Sarnath is the deer park where Gautama Buddha first taught the Dharma, and where the Buddhist Sangha came into existence through the enlightenment of Kondanna. Sarnath is located 13 kilometres north-east of Varanasi, in Uttar Pradesh, India. Singhpur, a village one km away from the site, was the birthplace of Shreyansanath, the eleventh Tirthankara of Jainism, and a temple dedicated to him, is an important pilgrimage site.
Isipatana is mentioned by the Buddha as one of the four places of pilgrimage which his devout followers should visit, if they wanted to visit a place for that reason.
The Dhamek Stupa was built in 500 CE to replace an earlier structure commissioned by the great Mauryan king Ashoka in 249 BCE, along with several other monuments, to commemorate the Buddha's activities in this location. Stupas originated as circular mounds encircled by large stones. King Ashoka built stupas to enshrine small pieces of calcinated bone and other relics of the Buddha and his disciples. An Ashoka pillar with an edict engraved on it stands near the site.
The Dhamek Stupa is said to mark the spot of a deer park (Rishipattana) where the Buddha gave the first sermon to his five disciples after attaining enlightenment, "revealing his Eightfold Path leading to nirvana". The stupa was enlarged on six occasions but the upper part is still unfinished. While visiting Sarnath in 640 CE, Xuanzang recorded that the colony had over 1,500 priests and the main stupa was nearly 300 feet (91 m) high.
In its current shape, the stupa is a solid cylinder of bricks and stone reaching a height of 43.6 meters and having a diameter of 28 meters. It is the most massive structure in Sarnath. The basement seems to have survived from Ashoka's structure: the stone facing is chiseled and displays delicate floral carvings of Gupta origin. The wall is covered with exquisitely carved figures of humans and birds, as well as inscriptions in the Brāhmī script.