Sarnath

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Located at a distance of 10 km from the sacred Hindu town Varanasi, Sarnath is one of the four major pilgrim sites for the Buddhists. In ancient Buddhist literature, this place finds mention as Rishipatna and Mrigdava. The Buddha came here after his enlightenment and delivered his first sermon to his five companions: Kondanna, Bhaddiya, Vappa, Mahanama, and Assaji. These were the five companions with whom he had practiced asceticism, while living on the Dungeshwari Hills near Bodh Gaya. In the Buddhist texts, this event is referred to as Turning of the Wheel of Dhamma and marks the foundation of the Sangha (Order of Monks).

In his first sermon, he spoke about what is now known as The Four Noble Truths and guided his companions regarding the practice of The Eight Fold Path-the way to end sufferings and achieve enlightenment. During the first teaching, Kondanna understood everything and achieved the first stage of enlightenment. He requested the Buddha to initiate him in the monkhood. Soon the other four also joined the Buddha’s order.

The Buddha continued teaching at the Deer Park in Sarnath. Fifty men from high caste families were so inspired by his teachings that they joined the Monk Order. When the number of monks became 60, the Buddha told them to travel to places and preach the Dhamma to redeem people of their sufferings. Thus, Sarnath became the sacred spot from where the Dhamma started and spread to different regions of India, and later, to other parts of the world.

The Emperor Asoka, who was a central figure in spreading the Dhamma to different parts of India and world, built a stupa here when he visited this place around 234 BC. When Hsuan Tsang visited from China in the 7th century, he found 30 monasteries and 3000 monks living at Sarnath. Several Buddhist structures were built here before the 11th century. In the 13th century, Turkish invaders destroyed most of the structures and killed many monks. Since then this place had been consigned into oblivion. During the period 1836-1932, excavations and restoration works were carried out at this place, initiated by British Government.

Once upon a time the seat of Dhamma, this place is left with the remains of temples and monasteries to show. But away from the hustle and bustle of cities, Sarnath is a pristine town with peaceful ambience and greenery. Buddhist pilgrims visit this place in large numbers every year. Being the birthplace of 11th Jain Tirthankara, it is also a major place of pilgrimage for Jain pilgrims.

Places of Spiritual Significance

Chaukhandi Stupa

chaukhandi-stupa

The Chaukhandi Stupa is the first monument one comes across as one enters Sarnath. It is a brick structure with a square base and an octagonal tower at the top. It is believed to be built in commemoration of the Buddha meeting his five companions upon his arrival from Bodh Gaya. The tower is a late addition to the original structure and was built in the 16th century by the Mughal Emperor of India.

Dhamekha Stupa

Dhamekha-Stupa

The Dhamekha Stupa is a cylindrical structure made of bricks and stones. It is believed to be built by the Emperor Asoka to commemorate the turning of the wheel of Dhamma by the Buddha, who delivered his first sermon at this place and initiated his companion into monkhood, marking the beginning of the Sangha. The diameter of its base is 28 metres and it is approximately 44 metres tall. It finds mention in the travelogue of the Chinese traveller Hsuan Tsang, who visited India in the 7th century. Buddhist monks and devotees sit around this stupa to meditate and pray.

Mulagandhakuti Vihara

Mulgandha-Kutir-Vihara

The ancient Mulagandhakuti Vihara is among the ruins in Sarnath. This is believed to be the place where the Buddha had lived on his first visit to Sarnath. There is a modern temple nearby with the same name, being built by the Mahabodhi Society. This modern temple has the relics of the Buddha recovered in excavations in Taxila (now part of Pakistan). Kosetsu Nosu, one of the foremost painters in Japan has done some beautiful art work. This temple is also a rich repository of Buddhist literature.

Bodhi Tree

Bodhi-Tree

Located close to the Mulagandhakuti Vihara, this Bodhi Tree has grown from the sapling of the Bodhi Tree of Sri Lanka. Sri Lankan Bodhi Tree, in turn, has grown from the sapling of the Bodhi Tree at Bodh Gaya. This Bodhi Tree of Sarnath was planted in 1931, by the founder of Mahabodhi Society of India, to mark the opening of the Mulagandhakuti Vihara.

Digambar Jain Temple

Digambar-Jain-Temple

Built in 1824, this temple is believed to be located at the birth place of Shreyansnath, the 11th Jain Tirthankara. The temple walls have beautiful wall paintings depicting the life events of Mahavira, the 24th Jain Tirthankara. It is located very close to the Deer Park.

The Nichigai Suzan Horinji Temple, the Thai temple and the Migadawun Myanmar Temple are some of the other places of religious significance in Sarnath.

Other Attractions

Sarnath Museum

Sarnath-Museum

The Sarnath Museum is a popular tourist attraction in Sarnath. It is the oldest site museum of the Archaeological Survey of India. This museum was built in 1910 to display the antiquities recovered from Sarnath. There are five galleries and two verandas on the museum to display the antiquities, dating from the 3rd century BC to 12th century AD.

The galleries have been christened on the basis of their contents. The main hall is known as the Shakyasimha Gallery. The Shakyasimha Gallery displays the most prized collections of the museum. In the centre of this gallery is the Lion Capital of the Mauryan (Asokan) pillar. It is 2.31 metres in height. The lustrous polish is a special feature of Mauryan art which has not been noticed in monuments from later times. The Capital consists of an inverted lotus, circular abacus and the crowning quadripartite semi-lions on top. The image of the Capital has been adopted as the National Emblem of India.

Other important antiquities on display include images of Bodhisattva Padmapani, Vajrasattva, Neelkanth Lokeshvara, and a standing figure of ornamented Tara (a saviour goddess in Buddhism) and statue of preaching Buddha.

Varanasi

Varanasi

Located 10 km from Sarnath on the northern banks of holy river Ganges, Varanasi is considered to be the oldest town in the world. It is the most revered place for Hindus. As per Hindu beliefs, whosoever dies in Varanasi attains liberation from the cycle of life and birth. The Kashi Vishwanath Temple, the Sankat Mochan Hanuman Temple, the revered ghats on the banks of the Ganges and the Ganga Aarti are some the major attractions of this ancient town.

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