“Gifts are great, the founding of temples is meritorious, meditation and religious exercises will pacify the heart, comprehension of the truth leads to Nirvana - but greater than all is Loving–Kindness –- Gautam Buddha”
Very early in his life, Prince Siddhartha Gautam had left his house in search of the divine truth. This truth he sought was revealed to him under the Bodhi (Peepal) tree in Bodh Gaya, Bihar and he became the ' Enlightened One ' - Gautam Buddha. His only aim now was to improve the quality of human life. With this wish in mind, he reached Sarnath and delivered his first sermon after Enlightenment and set in motion, The Wheel of Law (Dharmachakra Pravartan). He gave the world the noble Eightfold Path- a way to achieve the ultimate goal of salvation or Nirvana. Thus, Sarnath became one of the four important Buddhist Pilgrimages around the world- others being Lumbini (birthplace), Bodh Gaya (enlightenment) and Kushinagar (death).
[ Sarnath ]
Around 10 kms from Varanasi, one can reach Sarnath by hiring taxis, autos that are easily available all over the city. A large number of guides (their charges are fixed at Rs. 20) roam around the place looking for customers and are a good option if one is not aware of the significance or the detailed history of the place. We hired one and entered the premises of the serene Buddha Tirtha.
Sarnath has witnessed demolition, first by various Muslim invaders and later by treasure seekers, a number of times. Yet, even the ruins continue to provide fascinating links with the glorious past. These ruins and remains including various precious Buddhist artifacts and the royal Ashokan Pillar having the symbol of four back-to-back lions (Indian national emblem) are all very well preserved in an archaeological museum in Sarnath.
First, our guide took us to the Dhamekh Stupa, a 34 mtr high stupa, believed to be the exact spot where Lord Buddha delivered his first sermon. A solid stone structure covered with beautiful floral and geometrical patterns, the stupa was built by Mauryan Emperor Ashoka and is one of the finest monuments here.
[ Dhamekh Stupa ]
We were told that it dates back around 500 A.D. but has been rebuilt a number of times since then. Our guide also mentioned of a second stupa, Dharmarajika stupa, but this he said was reduced to rubble by 19th century treasure seekers.
[ Mulagandha Kuti Vihara Temple ]
We then moved towards a relatively modern Maha Bodhi Society temple, Mulagandha Kuti Vihara, built by the Sri Lankan Buddhist monk - Angarika Dharmapala. The temple stands amidst vast green lawns and is flanked by beautiful sayings by Gautam Buddha. Do take time out to read these inspirational quotes because the peace that emanates even from them is amazing.
[ A Quote by Lord Buddha in the temple premises ]
As I entered the temple, I was surprised to notice that despite the steady stream of devotees trickling in, there was an air of stillness that enveloped this temple, something that we often associate with the Buddha himself.
[ One of the painting by Japanese painter - Kosetsu Nosu ]
There is nothing elaborately intricate in the architecture of the temple. Its beauty lies more in its simplicity rather than any sophisticated decoration. The interiors are dimly lit with a series of paintings by Japanese painter - Kosetsu Nosu, depicting incidences from life of Buddha lining the walls.
[ Mulagandha Kuti Vihara Temple – Golden statue of Lord Buddha ]
In the heart of the temple is a life-size statue of Lord Buddha covered in gold besides which is a silver casket containing his tooth relic. Since photography is allowed inside, I could click some photos to share them with all of you.
[ A Huge Bell near the Bodhi tree ]
Closeby is the Bodhi tree (grown from a sapling brought from Sri Lanka which in turn was grown from a sapling of the original Bodhi tree in Bihar) below which are life- size statues of Gautam Buddha giving his sermon to the five BoddhiSattvas. One can also read the entire sermon which is engraved on black stone around the Bodhi tree in different languages.
[ Bodhi tree beneath which Gautam Buddha
is giving his sermon to his first five disciples ]
When I reached there, Some Buddhists were chanting mantras with beads in their hands while some others were lighting candles. I closed my eyes... it seemed as if time had ceased to move forward... After their chantings came to an end, we all circumambulated the tree. While doing so, I picked up a fallen leaf, still tucked away in one of my books. One incredible fact, our guide told us about this tree, is that it can flourish in any type of soil in any weather conditions! Amazing!!!
Next, we proceeded towards the open deer park. Our guide informed us that Sarnath has actually derived its name from 'Saranganath' which means 'Lord of the Deer'.
[ Deer Park ]
A story goes that Buddha - a deer in his previous birth as a BoddhiSattva - had offered his own life in place of a doe which a king intended to kill. Moved by this gesture, the king built a deer park which stands even today in Sarnath. If you feel like feeding them with something, buy a packet of carrots sold in the premises.
According to our guide, the modern temples in the Thai, Chinese, Tibetan, Burmese and Japanese monasteries are also worth a visit. But unfortunately we were unable to visit these due to lack of time.
This marked the end of my journey to the Land of The Blessed One - Gautam Buddha - who inspired one to strive for the higher values of life by exercising virtuous conduct and improving the quality of one's thought. He taught us a way of life, a way to rise above the troubles of life and finally a way to achieve the ultimate happiness of Nirvana. In today’s turbulent world, I would say Sarnath is not just a place of worship but a haven of peace. In a society where terrorism has cast its black shadows and people are fighting in the name of religion, his principles and words of wisdom provide us with much food for thought. Really, a life that to so many of us today has lost any true relevance can once more be rejuvenated by the practice of his ideals.