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Sarnath Deer Park: Location of the Buddha’s First Sermon

A Visitor’s Perspective at Sarnath, the Deer Park

  • Sarnath, famously known as the Deer Park from Buddhist religious literature, is one of the most important and sacred locations in the religion’s history. The Buddha visited Sarnath just after having achieved enlightenment in order to convert and teach a group of former colleagues. These colleagues were ascetics who had renounced the world and wandered naked surviving on the barest of alms. They practiced yoga and refused the Buddha at first. However, he was able to convince them with a sermon, which was his first. Sarnath is also important because it was a pleasure grove known to the urbanites dwelling in the nearby metropolis of Varanasi. Rich merchants and royals would visit the Deer Park and there they would encounter the Buddha and his disciples. In reality, it was an excellent location to not only practice the tenants of Buddhism but also to locate new wealthy converts, some of whom ended up building monasteries for the Buddha and his monastic disciples.
  • Today, Sarnath is a central pilgrimage spot for Buddhists as there are many shrines to commemorate not only the Buddha’s first sermons but also to visit one of the most ancient spaces where the first converts roamed and practiced. Most of the current remaining ruins were excavated in the middle of the 20th c entury and date to the Common Era. However, some of the remains are very ancient, dating to the 3rd century BC or maybe earlier. Most of the remnants are monasteries but some are stupas, which are reliquary mounds enshrining the relics of the Buddha or his immediate disciples. In the 12th century AD, Sarnath declined, like all Buddhist monasteries in India, and eventually the site fell into disuse.

The Cylindrical Dhamekh Stupa