SARNATH

Location
History
Museum
Sarnath In Benaras Gazetteer 1922
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LOCATION

Sarnath renowned for ancient remains of Buddhist stupas, monasteries and temples, is situated at a distance of 6 kms. to the north of Varanasi city witch is well connected by roadDHAMEKH STUPA, rail & air.

HISTORY


Sarnath is one of the four most important Buddhist pilgrimage centres of India. Buddha, the great sage , after attaining enlightenment (Buddha-hood) at Bodh Gaya came to Sarnath and delivered his first sermon to five disciples (i.e. Kaundinya, Bashpa, Bhadrika, Mahanaman and Ashvajit) for redeeming humanity. It is this place where foundation of a new order of monks (Sangha) and a new order of religious doctrine (Dhamma) was laid. Sarnath is also sacred to the Jains because they look upon it as the site of asceticism and death of Shreyamshanath, the 11th Trithankara. In ancient Buddhist literature the place finds mention as Rishipatna and Mrigdava or Mrigadaya. The place was called Rishipatna , as it was here the bodies of five hundred Pratyeka Buddhas or Rishis(Sages) fell after their attainment of nirvana (Salvation). According to the Jataka, in one of his previous births Buddha as aleader of a herd of deer,for saving life of a doe, appeared before the king of Benaras who relished on the flesh of a deer everyday. On being moved by his sacrifical zeal the king made the place a free roaming ground, thus it was known as mrigadava (deerpark). The inscriptions of early medieval period found from Sarnath referred to this place as Dharamchakra or Sadhamacharka pravartana vihar. The mordern name Sarnath seems to be a contraction of Saranganath (Lord of deer) still borne by the Lord Shiva enshrined in a temple nearby. PREACHING BUDDHASarnath passed into oblivion in the 13th cent. and veil was lifted in 1798 when Mr. Duncan , the resident of Benaras gave an account of a casket of green marble inside a stone box exposed by the workmen of Jagat Singh, Dewan of Raja Chet Singh of Benaras while dismantling the Dharmaralika stupa in order to procure building materials. This discovery had created wide interest about Sarnath. Later on excavations were conducted at the site by Sir Alexander Cunningham (1835-36), Major Kittoe (1851-52), Mr. C. Horne (1865), Mr. F.O. Oertal (1904-5), Sir john Marshall (1907), Mr. H. Hargreaves(1914-15), and Mr. Daya Ram Sahni (1927-32). Archaeological excavations have brought to light about a dozen carved railing pillars ascribable to the Shunga period (2nd –lst cent. B.C.). With the advent of the Kushana (1st –2nd cent. A.D.) in north India Buddhism witnessed a new phase of Religious and artistic activities. Though Mathura was the centre of this renaissance, but Sarnath also flourished and new monuments were raised. The colossal image of Bodhisattva imported form Mathura in the 3rd regnal year of Kanishka is now exhibited in the museum. During the Gupta period (4th-6th century A.D.). Sarnath became a main centre of structural and artistic activities. Several structures including Mulgandhakuti, the chief shrine of the Buddha were erected during this period. The Dhamekh stupa is the best preserved and most impressive edifice at Sarnath. It is a cylindrical tower 28.50 mts. In diameter at base and 33.53 mts. In height. Fa-Hien the Chinese pilgrim visited Sarnath at the time of Chandragupta ll (376-414 A.D.) and saw here four stupas and two monastteries. The reign stupas and Harshavardhan (606-47 A.D.) must have initiated fresh religious activity and restorations of the earlier building at Sarnath.LION CAPITAL Hiuen-Tsang visited Sarnath during the time and left a vivid descriptinued of its monuments. This place continued to flourish during the reign of the pala kings. But the monuments of Sarnath experienced a reverse, when Benaras suffered under the spearhead of Mahmud Ghajni’s invasion which is inferred from a record of the time of Mahilala, datable to 1026 A.D. Kumar Devi, wife of Govindchandra (1114-1154 A.D.) of the Gahadavala dynasty built a large monastery at Sarnath which is probably the last impressive monuments raised here and after which the architectural and artistic activitivs came to a halt. The glorious heritage remained hidden for a larger period and waited for the archaeological spade to uncover it.

