Sarnath is located 10 kilometres away from the holy city Varanasi and is an exceedingly tranquil place. The ruins, the temple and the museum add the value to Sarnath and all within walking distance. The deer park in Sarnath is where Gautama Buddha taught the Dharma and where the Buddhist Sangha came into survival during the enlightenment of Kondanna.
History of Sarnath
Buddha after accomplishing enlightenment at Bodh Gaya came to Sarnath and delivered his first address to 5 disciples namely - Kaundinya, Bashpa, Bhadrika, Mahanaman and Ashvajit for saving civilization. While travelling to Sarnath, Gautama Buddha had no money through which to pay the ferryman to cross the Ganges, so he crossed it during the air. Buddha consequently also spent his first rainy season at Sarnath at the Mulagandhakuti. Earlier Sarnath has been known as Mrigadava. The Sangha had developed to 60 in number and Buddha sent them out in all directions to travel without help and teach the Dharma. All 60 monks were Arahants.
Buddha's first speech, delivered at Sarnath is known in Pali as the ‘Dhammacakkhapavathana Sutta’. Buddhism increased in Sarnath because of the support of kings and prosperous merchants based in near Varanasi. By the 3rd century, Sarnath had become a significant centre for the arts, which reached its peak in the Gupta period. When Hsuan Tsang visited from China in the 7th century, he found 30 monasteries and 3000 monks living at Sarnath. The existence of images of Heruka and Tara specify the Vajrayana of Buddhism which was also exercised there. At the conclusion of the 12th century, Sarnath was bagged by Turkish Muslims. The place was afterwards sealed for building materials and has remained in ruins until the present day.
Different Attractions of Sarnath
Every bit of of the antique buildings and structures at Sarnath were damaged or destroyed by the Turks. There are some major attractions in Sarnath and these are as follows:
The Dharmarajika Stupa: This is the earliest of the remains here at Sarnath, built on Mauryan period attributed to the Emperor Ashoka the great. The Dharmarajika Stupa was expanded and enlarged several times up to 12th century AD. The structure was destroyed by repeated invasions and negligence. What is found today is the result of repeated effort of reconstruction.
The Chaukhandi Stupa: Chaukhandi is the first monument encountered by the visitors as they enter Sarnath. It is a lofty mound of brick, a structure whose square edifice is surrounded by an octagonal tower. This structure is also said to be raised by Emperor Ashoka.
The Dhameka Stupa: This is the most conspicuous structure at Sarnath. Colonel Cunningham bore a shaft from the top centre of the stupa and discovered a stone tablet on which an inscription is written with the word 'Dhameka', which mentions that this is the spot where Buddha delivered his first sermon. Dhamekha seems to be a distorted form of Dharma Chakra, which means turning the wheel of the Dharma.
The Ashoka Pillar: The Ashoka pillar is extremely important because on top of the pillar there used to be a statue of four lions holding up a wheel, which is national sign of India now. The wheel stands for 'Dharma'. The pillar is broken now and the 'Lion capital of Ashoka' is in display at Sarnath museum, which consists of a canopy representing an inverted bell-shaped lotus flower, a short cylindrical abacus where alternate four 24-spoked Dharma wheels with four animals (an elephant, a bull, a horse, a lion in this order) and four lions facing the four cardinal directions.
The Mulagandha Kuti Vihar: It is the modern temple erected by the Mahabodhi Society. It has excellent frescoes by Kosetsu Nosu who is famous Japanist painter. Several Buddhist relics are also excavated here. On Buddha Purnima, the birth ceremony of Buddha, relics of Buddha are taken out in procession. The archaeological museum at Sarnath houses several Buddhist sculpture and relics, also a rich collection of Buddhist manuscript and writings.
Sarnath Archaeological Museum: The grand lion wealth which topped the pillar and survived its 45 base drop to the land is on exhibit at the Sarnath Archaeological Museum. The museum is also a dwelling for some of the supreme treasures of Indian Buddhist art as well as nearly 300 images.