Tourist Spots in Sarnath

Chaukhandi Stupa

Chaukhandi Stupa is the place where the Buddha first met his 5 companions or followers at Sarnath and said to be built originally as a terraced temple in 4th to 6th century during the Gupta period. Chaukhandi Stupa is a brick structure crowned with an octagonal tower. According to the famous Chinese traveller Hiuen-Tsang, this was the tallest stupa at that time in the region. The octagonal tower was added to the structure during the reign of the Mughal Emperor Akbar in 1588, to honour the refuge given to Humayun in Sarnath.

Dhamek Stupa

Lord Buddha delivered the first discourse of his Dhamma and the famous eight-fold path at a deer park in Sarnath. This place is marked by the Dhamek Stupa, which is a solid, cylindrical, brick structure. It is 43.6 m high and 28 m in diameter. The original foundation of Dhamek Stupa was laid during Ashoka’s reign and is still unharmed, the stupa was re-built in the 5th century and many modifications and additions have been made from time to time. As per inscription recovered from the site of Dhamek Stupa, the structure was known as the Dharma Chakra Stupa, which over the years changed to its present name. There are 8 niches in the stupa, which might have contained images of the Buddha. There is a broad strip just below the niches that has beautifully carved designs like geometrical patterns, leaves, flowers, animals, swastikas, human figures etc.

Dharmarajika Stupa

Another significant structure at Sarnath is the remains of the Dharmarajika Stupa which according to archaeologists contained the bones of Buddha. Constructed during Ashoka’s reign, the stupa is believed to have been destroyed by Jagat Singh in 1794 to obtain bricks for construction. During demolition, a casket containing bones and gems were recovered from the ruins. Jagat Singh got the bones disposed off in River Ganga and gems went missing and have not been traced till now. The casket is presently displayed at Indian Museum, Kolkata.

Mulagandha Kuti Vihara

It is estimated that nearly 3,000 monks used to live in monasteries near the site of the Dhamek Stupa during the Gupta period. This site is represented by the ruins of the Mulagandha Kuti Vihara. Numerous ancient inscriptions speak about community of Buddhist monks in Sarnath from 200 BC onwards. The Gupta period (400-600) saw manifold spread of Buddhism as well as heightened creativity in arts.

Ashoka Pillar

Amidst the ruins, fenced-in structure that resembles broken cylinders with inscriptions on them are the remnants of the Ashoka Pillar, one of the most important structures at Sarnath. Emperor Ashoka built a series of pillars throughout India and some parts of present Pakistan and Afghanistan but the Pillar in Sarnath is probably the grandest of all. Originally Sarnath Pillar stood at 12.25 m, having a diameter of 0.71 m at the base and 0.56 at the top and was placed with four back to back lions at the top. The famous Ashoka Chakra topped this structure. Ashoka pillar was broken during Turk invasions. The Ashoka Pillar was discovered during excavations in 1904 at Sarnath. The excavators also found fragments of the Dharmachakra /Ashoka Chakra around the Ashoka pillar. Wheel fragments of Ashoka Pillar along with other things have been exhibited at Sarnath Archaeological Museum. The Ashoka pillar stands in front of the main stupa where Ashoka sat and meditated.

Sarnath Archaeological Museum

Sarnath Archaeological Museum is located just across the road is an onsite museum and stocks a number of artifacts  related to Buddhist art as well as many images and sculptures of Hindu Gods recovered during excavations in the region. The museum comprises of five galleries with two verandahs. Some of the prominent artifacts at the musem include a life-sized image of a standing Bodhisattva, a panel depicting Shiva slaying Andhakasura, and the most important being the Lion Capital. Photography is not permitted inside the Sarnath museum.

Mulagandha Kuti Vihara Temple

Mulagandha Kuti Vihara Temple, built by the Sri Lankan Mahabodhi Society, is one of the most famous Buddhist temples in Sarnath. This Mulagandha Kuti Vihara Temple was built in 1931 and houses Buddha’s relics found in Taxila. The relics are displayed every year on Karthik Purnima. The walls of this temple have beautiful paintings depicting the life of the Buddha. These paintings were made in 1932-1935 by a Japanese artist, Kosetu Nasu.

Bodhi Vriksha

Holy Bodhi Vriksha (the Bodhi Tree) is the most sacred tree for Buddhists as Lord Buddha attained enlightenment sitting under this tree. The Bodhi Tree of Sarnath was planted from a branch taken from the Sri Maha Bodhi tree of Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka, which in turn originated from the original tree under which Buddha sat in Bodh Gaya and gained enlightenment 2,500 years ago. This sapling was planted on 12 November 1931 by Sri Devamitta Dhammapala, founder of the Maha Bodhi Society of India, to mark the opening of the Mulagandha Kuti Vihara.

Buddha Statue

The latest addition for tourist attractions at Sarnath is the standing Buddha statue at the Thai Buddha vihar having a height 80 feet. It is the tallest standing Buddha statue. This magnificent statue of Buddha was built over a period of 14 years as a result of Indo-Thai joint effort. It is considered home to India’s tallest statue of Lord Buddha, built in an area of 2.5 acres and consisting of 815 stones.

Other Temples in Sarnath

Other important temples in Sarnath are the Nichigai Suzan Horinji Temple, the Thai temple and the Migadawun Myanmar Temple.