Dhamekh Stupa, situated on the south-eastern part of the monument area of Sarnath, is a solid cylindrical structure. The dome of this stupa is 93' in diameter. Cunningham gives the height of this stupa as 110' above the surrounding ruins. But Oertel, who had exposed a terrace in front of the Jain temple, fixed the point of measurement of this monument from an exposed terrace 12' above the road level. According to him, the height of the top of the dome was 104', while the foundation level goes down to 39' below the terrace1. The lower part of the structure (up to the height of 36'9") is composed of stone, while the upper part is a brick masonry. The upper part of the dome is composed of bricks (14' x 8' x 2"), and was encased by stone. A shift from the solid stone construction to the brick masonry was perhaps due to constraints of time and finances. The eight projections on the drum of the stupa are 21'6" wide and were placed 15' apart from one another. These projections have provision for installation of images in niche. The projections and the lower part of the drum of Dhamekh were adorned with geometric pattern carved in relief in typical Gupta style.
Cunningham in search of relic casket bore holes from the top to the bottom and across the dome. He sank three shafts in 1835 – one vertical in the centre of the dome, while the two horizontal ones were placed above and below the stone constructed portion. He found an inscribed slab in 6th/7th century character, at a depth of 3' from the top2. He also noticed evidence for an earlier structure made of bricks lying below the stone construction, at a depth of 110'. Oertel is of the opinion that the earliest construction of this stupa may be of Mauryan times3. But, the relics of the Lord could not be located by Cunningham, who records to have missed it due to certain unavoidable negligence. But Oertel is of the opinion that Dhamekh was a memorial stupa “erected on the spot, where Maitreya received an assurance from Sakyamuni that he would be the next Buddha”. If one takes notes of the chronology of the events and also topography of the area of the Sarnath monuments, it may be held that the Dhamekh stupa located on the south-eastern expansion of the sacred landscape had its foundations sunk deep through Kushan and Mauryan horizons. It was perhaps coeval with the base of the Asokan column. Constructed during the Gupta period, the floor of this structure occupies the highest contour of the unexposed area. The stone constructed part of the lower dome is certainly of Gupta period. The possibility of an earlier structure of Mauryan period expressed by Oertel, if means true, the working level of it must be almost on the same contour on which the floor of apsidal structure and Asokan pillar rested, which is difficult to establish in the present state of our knowledge. For, the given explanation by Oertel, that this stupa was constructed at the place where Maitreya received assurance from the Lord, has to examined from multiple angles.
1.Archaeological Survey of India Annual Report 1904-05: 72. 2.Majumdar, B. 1947. A Guide to Sarnath. (2nd Revised Edition). The Manager, Government of India Press, Delhi. 3.Archaeological Survey of India Annual Report 1907-08: 74.