ll   VARANASI ...places of interest ll

 ll  The City  ll  The Geography  ll  The Climate  ll  The People  ll  The Culture  ll  The Lifestyle  ll  The Festivals  ll  The Handicrafts  ll  The Art and Architecture  ll  The Music and Dance  ll  The Famous Folks  ll  The Economy  ll  The Shopping  ll  How to get there  ll  The Ganga  ll  Places Of Interest   ll 

The Ghats The Temples Other Universities Excursions

Excursions around Varanasi

  ll  Sarnath  ll  Ramnagar  ll  Surroundings  ll  Buddhist Circuit  ll

ll  Sarnath  ll

To see...



Main Shrine

Ashoka Pillar

Mulgandh Kuti


Archaeological Museum

Ancient Buddhist scriptures and the Jatakas refer to Sarnath as Rishipatna (the town of sages) and Mrigadaya (Deer Park). One legend states that Sarnath was the place where 500 Buddhist rishis died after attaining nirvana (the state of enlightenment). Another describes it as the forest where herds of deer roamed without fear, for they had been promised impunity by a legendary king ofVaranasi. Its present name is derived from, probably, Saranganatha, meaning Lord of the Deer, a name of the Buddha in one of his previous births, when he was born as a deer.

Sarnath is one of the four holiest places of Buddhist pilgrimage, for it was here that the Buddha first preached his doctrine to the world - an act referred to as Dharmachakra Pravartana (setting the Wheel of Law in motion). The three other sacred places of the Buddhist world are Lumbini in Nepal, where Lord Buddha was born, Bodh Gaya in Bihar where he attained Enlightenment, and Kusinagara, also in Uttar Pradesh and 259 km from Varanasi, where he died.

Sarnath was a little-known woodland, familiar only to the deer whose favourite haunt itwas, till Buddha came here in 532 B.C., in search offive of his erstwhile companions who had begun their search for Truth at the same time as him, but had not yet attained Enlightenment. They became Buddha's first disciples and first monks of the Sangha (order or monks) which he later formed.

Hiuen Tsang, who visited Sarnath in 640 A.D., during the reign of Harshavardhana, found a sangharama (monastery) with 1500 resident monks following the Sammitiya school of Hinayana Buddhism. His account also stresses that Buddhism was the reigning religion. The tone, for this supremacy enjoyed by Buddhism was set by all the emperors who ruled Sarnath before Harsha, starting from Asoka who had employed all the resources at his disposal to spread the message of Buddha to many countries.

Asoka built several stupas to commemorate the places associated with Buddha and erected pillars with Buddha's teachings inscribed on them. He sent monks in all directions, over land and across the seas, to preach the message of Buddha. This hectic activity to promote Buddhism, which began 200 years after Buddha, went on under the Sungas, the Kushans and the Guptas who followed the Mauryas. Sarnath continued to prosper till the middle of the 12th century, when succeeding dynasties of Muslim Sultans began destroying its buildings and monuments.

Sarnath remained buried under massive layers of earth till late in the 18th century when Jonathan Duncan, the British Resident of Banaras mentioned earlier, published a report about the discovery of a casket of green marble inside a stone box found when excavating a solitary mound rising about the surrounding debris. This discovery, in what was later found to be the Dharmarajika stupa, generated a lot of interest and soon Government of India archaeologists commenced major excavations, exposing a number of monuments - stupas, temples and other buildings, - most of them dilapidated, but nevertheless revealing - and restoring - the Sarnath's lost glory.