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Located just across the road of the excavated site, the Archaeological Museum was built in 1910, adjacent to the Sangharama Monastery. In order to preserve the antiquities found from the site, a decision was taken in 1904 by the then Government to construct a site museum.
It was Sir John Marshall, the then Director General of Archaeology in India, the pioneer in establishing the Archaeological Museum at Sarnath and the plan was prepared by Mr. James Ramson, the then consulting Architect to the Government of India. Thus the building was completed in 1910 and opened to the public the same year.
A veritable treasure house, it serves as home to the valuable excavated materials and antiquitie, it also has great significance in research and study. Half of the building forms a monastery (Sangharam) in plan and it has five galleries and two verandahs. The varandahs exhibit mostly the architectural members. There is also an exquisite piece of Art in form of a large lintel depicting story of shantivadina Jataka.
The museum has five galleries named as Tathagata, Triratna, Shakyasimha Gallery, Trimurti and Ashutosh Gallery which are named according to their contents. The gallery towards the north is Tathagata while the next in a row is Triratna. Shakyasimha gallery is referred to the main hall and the one adjacent to it facing the south is named Trimurti. Asutosh gallery is in the extreme south.
These galleries has antiquities which are said to be from 3rd century BC to 12th century AD. The museum also has two verandas - the northern verandah is named as Vastumandana and the southern one is called Shilparatna.
Shakyasimha Gallery which is also the entrance of the museum houses the most prized collection of the museum. The Lion Capital of Ashoka, with the four-sided lions head, India's National Emblem stands tall in the centre of this gallery. The display of number of images of the Buddha in different postures and also ofTara can also find in this gallery. The gallery also features inscribed colossal standing images of Bodhisattva in red sandstone dedicated by Bhikshu Bala, octagonal shaft, umbrella etc.
The Triratna gallery has an impressive images of Buddhist deities and some associated objects. The gallery has a standing image of Siddhakavira which is a form of Manjusri, standing Tara, leopgraph, seated Bodhisattva Padmapani, stele depicting miracle of Sravasti, Jambhala alongwith vasudhara, depiction of Ramgrama stupa being protected by Nagas, Inscriptions of Kumardevi, stele depicting Astamahasthana (eight great places) related to Lord Buddha's life, Sunga railings etc.
Exhibits displayed in the Tathagata gallery include the different moods of Buddha, maitreya, preaching Buddha the most notable sculpture ofSarnathSchool of art, Vajrasattva, Nilakantha Lokesvara with a cup of poison and Bodhisattva padmapani.
Trimurti gallery exhibits Mahisasur mardini, figures of birds, animals, male and female heads as well as some stucco figures, image of Trimurti, Surya, Saraswati, and pot bellied seated Yaksha figure.
Ashutosh gallery displays Brahmanical deities like Shiva in different forms, Vishnu, Ganesh, Kartikeya, Agni, Parvati, Navagrahas, Bhairava and a colossal Andhakasuravadha (killing of demon Andhaka) by Shiva.
Timing: 10 am – 5 pm (Closed on Fridays)