Sarnath is just 11 km away from Varanasi near to the confluence of Ganga & Varuna Rivers. In ancient period it was known by other names as well such as Ishipattan, & Mrigdawa. Lord Buddha delivered his first sermon here which is called the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta. The five disciples whom he gave first sermon of middle path were Kondanna, Bhaddiya, Vappa, Mahanama and Assaji. Buddha spent his first rainy season at Sarnath as well after getting enlightenment.
Places of interest here are:-
Mulgandhkuti Vihar- In year 1931 the Sri Lankan Mahabodhi Society initiated to build a temple in Sarnath at the place where Lord Buddha gave his first sermon. The temple which was built is called Mulgandhakuti Vihar. It has religious and significant historical objects from Buddha’s time found in Taxila, exhibited annually on the Karthik Purnima celebration. The walls of this temple have beautiful frescoes depicting the life of the Buddha.
Dhamek Stupa- Dhamek Stupa is the most noticeable & prominent structure in Sarnath. The Dhamek Stupa was built in 500 CE to replace an earlier structure commissioned by the great Mauryan king Ashoka in 249 BCE. The Dhamek Stupa represents the deer park (Rishipattana). This park is said to be of great importance as Buddha gave his first sermon here after attaining enlightenment, to his disciples that revealed his “Eightfold Path“. The Stupa is 28 meters in diameter at the base and 43.6 meters in height, built partly of stone and partly of brick. The stone facing the lower part is adorned with delicate floral carvings of Gupta origin. The stupa was enlarged on six occasions but the upper part is still unfinished. The wall is covered with exquisitely carved figures of humans and birds, as well as inscriptions in the Brahmi script.
Chaukhandi Stupa- Chaukhandi Stupa is the place where Lord Buddha met his 5 disciples first in Sarnath. It is considered that he came to Sarnath after getting enlightenment at Bodh Gaya in 528 BCE to meet his disciples Mahanama, Koudanna, Bhaddiya, Vappa and Asvajita in order to share his real knowledge got during enlightenment. It was built of brick like octagonal tower during 4th to 6th century in the Gupta period. It was little bit restructured by the Mughal Emperor Akbar in the year 1588 to memorize in future the shelter of Humayun at Sarnath.
Dharmarajika Stupa- Dharmarajika Stupa is the very significant place located near to the Dhamekh Stupa. It is considered that this place has the remains of bones of the Lord Buddha. It was built by the King Ashoka which was destroyed in 1794 by the Jagat Singh (to get bricks for another construction purpose) during which a box with bones was found. The box is still kept safely at the Indian Museum, Kolkata. It is considered as the bones were disposed off in Ganga by the Jagat Singh.
Sarnath Museum- There is a famous Archaeological Museum at the Sarnath built for placing and protecting the historical things very safely as an ancient antique. It is located near to the archaeological ruins across the road. It has various ancient objects from the Buddhist arts, images of Hindu Gods and etc. It consists of the five galleries and two varandah. It is strictly prohibited to have photography inside museum to keep secret the historical things. It opens at 10.00 am in the morning till 5.00 pm in the evening from Saturday to Thursday. It houses the famous lion capital of India inside which was built by King Ashoka.
Ashoka Pillar- Ashoka Pillar is the great thing to see at Sarnath, located amidst the ruins. It is structured representing broken stone cylinders. Actually these are considered as the remnants of the real Ashoka Pillar at Sarnath. Ashoka was a great Mauryan emperor who had constructed various pillars after his name all over the India. Originally these are having height of 12.25 m and diameter of 0.71 m base, 0.56 m top having Lion Capital (four back to back lions). Each of the Ashoka Pillars has Ashoka Chakra at the top which was broken by the Turk invasions. Broken Ashoka Pillars and fragments of the Ashoka Chakra were founded in 1904 during mining and digging at the Sarnath. The Lion Capital is still kept safely for the exhibition purpose at the Sarnath Archaeological Museum.
Sri Digamber Jain Temple- There is a village 1 km away from the Sarnath known as the Singhpur where Shreyansanath was born. He was known as the eleventh Tirthankara of Jainism. This is why the sarnath is also an important pilgrimage site for Jainism. Sri Digamber Jain Temple is located near to the Dhamekh Stupa. It is the most religious place for the Digambara monasticism which is a branch of the Jain Dharma.
Ruins of Sarnath- It are the place where ruins of the Mulagandhakuti Vihara are found at Sarnath representing various ancient culture and tradition of Buddhism during 200 BCE. It is believed that during the Gupta period, around 3,000 monks were living here in these monasteries located closer to the Dhammeka Stupa.
Apart from these mentioned above Sarnath has different temples of other countries as well built to show respect to Lord Buddha. It has a Deer Park too.