Just 10 km from Varanasi is Sarnath, a vital centre of the Buddhist world. It was in a quiet grove here, in the sixth century BC, that Siddhartha Gautama - who came to be known as the Buddha, the 'Awakened One', delivered his first sermon, after attaining enlightenment, and set in motion the wheel of law, the Dharmachakra. Also known as 'Rishipatana', the place of the Rishis or sages, or 'Mrigadaya', the deer park, the name is derived from Saranganatha, the lord of the deer. In the sylvan surroundings of this deer park, the Buddha initiated his first five disciples into Buddhist monkhood. Buddhism, truly speaking, germinated in Sarnath. 

Buddhism in India, floundered under the impact of Muslim invasions, and the rise of Hinduism. Much of the sites were in ruins, for almost a millenium, except for the Dhamekh Stupa. Prey to vandalism and pilfering, Sarnath remained abandoned until 1834, when the British archaeologists excavated the site in 1836. Today, it is once more an important Buddhist centre, and its avenues house missions from all over the Buddhist world.

Places To See 

Dhamekh Stupa

Believed to date from 500 AD, the Dhamekh stupa, the largest in the region, marks the spot, where the Buddha proclaimed his faith.

Ashok Pillar

Records the visit of Emperor Ashoka to Sarnath, in the 3rd century BC.

Choukhandi Stupa

The dilapidated brick remains of the Stupa, date from the Gupta period, and is said to be the site, where the Buddha was reunited with his five disciples, who had previously deserted him. Standing on a terraced rectangular plinth, the Stupa is capped by an incongruous octagonal Moghul tower, built by Emperor Akbar to commemorate his father's visit to the place.

Mulagandha Kuti Vihar

Built in 1931 by the Mahabodhi society, the entrance of the vihara, is dominated by a huge bell, a gift from Japan, and the interior contains a beautiful life-size golden image of the Buddha, and colourful murals and frescoes painted by a Japanese artist. 

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