(The place where Buddha set the Dhamma rolling)
Sarnath, is located around 10 km from the ancient city of Varanasi and is one of the most important centers of pilgrimage for the Buddhists. It was here in Sarnath, where Buddha preached his first sermon and the Dhammacakkra was set rolling through the preaching of Dhammacakkapavattana Sutta.
After attaining enlightenment at Uruvela, Budhha was undecided about teaching Dhamma to others, but on inspiration from Brahma Sahampati he set out to teach the five ascetics who have served him for six years but left him after he abandoned the path of self- mortification. These five ascetics were Kondanna, Vappa, Bhaddiya, Mahanama and Assaji.
Budhha reached the Deer park on a full moon night of Asarha month, and that very night he gave his first sermon, the Dhammacakkapavattana Sutta, which led to Kondanna attaining the first stage of sainthood. Later all of them attained the Arahantship after the preaching of Anattalakkhana Sutta. In Sarnath Buddha preached the rich man Yash and his 54 followers and they became Arahants . Later Buddha asked all these 60 Arahants to go in different directions with no two Arahants going on same road, thus establishing the order of monks or Sangha.
Emperor Asoka visited this place in 249 BC and erected several monuments to mark this pilgrimage, including Dhamek Stupa, Dharmarajika Stupa and Asoka Pillar with the lion capital atop, this capital is now India’s national emblem.
Major Attractions in Sarnath:
(Buddhist Pilgrimage Sites)
1. Dhamek Stupa:The Dhamek Stupa is the most imposing structure in Sarnath and is a solid cylindrical tower, 28.50 m in diameter at base and 33.53 m height (excluding foundations) or 42.06 m including the foundation of the Stupa. According to an inscription by Pal king Mahipal I (10th century AD), the original name of Dhamek Stupa was Dhammacakka Stupa. The Dhamek Stupa is a memorial Stupa to mark the second sermon of Buddha called Anattalakkhana Sutta hearing which all five ascetics attained Arahantship.
2. Dharmarajika Stupa: The original Dharmarajika stupa was built by Asoka and was later enlarged in six stages. The original structure was 13.49 meters in diameter, but was pulled out by Jagat singh in 1794 (the minister of Benaras ) to take out the bricks for constructing houses of a new township named after him. He found the bodily relics of Buddha and threw them into the river Ganges. This is the only relic stupa of Sarnath, Dhamek being the memorial stupa. This is supposed to be the place where Budhha gave his first sermon (Dhammacakkapavattana Sutta) to the five ascetics.
3. Mulagandhakuti: Mulagandhkuti or the first perfumed chamber is the place where Buddha spent his first rainy retreat. It was gifted to Buddha by the rich man named Nandiya. The building is square shaped , 18.29 m along each side. The mulgandhkuti , according to Hieun Tsang was about 61 m high. The area between the Mulagandhkuti and the Dharmarajika Stupa is believed to be the site where Buddha used to perform his walking meditations or Cankama.
4. Asoka Pillar: on the west side of Mulgandhkuti stands Asokan Pillar , 2.03 m in height . The original pillar was 5.25 meter high with Lion Capital at the top, which is now the national emblem of India. The dharmachakra fitted above the heads of the four lions, inserted into a groove in the centre, crowned the capital. This is the place where Buddha assembled all sixty Arahants before directing them to go in different directions to spread the Dhamma.
5. Pancayatna: The sunken shrine of Pancayatna, near the Dharmarajika stupa is believed to be the place where Buddha preached the rich man Yash and his followers.
6. Chaukhandi: Chaukhandi refers to remains of an ancient stupa, which was erected to commemorate the place where Buddha stood to let the five ascetics see him when he came to Sarnath from Uruvela. It is a brick structure crowned with an octagonal tower, built by Mughal king Akbar to commemorate a visit of Humayun to Sarnath for one day.
7. Sarnath Archeological Museum: This museum has one of the finest collections of ancient Buddhist relics. As part of its exhibition it houses the renowned Asoka lion capital, the Boddhisattva image, Buddha’s life panels, the preaching Buddha statue and much more.
8. Buddhist Temples , Monasteries and Mediation Centers: There are numerous Buddhist temples , monasteries and mediation centers from different Buddhist countries around Sarnath which one must visit. The Buddhist temples include the Burmese temple, the Chinese temple, the Tibetan temple , the Japanese temple, the Korean temple and the Vietnam temple.