We visited Sarnath, the city where Buddha taught his first sermon after becoming enlightened. We pushed our way past hawkers before entering the Sarnath museum whose main point of attraction was a stone statue of three lions, originally carved two hundred and fifty years before Christ by the orders of King Ashoka, and currently the emblem of India. It was broken off the base of its pillar during Turk invasions.
Next door to the museum was the deer park, the location where Buddha taught his first sermon. Buddha stayed in Sarnath for a period of time, and it flourished as a center for Buddhism for centuries. Now it is a common pilgrimage center for Buddhists around the world.
Brick stones are laid in circles where thousands of years ago a whole lot of people reached enlightenment on the spot, if I read the accompanying sign right. More bricks outline the remains of the old temple; many are carved with pretty patterns and floral designs. Ladies squat over the brick circles, sweeping them clean with handmade straw brooms.
Past a giant expanse of neatly trimmed grass sits the Dhamek Stupa, a large circular brick monument originally constructed at the site of the deer park lecture by King Ashoka, a loyal Buddhist, over a thousand years ago. It seems to have held some of Buddha’s relics at some point, but there was some sort of incident where a green marble box got thrown into the Ganges, and I wasn’t sure if the relics were inside or not.
Visiting monks in their burgundy colored robes circle the Dhamek Stupa, reminding me of the monks I’d met in Dharamsala. Many pilgrims have carefully smoothed gold foils onto the beautifully carved brick wall. This revered spot is one of the quietest places I’d been to in India, a feeling totally different than the carnival-like atmosphere of the Hindu temples we’d seen in the North.