Buddha said to Ananda, "Go Ananda, prepare for me between twin Sala
trees a couch with the head facing northwards. I am exhausted and would like to lie down". A
wonderful scene transpired when the Buddha sought out the comfort of that couch. The twin Sala trees burst into full bloom, although it definitely
was not the blossoming season. Divine coral tree flowers and fine sandalwood powders began to
fall from above upon the Enlightened One's body out of reverence for the passing away of a
Kushinagar, also known as Kasia or Kusinara in the Buddha's time, is situated in the
northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, 51 kms from Gorakhpur. It is famous for the
celebrated death or mahaparinirvana (the great passing away) of Buddha, and is an integral
part of what has come to be known as the Buddhist Trail, which reverently encompasses Bihar,
Uttar Pradesh, and the Lumbini region of Nepal. It is believed that the Buddha entered
parinirvana around 544-543 BC, although some modern day historians may refute that he passed
away between 487 and 483 BC in his eighty-first year. Parinirvana in Buddhist parlance is
known as the "Final Blowing-Out".
The Muktabandhana Stupa, named after the sacred shrine of the Mallas, whose kingdom the
Buddha chose to pass away in, was constructed just after the Buddha’s death.
The stupa supossedly houses the sacred relics of the Buddha himself, and is considered
to be of great sanctity. Also known as Ramabhar Stupa, it is over 50 feet tall, and it's
believed the imposing structure was built on the exact spot where the Buddha was cremated,
on the seventh day after his having entered into Nirvana.
Kushinagar became very much later a celebrated center of the Malla kingdom. Many of
its stupas and viharas date back to 413 AD when the kingdom's prosperity was at its peak.
Some images, like a magnificent reclining statue of the Lord Buddha carved out of a single
piece of red sandstone, date back even earlier to the third century before Christ. I believe
the Mauryan emperor Ashoka is credited for contributing the piece, so there must have been a
fair deal of architectural activity going on at Kushinagar during Ashoka's reign too.
The Nirvana Stupa enshrines another majestic statue of the Buddha in a reclining position
and is set in a lush green park at the heart of Kushinagar. It is a product of the era
of Kumaragupta I (413-55AD) and was elaborately restored by Burmese Buddhists in 1927.
Peppered in the vicinity are other stupas erected by devout pilgrims along with the ruins of
several great monastries.
With the decline of Buddhism after the Muslim invasions of the 12th century, Kushinagar
lost its importance and suffered much neglect. It was only in the 19th century that Lord
Alexander Cunningham excavated many important remnants of the main site, such as the Ramabhar
Stupa mentioned above. At the time of the excavations, the main temple mounds were covered
with dense thorny jungle. Today, pilgrims from all over the world visit Kushinagar to pay
their humble respects to the Great Master, aka the Compassionate Prince. Many national and
international Buddhist societies and interest groups have established their headquarters there.
The Buddha's last days and moments on earth are described in detail in the Pali text called the Great
Parinirvana Sutra. Within the context of that text, parinirvana translates to "completed nirvana".
The Buddha's "living nirvana" achieved during his enlightenment, transforms upon his dying into
a "nirvana without human residue". Self possessed, bereft of any apparent psychological pain,
and untroubled by morbid thoughts, the Buddha from the comfort of his couch identifies the four places of future
pilgrimage to his disciples. They are the four noble sites of his birth, his unexpected enlightenment,
his first sermon or turning of the wheel, and his much anticipated passing. "But don't hinder yourselves by honouring
my remains," he added. Obviously, it was no hindrance at all.
Shakyamuni's famous last words: "Impermanence is inherent in all things. Work out your own
salvation with diligence". They are good words to contemplate and follow.
Like other places in the Gangetic plain, the climate of Kushinagar is hot and humid
in the summer (mid April to mid September) with the maximum temperature reaching 40–45°C.
Winters are mild with minimum temperatures around 5°C. Monsoons reach the region in June
and remain until September.
Best time to visit Kushinagar: October to April.
"Come now, dear monks. I bid you farewell".