A sleepy little town lying close to Varanasi, Sarnath is Uttar Pradesh state of India is the site where Lord Buddha delivered his first sermon after attaining enlightenment. One of the most important Buddhist pilgrimage centers in India, Sarnath is home to several stupas, excavated ruins of age old monasteries, the deer park and various other interesting sites. Prominent among the tourist attractions in Sarnath is the Main Shrine and Ashoka Pillar Sarnath – two of the finest Monuments in Sarnath.
Must visit sites while on tour to Uttar Pradesh, Main Shrine and Ashoka Pillar Sarnath are historical sites that evoke a lot of emotion among the numerous Buddhist pilgrims, dignitaries and regular tourists who embark on tours to Sarnath every year.
The Main Shrine called Mulagandhakuti is believed to be the hut where the Buddha used to sit in meditation during his visits to Sarnath in Uttar Pradesh. It is a huge building that extends, in a series of ruined shrines and miniature stupas, from about 18 m to the north of the Dharmarajika Stupa right up to the Dhamek Stupa – the eastern most monument in Sarnath town. History has it that Chinese traveler Hiuen Tsang, who visited Sarnath in the 7th century AD had recorded that the Main Shrine Sarnath was 61 m high.
In the 3rd century B.C., Emperor Ashoka – the great Maurya ruler was believed to have built a number of monuments in Sarnath Uttar Pradesh, which included the famous Ashokan Pillar located near the Main Shrine. A monolithic railing of Chinar sandstone, 2.54 m long and 1.45 m tall was found by F.O. Oertel below the foundation of the south chapel of the Main Shrine. He had undertaken excavations at Sarnath in 1904, with requisite permission from the Archeological Survey of India.
Although the inscriptions on the Ashoka Pillar in Sarnath Uttar Pradesh date back to the post-Kushan period, the glistening surface of the pillar indicates that it is an Ashokan monument.
Today, the Main Shrine and Ashoka Pillar Sarnath are among the major tourist attractions in Sarnath.
The Main Shrine Sarnath can be entered from the entrance at the east. In front of the entrance is a long courtyard housing shrines and stupas of varying sizes, stretching from the entrance to the Damekh stupa further east.
A concrete pavement runs around the shrine and brick walls are raised inside the main chamber to prevent the roofs from collapsing. A Gupta style Standing Buddha statue found in the chapel on the southern side of the main shrine indicates that it was built by the Guptas.
The Main Shrine and Ashoka Pillar Sarnath lie in the same vicinity in Sarnath Uttar Pradesh.
The most exquisite specimen of Mauryan sculpture - the Lion Capital once topped the Ashoka Pillar at Deer Park Sarnath. A prized possession of the Archeological Museum Sarnath today, this glistening sandstone capital depicts four lions sitting back to back on a circular abacus. The abacus shows four running animals – bull, elephant, horse and lion. The Lion Capital is now the National Emblem of India.