Dhamekh Stupa Sarnath
Sarnath is one amongst the four holy places associated with the life of Lord Buddha. This is the place where Buddha, after attaining enlightenment at Bodhgaya, preached his first sermon to his five erstwhile companions. This event in Buddhist literatures is known as Dharma-Chakra-Parvartana or The Turning of the wheel of Law, Foundation of the very first Buddhist Sangha was also laid over hereby Lord Buddha himself. In Buddhist texts, the place is recorded as Rishipatana or Issipatana and Mrigadava or Mrigadaya Saranganath (Lord of Deers), Still Borne by the Mahadeva enshrined in a temple nearby. The place is held equally holy by the Jains, as being the venue of the austerities and the death of Sreyansanatha, the eleventh Tirthankara. The archeological importance of the site was first brought to light by Mr Duncan and Cole Mackenzie during 1798 A.D which was followed by a series of excavations by Alexander Cunnigham (1835-38), major Kittoe (1851-52), Mr F.O Oertel (1904-05), Sir John Marshal (1907), M.H Hargreaves (1914-15) and lastly by Dayaram Sahani. These excavations have unearthed a number of monasteries, stupas, temples, inscription sculptures and other antiquities dating from 3rd century B.C to 12th century A.D noteworthy among them are Chaukhandi Stupa, Dharmrajika Stupa, Dhameksh Stupa, Mulungandha Kuti, An Ashokan Pillar and the Lion Capital , Dharma-chakra, Jin-Vihara, other monasteries, cluster of votive stupas and a large number of sculptures. The archeological survey of India has maintained a site museum close by, which houses the sculptures, inscriptions and other objects of interest, recovered from the excavations.
Dharmarajika Stupa Site
Dharmarajika Stupa was built by Ashoka to enshrine the relics of Lord Buddha in view of the redistribution of the relic and to enshrine them. In a number of stupas at different places, it is referred, that king Ashoka opened seven original relic stupas (but for Ramgram stupa guarded by the Nagas) and collected relics to erect thousands of stupas and Dharmarajika stupa is one of them. As concluded by the excavations, originally it was a small stupa of 13.49 meters in Diameter, subsequently it was enlarged in six different phases, by raising the height, providing circumabulatory path-latter on shaped as Medhi, with monolithic stair cases at four cardinal directions to climb over it, as per available record this huge structure was unfortunately pulled down by Jagat Sing, A Diwan of Raja Chet Singh, king of Banaras, during 1794 A.D in order to exploit building materials. In this tragic event a relic casket of green marble inside a stone box was discovered. The box is preserved in the Indian Museum Calcutta, whereas the casket was thrown into River Ganges, Later on during archaeological excavation two outstanding images viz the colossal Bodhisattva of Kusana period in Red sand stone and an image of seated Buddha in Dharmachakra pravatana mudra of Gupta period were also recovered from the periphery of this stupa.
Ruins of Monasteries at Sarnath
This monolithic railing made of Chunar Sandstone, which bears the typical Mauryan polish, was discovered by Mr Oertel during excavation in the year 1904-05. Each side of this square railing measures 2.54 meter in length and 1.45 meter in height, probably it was originally placed at the top of Dharmarajika stupa. It bears two inscriptions of about 3rd century B.C which refer to the teachers of Sarvastivadin sect.
this is the remnant of a huge temple which probably represents the spot where Lord Buddha used to sit in meditation. According to Hiuen-Tsang its height was 61.0 meters. It's thick walls were obviously meant for supporting a lofty super structure. The temple was raised on a square platform. Each side measuring 18.29 meters. The entrance was towards the east with a rectangular Mandapa. In the front there was a long open courtyard. On the basis of its architectural style, Brick moulding and other decorative patterns, The temple appears to be constructed during the Gupta period.
Remains of Ashokan Pillar Sarnath
These are the fragment of a 15.25 meter high monolithic pillar created by the mauryan emperor Ashoka (272-232 BC) made of Chunar sand stone. These bear the typical mauryan polish. The cylindrical shaft is slightly tapering with a diameter of 0.71 meter at the base and 0.56 meter at the top. It was once surmounted by the famous four addorsed example of Mauryan art (Now the National Emmblem of Govt of India) and displayed in the site museum. 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 schism in the sangha. Next mention the 40th year of the Kushana king Asvaghosha of Kaushambi and the third is in early Gupta Brahmi script refers to the teachers of the sammitiya sect and the Vastiputrak School.
Dharma Chakra Jina Vihar
According to an inscribed stone slab found during excavation at the site, this imposing monastery was donated by Kumari devi the Buddhist queen of Govinda Chandra, a Gahadwala king of Kannauj (1114-1115 A.D). The area excavated so far measures 232 meter east to west having two gateways towards the east which are 88.45 meter apart from each other. The basement of the monastery is raised to the height of 2.44 meter and constructed of neatly chiseled bricks and decorated with elegant moldings on both the inner and outer faces. At the Western proximity of the complex is a covered passage or tunnel is 54.78 meter long with its side walls 1.83 meter. In height the entire complex was constructed over the ruins of several earlier monasteries.
According to an inscription dated 1026 A.D recovered from the site, its old name was Dharma Chakra Stupa. It is perhaps commemorating the spot where Lord Buddha preached his first sermon. In search of the relic casket Alexander Cunnigham bored a vertical shaft through its center down to the foundation level and at a depth of 91.4 cms. He found a slab which the inscription " Ye Dharma Hetu Prabhava Hetu"... Written in Brahmi Script of 6th-7th century A.D. Further below he traced out a stupa made of Mauryan bricks. However, the present diameter of this solid cylindrical tower is 28.5 meters at the base and 33.35 meters in height. Its total height is 42.60 meters including the foundation. The structure consists of a circular stone drum upto the height of 11.20 meters from the ground above which, rises the cylindrical mass of brick work about 6.0 meters above the base, eight niches are provided in eight directions which must have contained images of Buddha. Below them runs sa broad course of beautifully carved stones having geometric designs, swastika, leaf and floral patterns combined with birds and human figures.
Mulagandhakuti Vihara, Buddhist temple at Sarnath
Mulagandha Kuty Vihara (4:00 AM to 11:30 AM, 1:30 PM to 7:30 PM), the prime place of worship by world Buddhist community was constructed by Anagarika Dharampala, a noble son of Sri Lanka and founder of the Maha Bodhi society of India. It was inaugurated in 1931 and enshrined the sacred relics of Sakyamuni Buddha. It is located in the Isipatana Deer Park at the eastern side from that place where Buddha preached first sermon. Its wall paintings on Buddha's important episode of life, done by famous Japanese artist Kosetsu Nosu during the years 1932-1936. The exposition of the sacred relics for the public and its annual procession around Sarnath falls on Kartik Purnima, full moon day in the month of November.
Golden Foils at Sarnath
Archeological Museum Sarnath (5 INR, 10 AM to 5 PM, Friday closed): This excellent museum showcases well preserved objects retrieved from the excavations. Some of these are as old as 3rd century B.C. Unearthed Buddha images are also in display. Most of these images are mutilated though but quite fascinating for those having inclination in archaeology. Museum is a must visit. Photography is prohibited inside museum complex.