Sarnath, city of Buddha

Sarnath is the town where Siddartha Gautama, the Buddha, gave his first sermon after obtaining enlightenment (at Bodhgaya), probably sometime in the 5th century BCE.  It became a center of Buddhist study and worship, profiting greatly from the conversion of Ashoka, emperor of the  Mauryan Empire from 273 BC to 232 BC.  

Sarnath is located 10 km northeast of Varanasi and is easily reached by bus or by renting a car with driver for the day. There is a beautiful, green park with various archeological remains, where one can spend a restful half day away from the crowds in Varanasi. There is also an archeological museum with some fine statues of Buddha. Unfortunately, photographs are not allowed in the museum.

In the park is the stump of a pillar erected by Emperor Ashoka, with an inscription by him on its side.  The most striking monument, though, is the 34m-high stupa, a huge column of a kind frequently erected by Buddhists, with some beautiful stonework on its sides

Ashoka pillar Stupa
Ashoka pillar Dhamekh Stupa
Stupa carvings
Carvings on stupa The sacred tree

Nearby is a shrine enclosing a tree with an interesting history.  The Buddha is said to have given his first sermon under a tree in Sarnath, a shoot of which was later taken to Sri Lanka.  After the original tree died, a shoot of the shoot was brought to Sarnath and planted in its place.  So this tree is a sort of "grandson" of the original tree under which Buddha preached his sermon.

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