The Buddha attained enlightenment at the age of 29 in the city of Bodhgaya in India. After settling under a tree, the Buddha made the resolve not to move until he had achieved enlightenment. The bodhi tree under which the Buddha sat has been destroyed both intentionally and naturall,y many times since this time of enlightenment. It has continued to resprout and is visible today. The Mahabodhi Temple marks Bodhgaya.
The origins of the Temple are unclear. Some claim the Temple could have been built as early as the third century by Ashoka, others claim the Temple was built between the fifth and seventh centuries.
Nalanda is important both because it was blessed with the presence of the Buddha, and because of the famous monastic university developed there. This university also named Nalanda (meaning 'insatiable in giving') played a central role in the development of Buddhism in India.
At Sarnath in the Ganges Valley of India, the Buddha proclaimed the law of faith. It was here that he taught the keys aspects of Buddhism: the four noble truths, the eightfold path and the middle way philosophy. The Buddha encouraged followers to avoid extremes of austerity or pleasure.
Another of the most commonly visited places of Buddhist pilgrimage is Shravasti. It is here that the Buddha is said to have performed great miracles. One story tells of how on throwing down the seed of a mango, a great mango tree instantly arose. Another story tells of how the Buddha stood in the air, the lower part of his body engulfed in flames, with five hundred jets of water streaming from the top of his body.
In Sankashaya the Buddha descended from the Tushita Heaven. It is said that during the forty-first year of the Buddha's life, he went to the Tushita Heaven to teach Dharma to his mother, who had died shortly after the Buddha's death. Ashoka later built a Temple on the site. Today, little of the site's glory remains. This is the only important place of Buddhist pilgrimage where no temples, or monasteries exist today.
Rajgir is another place in the Ganges Valley where the Buddha walked and preached. Perhaps the most important event of the Buddha's visits to Rajgir was the conversion of two future disciples, Sariputra and Maudgalyayana. While Sariputra was credited with greater intelligence, Maudgalyayana wielded a greater power for miracles.
The Buddha died in a Saal forest in Kushinagar and attained mahaparinirvana at the age of 80. Kushinagar was rediscovered and identified before the end of the last century.
Other commemorative monuments to the spread in Buddhism in India include Sanchi, Bharhut, Amaravati, and Nagarjunakonda where great Buddhist stupas and Buddhist university sites remain. India also boosts the famous Buddhist Cave Temples, Ajanta, Ellora, Kanheri and Karli located in western India.