Sarnath : The Land of the Enlightened One

Dear Children!

On vacation you go with your parents to some tourist place. Our country has many such places where not only we go but numerous foreign tourists go also.

Children! Tourism fosters our cultural and natural heritage and this keeps them viable. This keeps our cultural tradition dynamic and free from stagnation. It develops our society, culture and mind. When we travel to different places, meet different people and their cultures, it broadens our minds, breaking down the walls of caste,creed and regions. It helps us realize the aphorism ” vasudhaiva kutumbakam”, the world is a family widening our horizon. It helps multifarious development of our personality.

Sarnath is a unique tourist place attracting many tourists. Buddhists from all over come to see their sacred place, where Lord Buddha delivered his first sermon to his five disciples. Its old name was Mrigadava, i.e.” the forest of deer”. According to Buddhist literature, flocks of deer roamed, protected by the king of Kashi. Living at Sarnath, Buddha crossing the Varuna would walk down to Kashi to beg. Here Buddha established his first Sangha with Yash , son of a wealthy merchant of Kashi, his 54 friends and pachavargiya; monks he sent them to different places to spread Buddhism. The first Sangha was formed in Sarnath.

There are ancient archaeological remain here; stupa, museum, the Saraganath temple of Shiva, and many temples built by different Buddhist countries are worth visiting. After witnessing the large scale killing of people in Kalinga battle of 3 B.C, Emperor Ashoka vowed to renounce war and became a follower of Buddha. He built Dharma Rajika Stupa, the lion capital, and many memorials. According to chinese traveler Fa-Hien there were two stupas and four monasteries here. The glory of Sarnath continued till the reign of Kumargupta and Skandgupta. In the seventh century, during the reign of king Harsha, Huen Tsang visited Sarnath. According to him many monks lived here. There was a 61 meter high temple with a beautiful idol of Buddha. The Queen of Kannauj Kumar Devi was a Buddhist and built the Dharma Chakra Jin Vihara in 12th century.

The Modern world came to know of Sarnath in 1794 when Raja Chet Singh’s Divan Babu Jagat Singh demolished the Dharmarajika Stupa in search of construction material and used it to build the locality of Jagatganj in Benaras City. Inside the Stupa was a casket containing Buddha’s corporal relics. Col. Machenzie and later is 1936, Mr. Alexander Cunningham excavated the spot.

On the left and the right of the present remains are two viharas; a little further on north is the Dharmarajika Stupa built by Ashoka. Now, only its foundation remains. Inside it were Buddha’s relics. It was renovated many times. The two famous statues of Buddha were found here. One a huge statue of Budhisatva from the Kaniska period and the other of Buddha in “dharma charka pravartan” posture, the best in Sarnath. Now they are kept in the museum here.

About 20 meters north to the Stupa was the main temple, the Mulgandh Kuti Temple where Buddha would meditate. The grandeur of the temple can be imagined by the ruins around it and breath of the walls.   Near the southern wall is a vedika of the Maurya period built by Ashoka,it is carved out of a single stone. It is still shining; a characteristic of Ashokan period art. In the east is a long courtyard extending upto the Dhamekh stupa; it is full of small and big holy stupas and chaityas. To the west is the pillar of Ashoka, now broken in pieces. The pillar is inscribed with a royal edict, saying “if a monk or a nun causes dissension in the sangha, he/she will be condemned and banished”, forced to wear a white cloth. The pillar also contains writings from Kushan and Gupta period. On the east of the vast courtyard is the round Stupa called Dhamak or Dharmachakra; the Stupa is covered on all sides with ornamental stone slabs containing swastikas, floral fetters and different figures. Gupta artisans excelled in ornamentations with lines and creepers.

Cunningham excavated at the centre of the stupa and found an ancient remain in it. According to scholars perhaps Buddha delivered his first sermon here. Its grand ornamentation shows its importance among buildings here and people venerated it as the religious body of Buddha.

Coming out of the southern main gate from the ruins , one comes across the famous lion capital of Ashok which was a part of the pillar. It is now our national emblem. The four lions on it facing four direction are symbolic of lord Buddha looking in every direction. At the top is a wheel with 32 spokes whose broken remains are extinct. Four animals at the base are between four dharma charkas. Our national flag containing religious wheel with 24 spokes is this.

On the right side is the huge image of Bodhisatva established by Tripitakacharya  Bhikshu Bal of Mathura during the reign of kanishka where Lord Buddha would walk. In the north gallery we can see a most beautiful image of Buddha in “dharm charka pravartan” mudra, a unique work of art from the prospective of iconography, aesthetics, and history; it has been lauded by the art critic, A.K.Coomarswamy. Also, there are many statues and edicts ranging from the 3th century B.C. to the 12th century B.C;in the museum you can study with the help of museum officers or recognized guides.

The present Mulgandh kuti vihar temple built in 1931 is the centre of attraction for tourists; it has an image of the Lord, a replica of the famous Gupta period statues. Below the image are physical remains of the Lord found in Takshashila and Gunter. Every year on the full moon day of kartika (October-November) and Vaishakh (May) one may have holy sight of them. The frescoes on the temples walls painted by the Japanese artist Kosetsu Nosu are attractive and depict different episodes from the Lord’s life.

In the east near the temple in the holy bow (Boddhi) tree. The branches of the peepal tree beneath which Siddhartha received enlightenment were planted at Anuradhapura in Sri Lanka by the daughter of Ashoka Sanghamitra, to propagate Buddhism. In 1931 to promote Buddhism, the reverent Anagarika Dhamma Pal of Sri Lanka planted branches of the tree here.

Dear Children! The Buddhists from Thailand, Burma, Srilanka, Korea, China, Japan and Tibat etc,. have build several beautiful temples and viharas  here. You must visit them. And don’t miss the animals and birds here moving freely.

Every year on “Vaishakh purnima” many programs about Buddha’s birth anniversary are scheduced; you can learn much about Buddhist culture. Sarnath is the holiest place for Buddhists in the entire world.