About 13km from Varanasi, the historic town of Sarnath is where Gautama Buddha first taught Dharma. It is on its way to soon becoming a World Heritage Site, after being on the tentative list of UNESCO for the longest time.
Known by other names such as Mrigadava, Migadāya, Rishipattana and Isipatana, Sarnath is visited by travellers and followers of Buddhism from all over the world. The place is also important for the followers of Jainism; the village of Singhpur, which is the birthplace of the eleventh Tirthankara of Jainism, Shreyansanath, is barely a kilometre away.
When you’re in Sarnath, keep at least half a day to explore all its temples and ruins. Start with the Dhamek Stupa (built in 500 AD) where Buddha first taught Dharma after receiving Bodhisattva. It’s a tall cylindrical building built with bricks and stone. The stone carvings, inscriptions and sculptures on the stupa are exemplary of the abilities of the artisans of that era.
Next, head to the Chaukhandi Stupa, that marks the exact spot where Lord Buddha first met his disciples. It was built between the 4th-6th centuries and was later given an octagonal edifice to welcome the visit of the Mughal ruler Humayun.
End the tour of Sarnath with a visit to the Sarnath Archeological Museum. Maintained by the Archeological survey of India, it is one of the oldest sites of the organisation. The museum houses the famous sculpture of the Lion Capital of Ashoka; also India’s national emblem. Most of the antiquities stored here date between the 3rd – 12th century; the artefacts, manuscripts all related to Buddhism. If you have the time, also visit the many temples and monasteries in the vicinity.
If you’re planning a trip to Varanasi, be sure to include Sarnath in the itinerary. It will be an enriching experience; especially for those who have a knack for ancient history.