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THE MUSEUM

Archaeological museum Sarnath is the oldest site museum of Archaeological Survey of India. In oTARArder to keep the antiquities found from the site, a decision was taken in 1904 by the Government to construct a site museum adjacent to the excavated site at Sarnath. It was due to initiative of Sir John Marshall., the then Director General of Archaeology in India, that this museum was created. The plans were prepared by Mr.James Ramson, the then consulting Architect to the Government of India. The building was completed in 1910 to house, display and study the antiquities in their right perspective. The building forms half of a monastery (Sangharam ) in plan. There are five galleries and two verandahs on the museum to display the antiquities ranging from 3rd century B.C.to 12the century A.D. found at Sarnath The galleries have been christened on the basis of their contents, the north most gallery is Tathagata while next one is Triatna. Mainhall is known as Shakyasimha gallery and adjacent to it on south is named as Trimurti. The southern most is Ashutosh gallery, the verandahs on northern end southern side are Shilparatna respectively. Entrance to the museum is obtained through the main hall, The Shakyasimha gallery displays the most prized collections of the museum. In the centre of this gallery is the Lion Capital of the Mauryan pillar. It is 2.31 mts. In height. The lustrous polish is a special feature of the Mauryan art which has not yet been noticed in the later monuments. The capital consists of an inverted lotus, circular abacus and the crowning quadripartite semi-lions on top. The most portion was crowned with a dharmachakra with thirty-two spokes since broken. The abacus is adorned with the figures of a lion, an elephant, a bull and horse each separated by a smaller wheel or dharmachakra consisting twenty-four spokes. The four crowning lion seated back and four animals in relief. BHAIRAVAre wonderfully vigorous and true to nature and are treated with simplicity and reserve which is the keynote of all great masterpieces of plastic art and highest achievement in sculptural art of India.Today on its won virtue this lion capital has become "National Emblem" of India. The exact significance of depiction of four animals on the abacus is uncertain. Some ascribe them with great events in the life of the Buddha while other believe, they represent the four noble animals of the Buddhists. The most plausible explanation perhaps lies in the theory that they denote the four directions as laid down in Buddhust literature in connection with the Annotate lake in which Buddha used to bathe. The same animals have been depicted on pillar at Anuradhapur (Srilanka). The inscribed colossal standing image of a Bodhisativa in red sand stone is representative of Mathura school of Art. It was dedicated by monk Bala in the 3rd regional year of the Kushana ruler Kanishka. The octagonal shaft now set up behind the statue once carried a beautifully carved monolithic parasol exhibited at the northern side of the hall. It is a full bloomed lotus bearing auspicious signs. Sarnath became a prominent centre of Buddhism in the Gupta period. It has been eloquently told by the profusion of exquisitely carved sculptural art which got a new dimension in the hands of the Gupta artists and it became a main centre of Gupta art. The Sarnath School of Art is known for its elegance, simplicity of forms and sublimity. The images of Buddha, displayed in Shakyasimha gallery, represent this school of Art. Standing figure of profusely ornamented Tara is one of the best specimen of Late Gupta sculptural art of Sarnath. Tara is derived from the root ‘tar’ ( to cross). She helps to cross the ‘Ocean of Existence’. Tara holds a position of considerable eminence in the Buddhist pantheon. She is Savior Goddess, a Deliveries and shakti of Avalokiteshvara. JAMBHAL AND VASUDHARA To the north of main hall is Triratna gallery which exhibits images of Buddhist deities and some associated objects A standing image of Siddhaikavira, a form of Manjushri, god of wisdom and knowledge is one of the earliest images of this deity. Standing Tara, holding in hand a pomegranate which has burst upon to reveal a row of seeds is a fine example of the sculptural art of fifth century. The weight of the body is thrown gently on the right leg. The jewelry is rich, yet delicate and consists of a multi stranded girdle, festooned armlets, and a series of three necklaces. Large circular earrings adorn the ears. Although the face is damaged, the gentle meditative expression remains. The elaborate coiffure consists of several rows of ringlets and curls arranged over the forehead and to the side of head, all topped by large bun. Leograph, a mythical