of India’s Buddhist heritage but also connects with the soul of these sacred sites. 

Their seasoned guides, enriched with knowledge and reverence for these spiritual landmarks, promise an immersive and enlightening experience. When you embark on a pilgrimage to explore the spiritual heart of India, let Prayag Samagam be your trusted companion, guiding you towards enlightenment and inner peace.

Conclusion: Rediscovering India’s Spiritual Tapestry Through Hidden Buddhist Sanctuaries

As we journey through the annals of time, exploring the hidden Buddhist sanctuaries of India, we are reminded of the profound spiritual legacy that has shaped the subcontinent’s ethos for millennia. These lesser-known gems, with their ancient stupas, intricate murals, and serene monastic chambers, offer more than just a visual or historical treat. 

Mahabodhi Temple

They beckon the modern traveller to pause, reflect, and connect with a timeless wisdom that transcends eras and boundaries.

In an age where the clamour of daily life often drowns out inner reflection, these sanctuaries serve as tranquil oases, inviting us to delve deeper into the teachings of Buddha and to understand the essence of compassion, mindfulness, and impermanence. They stand as silent witnesses to the ebb and flow of empires, the relentless march of time, and the enduring quest for enlightenment.

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