Buddhist Centres of Learning and Pilgrimage Sites


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Prelims: History of India

Mains: Indian culture will cover the salient aspects of Arts forms, literature and Architecture from ancient to modern times

Patronage of Buddhism

  • Ancient Period:
    • Emperor Ashoka: He played a major role in spreading Buddhism in India and beyond through his rock edicts and support for Buddhist institutions and missionaries.
    • King Kanishka: He was a great Kushan ruler who convened the Fourth Buddhist Council and patronised the development of Mahayana Buddhism.
    • King Milinda: He was a Bactrian Greek king who converted to Buddhism and became a disciple of Nagasena. 
  • Medieval Period:
    • Pala Dynasty: It was a dynasty of Bengal that patronised the development of Mahayana Buddhism and supported the renowned Nalanda and Vikramshila universities.
    • Srivijaya Empire: It was a maritime empire in Southeast Asia that patronised the spread of Buddhism throughout the region, particularly in Indonesia and Malaysia.
  • Modern Period:
    • Dalai Lama: He is the spiritual leader of the Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism, who has been influential in promoting Buddhism and Tibetan culture worldwide.
    • Chulalongkorn, King of Siam: He is a Thai monarch who supported the revival of Buddhism in Thailand and established the Buddhist Institute to promote Buddhist scholarship.
    • B. R. Ambedkar: He was an Indian social reformer and politician who converted to Buddhism and advocated for the rights of Dalits, or the "untouchables," through Buddhism.


Buddhist Centres of Learning: 

Nalanda University

  • It was established in the 5th century CE by  Kumaragupta I, who ruled from 415 to 455 CE, and is often mentioned as the primary patron of Nalanda University. 
  • It was a major centre for the study of Buddhism and other subjects like philosophy, medicine, and astronomy.
  • Numismatic evidence discovered at Nalanda corroborates that Kumaragupta I was the founder and patron of the Nalanda monastery-university

Taxila University

  • Taxila was located in present-day Pakistan.
  • It was founded in the 5th century BCE and was a major centre for the study of Buddhism, as well as other subjects like mathematics, astronomy, and medicine.

Vikramshila University

  • Located in Bihar, it was founded in the 8th century CE. 
  • It was a centre for the study of the Mahayana school of Buddhism and attracted students and scholars from all over India and beyond

Sarnath University

  • Located in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, it was founded in the 3rd century BCE and was associated with the study of Buddhism. 
  • It was a major centre for the dissemination of Buddhist teachings and attracted scholars and pilgrims from all over India and the world.

Mahabodhi Mahavihara

  • A prominent Buddhist monastery and university located in Bodh Gaya, Bihar, it was founded in the 3rd century BCE. 
  • It is associated with the place where the Buddha attained enlightenment and is a major centre for the study and practice of Buddhism.


  • Odantapuri, Jagadala, Valabhi, Pushpagiri, Nagarjunakonda, Manyakheta. 


Important Buddhist travellers and scholars 


  • Fa-Hien: A Chinese Buddhist monk who travelled to India during the Gupta period (4th-5th century CE) and wrote a detailed account of his travels and the Buddhist sites he visited in his book "Record of Buddhistic Kingdoms".
  • Hsuan Tsang: a Chinese Buddhist monk who travelled to India during the 7th century CE and spent several years studying at the ancient Buddhist university of Nalanda. He later wrote about his experiences in his book "Great Tang Records on the Western Regions".
  • I-tsing (or Yi Jing): A Chinese Buddhist monk who visited India during the 7th century CE and also studied at the University of Nalanda. He wrote a detailed account of his travels and the Buddhist culture he encountered in his book "A Record of Buddhist Practices Sent Home from the Southern Sea".
  • Kumarajiva: He was an Indian Buddhist scholar who travelled to China during the 4th century CE and played a significant role in translating Buddhist texts from Sanskrit into Chinese.
  • Important Buddhist scholars: Nagarjuna, Asanga, Vasubandhu, Dignaga, Dharmakirti, Shantarakshita, Atisha, Padmasambhava, Tsongkhapa.


