Ashoka Pillar, Sarnath

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Timings : 10:00 AM - 5:00 PM.
Closed on Fridays

Entry Fee : Adults: INR 5

Ashoka Pillar, Sarnath Overview

The national emblem of India and a mark of Emperor Ashoka's visit to Sarnath, the Ashoka Pillar crafted out of stone is an impressive structure with four lions at the top. This 50 m long pillar along with the Dhamek Stupa, are Ashoka's gift to Buddhism and the entire complex has a calm aura to it. A number of monks are spotted meditating around the compound. The entire complex is filled with lush green lawns, and along with the Stupa, they resemble a colony with the Ashoka Pillar being the main attraction. India's oldest archaeological museum has been built at the periphery of the complex.

Sarnath along with Lumbini, Bodhgaya, and Kushinagar are the four places that Lord Buddha suggested visiting to his followers. Erected in the thirteenth century, most of the structures in the area are in ruins, but the pillar stands high. Bull, a lion, an elephant and a horse are depicted on the base of the Ashoka Pillar which symbolizes the four different phases of Gautam Buddha's life. Dhamek Stupa is an important landmark for Buddhists where Lord Buddha preached his lessons for the very first time. He only had five disciples behind him then.

Sarnath is also mentioned as Rishipatana in the Buddhist literature since more than five hundred sages fell here after attaining Nirvana. There are also prayer wheels in the compound with beautiful carvings of 'Om Mani Padme Hum' in Sanskrit. The graphic representation of the Ashoka Pillar and the words 'Satyamev Jayate' written below in Devanagari have been adopted as the official Emblem of India. 

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The Pillar

The Ashoka Pillar intact at Sarnath is only a part of the Ashokan Pillar. It comprises of three parts with four lions sitting on the top of Ashoka Chakra. The Ashoka Chakra, the wheel of which is also a part of the national flag of the country contains four wheels on different directions with four different animals between them. The Ashoka Chakra rests on an inverted lotus which is the second part of the pillar. These two are collectively known as the Ashoka's Lion Capital or more commonly as "The Capital." The Capital of the Ashokan Pillar at Sarnath is broken but is one the prime displays at the Archeological Museum.

The lion is the symbol of royalty and leadership and Lord Buddha himself from whom the knowledge of release from 'samsara' is possible. The drum on which four animals are carved represent the four cardinal directions: a horse (west), an ox (east), an elephant (south), and a lion (north). The animals following one another endlessly signify the wheel of existence. The Lotus, which is also the base, is a notable symbol of Buddhism. 

Stupa

The impressive Stupa is eleven meters high and is built of red bricks and sandstone. The standing structure you see now is a rework on an older stupa built by Ashoka in 249 BC. Dhamek Stupa which roughly translates to "where the Rishi arrived" is believed to contain bones, ashes, and relics of Lord Buddha and his disciples. Xuanzeng, a Chinese Buddhist monk with a considerable mention at the site and museum, had recorded that the Stupa was ninety meters high and the colony amassed more than fifteen hundred monks.

Archaeological Museum:

Sarnath museum is the oldest museum site under Archeological Survey of Museum. With more than six thousand sculptures and artworks, the museum was completed in 1910 after the government’s decision to store all the antiquities found during excavations. Similar to a monastery in structure, the massive complex has five different galleries showcasing artifacts from 3rd century BC to 12th century AD. The Lion Capital of Ashoka is displayed right at the center of the entrance hall also called the Shakyasimha gallery. A huge bodhisattva built of red sandstone and several portraits of Lord Buddha are on display. The entrance south to the Shakyasimha gallery is the Triratna exhibiting several associated objects with Lord Buddha ranging from images of Stupas to intricate inscriptions. Tathagata Gallery has Lord Buddha in his different moods and attitudes and the caricature of Lord Shiva with a cup of poison beside him. The Trimurti gallery is named after the three supreme gods, Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh and houses images of them along with figures of birds and heads of males and females. There are two verandahs in the south and north side of the museum with architectural pieces on display. The northern verandah has illustrious carvings of fauna and flora with sculptures of gods and goddesses. The south verandah has stones, lintels, pedestals, and faces on display.

Best Time To Visit Ashoka Pillar

Summers at Sarnath can soar up to forty-five degrees and become extremely humid and uncomfortable outdoors. Winters are pleasant and the best time to visit the place is from September to March.

How To Reach Ashoka Pillar, Sarnath

Sarnath has a railway station with connectivity to Varanasi and Gorakhpur through passenger trains. One would find express trains to all major cities from there.
Government buses and private tourist buses play regularly to Sarnath from Varanasi which is hardly ten kilometres away. Cabs are readily available, and there is a dedicated parking outside the area.

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