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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.

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Author: Getty Media

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