History of Sarnath
Gautama Buddha came to Sarnath after attaining enlightenment at Bodh Gaya and selected the deer park to deliver his maiden sermon and also set the Dharma chakra in motion. Buddha met his former companions who were into extreme austerities. They felt that Buddha was a mere ordinary man with well-nourished sustenance and thought that he is not worth their respect. To this Buddha commented that austerities confuse people, making them unable to understand ordinary things of life and hence, he had chosen a middle way, maintaining an equal distance from both luxury and austerities. Motivated by his speech, all the five men became his first disciples. Thus, it started a monastic tradition in Sarnath that spanned over 1,500 years.
Emperor Asoka, who was a great Buddhist follower of 3rd century BC, erected a column 15.24 meters in height, in Sarnath. This column, depicting four lions and a chakra is now famous as the Lion Capital of Asoka. The lions in the column symbolize Ashoka’s majestic rule and also his devotion to the Buddha. This symbol was later adopted as the National Emblem of India. Qutb-ud-din Aibak, the Turkish ruler, invaded Sarnath and completely destroyed the village. The only 6th century Stupa, the Dhamek Stupa survived.
Major Attractions of Sarnath
There are many sacred places to visit in Sarnath. The Dhamek Stupa is considered to be the first sacred place to receive the holy voice of Lord Buddha when he delivered his discourse. This is considered to be a very holy place. Mulagandhakuti Vihara is a temple where the Buddha spent the first rainy season in meditation. According to the writings of a 7th century writer, the original structure was a huge building with a height of 200 feet and contained 100 niches with Buddha carving along each wall. The Deer Park, which is now maintained as an open animal park, still has herds of deer. The spot where the Buddha met his first disciples is marked by the Chaukhandi Stupa. This Stupa was under restoration recently and is said to date back to the 5th century or even earlier. Other popular attractions at Sarnath include the Dharmarajika Stupa, the Sri Lankan Mahabodhi Society, the Ashoka Pillar, the Sarnath Archaeological Museum and a Bodhi tree grown from the cut branch of the original Bodhi tree where Gautama was enlightened.
How to Reach Sarnath
Varanasi airport, which is the nearest airport to Sarnath, is located at a distance of 24 kilometers and is connected to the rest of the country.
Though there is a railway station in Sarnath, only a few train stops there as it is a small station. The nearest major rail station is the Varanasi cantonment railway station located at a distance of 6 kilometers from Sarnath.
Sarnath is connected to rest of India by roads. Long distance buses usually arrive at Varanasi from where you can board a local bus or a taxi to reach Sarnath.
One need not be a Buddhist to visit Sarnath. Anyone who likes to soak in centuries of history is sure to have a nice time over here. Sarnath is also a place where one can meet people of many cultures where Buddhism is the dominant religion. This holy land is truly worth visiting at least once in a lifetime.