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Sarnath: A Critical History of the Place Where Buddhism Began


Frederick M. Asher

Sarnath has long been regarded as the place where the Buddha preached his first sermon and established the Buddhist monastic order. Excavations at Sarnath have yielded the foundations of temples and monastic dwellings, two Buddhist reliquary mounds (stupas), and some of the most important sculptures in the history of Indian art. This volume offers the first critical examination of the historic site.

Frederick M. Asher provides a longue durée (long-term) analysis of Sarnath—including the plunder, excavation, and display of antiquities and the Archaeological Survey of India’s presentation—and considers what lies beyond the fenced-in excavated area. His analytical history of Sarnath’s architectural and sculptural remains contains a significant study of the site’s sculptures, their uneven production, and their global distribution. Asher also examines modern Sarnath, which is a living establishment replete with new temples and monasteries that constitute a Buddhist presence on the outskirts of Varanasi, the most sacred Hindu city.

Frederick M. Asher is a professor emeritus of art history at the University of Minnesota who specializes in South Asian art. His current research considers the visual culture of the Indian diaspora, Buddhist pilgrimage sites, and the Indian Ocean. His publications include The Art of Eastern India: 300–800 (1980), Art of India (2002), Bodhgaya (2007), and Nalanda: Situating the Great Monastery (2015).

“An enlightened guide for aficionados and armchair travelers alike.”

192 pages
7 1/2 x 9 1/2 inches
128 color and 13 b/w illustrations
ISBN 978-1-60606-616-4

Getty Publications
Imprint: Getty Research Institute