Archaeological museum Sarnath is the oldest site museum of Archaeological Survey of
In order 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. Are 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.
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.
Railings 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. Image 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.