Sarnath or Sarangnath (also called Mrigadava) is one of the most important Buddhist pilgrimage centres in India. It is also an important place for the followers of Jainism.
Sarnath is situated 13Kms to north-east of Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh, India. It is the place where Gautam Buddha gave his first sermon 'Wheel of the Dharma' to his five disciples named Kaundinya, Bashpa, Bhadrika, Mahanaman and Ashvajit after he attained Nirvana or enlightenment at Bodh Gaya (in Bihar, India). Sarnath is, thus, the place where foundation of Sangha, a new order of monks and Dhamma, was laid.
The reason behind the place being called mrigadava (deerpark) is found in the Buddhist Jatakas. As per Jataka, Buddha had been a leader of herd of deer in his previous births had saved the life of a doe and appeared before the king of Benaras and offered himself to be killed in the place of the doe who feasted on the flesh of deer regularly. The king was moved by the sacrificial zeal of Buddha and made a free roaming ground.
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. Sarnath is an exceedingly tranquil place. The ruins, the museum and temple are all within walking distance.
Mulagandha Kuti Vihar
Gautama Buddha Pipal Tree
Archaeological Museum, Sarnath
Also on the site are the ruins of monasteries and Ashoka Pillar with its four-sided lions heads, which symbolize the spread of Buddha’s teachings. The museum has some of the best examples of Buddhist art. The Dhamekha stupa is 33 metres high, dating back to around 500BC and is the most striking sight in Sarnath. Dharmarajika Stupa is just in front of Ashok Pillat, which marks the spot where Buddha gave his first sermon. The stupa is 143 feet high and dates back to the Gupta period.