Sarnath is one of the 4 sacred places in Buddhism. It is present at 13 km from the ancient city of Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh. Today the sacred ruins of the ancient sacred place are only available.
Modern-day Sarnath is also known as Isipatana. The place holds an important position in Buddhism, as Lord Buddha preached his first sermon at Sarnath. Today monasteries and temples of different Buddhist countries are available in Sarnath. The interesting thing is the architecture of monasteries and temples are inspired by the architectural specialty of the respective country.
Sarnath is known by different names from ancient times like Isipatana, Mrigadava. There are stories available in Buddhist text and literature regarding the name of the place. According to legends when Lord Buddha born Devatas landed to the place to inform 500 rishis. The rishis along with Devatas disappeared in the sky with the relics remained on earth. In Pali language, Isi means Rishi thus the place is known as Isipatana.
According to another story, the place was a forest given by the king of Benares where deer can wander. Thus the name derived Mrigadava. Sarnath is a Sanskrit word which means “Lord of the Deer”. According to another story, Bodhisattva was a deer who offered his life to the king instead of other deer whom the king was planning to kill. The king was impressed by this and offered the area for the deer park where deer can roam without molestation.
Location Of Sarnath
It is located about 13 km from the main city of Benaras in the north-east direction. Near the river Ganga and its tributary Varuna. Local Auto services are available for Sarnath from Varanasi Junction and Manduadih Railway stations. Traveling cost with Autos depends on bargaining skills, besides that Ola cab service is also available.
Travelling towards Sarnath
We were traveling to Varanasi to attend the marriage ceremony. As we arrived earlier so decided to explore the sacred place of Sarnath. The place which has seen many ups and downs in its lifetime. It was once the center of Buddhist studies and is also one of the 4 sacred religious places for Buddhists. The place which depicts the combined studies of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism. Many dynasties from Mauryans to Guptas gave their contributions to glorify the place. With excitement and unlimited hidden questions, we headed towards the Sarnath from Manduadih Railway Station by a cab.
As we reached near the Sarnath the atmosphere becomes silent. Monasteries by different countries constructed were seen. The cab dropped us near the ticket counter. The place is so silent and calm. It seems that the teaching of Lord Buddha is present in the atmosphere of Sarnath. We purchased tickets for the Deer park were the ruins of Ancient places is available and of Museum.
Scared Ruins of Sacred Place
A Large area is covered with greenery along with the ruins. The whole structure is excavated by archaeological survey of India. Everything is destroyed by Turks during the 12th century. It’s really disappointing to see our heritage in destructed form, but now the ruins are well maintained by the government. Sarnath is a sacred place for Buddhists as Lord Buddha preached his first sermon at the place. As we were roaming the teaching of Lord Buddha is absorbing in the sole and the cries of the ruins speaking about the tragedy they faced by Turks. We find some destructed pillars preserved by glass chamber known as Ashokan Pillars.
It is a fragment of a 15.25m long monolithic pillar constructed by the Mauryan emperor Ashoka made of Chunar sandstone. The cylindrical shaft is slightly tapering with the diameter of 0.71 m at the base and 0.56 m at the top. It was surmounted by the famous four addorsed lion capital. The pillar bears three inscriptions.
The earliest one is an edict of Ashoka, in the Mauryan Brahmi script. In which the king warns the monks and nuns against creating the schism in the sangha.
Next mentioned the 40th year of Kushana king Asvaghosha of Kaushambi.
Third is in early Gupta Brahmi script referred the teachers of Sammitiya sent and of the Vastiputrak school.
The pillars have now destroyed, the ruins of the pillars are available today and the four addorsed lion capital is preserved in the museum. Which is now the National emblem of the Republic of India.
This is a remnant of a large temple where Lord Buddha used to sit for meditation. Huen-Tsang described the temple as a lofty big structure with the height of 61 meters. The thick walls support the lofty structure. The temple was raised on the square platform, which has the height of 18.29 meters. The entrance is in east direction with the large courtyard outside. The description given by Huen-Tsang was of the time of Gupta period. The architectural style of brick molding and decorative patterns resemble the golden age of Gupta period.
Dharam Chakra Stupa
It is known as Dharamrajika Stupa but according to inscriptions dated 1026 AD recovered from the site its old name was Dharam Chakra Stupa. The stupa is still the center of attraction in Sarnath. The only big structure stands among ruins, speaks the story of Lord Buddha and various dynasties. Various inscriptions are found from Mauryan to Gupta period. Today the structure stands at a height of 42.6 meters and the base diameter is 28.5 meters.
The Dharam Chakra Stupa is a main religious spot for Buddhist. They come here from all over the world to submit their homage to Lord Buddha and his teachings. It is a place from where Lord Buddha sends his followers to different directions to spread awareness among people about the Dharma and spirituality. Roaming around the place bring the feeling of spirituality and made us feel the life of devotees lived there during the ancient time when the place was the center of spiritual studies.
Spirituality Developed in Sarnath
As we moved calmly we feel the pleasure of the place, we feel the beauty of the place when the Buddhism was at its peak. The time when different empires gave their contributions to the development of the place. The time when devotees from all over the world came here in search of spirituality, irrespective of religion, caste, color Sarnath excepts everyone and build the teaching of Lord Buddha more and more strong.
The museum is located just outside the park. No electronic gadget is allowed inside the museum. The museum is well developed which has 5 halls. The statues are displayed there, which were made during different dynasties. Ashoka’s four addorsed lion capital which is now a national emblem is also preserved in the museum. The statues are related to Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and have different messages but unfortunately, most of the statues are in bad conditions. It took six periods to develop such a great spiritual center but unfortunately, Turks destroyed the center in less than one period only.
Different periods which gives there contribution to make Sarnath the center of spirituality are characterized as:
- Period 1: (i) pre- Mauryan period (4th century BCE to 3rd century BCE)
(ii) Mauryan period (3rd century BCE to 2nd century BCE)
- Period 2: Sunga Period (2nd century BCE to 1st century BCE)
- Period 3: Kushan Period (1st century CE to 3rd century CE)
- Period 4: Gupta Period (4th century CE to 6th century CE)
- Period 5: Post- Gupta Period (7th century CE to (9th century CE)
- Period 6: Early Medival Rajput Period (10th century CE to 12th century CE)
The structures of great spiritual center declined in just less than a century by Turk invaders. But the studies of spirituality and the teachings of Lord Buddha still remains in the atmosphere of the Sarnath.
Five halls of the museum speak the whole story of the Sarnath from its origin to the destruction. It is a complete encyclopedia for those who have interest in architecture, history, and heritage. It is a great source of religious studies with the mindblowing presentation of our great heritage.
Other Attractions At Sarnath
Outside the museum, there are chains of shops to purchase antiques and tea stalls, good place with a lot of foodstuff at affordable rates. Nearby there are many monasteries and temples constructed by different Buddhist countries. One of the important places must visit is the Sri Lankan temple because part of Bodhi tree is planted and is now flourishing. Temples from Myanmar, Thailand is also present nearby the park.
With the great memories of our great heritage and teaching, we headed back from Sarnath with the determination to continue the legacy of our ancestors who sacrifices and spends generations to make such a great heritage for us.