Out of the eight most important religious places of Buddhism, six are in Uttar Pradesh and they are not far from Lucknow. We planned to visit Shravasti, a place out of these eight, in Dussehra vacations. Shravasti is small city situated about 170 km from Lucknow.
We left our home early morning. After some time, we were on the national highway far from the city surrounded by farms. The green fields on both sides of the roads looked like nature spread a green blanket on the earth. I thought to keep all the scenes in my memory. Even in early morning we saw villagers working in fields as if they have never experienced tiredness or it is their destiny to work even after being tired. Travelling like this we reached Ramnagar. Situated on the banks of Ghaghra river, Ramnagar is a tehsil of Barabanki district. It is one of the most flood-prone areas of India. While going to Bahraich from Ramnagar, we crossed one kilometer long Ghaghra Bridge. From this bridge you can see 3695 m long Elgin Bridge on the Barabanki-Gonda railway section, which was built in 1912. We had to go to Tilakpur from Bahraich and then leave for Shravasti.
Shravasti is a very old city. In ancient times, it was the capital of Kaushal Kingdom and was one of the six biggest cities in ancient India. For 24 years, Lord Buddha lived here during rainy season. It was an emerging knowledge centre during Gupta dynasty rule. There are two main areas in Shravasti – Sahet and Mahet. While coming from Bahraich side, Sahet comes first. It is spread over 400 acres and has many places of archeological importance.
Famous Jetavana monastery is also located in Sahet, little outside the main city. In ancient times, it was a very beautiful monastery. Here many vinayas, jatakas, and sutras were written. Today most of that are in ruins but a good maintenance makes the place still beautiful. On both sides of the entrance gate, there are columns 21 meters high, installed on the orders of King Ashoka. After adopting Buddhism, Ashoka traveled many Buddhist places including Shravasti. After travelling further 200 metres from the entrance, a nice fragrance of incense sticks was coming from a place. It was Anand Bodhi tree. It is considered holiest tree after Maha Bodhi tree at Gaya, Bihar. Few Sri Lankan monks told us about its significance. Legend says that this tree came from a seed of original Bodhi tree and it was planted here by Buddha's favourite disciple Anand. It was very inspiring to stand under the shadow of Bodhi tree, a witness to many ups and downs of the history. There were colorful paper flags around the tree, put by foreign tourists.
Jetavana monastery was built by Sudatta, a disciple of Buddha, who was a rich merchant. Sudatta took this land on which monastery is built from Jeta, son of King Prasenjit, after many difficulties. In Jetavana, there are 6 Buddhist temples, 5 Stupas, and 2 Viharas. A Buddhist temple named Gandhakuti is most revered, because legend says that Lord Buddha stayed here for 24 rainy seasons. There were too many foreign tourists in Jetavana easily spotted in yellow-saffron outfits, mostly from south-east Asia and Sri Lanka.
After leaving Jetavana, we proceeded to Angulimal's cave situated nearby. Near this cave Lord Buddha changed the course of life of a much feared robber, Angulimal. Most of the cave was ruined. In first cave there was a narrow tunnel opening from front. We went inside crawling. From inside, it was a square shaped place equal in area to a small room. Probably this was the place where Angulimal lived. For exiting from this place there was one more narrow tunnel opening on rear side of the cave. The second cave had no tunnels, one could go inside only after climbing steps. In those times, these caves were situted in dense forests as legends say but this is hardly the situation nowadays.
We started travelling towards Mahet which is situated 500 meters from away from Sahet. Mahet is situted at the site of the original ancient city. Situated on the banks of river Rapti, one can see the ruins of the ancient city in Mahet. The other attraction in Mahet is World Peace Bell, known commonly as Peace Bell. It is huge in size weighing many quintals. This was gifted by Japanese people as a message of peace. A five feet long wooden log bound by iron shackles is used to ring this bell. Local people do not consider this less than a temple and come here on Tuesday and Thursday.
Today ruins of a boundary made up of rock and clay encircle the city, signifying the historic and spiritual significance of the city. During excavation, many rock inscriptions and idols were found which are kept in museums at Mathura and Lucknow. Although Buddhism originated in India, but today most of its adherents are outside India. Even today when I remember this trip, only one thing comes to the mind - Buddham Sharanam Gachchhami.