Sravasti situated by the banks river Aciravati (present day Rapti river) was the capital of the Kingdom of Kosalas ruled by King Prasenajit. Here the Buddha lived the longest part, 25 years, of his monastic life. Of these he spent 19 years in the Jetavana monastery, and 6 years in the Pubbarama monastery. Thus, this place is also where he gave most of his discourses and instructions. It was here that the millionaire Sudatta, donated the Jetavana Vihara containing the Gandhakuti (Fragrant Hut) where the Buddha resided.
It was in Sravasti that Buddha transformed Angulimala from being a dacoit to a Buddhist monk and also accepted Sunita, an untouchable, as an ordained monk into his sangha. Sravasti is best known to be the place where the Buddha subjudicated the holders of the other doctrines. While some accounts say that this was accomplished through debate others say it was through miracle. Perhaps it was a combination of both. The leaders of India’s six main philosophical schools, holders of the other doctrines, many a times challenged the Buddha to show his miraculous powers while he preached the surrounding kingdoms. Eventually in his 57th year the Buddha accepted the challenge at Sravasti. He caused a mango tree to sprout up in a day. Under it he created a huge array of representations of himself, seated and standing on lotuses and causing water and fire to emanate from his body. By performing these miracles he completely defeated his challengers whose followers later adopted the Buddhist doctrines.
ATTRACTIONS IN SARAVASTI
During the Gupta period also, Sravasti was a prosperous center of learning. Hiuen Tsang, the Chinese traveler, when he visited this site, found several damaged Stupas and ruins of monasteries at this place. The glory of Jetavana continued till the 12th century C.E. after which the monks left due to the constant threat of the Muslim rulers. Jetavana then became totally deserted and turned into ruins. In 1863, Cunningham identified the vast collection of twin ruins called Saheth-Maheth with the ancient city of Sravasti. He excavated the ruins at Saheth covering 35 sq. Kms, identified with Jetavana. He also uncovered the ruins of several stupas, monasteries and temples, including the site of the famous Gandhakuti or (Fragrant Hut) as well as the Kosambikuti, both used by the Buddha. Most of the ruins exposed in Jetavana were from the Kusana period (1st & 2nd century AD). The ruins at Maheth are very extensive, spreading over 162 hectares. Only a few ruins have been identified while most parts of it are still unexplored.
The Jetavana is where the Buddha and his pilgrims stayed. Today most of the ruins are the remains of temples and stupas from the Kusana period (1st & 2nd century AD). The important shrines are:
(i) The Ananda Bodhi tree
When the Buddha remained absent from the Gandhakuti, his followers would leave flowers and garlands at his door. When Anathapindika asked the Buddha how people could pay their respects to him in his absence, he said that it can be done by placing offerings at a Bodhi Tree. Accordingly a seed from the Bodhi Tree was brought from Bodhgaya and planted at Jetavana with great ceremony. The Buddha spent one night meditating under it, adding sanctity to the tree.As the seed was planted by Ananda, the tree is called the Ananda Bodhi Tree. The present tree looks very old from its appearance but it is not possible to confirm whether it is the original tree or a descendant of it.
(ii) Temple No. 2
The ruins here mark the foundations of what was the most celebrated building in the ancient Buddhist world, the Gandhakuti (Fragrant Hut). The original Gandhakuti was wooden but by the time the Chinese pilgrims saw it, the structure was a two-storied brick building in a ruinous condition. The ruins of today date back to the Gupta period and only the low walls and stone platform are extant. This is a favorite place for pilgrims to offer puja and meditate.
iii) Temple No. 3
This temple is supposed to be the site of the original Kosambikuti, where the Buddha slept, meditated and conversed with visitors. Just in front of it is a long plinth, made of bricks, marking the site where the Buddha would walk up and down in the evenings to take exercise.
(iv) Burmese and Sri Lankan Monasteries
Sri Lankan monastery is named Nava Jetavana Mahavihara and inside it one can see beautiful murals on its walls depicting important events in the Buddha’s life. The monastery also possesses some Buddha relics, which it keeps in a stupa-shaped vessel to show to visiting pilgrims. The Burmese vihara is named the Burmese Buddhist Temple. Although the temple is situated outside the fenced-in Jetavana Park, its precincts were once part of the old Jetavana grove.
The Japanese Temple in Kushinagar has been built by The Atago Isshin World Buddhist Cultural Association. There is a magnificent Ashta Dhatu or Eight Metals statue of Lord Buddha. This Ashta Dhatu statue of Lord Buddha was brought from Japan in a dismantled form and it was finally given a shape over here. The temple with a circular chamber contains the image of a golden Lord Buddha which is illuminated through stained glass window.