The essence of a Sarnath city tour
The city of Sarnath, also known as Isipatana, is located 13km (8mi.) northeast of the temple city of Varanasi, known as Banaras, and lies near the convergence of the Ganges and Varuna rivers, in the Uttar Pradesh region. Sarnath is renowned for being the city in which Buddha preached his first ever sermon and stands as one of the four key sites on the Buddhist circuit. Witnessed by his original four devotees, Buddha interpreted the middle way to nirvana.
Sarnath is a much-loved destination for those interested in Buddhism and is home to several temples, which boast a variety of architectural forms inspired by different Buddhist nations across Asia.
A fascinating time to visit the city is during Purnima, when devout followers of Buddha celebrate his birthday, his enlightened life and death. Buddhism thrived in Sarnath due to the variety of kings and affluent traders based in Varanasi. Sarnath had become an important centre for the arts during the third century and found its pinnacle during the fourth and sixth centuries. When the Chinese Emperor Xuanzang visited in the seventh century, Sarnath boasted 30 monasteries with 3 000 monks living within its walls.
Over the centuries, many monuments have been destroyed, but several ruins still stand proud. Chaukhandi Stupa is a fifth century stone marker that memorialises the spot where the Buddha met his first disciples, and the 39m (128ft) high Dhamek Stupa, a hemispherical structure used for meditation. The Sarnath Archaeological Museum is home to the famed Lion Capital of Ashokan sculpture, the National Emblem of India, which centuries ago endured a 45m (148ft) drop to the ground, testament to the tenacity and strength of the Indian nation.