Mapping the Buddhist Holy Land

Jetavana Grove and Śrāvastī: Enduring Retreat of the Buddha

Jetavana Site

Jetavana Grove, one of the eight major sites relating to the life of the Buddha, has long served as one of the major destinations for Buddhist pilgrims. The grove is located inside the ancient city of Śrāvastī (Savatthi, Pāli) in the Indian state now known as Uttar Pradesh. The holy site is approximately 600 km ESE from New Delhi and 200 km NE of Lucknow. During his ministry, the Buddha was said to have spent 25 out of the 45 rainy seasons at or around this grove; he also delivered a wide range of teachings that are transmitted in canonical sūtras and performed a multitude of miracles. As the legend is told, the grove was given to the Buddha gift from both Anāthapiṇḍika, a wealthy merchant, and Prince Jetakumāra after a boastful challenge to cover the entirety of the grounds withgold was met.

After serving as a place of teaching and active monastery during the life of the Buddha, Jetavana Grove saw the rise and fall of Buddhism in the northern regions of India before its rediscovery by Sir Alexander Cunningham (1814-1893), a founder of the Archaeological Survey of India in 1863. Today the grove is owned and maintained by the local Śrāvastī government as a historical park and active holy site. There are many locations in and around Śrāvastī that are thought to be connected to the Buddha's life.

Buddhists know Śrāvastī as the home of the Buddha for many rainy seasons. Today, in 536 villages, over 1 million people join the Buddha in calling Śrāvastī home. Located near River Rapti, Śrāvastī is a part of the Shrawasti District, which is the northeastern district of India's Utter Pradesh state.

Buddhists from far and wide travel to Śrāvastī to visit Jetavana because the Buddha stayed. In their travels, they may also visit many other temples created by Buddhist monks in the distant past and during the recent decades of the Buddhist revival. These include the Burmese Buddhist Temple, Chinese Temple in Śrāvastī, Sri Lankan Buddhist Temple, Myanmar Monastery, and Thai Buddhist Temple. Within Śrāvastī, the Jain Temple, Mahet, Angulimala's stupa, the Gandhakūṭī, the Ānandabodhi tree, and Mahamongkol Chai Dhamma Devoted Land For World Peacefulness Foundation can all be found.

History of Jetavana Grove's Founding

Jetavana History

The history of Śrāvastī and Jetavana Grove goes beyond the life of the Buddha. According to the great Indian epic, the Mahābhārata, the city was named after King Śrāvasta. In addition, Śrāvastī is also mentioned in the Rāmāyaṇa, which states that King Rāmā sent his son Lava to Śrāvastī. Therefore, Śrāvastī had religious significance prior to the time that the Buddha began spending 25 out of 45 rainy seasons. During the sixth century BCE, Śrāvastī was the capital of Kosalā, one of the wealthiest kingdoms in India. This region was ruled by King Pasenadi who became one of the chief benefactors of the Buddha. Śrāvastī was said to have approximately 57,000 families living within its limits. During the life of the Buddha, three monasteries were erected in his honor. The Buddha first visited Śrāvastī during his third rain retreat after his enlightenment upon invitation from Anāthapiṇḍika, a wealthy patron.

Jetavana was the original monastery given to the Buddha by his patrons Anāthapiṇḍika and Jettamura. According to tradition, this monastery was originally seven stories tall and housed a sandalwood statue of the Buddha. On one occasion... Read More...

Miracles of the Buddha Associated with Jetavana Grove and Śrāvastī

Miracles

Another feature of Śrāvastī that connects this city to the life of the Buddha is the occurrence of miracles that were said to have taken place here. Although the Buddha is reported to have performed miracles at many other locations, some of the more famous miracles took place in Śrāvastī and Jetavana Grove area. In the minds of Buddhists, these events add to the sacredness of this ancient city.

The Yamaka Pātihāriya or Twin Miracles are one of the most famous examples of circumstances when the Buddha’s supernatural abilities were challenged. It was believed that the Buddha must prove his power at the same location that all previous Buddhas had performed their miracles, and it was also decreed that the miracles would take place under a mango tree at the gates of Śrāvastī. Several challengers to the Buddha’s teachings attempted to remove all the mango trees in the area as a way to prevent his display of abilities. However, on the full moon of Asalha (July), the Buddha arrived at Śrāvastī to perform his miracles. Seeing no mango tree in sight... Read More...

Cunningham

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Sir Alexander Cunningham was predominantly responsible for remapping and excavating the sites surrounding Śrāvastī and Jetavana Grove. Visiting Śrāvastī in 1863, he used the  descriptions from two Chinese pilgrims, Faxian and Xuanzang, to help him locate the ancient city of Śrāvastī which had been absorbed into the modern city of Saheth-Maheth. Cunningham's first task was to locate the ancient city using references from the Mahābhārata, Rāmāyaṇa, and accounts of the Chinese pilgrims. He used references to the local Rapti River, and explored several different locations before he was able to narrow down Śrāvastī as the location for Jetavana Grove and the other ancient monasteries in this area. Following his excavations, Cunningham was able to reveal several of the ancient ruins dictated in the many sūtras situated at Jetavana Grove. Cunningham uncovered over thirteen hectares, approximately thirty-two acres, exposing sites associated with the life of the Buddha in this area. Although many of the sites uncovered by Cunningham dated to the Kuṣāṇ Kingdom between first and second century CE, he was recognized as the archaeologist responsible for uncovering the Gandhakūṭī and Kosambikuṭī, two major sacred sites in use today. Despite Cunningham’s extensive work surrounding Śrāvastī and Jetavana Grove, the ruins are said to spread nearly a 162 hectares, approximately 400 acres, much of which still needs to be explored by archaeologists.

Sūtras

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Śrāvastī and Jetavana Grove was the location that the Buddha spent the majority of his rainy season after his enlightenment.  This location was used at a central location for his teachings.  Because he spent so much time in this location, there are more sutras, teachings of the Buddha, connected to Śrāvastī, Jetavana Grove, and Anāthapiṇḍika Park than any other location.  The plethora of Sutras can be searched by keyword or location at the website Access to Insight.  Many of these sutras dictate the daily life, miracles, and teachings of the Buddha while he stayed in and around Jetavana Park.  There are said to be 871 sutras attributed to these locations; 844 from Jetavana Grove, 23 from the Pubbarama monastery and 4 from the surrounding suburbs.[1] Here is a synopsis of three such sutras as well as the link to explore many more teachings and events connected to this location......Read More

Pilgrims 

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Pilgrimages have been a longstanding tradition in Buddhism dating back to instructions from the Buddha to visit eight holy sites. The popularity of pilgrimages increased after King Aśoka’s (304–232 BCE) embrace and expansion of Buddhism through his dispersal of Buddhist relics.  After a dormant period following King Aśoka’s reign, Chinese Buddhist embraced the roles of remapping the Buddhist holy land and thus restarted the practice of holy pilgrimages.  Following the instruction of Chinese Tibetan and western remapping, the Buddhist holy sites remain places for pilgrimage to this day for a globalized Buddhist community.  This section will explore examples of pilgrims that have visited and dictated their experiences at Śrāvastī (Jetavana Grove)....Read More