Dhamekh Stupa, Sarnath

by Kalahandi Info
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Sarnath is the place where Gautam Buddha delivered his first sermon, taught four noble truths and eightfold path called Dhamma, and even formed a monastic community called Sangha. You will also be able to see years old stupas and relics here. The other significant things to see here include the Ashok Pillar and the National Emblem of India. There are several Buddhist monasteries here; thus, you will get a deep idea of Buddhist culture.

Sarnath– The First Teachings

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.

Gautama Buddha started teaching not to debate but for the advantage of and out of compassion for human beings. He explained the middle way which avoids extremes, the Four Noble Truths, and prescribed the Eight-fold path. The Four Noble Truths are: 1. There is suffering; 2. Suffering has a cause; 3. The cause is removable, and 4. There are ways to remove the causes. So as to remove the causes the Buddha prescribed an Eight-fold Path: Right speech, Right action, Right livelihood, Right effort, Right mindfulness, Right concentration, Right attitude and Right view.

A Monastic tradition flourished for over 1,500 years on the site of the deer park at Sarnath. In the third century BC Ashoka erected a column 15.24 m in height which had four lions as its capital which is now treasured in the archaeology museum. The lion symbolises both Ashoka’s imperial rule and the kingship of the Buddha. The four-lion capital was adopted as the emblem of the modern Indian republic. The last and largest monastery constructed before the Muslim invasion was Dharma-Chakar-Jina Vihar, erected by Kumardevi, wife of King Govinda Chandra, who ruled over Benares during 1114 to 1154. In 1194 AD, Kutubuddin Aibak, the Muslim conqueror, leveled the city to the ground. Sarnath became a forest of debris below which the historical ruins remained buried. Of the two great stupas which adorned the city only the Dhamekha remained which is of the 6th century.

The Dhamekha Stupa

his 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.

The Dhamekha stupa is considered to be the sacred place where the voice of Buddhism was first heard. Many dignitaries of Buddhist countries visit this place for circumambulation of this sacred stupa and to worship the Buddha. Tibetans Buddhist circumambulate it chanting the mantra ‘Om mani padme hum’. The first discourse of the Buddha was on the ‘Wheel of Law’. The wheel symbolises samsara (world), the eternal round of existence which goes on and on, life after life because of ceaseless cravings and desire.

How to Reach:

By Air

The nearest airport to Sarnath lies at Varanasi – the cultural capital of India. Varanasi Airport at Babatpur is located about 30 km from Sarnath. It is one of the important domestic airports in India. Almost all public and private airlines in India operate regular flights to and from Varanasi. From Varanasi you can avail direct flights to cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Khajuraho, and others. You can also board flight from Kathmandu to reach Varanasi.

By Train

Sarnath has a railway station of its own, which is connected to Varanasi and Gorakhpur by passenger trains. The nearest railhead to Sarnath is at Varanasi too, which is one of the major railway junctions in the region. Varanasi railway station is connected to the rest of India by a large number of important trains. There are train links from Varanasi to various cities within Uttar Pradesh as well as cities in other parts of India like New Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Agra, Lucknow, Bangalore and Ahmedabad, to name a few.

By Road

Sarnath in Uttar Pradesh is well connected with other parts of the state by decent roadways. The nearest mega terminus from Sarnath lies at Varanasi, about 10 km downtown from Sarnath. Varanasi is well connected by bus with major cities like Lucknow, Bareilly, Kanpur, Allahabad, Agra and Mathura. Regular buses run by Uttar Pradesh State Road Transport Corporation as well as private operators ply from Varanasi to these destinations. Hence, Sarnath is easily accessible by road from Varanasi and other major destinations in Northern India.

  • Where: Uttar Pradesh
  • Best time to visit: November to February

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