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(särnät`), archaeological site, SE Uttar Pradesh, India, 4 mi (6.4 km) N of Varanasi (Benares). It is the site of the deer park (mrigadawa) where, according to tradition, Buddha first preached. Buddhist monuments include an inscribed pillar (3d cent. B.C.) of Emperor Aśoka and a stupa (7th cent. A.D.), c.140 ft (42 m), high.
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The ruins of Sarnath, India, remain a holy place for Buddhists, who consider this the site where Gautama Buddha first began to share his philosophy with others. Fortean Picture Library.

Sarnath (India)

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

Located approximately 135 miles from Bodhgaya, where Gautama Buddha sat under the Bodhi Tree and found enlightenment, Sarnath is where he gave his first presentations concerning what would become Buddhism. It is now considered the birthplace of the Buddhist religion. In addition, Sarnath, also called Deer Park, was the site of the gathering of the first group of Buddhist monks and the formation of the initial Buddhist monastic community. Sarnath is just a few miles from the Hindu holy city of Benares, also known as Varanasi and Kashi.

Asoka, the third century BCE emperor who converted to Buddhism, helped expand the monastic life at Sarnath. The community, which grew to include more than a thousand monks, flourished through the ninth century, but declined after the establishment of Muslim rule in the area. Eventually, everything Buddhist would be destroyed. In the late-nineteenth century, the British launched archeological work in the area. They uncovered a number of the old Buddhist sites. Control of the Buddhist ruins has since been placed in the hands of the Maha Bodhi Society, which has expanded its initial concern with recovering Bodhgaya and returning it to Buddhist hands.

Primary ruins identified at Sarnath include the Dharmarajika Stupa built by Asoka to hold some relics of Gautama Buddha, though the location of the casket that contained the relics is unknown, if it even still exists. The carvings on the stupa‘s lower parts have survived and may be seen. Only the base of the Nulghandhakuti Shrine, an elaborate building used by the Buddha for meditation, remains. At the beginning of the 1930s, the Maha Bodhi Society erected a modern temple, the Mulagandhakuti Vihara. It is decorated with scenes of the Buddha’s life, but its main attraction is a silver casket found in Punjab in 1913. On it an inscription dated to 79 CE claims the casket holds some relics of the Buddha. Presented to the Society in 1935, it was subsequently taken to Sarnath.


Majupuria, Trilok Chandra. Holy Places of Buddhism in Nepal and India: A Guide to Sacred Places in Buddha’s Lands. Columbia, MO: South Asia Books, 1987.
Panabokke, Gunaratne. History of the Buddhist Sangha in India and Sri Lanka. Dalugama, Kelaniya, Sri Lanka: Postgraduate Institute of Pali and Buddhist Studies, University of Kelaniya, 1993.
Tulku, Tarthang, ed. Holy Places of the Buddha. Vol. 9. Crystal Mirror. Berkeley, CA: Dharma Publishing, 1994.
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