animal, seated Bodhisattva Padmapani with a stem of full bloomed lotus, stele depicting miracle of Shracasti where Buddha multiplied himself in many forms in order to defeat heretical teachers, pot ballied Jambhala, god of wealth and prosperity alongwith his female consort Vasudhara, Ramgrama stupa being protected by nagas and inscription of Kumardevi, queen of Govindchandra of Knnauj which refers to construction of the Dharmachakra Jinavihar by the queen, at Sarnath are some of the important antiquities displayed in the western side of the gallery. Stele depicting ashtamahasthana (eight great places) or, four main and four secondary events in the life of Buddha is a remarkable piece of art which include nativity or birth of Buddha at Lumbuni (Nepal), enlightenment at Bodhgaya, preaching of first sermon at Sarnath and great demise at Kushinagar. Apart from these, Buddha descending from Trayastrimsha heaven at Sankisa after preaching his mother, miracal performed at Shravasti, honey offering by a monkey at vaishali and subjugation of mad elephant Nalagiri before Buddha at Rajgir are four events depicted in the same stele. PREACHING BUDDHARailings and pillars representing Shunga art of the first century B.C. decorated with various sacred symbols like Bodhi-tree, Dharmachakra, Triratna, Stupa and human, animal and fabulous figures are interesting. Image of Shadakshri Lokeshvara with Shadakshri Mahavidya on left side and Manidhara on right side is displayed in the showcase. All the three deities are seated cross-legged and shown with folded hands. Apart from the above objects, heads of the images of Buddha and Tara are also displayed in the gallery. Tathagata gallery displays images of Buddha, Vajrasattva, Bodhisattva Padmapani with stem of full bloomed lotus in hand, Neelkantha Lokeshvara with a cup of poison in hands and Maitreya standing and holding a nectar case in left hand and rosary in right hand with a stupa in the headdress. The most notable sculpture of the Sarnath School of Art in the museum is undoubtediy the image of preaching Buddha. The fingers of hands are hold near the chest in a special position known as Dharma-chakra-Pravartana ( Turning the wheel of Law) Mudra. This image is a remarkable example of the form of compassionate one in its spirituality and inner-bliss. The calm, relaxed and introspective face with the gentlest smile playing on the sensuous lips, drooping eyes, aquiline nose, gently curved eyebrows joined with each other, ear with distended lobes, rows of curls covering the head end sacred cranial protuberance (Ushnisha) that project from it. The halo is carved with a pair of celestial fighters and conventionalized floral scroll-work. The Dharmachakra occupies the central position of the pedestal on both side of which have been placed the figure of deer, denoting the place as Mrigdava (deerpark). The figures of five disciples to ehom Buddha preached first sermon are depicted alongwith a lady and child on the lower part of the image. The lady with a child provably donor of the sculpture. STELE DEPICTING EIGHT LIFE EVENTS OF BUDDHAImage of seated and standing Buddha in different postures displayed in the gallery are also very remarkable. On the southern side of main hall os Trimurti gallery. Pot ballied seated Yaksha figure exhibited here reminds us Pitalkhora (Maharastra) Yaksha of early lst Century B.C. Trimurti (Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh) is also an impressive sculpture. Brahmanical deities such as Surya, Saraswati, Mahishmardini also find place in the showcase. Some secular objects like figures of birds, animals, male and female heads ranging from 3rd century B.C. to 12th century A.D. are displayed in a different showcases exhibits iron implements while stucco heads, terracotta's, baked decorative tiles. Pots and pottery attract from other showcase Benevolent and malevolent figures of Kirtimukha (face of victory) are utilized as doorkeepers for the Ashutosh (Shiva) gallery. Ashutosh gallery exhibits Brahmanical deities like Shiva (in different forms), Vishnu, Ganesh, Kartikeya, Agni, Parvati, Navagrahas (Nine Planets) with Ganesh Laksmi and Saraswati. A panel depicting Navagrahas with Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh is also remarkable. Shiva as Bhairava (aggressive form of Shiva) is one of the finest Brahmanical images found at Sarnath. A colossal Andhakasuravadha (killing of demon Andhaka) image of Shiva in his terrific form is an unfinished sculpture. It is a specimen of early medieval sculptutal art of Sarnath. Bearded ten armed standing Shiva is shown killing demon Andhaka with a trident. Two verandahas, Vastumandana and Shilparatna exhibits mostly architectural members. A large lintel depecting story of Shantivadina Jataka is a beautiful piece of Art.

