SARNATH OR SARANGNATH
Sarnath (previously called sarang nath) closely related to varanasi, has an equally old history as shiva himself visited sarnath invited by parvati’s brother and its evidence is the age old temple of sarangnath, The temple is located on the Saarangnath Road in Saarangnath locality of Sarnath.
This temple is believed to be an ancient one belonging to the Shaivite Sect. The temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva. Stairs lead to the main entrance of the temple. There is a statue of Nandi near the entrance. The temple houses twin Shiva lingam in its sanctum and both the Shiva lingams are worshipped together here.
Sarnath is a famous place in Varanasi and it is the destination for cultures like Hindu, Buddha and Jain. Sarnath is the place where Gautama Buddha first taught the Dharma then Buddhist Sangha has originated as well as came into existence because of the enlightenment of Kondanna. It is situated atleast 13 Km to north-east of Varanasi. There is a village 1 km away from the Sarnath known as the Singhpur where Shreyansanath was born. He was known as the eleventh Tirthankara of Jainism. This is why the sarnath is also an important pilgrimage site for Jainism. Buddha has mentioned the Isipatana as one of the four places of pilgrimage which is most visited by his devout followers.
ORIGIN OF GREAT NAMES IN SARNATH
Mrigadava was named because of deer-park in sarnath. Isipatana was named because holy men have landed here. The devas rose into air and disappeared, only their sound fell on ground. It is believed that Pacceka Buddhas have spent their seven days in contemplation in the Gandhamādana and took bathe in the Anotatta Lake. After taking bathe in the lake he came to the habitations of men by the air. They came to earth at Isipatana through the air.
The Deer Park in the Sarnath was forest and gifted by the king of Benares for the purpose where deer might wander unmolested. Sarnath originated from Saranganath known as the “Lord of the Deer”. This park is still exists there today.
HISTORY OF GAUTAMA BUDDHA AT ISIPATANA
The Gautam Buddha went from Bodhgaya to Sarnath after 5 weeks of his enlightenment. Before attaining his enlightenment, the Gautam has given up the Pañcavaggiya monks to his austere penances and friends then he left them and went to the Isipatana.
He enlightened five former companions using his spiritual powers as they were able to understand Dharma quickly. It is believed that he had to cross the Ganges through air because he had no money to pay the ferryman. The Gautam Buddha had given his sermon to five monks known as his first sermon and called the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta. He spent his first rainy season at the Mulagandhakuti of sarnath. The Buddha Sangha or community had grown from 5 to 60 in number. They were sent by Buddha to all corners of the world to travel alone in order to teach the Dharma to people.
There are many other suttas preached by the Buddha at Isipatana besides the Dhammacakkappavattana, some of them are:
- The Anattalakkhana Sutta
- The Saccavibhanga Sutta
- The Panca Sutta
- The Rathakara or Pacetana Sutta
- The two Pasa Suttas
- The Samaya Sutta
- The Katuviya Sutta
- The Metteyyapanha of the Parayana
- The Dhammadinna Sutta
It is believed that there is an ancient well at Isipatana which was used by the monks to live during the Buddha’s time.
Buddhism flourished in Sarnath because of help from kings and other wealthy merchants who lived in Varanasi. Sarnath had become a great center of arts by the third century. In the 7th century, it was noted that 30 monasteries and 3000 monks were founded at Sarnath.
Sarnath is famous because it has become a major centre of earliest Sammatiya school of Buddhism. At Sarnath, the images of Lord Shiva and Brahma were found. A Jain temple is located at Chandrapuri close to the Dhamekh Stupa.
LEGENDARY CHARACTERISTICS OF ISIPATANA
According to the Legends, it is believed that all the Buddhas of Buddha Sangha had preached their first sermon at the Isipatana. Isipatana is known by different names such as Khema-uyyāna etc. Many of the ancient buildings were damaged by Turks but still an impressive Dhamek Stupa of 128 feet height and 93 feet diameter stands at sarnath. The Chaukhandi Stupa and ruins of the Mulagandhakuti vihara denote that Buddha met his first disciples and he spent his first rainy season respectively.
