Sarnath is considered as one among the 4 holy sites that are related to the life of Buddha. This is where, after attaining enlightenment Buddha gave his first sermon. This event is known as the "the turning of the wheel of the Dharma."
At the end of 12th century, all the buildings and structures were destroyed by Turkish Invaders and the site now shows the ruined state of what was once a thriving school teaching valuable lessons of Life.
According to Hiuen Tsang, the temple at which Buddha used to meditate was 61 meters tall and we can now only see the remains of this temple.
One such ruin that stands tall at 128 feet is the Dharmekh Stupa and it is believed that at this spot the first sermon was conducted by Buddha. On this structure, we spotted intricately carved stones with geometric patterns, leaves, swastika and many others designs.
The Ashoka Pillar is a monolithic sculpture of four lions standing back to back and is entirely made of sandstone. The four lions represent power, courage, confidence and pride. The base of the pillar though still stand in the original place, the Lion Capital is on display in the Archaeological Museum in Sarnath.
Another master piece in this museum is the massive monolithic ten armed Shiva who is also sporting a beard. This sculpture depicts a fierce lord Shiva killing a demon and collecting his blood in an urn as it was believed that every drop of blood from the demon that touches the earth will give birth to another demon. Another striking feature of this fine sculpture is the weapons in Shiva's hands, especially the maze that is made out of human skull. One has to preserve this sculpture in their memory as photography is prohibited inside the museum and safe deposit lockers are made available.
The ruins and the site are maintained very well by ASI. The pathways are very well laid out and are a beautiful sight. These pathways are pretty much used by snakes as well to cross over and hide under one of the many ruins. So do not be surprised if you come across one.
Sarnath would be an ideal day trip from Varanasi as it is only 15 km away.