Sarnath (Buddhist Pilgrimages )
After attaining enlightenment at Bodh Gaya the Buddha went to Sarnath; and it was here that he preached his first discourse in the deer park to set in motion the 'Wheel of the Dharma'. It is one of the most holy sites as in this place the stream of the Buddha's teaching first flowed.
At this place, the Buddha encountered the five men who had been his companions of earlier austerities. On meeting the enlightened Buddha, all they saw was an ordinary man; they mocked his well-nourished appearance. "Here comes the mendicant Gautama," they said, "who has turned away from asceticism. He is certainly not worth our respect." When they reminded him of his former vows, the Buddha replied, "Austerities only confuse the mind. In the exhaustion and mental stupor to which they lead, one can no longer understand the ordinary things of life, still less the truth that lies beyond the senses. I have given up extremes of either luxury or asceticism. I have discovered the Middle Way". Hearing this the five ascetics became the Buddha's first disciples.
Just 10 Kilometers away from sacred Hindu city; Varanasi, the sacred most city for Buddhist world lies. It is also mentioned as Isipattan ( Rhishipattan in Sanskrit ) where Rishis ( sages ) used to land from Himalaya for the pilgrimage to Kashi ( the city of illumination, the city of light ), and Mrigday in Jatak tales which deals with one of the previous life of Buddha, when He was here as the king of deers. Sarangnath may also have derived from the world Sarang ( deer) Nath ( master / king ). Buddha spent six rainy season here including the very first one, when he formed Buddha Sangha.
Emperor Ashok constructed three memorial stupa ( Mool Gandh kuti, the place where Buddha used to stay in Sarnath; fragrant cottage, Dhammek stupa; the place of first sermon and Chaukhandi stupa; the meeting place with first five disapples. Moolgandh kuti later take the shape of 180 feet high & huge temple. He also constructed a relic stupa; Dharmarajika stups and some monasteries . The place was renovated many times from Kanishka ( 1t cent. A.D. till Kumar Devi, a queen of Kannauj ( 12th Cent. A.D.) and many other monasteries were added for pilgrims in which Dharmachakrajin Vihara is note worthy built by Kumar Devi. But after this period all destroyed during Muslim invasion Sarnath remain hidden from the world until 1876, when Jagat Singh, a minister of Kashi state open Dharmarajika stupa to use its beautifully carved stones for his house. He found a green Marvel casket which contained another metal casket with Buddha relics. Marvel casket is still in Kolkata museum but metal casket was thrown to Ganges river and could never found again.
In 1835, the place was well identified by British Archeologist Alexander Cunningham, but excavation started in 1905 only and same year one museum was constructed here to in-house the objects founded here. The four lion capital ( now National Emblem of India ), Statue of Bodhisatva with huge carved umbrella ( 1st Cent. A.D.), Image of Buddha in preaching posture ( 5th Cent. A.D.) and unfinished statue of Shiva, killing Andhakasure ( 12th Cent. A.D.) are some of the very remarkable objects, shown here.
The Dhamekha Stupa
This is the most conspicuous structure at Sarnath. Colonel Cunningham bore a shaft from the top centre of the stupa and discovered a stone tablet on which an inscription is written with the word Dhamekha, and mentions that this is the spot where the Buddha delivered his first sermon. Dhamekha seems to be a distorted form of Dharma Chakra which means turning the wheel of the Dharma. It is also said that at this spot the five ascetics who left Gautama Buddha in Bodh Gaya used to live in huts. The original stupa was constructed by Ashoka. The present size of the stupa is 31.3 m high and 28.3 m in diameter. The lower portion of the stupa is covered completely with beautifully carved stones. The design consists of a broad band of Swastika (fylfot) carved in different geometrical patterns with a finely chiselled lotus wreath, running over and below the swastikas.