Varanasi, popularly known as Benaras and mentioned as 'Kashi' in ancient scriptures, has a glittering historical past. Located on the banks of the holy river Ganges, it is a popular pilgrimage destination. It is believed that a dip in the Ganges holy water washes away one's sins and purifies the soul.
One of the most ancient cities of the world, Varanasi is visited by a large number of tourists every year. With over 800 temples, the city has the highest density of population anywhere in the world and follows a ritualistic life style.
The Ghats of Varanasi are a major attraction for visitors made by different rulers and communities around 18th century. The riverfront of Kashi has 84 Ghats, which are the flights of step on the bank. They form a chain of sacred places.
Enthralled by its mythological legacy and traditions, Mark Twain said “Benaras is older than history, older than tradition, even older than legend and looks twice as old as all of them put together.”
Sarnath, near Varanasi is a place sacred to Buddhists. Located 10 kms by road from the Varanasi railway station, Sarnath is a part of the triangular Indian Buddhist pilgrimage circuit for global tourists.
While Bodhgaya is the place where Buddha attained enlightenment, Sarnath is the place from where Buddhism spread worldwide and it is at Kushinagar that Buddha attained Nirvana.
Sarnath is world famous for its historical relics. The Sarnath museum houses some of the greatest treasures of Indian Buddhist art. For over 1500 years,Sarnath was a thrivingcentre of Buddhism. Archaeological excavations here have led to the discovery of numerous ancient artifacts.
The most famous is the remnant of the Ashoka pillar and its lion capital that is today the symbol of the Indian government.
The famous Deer Park, Dhamekh Stupa, and other ruins evoke images of important historical events of Buddha's life. Dhamekh Stupa is the place where Buddha delivered the Turning of the Wheel sermon to his first five disciples.
Chaukhandi Stupa – its significance
The Garden of Spiritual Wisdom in Sarnath, Varanasi is located right behind the Chaukhandi Stupa and appears seamlessly connected with this nationally protected monument.
It also happens to be the first impressive monument as one enters Sarnath. The high octagonal mound is globally famous. Lord Buddha met his first five disciples here after he came from Bodhgaya upon attaining enlightenment.
The tourists often like to go up and down the stupa's octagonal mound and enjoy the views of Sarnath and Benaras from the top. This excursion constitutes a small adventure by itself as there is no definite pathway and one is free to choose the path of ascent.
It is said that Emperor Ashoka built the Chaukhandi Stupa and that some of the remains of Lord Buddha lie buried here.