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SARNATH IN BENARES GAZETTEER 1922

Sarnath is situated some four miles north of Benares, not far from the high road to Ghazipur .. A more direct route, of which traces are still extant, seems formerly to have connected the city with Sarnath . Starting from the centre of Benares near the Pachganga-ghat, where Aurangzeb’s mosque forms’ a conspicuous landmark, this road led due north past Lat Bhairon and crossed the Varna river at Purana Pul by a bridge, Some remains of which can still be seen a little distance above the viaduct of the mertre-gauge railway to Ghazipur. At the end of the eighteenth century a ruined Mughal bridge of three spans occupied the site. As the nearer abutment had been damaged by floods Mr. Jonathan Duncan, the then Resident of Benares had the bridge dismantled and used the stone for a new bridge over the same river near the present Bank of Bengal. Some further materials for Duncan’s bridge, as we shall see later on, were obtained from the ruthless spoliation of the ancient Sarnath building. In the earliest period of which we have any record Sarnath was known as the "deer Park"(Mriga-Dava) or "Above of sages"(Rishipatana). It plays a prominent part in one of the Jataka or birth stories of the Buddha, the legend, as generally accepted, being as follows:--In one of his previous existences (Nigrodha-Miga-Jataka)the Buddha roamed the wood near Benares as the king of a heard of deer. The Raja of Banares, who was fond of sport, had slaughtered so many deer that the king of the deer demonstrated with him and offered to furnish him with one deer daily throughout the year if he would give up slaughtering them for sport. The Raja consented. After some time, when it came to the turn of a hind, big with young, to be presented to the Raja, she objected that, although if might be her turn to die, yet the turn of her little one could not yet have arrived. The king of the deer (that is, the future Buddha)was struck with compassion, and offered himself to the Raja in place of the bind. On hearing the story the Raja exclaimed:" I am but a deer in the form of a man, but you are a man in the form of a deer:" He at once gave up hiss claim to the daily gift, and made over the park for the perpetual use of the deer, on which account it was called the "Deer Park." At the time of Buddha the Deer Park presumably was a favorite resort for those engaged in religious devotions. At least the story goes that Ajnata Kaundinya and the other four early attendants of the Buddha retired there for meditatioin after forsaking their master in Uravilva. However this may have been, the Deer Park early became celebrated among the followers of the Buddha; for it was here that the master first made known his doctrines to the world, and the spot where on he sat and preached has ever been revered as holy ground by the Buddhists. Practically all that we know of Sarnath up to the fifth century of our era is derived from the monuments that have been unearthed there, and will be recounted below. From the fifth century on wards we possess much other information furnished by the in valuable accounts of Chinese pilgrims to India, Particularly by those of Fa-Hien and Hiuen Thsang, the former of whom visited the site in the beginning of the fifth century, the later between the year 629 and 645 A.D. Fa-Hien’s chronicle is very concise. "Rather more," He says, "than ten li to the north-east of the city, he found the vihara in the park of the ‘Rishi’s Deer-wild.’ In this park there formerly resided the Pratyeka Buddha, with whom the deer were regularly in the habit of stopping for the night. When The world-honored one was about to attain to perfect Wisdom, the divas sang in the sky ‘The son of king Suddhodana, having quitted his family and studied the Path (of Wisdom) will now in seven days become Buddha. The Pratyeka Buddha heard their words, and immediately attained to Nirvana; and hence this place was named ‘The Park of the Rishi’s Deer-wild.’ After the world-honored one had attained to perfect Wisdom, men built the vihara in it." Fa-Hien tells us, further, of Buddha’s meeting with Kaundinya and his four companions in the Park, and speaks of four topes which he saw—one to mark the spot where the five companions rose to salute the Buddha; a second where the master "turned the wheel of the Law …" a third where he delivered his prophecy concerning Maitreya; and a fourth where a certain naga, named Elapattra, questioned him. Fa-Hien also mentions two monasteries as existing in the Deer Park.. Hiuen Thsang’s description is much fuller than his predecessor’s and no doubt, in his day the buildings in the Deer Park were far more numerous and splendid, and the number of bhikshus far greater than when Fa-Hien visited it. We shall have to refer so frequently in the following pages to Hiuen Thsang, that it will be as wel at the outset to quote his description at some length."To the north-east" he says, "of the river Varana, about ten li or so, we came to the sangharama of Lu-ye (stag Desert). Its precincts are ivied into eight portions(sections) connected by a surrounding wall. The storeyed towers with projecting eaves and the balconies are of very superior work. There are fifteen hundred priests in this convent who study the little vehicle according to the sammatiya school. In the great enclosure is a Vihara about 200 feet high; above the roof is a golden covered figure of the Amra (An-mo-lo) or mango fruit. The foundations of the building are of stone, and the stairs also: but the towers and niches are of brick. The niches are arranged on the four sides in a hundred successive lines, and in each niche is a golden figure of Buddha. In the middle of the Vicar is a figure of Buddha made of teou-shin (native copper). It is the size of life, and he is represented as turning the wheel of the law (preaching). To the south west of the vihara is a stone stupa buillt by Asoka-raja. Although the foundations have given way, there are still 100 feet or more of the wall remaining. In front of the building is a stone pillar about 70 feet high. The stone is altogether as bright as jade. It is glistening and sparkles like light; and all those who pray fervently before it see from time to time, according to their petitions, figures with good or bad signs. It was here that Tathagata (ju-lai), having arrived at enlightenment , began to turn the wheel of the law (to preach)."

