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Site of Buddha's first sermon.

Lion Capital of Ashoka

The most celebrated of the Ashokan pillars is the one erected at Sarnath, the site of Buddha’s First Sermon where he shared the Four Noble Truths (the dharma or the law).

Lion Capital, Ashokan Pillar at Sarnath

250 BCE

The top of the column—the capital—has three parts. First, a base of a lotus flower, the most ubiquitous symbol of Buddhism.

Then, a drum on which four animals are carved represents the four cardinal directions: a horse (west), an ox (east), an elephant (south), and a lion (north). They also represent the four rivers that leave Lake Anavatapta and enter the world as the four major rivers. Each of the animals can also be identified by each of the four perils of samsara. The moving animals follow one another, endlessly turning the wheel of existence.

Four lions stand atop the drum, each facing in the four cardinal directions. Their mouths are open, roaring or spreading the dharma, the Four Noble Truths, across the land. The lion references the Buddha, formerly Shakyamuni, a member of the Shakya (lion) clan. The lion is also a symbol of royalty and leadership and may also represent the Buddhist king Ashoka who ordered these columns. A cakra (wheel) was originally mounted above the lions.

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Uttar Pradesh, India

How far back?

Point in Timeline | 500 BCE - 500 CE 50%

2020 | Present