Sarnath is a small village in Uttar Pradesh near Varanasi. Its chief claim to fame is the deer park where Gautama Buddha first preached dharma. It is also the place where the first Sangha was formed. Given the strong Buddhist roots, Sarnath is one of the four main Buddhist pilgrimage destinations in India.
In fact, it was here in Sarnath that the great Indian Emperor Ashoka also commissioned several stupas and the famous Ashoka Pillar which is one of the few remaining pillars dating to his reign. The four lions from this pillar are today the national emblem of India. The wheel from the pillar occupies the pride of place in our national flag.
Several excavations have been carried out since 1907, and many ancient monuments and structures have been unearthed that throw light on the birth and evolution of Buddhism in northern India.
Sarnath is home to several Buddhist structures and monuments some of them dating back to the second century BC. The village is the focal point of Buddhist pilgrims, visitors, historians and archaeologists who come here to study the monuments and unravel the ancient scripts of the engravings on these structures.
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The deer park attracts a fair share of visitors given that it was here that Buddha preached the dharma. In fact, the Dhamekh Stupa in the Deer Park marks the exact location where he delivered his message of the eight-fold path.
There are several other stupas in Sarnath including Chaukhandi Stupa that houses the calcinated bones of Buddha. The Archaeological and Excavation Area contains several ancient monuments unearthed over a period of time including the Ashoka Pillar.
The Sarnath Museum also houses artefacts found during the excavations. The Mulagandha Kuti Vihar is a more recent addition, built by the Maha Bodhi society in 1931. There is also a Thai Temple and Kagyu Tibetan Monastery that are also worth a visit.
Sarnath is well connected by road and railways.
The best period to visit Sarnath is from November to March when the weather is pleasant and mild. The summer months tend to get hot and dry.