After mentioning a multitude of other stupas and memorials Hiuen Thsang speaks of three lakes to the west and north of the monastery, and of a number of other monuments outside it, and then proceeds to describe the most magnificent stupa of all, 2or 3 li to the south-west of the sangharama. This stup was about 300 feet high. "The foundations," he states, "are broad and the building high, and adorned with all sorts of carved work and with precious stages (to this building) with niches and although there is a standing pole erected above the cupola (fau-poh), yet it has no encircling bells.

For how long after Hiuen Thsang’s visit Sarnath continued to flourish is not definitely known, but the evidence of monuments and inscriptions proves that it was still thriving at least in the twelfth century A. D. and it is probable that it owed its downfall to the iconoclastic Moslems under Qutb-ud-din Aibak, who devastated Benares in 1194 A.D.; for the condition of the excavated ruins proves that a violent catastrophe, accompanied by willful destruction and plunder, overtook the place. Certain it is that after the overthrow of Buddhism in India Sarnath was completely deserted and all its buildings, with the exception of one magnificent stupa, became buried in the heaps of their own accumulated debris. Indeed, so completely leveled did the site become that is was only a fortuitous discovery at the close of the 18th century that drew the attention of archaeologists to it and subsequently led to its exploration. But before proceeding to narrate the history of this exploration, it will be conferment to describe in detail the stupa already referred to.

Locally known as the Dhamekh tower, this stupa is situated a little to the north-east of the modern Jain temple. It consists of a stone basement, 93 feet in diameter and solidly built, the stones being clamped together with iron, to the height of 43 feet Above that it is in brickwork rising to a height of 104 feet above the terrace of the temple, and 143 feet including its foundation. Externally the lower part is relieved by eight projecting faces, each 21 feet 6 inches wide and 15 feet apart. In each is a small niche, intended, apparently, to contain an image, and below them, encircling the monument, is a band of sculptured ornament of the most exquisite beauty. The central part of this band consists of geometric patterns of great intricacy, but combined with singular skill, while above and below are rich floralarabesques, the whole being peculiarly characteristic of the art of the imperial Guptas. The carvings round the niches end in the projections have been left unfinished, and judging by the absence of any fragments, either in stone or brick or plaster around the stup, it seems not improbable that the upper part of the tower was never completed.

