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After reaching enlightenment, the Buddha began attracting followers—and founding a religion—by preaching. He delivered his first sermon at Sarnath, near the banks of the Ganges in Northeast India, in the 6th century BCE. By the 3rd century BCE, it had become a site of considerable importance; the emperor Ashoka visited and erected a gleaming pillar, officially declaring it the site of the Buddha’s sermon while also referencing the flourishing monastic community. For thousands of years Sarnath has attracted monks, artists, archaeologists, and tourists from across the globe. Today, it ranks among the most prominent and most visited sites for Buddhists. Its ancient religious structures, including stupas, or reliquary mounds, and pieces of Ashoka’s pillar, can be visited in an archaeological park that is a candidate for World Heritage status.

In this episode, Fredrick Asher, professor emeritus of art history at the University of Minnesota, discusses the long history and significance of Sarnath, the site’s relationship to its local populations, and ideas for the future of the excavated area. Asher is the author of Sarnath: A Critical History of the Place Where Buddhism Began, recently released by Getty Publications.
Book cover image, featuring a watercolor image of a stupa that has plants growing from it. Below is the book title, Sarnath: The Place Where Buddhism Began

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Sarnath: A Critical History of the Place Where Buddhism Began buy the book

JAMES CUNO: Hello, I’m Jim Cuno President of the J. Paul Getty Trust. Welcome to Art and Ideas, a podcast in which I speak to artists, conservators, authors, and scholars about their work.
FREDERICK ASHER: There is, and appropriately so, a tension between Sarnath as an archaeological monu...

Music Credits
“The Dharma at Big Sur – Sri Moonshine and A New Day.” Music written by John Adams and licensed with permission from Hendon Music. (P) 2006 Nonesuch Records, Inc., Produced Under License From Nonesuch Records, Inc. ISRC: USNO10600825 & USNO10600824

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This post is part of Art + Ideas, a podcast in which Getty president Jim Cuno talks with artists, writers, curators, and scholars about their work.
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