The ancient Buddhist site of Sarnath, a deer park near Varanasi where Gautam Buddha taught his first discourses, may have a new address.
Dr Santosh Kumar, senior lecturer of ancient history at the Government MBPG College at Haldwani in Nainital, has used remote sensing technology to float a theory that Sarnath existed by the banks of river Varuna, a tributary of the Ganga. The location Kumar has honed in on is 7-8 km away from the current site.
“The Narokhar Nala near which Sarnath is located may be a paleo channel (old riverbed) of the river Varuna,” Kumar told HT. Kumar’s research appears in the latest issue of the Indian Archeological Society’s annual bulletin Puratattva.
Kumar acquired satellite imagery of Sarnath from the Remote Sensing Application Centre, Lucknow. “When a river changes its course its traces remain in the area where it flowed once,” Kumar said.
The claim needs more research to be proven, countered Dr Vidula Jaiswal, Professor of Archaeology at the Benaras Hindu University, who has conducted archaeological studies around Sarnath.
“I don’t subscribe to the view that Varuna changed its course or that Narokhar Nala is a paleo channel of Varuna because it is very narrow. It also lacks the depth necessary in an old river bed.”
Kumar said it possible to locate several ancient settlements close to the paleo channels of Varuna. “During research in villages near the paleo channels, I found ancient pottery of 800-900 BC and 600 BC to 1000 AD.’’
Today the Varuna flows 7-8 km away from the paleo channel, meandering on Varanasi’s northern side and joining Ganga at Rajghat. “Sarnath being located on a small stream of little significance does not seem likely given the significance of Sarnath,’’ Kumar said.
Kings, merchants, devotees and artisans would visit Sarnath in its heydays. Eventually this channel of Varuna dried up leaving behind traces in the form of at least five streams.
But Jaiswal maintains that the area around Sarnath has several water bodies and streams. “So it is difficult to say which one is a paleo channel of the Varuna.”