In his examination of this tower General Cunningham found, buried in the brickwork, an inscribed stone with the Buddhist formula "Ya dharmma hetupra-bhava, etc. said to be in characters of the seventh century : and there can be little doubt that this record is contemporary with the last with the last rebuilding of the stupa. It is noteworthy also that General Cunningham found that at a depth of 110 feet from the top the stonework gave place to brickwork made of very large bricks, such as are commonly employed in the earliest class of structures in India, and there is every reason to believe that this lowest stratum of brickwork, represents the first stupa on this spot which was afterwards builds over and enlarged to the dimensions which we now see. To return, however, to the discovery referred to above. In 1794 some workmen of Jagat Singh, the Diwan of Raja Chet Singh of Benares, were digging for bricks on the site of Sarnath when they accidentally struck upon the treasure chamber of large brick stupa with a heavy stone box inside, which they proceeded to rifle of its contents. green marble casket with a few charred bones, pearls, rubies and gold leaves found its way into the hands of Mr. Jonathan Duncan. The inner marble casket has disappeared, but the outer stone box was left in its original position, where it was rediscovered by Sir Alexander Cunningham in 1835. He sent it to the Bengal Asiatic Society, and it is now in the Indian Museum at Calcutta. A Buddha image which was discovered on the same occasion but not apparently in the relic chamber, was recovered, in 1849, by Major Kit toe,. Only the broken base of it is left, but fortunately the inscription, which is very important, is still legible. This fragment and several other sculptures originally collected by Major Kit toe at the Queen's college, in Benaras ,have now found their way to the Lucknow Provincial Museum.

The monument where these discoveries were made has since been known at the Jagat Singh stupa, and the this title we may still continue to designate it. It is nothing more than a more shell, all the core having been removed. This shell consists of concentric rings of brickwork laid in clay and faced with plaster, which mark the successive periods at which the stupa was enlarged. The innermost existing ring has a diameter of 44’3" , but it is impossible to say whether or not there were other and smaller rings inside it, or whether the whole of the core that has been demolished represented the original stupa. It is noticeable that the outer terrace, surrounding each successive ring, is higher than that of the preceding one. This fact is easily accounted for when one remembers that in process of time, as ring after ring was added to the stupa, the ground around rose and the floors of the later structures would thus be considerably above the original floor level.

Following on the discovery of the Jagat Singh stupa Sarnath became a favorite hunting-ground for treasure-seekers, and cartloads of images and terra-cottas are said to have been carried away. The first excavations, however, of which we have any record were those carried out by Colonel C. Mackenzie in 1815. The next explorer on the scene was General Cunningham, who, in 1835-36, unearthed a monastery and shrine of a late period on the high ground rather less than a hundred yards north-east of the Jagat Singh stupa, and a few feet, north of the latter a large collection of statues and bas-reliefs, which he presented to the Asiatic Society of Bengal. Twelve years later the work of exploration was taken up by Major M. Kit toe, who was than holding the position of "Archaeological Enquirer" to Government. Major Kit toe exposed the foundations of numerous stupas and shrines around the Dhamekh tower, besides a building to the west of the tower, which he called hospital, but which was no doubt a monastery, and a second monastery west of the Jain temple. Unfortunately for archaeology Major Kit toe died before publishing an account of his discoveries, and all his notes and memoranda have been lost though a large volume of his drawings is still extant in the India office library. Muchof the stonework excavated by Major Kit toe was used by him in the erection of the Queen’s College at Benares, but all the more important sculptures and carvings were collected together at the college, whence they were afterwards transferred to the Lucknow provincial Museum or returned to Sarnath. Major Kittoe’s excavations of the monastery west of the Jain temple were resumed in 1853 by Mr. E. Thomas, and afterwards by Dr. F.Hall of Queen’s College, who collected numerous sculptures and small objects, a number of which are to be found at the Sarnath museum. Dr. Butter obtained permission to continue Dr. hall’s work, but, if he did so, no account of his operations survives. About 1865 Mr.C.Horne did some vicarious dogging at Sarnath and send his finds to the Indian Museum, Calcutta. Lastly, we hear of Mr. Rivett Carnao digging up a Buddha image at Sarnath in 1877, but what became of it is not known.


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