Probably the most noticeable structure at Sarnath is the Dhamek stupa. It is, in fact, one of the most prominent Buddhist structures in India; it is also referred to as Dhamekh and Dhamekha. It is located 13 Km away from Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh. The great Mauryan King Ashoka in 249 BCE had commissioned a structure at the place and Dhamekha Stupa was built in 500 CE to replace the same.
Near the site stands an Ashoka pillar with an edict engraved on it. Many stupas were built by the Mauryan king Ashoka in order to enshrine small pieces of bones and other relics of Buddha and his disciples. Stupas are circular mounds encircled by large stones.
The Dhamek Stupa represents the deer park (Rishipattana). This park is said to be of great importance as Buddha gave his first sermon, after attaining enlightenment, to his disciples that revealed his “Eightfold Path“.
According to available historical and archaeological evidences, the size of Dhamekh stupa has been increased on more than 6 occasions. As clearly visible in the pictures on this page, you can clearly see that the upper part of the great structure still remains unfinished. Historical accounts say that when the Chinese traveller Hiuen Tsang visited Sarnath in 640CE, he found more than 1,500 priests at the place. He has also recorded that the main stupa was nearly 300 feet (91 m) high.
At present, the Dhamek stupa stands as a solid cylinder of bricks and the dimensions of the stupa stand as 43.6 meters (height) by 28 meters (diameter). Dhamek Stupa is the biggest structure located at Sarnath.
The base of the Stupa still stands as it would have been in the Ashoka’s structure and the front stone bears floral designs of Gupta period. The wall of the stupa is covered with beautiful figures of humans and birds and it also bears some inscriptions in the Brāhmī script.
View more vintage photos of this stupa.
View some modern photos: First Second Third
Photographer: Felice Beato and Henry Hering
Digital image courtesy of the Getty's Open Content Program.