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Sarnath (Hindustani pronunciation: [saːɾnaːtʰ]) is a place located 10 kilometres (6.2 mi) northeast of Varanasi near the confluence of the Ganges and the Varuna rivers in Uttar Pradesh, India. The Deer Park in Sarnath is where Gautama Buddha first taught the Dharma, and where the Buddhist Sangha came into existence through the enlightenment of Kondanna (Sanskrit: Kauṇḍinya).
Singhpur, a village approximately 1 kilometre (0.62 mi) away from the site, was the birthplace of Shreyansanath, the Eleventh Tirthankara of Jainism. A temple dedicated to him is an important pilgrimage site.
Also referred to as Isipatana, this city is mentioned by the Buddha as one of the four places of pilgrimage his devout followers should visit. It was also the site of the Buddha's Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta, which was his first sermon after attaining enlightenment, in which he explained the four noble truths and the teachings associated with them.
Sarnath has been variously known as Mrigadava, Migadāya, Rishipattana and Isipatana throughout its long history. Mrigadava means "deer-park". "Isipatana" is the name used in the Pali Canon, and means the place where holy men (Pali: isi, Sanskrit: rishi) landed.
The legend says that when the Buddha-to-be was born, some devas came down to announce it to 500 rishis.
Sarnath derives from the Sanskrit Sāranganātha, which means "Lord of the Deer", and relates to another old Buddhist story in which the Bodhisattva is a deer and offers his life to a king instead of the doe the latter is planning to kill. The king is so moved that he creates the park as a sanctuary for deer. The park is active in modern times.
Buddhism flourished in Sarnath because of kings and wealthy merchants based in Varanasi. By the third century, Sarnath had become an important centre for the arts, which reached its zenith during the Gupta period (4th to 6th centuries CE). In the 7th century by the time Xuanzang visited from China, he found 30 monasteries and 3000 monks living at Sarnath.
Sarnath became a major centre of the Sammatiya school of Buddhism, one of the early Buddhist schools. However, the presence of images of Heruka and Tara indicate that Vajrayana Buddhism was (at a later time) also practised here. Also, images of Brahminist gods as Shiva and Brahma were found at the site, and there is still a Jain temple (at Chandrapuri) located very close to the Dhamekh Stupa.
Kumaradevi, the Gahadvala queen, constructed the last structures at Sarnath. In 1193, her grandson, Jaichand of Kannauj was defeated by Qutb al-Din Aibak, a general of Muhammad Ghori. At the end of the 12th century, Sarnath was sacked by Turkish Muslims, and the site was subsequently plundered for building materials.
During the Gupta Empire, Brahmanical hostility towards Buddhism probably resulted in destructions at Sarnath, before Buddhists returned and flourished again in the city from the 5th century CE. After the 12th century CE, Buddhist constructions stopped and the city seems to have been abandonned by Buddhists, as in many other places in India. It is thought that the Gahadavalas built large Hindu temples in traditional Buddhist cities such as Sarnath, and converted Buddhist shrines into Brahmanical ones. Then Islamic invasions followed, especially under the Ghurid Empire general Qutb-ud-din Aibek in 1193, bringing massive plunder and destructions, "intended to acquire land and wealth". It is generally thought that the Sarnath Lion Capital of Ashoka was destroyed at that time.
Main article: Sarnath Jain Tirth
Sarnath is the birthplace of the 11th Tirthankara Shri Shreyansanatha Bhagwan. It is the place where 4 of the 5 kalyanak (auspicious life events) of Shri Shreyansanatha Bhagwan took place.
It is the place of 4 kalyanak of Shri Shreyansnath Bhagwan. A huge ashtakod stoop (octagonal pillar), 31.4 metres (103 ft) in height is still present showing its historical establishment. It is considered to be 2200 years old. The main deity of this temple is a blue-coloured idol of Shri Shreyansnath Bhagwan, 75 centimetres (30 in) in height, in Padmāsana.
The major excavated ruins are listed below, generally in north-to-south and west-to-east order.
Most of the ancient buildings and structures at Sarnath were damaged or destroyed by the Turks. However, amongst the ruins can be distinguished:
For Buddhists, Sarnath (or Isipatana) is one of four pilgrimage sites designated by Gautama Buddha, the other three being Kushinagar, Bodh Gaya, and Lumbini.
Sarnath has been developed as a place of pilgrimage, both for Buddhists from India and abroad. A number of countries in which Buddhism is a major (or the dominant) religion, such as Thailand, Japan, Tibet, Sri Lanka, and Myanmar, have established temples and monasteries in Sarnath in the style that is typical for the respective country. Thus, pilgrims and visitors have the opportunity to experience an overview of Buddhist architecture from various cultures. There is a 24-m-tall (80-foot) statue of Buddha constructed over 14 years (1997-2011) by joint Indo-Thai efforts. It is said to be inspired by the Buddhas of Bamiyan.
The plate, based on a picture by Samuel Prout, on which Letitia Elizabeth Landon's poem Sarnat a Boodh Monument is based, shows its then run-down condition, and her words, comparing the religions of the world, pick up on the apparent weakness of Buddhism in the country of its origin at that time (1832).
Sarnath is one of the locations of Rudyard Kipling's Kim. Teshoo Lama stays at the Temple of the Tirthankhars in Sarnath when not on his pilgrimages. Kim meets him there after he leaves Saint Xavier's school.
And then, in 1193, Qutb-ud-din Aibek, the military commander of Muhammad of Ghor's army, marched towards Varanasi, where he is said to have destroyed idols in a thousand temples. Sarnath very likely was among the casualities of this invasion, one all too often seen as a Muslim invasion whose primary purpose was iconoclasm. It was of course, like any premodern military invasion, intended to acquire land and wealth