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The Ghats The Temples Other Universities Excursions

Excursions around Varanasi

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Monasteries

To see...

Chaukhandi

Stupas

Main Shrine

Ashoka Pillar

Mulgandh Kuti

Monasteries

Archaeological Museum

Sarnath had a number of monasteries before it was devastated by succeeding Muslim armies. The viharas (monasteries) generally conformed to a pattern­a central, open courtyard flanked by pillared verandahs on all four sides. The shrine faced the entrance portico, and cells, for monks to live and meditate in, were built on the other two sides.

Hiuen Tsang described one of the monasteries thus: "In eight divisions all enclosed within one wall with tiers of balconies and rows of halls, extremely artistic, inhabited by 1500 monks of the Sammitiya School... within the great enclosing wall was a temple above 61 m high surmounted by an embossed gilt amra. (mango); the base and the steps were of stone; in the brick portion above were more than 100 rows of niches each containing a gilt image of the Buddha; inside the temple was a bellmetal image of the Buddha in the attitude of preaching, as large as life".

Seven such monasteries have been excavated in Sarnath. The most remarkable of these is the Dharmachakra Jina Vihara which marked the final phase of ancient Sarnath's glory as a living centre of Buddhism. It was built in the 12th century by Kumaradevi of the Gahadanala dynasty, a pious Buddhist and the queen of Govindachandra, King of Mannauj, Ayodhya and Varanasi.

There is a monastery at the western limit of the Dharmachakra Jina Vihara and another in front of its eastern entrance. There is also a third monastery in the vicinity, near the southern boundary wall of the Dharmachakra Jina Vihara.

Of the three other monasteries, two are at the beginning of the inspection path, one on either side of the road, and the third to the west of Dhamektl Stupa. Available archaeological evidence places these six monasteries in the Kushan and Gupta periods.

The magnificent meditation halls have crumbled long ago and only the basements of the monasteries remain. But devotees and tourists throng Sarnath as in days of old, for, in its ruins, a faith still lives and an ancient glory still glows.