SARANATH
Located just 12 km from the Hindu holy city of Varanasi, is the deer park of Sarnath, where after his enlightenment, the Buddha first preached the Dharma and the Buddhist Sangha first came into existence.
Situated only 12 km from the city of Varanasi, is the deer park of Sarnath, where after his enlightenment, the Buddha first preached the Dharma and the Buddhist Sangha first came into existence. Having spent seven weeks after his enlightenment in Bodhgaya, the Buddha went in search of his five former companions who had earlier deserted him. From his intuition he came to know that they were leading an ascetic life at Isipattana Migadaya, “the deer park of Sarnath”. He found them at the deer park, and here he delivered his first discourse, the Dhammacakkhapavathana Sutta. He explained to his old companions to avoid the two extremes of self-indulgence and self-mortification both of which leads to failure.
The Buddha asked them to avoid both extremes and lead the path of The Middle Way. This can be done by following the Dhamma which is based on the Four Noble Truths i.e., (a) there is suffering; (b) the cause of suffering; (c) the cessation of suffering and (d) the path leading to the cessation of suffering which can be achieved by following the Noble Eightfold Path consisting of Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, Right Concentration, Right Understanding and Right Thought. His companions understood the preaching and immediately became his followers. Thus was set in motion the “Wheel of Dhamma” or “The First Turning of the Wheel of Dharma.” The Buddha spent the subsequent rainy season at Sarnath by which time the Sangha had expanded and had 60 members in its fold. The Buddha sent the members of the Sangha in various directions to preach the Dharma to others.

ATTRACTIONS IN SARNATH

Sarnath was attacked by Turkish Muslims towards the end of the 12th century. The site was plundered for building materials and has since remained in ruins. It was entirely deserted until 1836, when excavations and restoration work of the site was started by the British.
Dhamekha Stupa
Dhamekha stupa is the place where the Buddha sat and delivered his first sermon to his first five disciples, who had earlier accompanied him while he was leading an ascetic life. Standing as high of 31.3 m with a diameter of 28.3 m it is the most remarkable structure at Sarnath. Dhamekha stupa was built by Ashoka the great in 249 B.C., and is made partly out of red bricks and stones. Numerous excavation works have been carried out in and around this structure by Cunningham in early 20th century.

The Stupa’s lower portion is covered entirely with beautifully carved stones. The borders of Dhamekha Stupa are adorned with figures of humans and birds and delicately carved floral designs. The Stupa’s base is made of stone and the upper area of brickwork which in all probability may have once had a carved stone fencing.

Chaukhandi Stupa
Standing on a terraced rectangular plinth, the Stupa is capped by an octagonal tower. The Chaukhandi Stupa marks the place where Lord Buddha reunited with his five followers, who had earlier deserted him in Bodhgaya. Chaukhandi Stupa was originally built as a terraced stupa in the 5th century. An octagonal tower was built on the top of the stupa by Akbar in the year 1588 to commemorate the visit of Humayun, his father, at this shrine. The structure is predominantly made out of bricks and thus, is fragile. Chaukhandi has remained out of the favor of Archeological Survey of India for a long time and has been overshadowed by other renowned monuments in Sarnath.

Ashokan Lion–pillar
Emperor Ashoka had erected many pillars during his rule of which the most famous pillar is the one with the lion capital found at Sarnath built in 250 B.C., also called as "Asoka Column”. The Column still remains in the same place till date whereas the Lion Capital is kept at the Sarnath Museum. The Lion capital found at Saranath consists of four parts from bottom upwards, viz. (a) bell-shaped base covered with inverted lotus leaves, (b) a round abacus adorned with the figures of four animals, an elephant, a horse, a lion and a bull,
(c) four seated front faces of lions emerging from one block, and (d) a crowning dharmachakra with 32 spokes. It was originally placed atop the Asoka pillar at Sarnath. This Lion Capital of Ashoka from Sarnath was in the year 1950 adopted as the National Emblem of India. The wheel, dharmachakra with 32 spokes, also known as "Ashoka Chakra" was placed onto the centre of the Indian National Flag. Its capital measures 2.31 m in height and is carved out of a single block of polished sandstone. The Ashoka Capital found at Saranath has remarkably attached to Indian history and culture with the inclusion of the figures of the lions as the official emblem and inclusion of the Ashoka Chakra in the Indian National flag. Though the Ashoka pillar is in a ruined state, collapsed and mutilated, its ruins still give a feel of its past grandeur.

Deer Park
As has been mentioned in Buddhist literature, Sarnath was known as Mrigadava (the resort of deers) and hundreds of deers lived here in the times of the Buddha. The present Deer Park has been set up as a memorial to the ancient Mrigadava on the occasion of the 2500th Mahaparinirvana day of the Buddha. The park cover an area of a little over 40,000 sq m running along a lake. A number of deers are still preserved in the park by the State Government.

Mulagandha Kuti Vihara (Sri Lankan Maha Bodhi Temple)
Mulagandha Kuti Vihara is a welcome break from architectural monotony in Sarnath. The Maha Bodhi Society built this new temple in the year 1931 which is a grand structure having intricately designed patterns within. The temple is famous for some of the most magnificent and colorful Frescoes made by Japan's foremost painter Kosetsu Nosu. These Frescoes and Murals have rich repositories of Buddhist literature.