The absence of noise is striking in Shravasti as is the presence of peace. As you drive out of the cluttered town of Balrampur, the clatter of everyday living beats around you like an injured bird. But a few kilometers down the highway and the grace of Shravasti begins to unfold itself. The wide emerald paddy fields sway happily in the early morning breeze and a busy nilgai dashes across the tarmac to work on the monsoon-fresh grass on the other side. Shravasti hovers around the next bend; a couple of starred hotels announce its coming.
Shravasti was Buddha’s favourite monsoon retreat. He spent 24 monsoons here and delivered many of his sermons sitting under a pipal tree. Remember the legendary tale of the cruel dacoit Angulimala who used to wear fingers cut from the corpses of his victims as a garland around his neck? The ferocious killer met Buddha here and gave up his wicked ways. The Angulimala stupa is witness to the millennium-old tale of non violence prevailing over violence.
Myths, legend and history combine in Shravasti to offer a fascinating kaleidoscope of religion and peace. The Peace Bell in the Thai Temple perhaps symbolizes this confluence in more ways than one; for Shravasti is in not only an important seat for the Buddhists but for the Jains too. Two of the Jain Tirthankars – Sambhavanath and Chandra Prabha – were born here and Jainism flourished alongside Buddhism. Lord Mahavira had a large following here. Ashoka The Great visited it and had two pillars erected, besides a stupa. During the time of Kushans, Buddhism gained from royal patronage. Sravasti was mentioned by travelers Fa-hien and Hiuen Tsang. Its ruins were uncovered by Sir Alexander Cunningham in 1863
That Shrvasti was the centre of philosophical discourse within the realm of a great and prosperous empire is evidenced from its history. Texts like Ramayana and Mahabharat mention it in glorious terms as being a part of the Kosala empire. The city, it is said, was named after Sravasta of the Suryavanshi lineage and was a centre of trade and commerce. It is said that the residents of Shravasti described themselves as ones “who had everything.”
Shravasti is sacred to Buddhists because it is here that Lord Buddha performed the greatest of his miracles to confound the Tirthika heretics. These miracles include that of the Buddha creating multiple images of himself, which later became the favorite themes of Buddhist art.
Shravasti has been identified with the remains at Saheth - Maheth on the borders of the Gonda and Bahraich districts. It is situated on the banks of the Rapti.
The crowning jewel of Shravasti is the Jetavana Monastery. It was and is one of the most famous of the Buddhist monasteries in India. It was the second monastery donated to Buddha, after the Veluvana in Rajagaha, modern-day Rajgir, and is located just outside the old city of Shravasti. Jetavana was the place where Buddha gave many teachings and delivered many of the discourses for the first time. The remains of Lord Buddha’s hut can be seen at the monastery and it is covered with flowers by devotees. There is a Bodhi tree that is located in the monastery as well.
The old walls of the city of Sravasti are still present and this is a testimony to the architectural brilliance of the builders of that period. Three main buildings still stand inside the city walls. The Jain temple, Ananthapindika Stupa and the Agulimala Stupa are the main attractions of the area. One can find many Buddhist monks in this place and many of them can be seen meditating under the Ananthabodhi tree. Many monasteries from different countries have been built here, including those of Thailand, South Korea, China and Tibet.
Must see sites:
Swetambara Temple : Sravasti is not only famous as a Buddhist Pilgrimage center but it is a major travel attractions for the Jains. The place was under the influence of Lord Mahavira, the last Jain Tirthankar. Thousand of Jain pilgrimage travel to this place to pay their respect to their Almighty. The Sobhnath Temple is believed to be the birthplace of the Jain Tirthankar Sambhavnath.
Temple No 2: This temple bears the ruins of the Gandha-Kuti or Perfumed Chamber built by Anathapindika for the use of Lord Buddha. The original Kuti was made at the time of the Chinese pilgrims. Today, the lower walls and the stone plinth of the original two- storeyed brick building can be seen.
Temple No 3: This is believed to be the site of the original Kosambi-Kuti. It was built by Anathapitaka and there was also a meditation chamber constructed for Lord Buddha. A long platform marks the original promenade used by the Buddha for the walking meditation in complete silence.
Ananda Bodhi Tree: The Bodhi Tree was planted near the entrance of Jetvana at the request of Anasthapitaka as a symbol of worship when Lord Buddha travelled away from Shravasti. The Bodhi tree is famous for the tree under which the Lord took his enlightenment. This sacred tree was brought as a cutting from the Bodhi tree in Sri Lanka, which itself grew from a sapling of the original Bodhi tree in Bodh Gaya.
Maheth: This covers an area of about 400 acres, and has been identified with the remains of the city proper. Excavations have exposed the massive gates of the city, ramparts and also the ruins of other structures which testify to the prosperity of ancient Shravasti. The Sobhanath Temple is located here. Pakki Kuti and Kacchi Kuti were probably Buddhist shrines before they were converted into Brahmanical temples
Saheth: The ancient inhabitation covers an area of 32 acres and lies about a quarter of a mile to the south - west of Maheth. This was the site of the Jetavana monastery. It became an important place of pilgrimage, adorned with numerous shrines, stupas and monasteries. The stupas belong mostly to the Kushana period, while the temples are in the Gupta style. The remains date from the Mauryan era (3rd century BC ) to the 12th century AD .
One of the earliest stupas, probably dating back to the 3rd century BC, contained relics of the Buddha. A colossal statue of the Buddha was also found here which is now preserved in the Indian Museum, Calcutta.
How to reach
Nearest Airport is Lucknow - 176 km away.
Nearest railway station is at Balrampur, 17 km
Ashwini is a Lucknow-based media professional who culls out travel experiences while on mundane assignments