Sarnath is one of the most revered Buddhist pilgrim centres. It is the Deer Park where Lord Buddha delivered his first sermon, sanctified as Maha Dharma Chakra Pravartan (meaning ‘set in Motion the Wheel of Law’), after attaining Enlightenment at BodhGaya in Bihar. Sarnath is located 13 kilometers north-east of Varanasi, in Uttar Pradesh, India.
The celebrated Mantra, ‘Buddham Sharanam Gachhami’, owes its origin to Sarnath. It is said that on the day before his death, Buddha included Sarnath along with Lumbini, Bodh Gaya and Kushinagar as the four places he thought to be sacred for his followers. This has made Sarnath one of the most venerated Buddhist places.
The Emperor Ashoka, who spread Lord Buddha’s message of love and compassion throughout his vast empire, visited Sarnath around 234 BC, and erected a Stupa here. Several Buddhist structures were raised at Sarnath between the 3rd century BC and the 11th century AD, and today it presents the most expansive ruins amongst places on the Buddhist trail. Sarnath is an exceedingly tranquil place. The ruins (Stupas), the museum and temple are all within walking distance.
The many Buddhist monuments and edifices in Sarnath, include the Dhamekha Stupa, the Chaukhandi Stupa & monasteries and temples of different schools of Buddhism from China, Tibet, Myamar, Japan. The Indian Buddhist society called ‘Mahabodhi Society’ maintains a park around the Buddha temple. The Mahabodhi Temple within the park has a tooth relic of the Buddha.
Sarnath also has a number of twentieth century Buddhist temples. Many of these Buddhist temples have been built and maintained by monks from Tibet, China and Japan but the main Buddhist temple is the Mulagandhakuti Vihar. The main shrine (vihara), called the Mulagandakuti, is said to be located at the place where Buddha used to stay during his visits to Sarnath. The temple has a carved sandstone railing inside the temple. ‘Mulagandhakuti Vihara’ or the modern Buddhist temple is 110 feet high with an image of Buddha inside it. Buddhist relics discovered at Taxila are enshrined in this ‘Mulagandhkuti Vihara’. There are also fine paintings on the walls of this temple by Japanese artist Kosetsu Nosu.