Buddhahood and Cycle of Buddhas

Buddhahood is the state of perfect enlightenment that is achieved by a Buddha, which is a fully awakened being who has attained complete liberation from suffering and the cycle of rebirth. In Buddhism, there is a belief in the cycle of Buddhas, which is the idea that there have been and will be many Buddhas throughout history.

  • Krakucchanda: According to Buddhist tradition, Krakucchanda was the first Buddha of the current age, known as the Bhadrakalpa. His teachings emphasised moral conduct, meditation, and the attainment of spiritual powers.
  • Kankamuni: He was the second Buddha of the Bhadra Kalpa. He was born into a Brahmin family, and his teachings emphasised the cultivation of compassion and the practice of meditation.
  • Kasyapa: He is also known as Kassapa and was the third Buddha of the Bhadra Kalpa. His teachings emphasised the importance of ethical conduct and the cultivation of wisdom.
  • Sakyamuni: He is also known as Gautama Buddha. He is the fourth and most well-known Buddha of the Bhadra Kalpa. His teachings, known as Buddhism, emphasise the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path as a means of University enlightenment.
  • Maitreya: Maitreya is a bodhisattva who is believed to be the future Buddha of the next Bhadrakalpa. He is said to reside in the Tushita heaven and will be reborn on Earth when the teachings of the current Buddha, Sakyamuni, have been forgotten


Major Buddhist pilgrimage sites:

Bodh Gaya

  • It is the most important Buddhist pilgrimage site as it is the place where Buddha attained enlightenment under the Bodhi tree.


  • It is the place where Buddha gave his first sermon after attaining enlightenment. The famous Dhamekh Stupa and Ashoka Pillar are located here.


  • It is the place where Buddha passed away and achieved Parinirvana. The Mahaparinirvana temple and the Ramabhar Stupa are the main attractions here.


  • It is an important site as Buddha spent 24 rainy seasons here and performed many miracles.  The Jetavana monastery, Anandabodhi tree, and Angulimala's stupa are located here.


  • It is a UNESCO World Heritage site and has several Buddhist stupas, monasteries, and temples. The Great Stupa of Sanchi is the most famous and attracts a large number of pilgrims.
  • Sanchi Stupa is one of the oldest structures in India that was

commissioned by emperor Ashoka in the 3rd century BC.

Ajanta and Ellora Caves

  • Ajanta is a series of rock-cut caves in the Sahyadri ranges on the Waghora River near Aurangabad in Maharashtra, and Ellora caves are located nearly 100 km away from Ajanta caves.
  • These are UNESCO World Heritage sites and have several rock-cut Buddhist caves with beautiful paintings and sculptures.


  • It is an important site as Buddha spent several years here and delivered many important sermons. The Vulture's Peak, Griddhakuta Hill, and Saptaparni Cave are located here.


  • It is an important site as Buddha visited here several times and delivered many important sermons. 
    • The Ananda Stupa, the Kutagarasala Vihara, and the Coronation tank are located here.


  • It is an important site as it was a renowned Buddhist centre of learning in ancient times. The ruins of Nalanda University, the Nalanda Museum, and the Hiuen Tsang Memorial Hall are located here.


  • It is the residence of the Dalai Lama and is an important site for Tibetan Buddhism. 

The Namgyal Monastery, the Tsuglagkhang complex, and the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives are located here. 


Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)


Q) Who was Asanga? 

Asanga was an influential Buddhist philosopher and scholar who lived in India during the 4th century CE. He is considered one of the key figures in developing the Yogacara or Vijñānavāda school of Mahayana Buddhism.


Q) Are all Buddhas identical?

While all Buddhas share the goal of liberating beings from suffering, they may differ in their specific teachings, methods, and emphasis. Each Buddha's teachings are suited to the capacities and inclinations of the beings they aim to help.