Revisiting India's Gautama Buddha Era
A collection of Images with Photo descriptions recalling the Buddha times of India
Gautama Buddha delivered his first sermon after the enlightenment at Sarnath, Varanasi.
The earlier name for Varanasi had been Rishipathana Mrugadaya or Isipathana Migadaya. it is said that the name derived for Rishipathana had been due to 500 Pachcheka Buddhas that had been dwelling in the temples around the area in earlier times.This is one of the four most important pilgrimage sites for the Buddhists world over. It is situated at the Western Bank of River Ganga or Ganges, in Uttar Pradesh of India. After attaining enlightenment at Bodh Gaya, Lord Buddha came to Deer Park at Sarnath and delivered the First Sermon, Dhamma Chakra Pravarthana Sutta to the five diciples, Kondanna, Bhaddiya, Vappa, Mahanama and Assaji.
Saranath - Isipathana Migadaya- Entrance
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Sarnath is situated about ten kilometers North from Varanasi. After attaining the Buddhahood at Bodhgaya, Lord Gautama Buddha travelled here and disclosed his first sermon to the Pancha Vaggiya bhikkus. This sermon named Dhamma Chakra Pravarthana Sutta is the most famous in the Buddhist cannons.The Gautama Buddha disclosed about the Four Noble Truths,the Middle Path called the Eightfold Path or the Arya Ashtangika Marga here at Isipathana Migadaya. Yasa , the son of the richest family of Benares, and fifty four of his friends became Bhikkus at Saranath and with the five Pancha Vaggiya Bhikkus the Sangha of the Order of the Gautama Buddha Sasana was initiated here. All of them attained Arhatship by listening and understanding the Dhamma disclosed by the Buddha here at Sarnath.
The Information Display Board erected at Sarnath Archeological Site has the following description on Sarnath.
Sarnath is one amongest the four holy places associated with the Life of the Lord Buddha. This is the place where the Lord Buddha, after attaining the enlightenment at Bodhgaya, preached his first sermon to his five erstwhile companions. This event in Buddhist literature is known as Dharm-Charka-Pravarthana or the ' Turning of the Wheel of Law'. Foundation of the very first Buddhist Sangha was also laid over here by Lord Buddha himself. In Buddhist texts, the place is recorded as 'Rishipatana' or 'Issipatana' and 'Mrigadava' or 'Mrigadaya'. Though it's modern name seems to be a contraction of Saranganath (Lord of deers), still borne by the Mahadeva enshrined in a temple nearby. The place is held equally holy by the Jinas, as being the venue of the austerities and the death of Sreyansantha, the eleventh tirthankara. The archeological importance of the site was first brought to light my Mr. Duncan and Col. Kackenzie during 1798 A.,D. which was followed by a series of excavations by Alexander Cunningham (1835-1836), Major Kittoe (1851-1852) , Mr.F.O.Oertel (1904-1905),Sir John Marshall (1907), M.H.Hargreaves (1914-1915) and lastly by Dayaram Shanthi. These excavations have unearthed a number of monasteries, stupas, temple inscriptions, sculptures and other antiquities dating from third century B.C to twelfth century A.D. Noteworthy among them are Chaukandhi stupa,Dharmarajika stupa,Dhamekh stupa, Mulagandhakuti, an asokan pillar and the lion capitol, Dharm Chakra Jina vihara , other monasteries, cluster of votive stupas and a large number of sculptures. The Archeological Servey of India has maintained a site museum closeby, which houses the sculptures, inscriptions and other objects of interest, recovered from the excavations.
There had been number of Monasteries in this area at Saranath. These can be viewed near to Dharmarajika Stupa area. Remains from the 3rd century BC to the 12th century AD was found in this area during the archeological excavations.
This stupa had a diameter of around 13.5 meters at the time King Ashoka built it .A Globular granite casket with Relics had been discovered in earlier times and in 1026, a Rock Inscription also was found here .There had been six renovations to this stupa, First during Kushana Era, second at 5th or 6th Century AD, third at King Harsha's rein (7th century AD) , fourth during the 10th century ,the fifth during the rein of King Mahepala (1026 AD) and the sixth in the 12th century during the time Queen Kumaradevi was building the Dhammachakra Jina temple.
The Information Display Board erected at the Stupa location has the following description about the Dharmarajika Stupa.
