Although Sarnath is just 13 kms away from Varanasi it can take up to 2 hours to reach due to unruly traffic.
It is a very important place for both Buddhists and Jains. It was here, in the deer park where Gautama Buddha first taught the Dharma to his five disciples named Kaundinya, Bashpa, Bhadrika, Mahanaman and Ashvajit after he attained enlightenment at Bodh Gaya.
According to a legend Buddha was a leader of herd of deer in his previous births and had saved the life of a doe. The king of Banaras, before whom he appeared was moved by the Buddha’s sacrifice and made a free roaming ground for deer or mrigdava. The current name Sarnath is a short version of Saranganath (Lord of deer).
Among the various things to see in Sarnath is the museum, which showcases the Buddhist Cultural wealth, recovered from the site of Lord Buddha’s first sermon. It also houses the Ashoka Pillar, the national emblem of India. The 50 m high pillar was carved out of stone to mark the visit of Emperor Ashoka to Sarnath. The pillar depicts four lions on the top, standing back to back and a wheel, the Ashoka Chakra, on the platform beneath the lions. The pillar also depicts a bull, a lion, an elephant and a horse symbolising four different phases of the life of Gautama Buddha. Sadly cameras are not allowed inside the museum, so no pictures.
Another structure to see is the Dhammek Stupa. It was built in brick and stone during the Maurya Dynasty. The lower part of the Stupa is built of stone and is known for its intricate floral carvings.
Dharmarajika Stupa is another attraction. It is believed that it contains Buddha’s bones and was constructed during Ashoka’s reign. It was destroyed by Jagat Singh in 1794 for bricks which he wanted for construction. During demolition he found a casket containing bones and gems. He disposed in the Ganga and kept the gems. There is no record of these gems after that.
There is a fenced-in structure resembling broken cylinders with inscriptions on them. They are the remnants of the Ashoka Pillar.
There are some more ruins which we did not pursue as we were getting late for our return flight.