After his lifelong quest for Enlightenment attained reality at Bodhgaya, Lord Buddha hastened to sacred Varanasi, where he had spent some time undergoing austerities and other rituals. From Varanasi, he travelled with a few companions to the tranquil deer park at Sarnath, also known as Rishipatana, the place of the rishis or sages, a short distance away. It was here that Lord Buddha revealed his enlightenment as the first sermon on Dhamma. The first sermon “The Turning of the Wheel’ was shared by him with this small audience in 528 BCE. Ever since that time, this sacred place is of great significance to the devotees of the Buddhist faith. Sarnath, along with Lumbini, Bodhgaya, and Kushinagar, is one of the four cornerstones of Buddhist pilgrimage activities.
Today the site has expanded and features several important sites including the Dhamek Stupa, Chaukhandi Stupa and an Ashoka Pillar, was no less a personality than the mighty Emperor Ashoka, who had converted to Buddhism after the bloody Kalinga War, came here to pay his respects.
Why you will love it
- Visiting the spot where one of the ancient world’s leading religions first took shape
- Paying your respects at the historic spiritual sites here
- Learning about the significance of this great religious movement which even changed an ambitious, warmongering emperor
What you will experience
The past and present come together in this serene spot where a once troubled prince having left home after a lifelong quest found the peace of Enlightenment–and shared that precious knowledge with a handful of companions. They became his first disciples and were chosen by him to be the first Buddhist Sangha.
Set here amidst immaculate greenery in the Archaeological and Excavation Area the massive Dhamek Stupa is a towering cylindrical building dating back to the 3rd BCE. It was commissioned by Emperor Ashoka after he arrived here on a pilgrimage. It marks the exact spot where Buddha delivered that first sermon. A Sound and Light Show is also held here now. The complex also features four monastic ruins. Of interest here too are the Gupta dynasty reliefs depicting the life of Buddha, railings from the Sunga period, and statues of Tara and other deities.
The Ashoka Pillar with its legendary four-headed-lion capital (presently the Indian national emblem) too marks that historic pilgrimage. The capital, which broke off from the main pillar, is now housed in the wonderful Archaeological Museum which also houses other fascinating finds from the site.
The brick-work Chaukhandi Stupa was commissioned by Raja Todarmal’s son Govardhan in 1552, to commemorate the visit of the Mughal emperor Humayun. The stupa is said to mark the spot where Buddha met with the five ascetics who later became the nucleus of the first Buddhist Sangha chosen by him personally to spread the new faith.
As you tour other hotspots such as the Moolgandh Kuti Vihar,a monastery built in 1931 with the help of the international Buddhist community, you will delve deeper into the significance of Sarnath for Buddhists through the tales recounted by the storyteller who is your companion on the tour.
Sarnath is now a major centre of Buddhist studies. It also hosts temples commissioned by several Buddhist nations. The Mahabodhi Society Temple, a brick built structure, dates to the Gupta period. It features beautiful frescoes, and vignettes from Buddha’s life and times. Some relics of the Buddha have been enshrined here. It also features a descendant of the original Mahabodhi tree from Bodhgaya under which Buddha achieved Enlightenment.