Archaeological Museum Sarnath is the oldest site museum of Archaeological Survey of India in real sense. In order to preserve and display the antiquities found from the site during the excavations, a decision was taken in 1905 by the Government to construct a site museum adjacent to the excavated area at Sarnath.
It was due initiative of Sir John Marshall, the then Director General of Archaeology in India, that this museum was created. The plans were prepared by Mr. James Ransome , the then Consulting Architect to the Government of India. The building was completed in 1910 to house, display and study the antiquities in their right perspective. The building forms half of a monastery ( sangharama) in plan.
There are five galleries & two verandahs in the museum to display the antiquities ranging in time from third century B.C. to twelfth century A.D. found at Sarnath.
Sarnath is one of the four most important Buddhist Pilgrimage centers. According to Mahaparinibbna Sutta, Buddha himself told his disciples to visit four places- Lumbini, BodhaGaya, Sarnath and Kusinagara which were connected with his birth, enlightenment, first preaching and decease ( nirvana) respectively. In ancient Buddhist literature the places finds mention as Rishipatana Mirgadava or Mirgadaya. The Place was called Rishipatana, as it was here the bodies of five hundred Pratyaka Buddhas Or Rishis (sages) fell after their attainment of nirvana ( salvation). The inscriptions of early medieval period found Sarnath referred to this place as Dharmacharkra or Saddharmachakrapravarttanavihara ( Convent of the Turning of the Wheel of the law). The Modern name Sarnath seems to be a contraction of Saraganatha (Lord of deer) still borne by the Lord Shivaenshrined in a temple nearby. Sarnath is also sacred to the Jainas because they look upon it as the site of asceticism and death of Sreyansantha the eleventh Trithankara . Buddha the great sage after attaining enlightenment at BodhGaya came to Sarnath and delivered his first sermon to five monks (i.e. Kaundinya, Vappa, Bhadriya, Mahanaman and Asvajit) for redeeming humanity. It is this place where foundation of new order of monks (Sangha) and new order of religious doctrine (Dhamma) was laid.