The modern Mulagandhakuti Vihara has beautiful wall paintings and cute deers are still to be seen there. The original Ashoka Pillar stands there surmounted by Lion Capital of Asoka but it was broken during Turk invasions. It has become India’s National Emblem and national symbol of our flag.
Sarnath, also known as Isipatana, is one of the four pilgrimage sites where Gautama Buddha has been designated. The other three are Kushinagar, Bodh Gaya, and Lumbini.
Sarnath has become a pilgrimage place in Varanasi for Buddhists from all over the world. In some countries Buddhism has become the dominant religion. Some of them are Thailand, Myanmar, Japan, Tibet, Sri Lanka etc.
Sarnath: Where Buddha Spoke
One of the holiest Buddhist sites in the world, Sarnath is famous as the place where Gautama Buddha delivered his first sermon. From then to the 12th century CE – nearly 1,700 years-it remained a centre of great learning, a place of pilgrimage and a vihara (monastery) for monks and scholars.
Just 10 km north-east of Varanasi, near the confluence of the Ganga and Varuna Rivers in Uttar Pradesh, Sarnath was initially known as ‘Isipatana’, ‘where the holy men landed in the early Buddhist Pali text, and ‘Mrigadava’ or ‘deer park. Legend has it that a Bodhisattva turned himself into a deer and offered his life to a king instead of the doe that the latter was planning to kill. The king was so moved that he created the park as a sanctuary for deer.
The later name ‘Sarnath’ too has a deer connection. It is an abbreviation of the word ‘Saranganatha’, which means ‘Lord of the Deer’. It is considered an epithet for Shiva, who is frequently represented holding a deer in his left hand. A modern shrine of Mahadeva can be seen on a mound at Sarnath.
But why did he choose Sarnath? Buddhist texts tell you that the five men who had accompanied Buddha on his journey of asceticism, and later abandoned him, had settled in Sarnath. So when Buddha gained enlightenment, he felt they should be the first to know what he had learned. So he proceeded to Sarnath and preached his teachings here for the first time. Buddha’s first teaching is known as the Dharmachakrapravartana Sutra, the turning of the wheel of law.
The stupa which stands tall at Sarnath today is the Dhamekh Stupa, which also seems to have had its origin in Ashoka’s time. Excavations also revealed more than a dozen railing pillars near the main shrine dated to the 1st century BCE, probably installed by the Shunga rulers (2nd to 1st century BCE). When you look at the Dhamekh Stupa, halfway up the base, there are eight niches which must have held images. Immediately below them runs a broad course of elaborate carving with geometrical and floral patterns combined with birds and human figures.
Education to Ethics
Under the Guptas (3rd-6th century CE), Sarnath saw a lot of activity and art flourished. The Chinese monk Fa-Hien, who visited Sarnath during the period of Chandragupta II (390 CE), reports that there were four stupas and two monasteries here. The Dharmarajika Stupa seems to have been enlarged and the Dhamekh Stupa was encased with floral designs carved in stone. The Gupta Empire was greatly weakened by repeated invasions of the Huna people (5th/6th century CE) and this impacted Sarnath, whose structures and statues suffered their wrath.
The north of India then came under the rule of the Vardhana Dynasty (6th and 7th century CE), whose ruler Harshavardhana (r. 606-647 CE) initiated the restoration of Sarnath. Chinese monk Hiuen Tsang, who visited Sarnath during this time, has left accounts of its monuments. He saw both the Dharmarajika Stupa and the stone pillar of Ashoka, which he stated was shining like a mirror. He was probably referring to the famous Mauryan polish. He also said that the great monastery had 1,500 resident monks and the main shrine had a big metal image of Buddha in the attitude of ‘turning the wheel’.
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