Dharmarajika Stupa was built by Asoka to enshrine the relics of Lord Buddha at the time of its re distribution to enshrine them in a number of other stupas at other different places. It is refereed that King Asoka opened seven original relic stupas (but for Ramgram stupa guarded by the Nagas) and collected the relics to erect thousands of stupas. Dharmarajika Stupa is one of them. As concluded by the excavations, originally it was a small stupa of 13.49 mts. in diameter. Subsequently it was enlarged in six different phases, by raising the height,providing circumambulatory path- latter on shaped as medhi,with monolithic stair cases at four cardinal directions to climb over it, as per available records this huge structure was unfortunately pulled down by Babujagathsingh, a diwan of Raja Chetsingh, King of Banaras, during 1794 AD in order to exploit building materials. In this tragic event, a relic casket of green marble inside a stone box was discovered. The box is preserved in the Indian Museum, Calcutta, whereas the casket was thrown into river ganges. On during archeological excavations, two outstanding images viz. The colossal Bodhisattva of Kusana period in red sandstone and an image of seated Buddha in Dharm-Chakra-Pravarthana Mudra, of Gupta period were also recovered from the pheripheri of this stupa.
One find the Asoka Pillar to the Western side of the Mulagandhakuti. At the time of the construction this was 15.25 mts high and the Lion sculptures were on top of it. The diameter at the base of the pillar is 0.71 mts and the uppermost is 0.56 mts. The pillar consists of three separate inscriptions. The earliest is of King Asoka of Brahmi inscriptions. Second one belongs to Ashvagosha King of Kusan period and the third belongs to Guptha period.
The Information Display Board erected at the Ashoka pillar location has the following description about it.
These are the fragments of a 15.25 meter high monolithic Pillar erected by the Mauryan Emperor Ashoka (272-252 B.C) made of Chunar sand stone. These bear the typical mauryan polish. The cylindrical shaft is slightly tapering with a diameter of 71.10 CMs. at the base and 55.90 CMs. at the top. It was once surmounted by the famous four addorsed lion capital which is an excellent example of the Mauryan Art. (Now the national emblem of the Govt. of India) and displayed in the local site museum. the Pillar bears three inscriptions. the earliest on is an edict of Ashoka in the Mauryan Brahmi script in which, the King warns the nuns and monks against creating schism in the Sangha. Next mentions the fortieth year of the Kushana King Ashvagosha of Kaushambi and the third is in early Gupta brahmi script refers to the teachers to the teachers of the sammitiya sect and of The Vastiputraka school.
Situated about 18 meters to the Northern side of the Dharmarajika Stupa is the Mulagandhakuti Vihar. The base measures 18.29 x 18.29 meters.This had been around 69 meters high during the the 7th century AD.
The Information Display Board erected at the Mulagandhakuti location has the following description about it.
This is the remnant of a huge temple which probably represents the spot where Lord Buddha used to sit in meditation. According to Hiuen-Tsang it's height 61.0 M and thick walls were obviously meant for supporting a lofty super structure. The temple was raised on a square platform, each side measuring 18.29 M . The entrance was towards the east with a rectangular Mandapa in the front. There was a long open courtyard . On the basis of its architectural style, brick moulding and other decorative patterns. The temple appears to be constructed during the Gupta period.
The Information Display Board erected at the Dhamekh Stupa location has the following description about it.
According to the inscriptions dated 1026A.D. recovered from the site, its old name was Dharma Chakra Stupa. It is perhaps commermorating the spot where Lord Buddha preached his First Sermon. In search of the relic casket Alexander Cunningham bore a vertical shaft through its centre down to the foundation level. At a depth of 91.4 cms, he found a slab with the inscriptions “Ye dharma hetu prabhava hetu” written in the Brahmi script of 6th-7th century A.D. Further below he traced out a stupa made of Mauryan bricks. However the present diameter of this solid cylindrical tower is 28.5 meters at the base and 33.36 in height. It’s total height is 42.06 meters including the foundation of the structure consists of a circular stone drum unto the height of 11.20 meters from the ground above which rises the cylindrical mass of brickwork about 6.0 meters above the base. Eight niches are provided in eight directions which must have contained images of Buddha. Below them runs a broad course of beautifully carved stones having geometric designs, swasthika, leaf and floral patterns combined with birds and human figures.
Mulagandhakuti Vihar of Maha Bodhi Society
The New Mulagandhakuti Vihara of Maha Bodhi Society dates back to 1922 AD and was completed in 1931 AD. Anagarika Dharmapala was the founder of this vihara. Sacred Buddha Relics discovered from Taxila is being housed here and venarated. The famous Japanese painter Kosetsu Nosu did the paintings inside the temple premises in 1933 AD. A sapling of Sri Maha Bodhi tree of Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka had been planted in 1921 AD at the temple premises
In many of Gautama Buddha's disclosures to the bikkus, Lord Buddha has taken River Ganges as a simile to expound on a Dhamma matter. There are hundreds of occurrences in various Sutta's to attribute to River Ganges by Gautama Buddha.
Some Vantage Points of present-day Varanasi
How Varanasi looks like today? Outside of the Buddhist Sacred Areas, the Varanasi city could be interesting and fascinating to the traveller to India. Above are a few candid scenes around Varanasi captured during the pilgrimage.