Sarnath Temple is located in the northen Indian state of Uttar Pradesh at a distance of 8 km from Varanasi. Sarnath Temple is the scared place where Lord Buddha delivered his first sermon to his five disciples, who was preaching the middle path for attaining 'Nirvana'. Realizing such sanctity of the site, the great emperor Ashoka took up the charge to build some of the finest monuments and legacies in the 3rd century B.C here.
Significance of the temple
Sarnath has been a world famous Buddhist site in Varanasi. Lord Buddha preached his first sermon at a deer park. The sermon is known as Dhammachakkapavattana or setting in motions the Wheel of Law in Buddhism. Sarnath gradually became one of the great centres of Buddhism. The great Emperor Ashoka erected magnificent stupas and structures in Sarnath. In 640 AD, the Chinese scholar Huien Tsang who visited Sarnath wrote about the splendour of the city. In 1836, this place was rediscovered and excavated. Sarnath in Varnasi is one of the holiest sites that attract the people from all over the world. The people visit Sarnath to pay homage to the great teacher and to attain spiritual perfection.
Buddha's first ever discourse, delivered here at Sarnath, is known in Pali as the Dhammacakkhapavathana Sutta. Other Stupas in Sarnath include the Anattalakhana Sutta and the Saccavibhanga Sutta. The great Buddha's central teaching after his enlightenment centered on the Four Noble Truths which concerns about the meaning of life and even the Noble Eightfold Path which is concerned about the right way to live.
The Great Teacher Buddha spent the rainy season in Sarnath at the Mulagandhakuti vihara. Buddhism flourished in Sarnath as part because of the support of kings and wealthy merchants based in nearby Varanasi. By the 3rd century Sarnath had become an important center for the arts, which reached its zenith during the Gupta period (4th-6th century AD). When Hsuan Tsang visited from China in the 7th century, he found 30 monasteries and 3000 monks living at Sarnath.
Sarnath became a major center of the Sammatiya school of Buddhism, one of the Nikaya or Hinayana schools. The presence of images of Heruka and Tara indicate that Vajrayana Buddhism was also practiced here.
In 12th century's end Sarnath was sacked by Turkish Muslims. Long ago after attaining the enlightenment at Bodhgaya, Lord Buddha went to Sarnath. In Sarnath, the stream of the Buddha's teaching first flowed. Then here at this place Buddha encountered the five men who had been his companions of earlier austerities. The Deer Park, in Sarnath is where Buddha delivered his first sermon, or in religious language, set in motion the Wheel of Law (Maha-Dharmachakra Pravartan). The Emperor Ashoka (304 - 232 BC), who spread the Buddha's message of love and compassion throughout his vast empire, visited Sarnath around 234 BC, and erected a stupa here. The largest monastery constructed during the Muslim rule was Dharma-Chakar-Jina Vihar. This Vihar was erected by Kumardevi, wife of King Govinda Chandra, who ruled over Banaras during 1114 to 1154. In 1194 AD, Qutb-ud-din-Aibak, the Muslim conqueror, leveled the city to the ground. Sarnath became a forest of debris below which the historical ruins remained buried. Several Buddhist structures were raised at Sarnath between the 3rd century BC and the 11th century AD.
Other places to visit
The Sarnath Temple is embedded with many Stupa worth visiting.
'Dhamek' stupa which is 34 metres high stands as a remarkable structure containing the remains of Lord Buddha. This stupa is now graceful and pleasant, one can breathe the spirit of the enlightened one, and it glows with the devotion of the many followers who inhabited it through the centuries that followed. Dhamek stupa is built with mix partly of stone and partly brick. The lower part of stone face is beautified with delicate floral carvings of Gupta period.
Choukhandi Stupa was built in 1555 A.D. by Mughal Emperor Akbar and is believed to be the place where Lord Buddha met his five disciples. The magnificent and marvelous Ashoka pillar states the visit of emperor Ashoka to Sarnath. Originally the stupa was adorned by a capital of four lions, now housed in the Sarnath museum. Then the capital became the state emblem of modern India.
Mulgandha Kuti Vihara
Mulgandha Kuti Vihara was built in 1930 and is a Tibetan Buddhist shrine which treasures sacred antiques from various places and even the golden statue of Buddha. The Stupa is adorned with fantastic frescoes by Japanese artist, Kosetsu Nosu. This place also has few Chinese and Jain temples. The 'Bodhi' tree growing within the campus is believed to be the offspring of one under which Buddha had attained enlightenment in Bodh Gaya.
This pillar was erected by the Emperor Ashoka. The pillar had his edict engraved on it. This stupa is about 15.24 m in height and had four lions as its capital which is now treasured in the archaeology museum. The lion symbolises both Ashoka's imperial rule and the kingship of the Buddha. The four-lion capital was adopted as the emblem of the modern Indian Republic.
Sarnath yielded a rich collection of sculptures comprising numerous Buddha and Bodhisattva images. Considered amongst the finest specimens of Buddhist art, these have been housed at the museum, adjacent to the site. The museum is open from 10 am to 5 pm, and closed on Fridays. Apart from the above the other objects of interest at Sarnath are the Dharmrajika Stup, magnificent Lion capital, India's National Emblem at Sarnath museum, the Saddharmachakra Vihar's at excavated ruins. The museum exhibits a magnificent statue of the Buddha turning the wheel of law, and many other excavations that exhibit the flowering of the Indian Plastic arts.
The sapling of the Bodhi tree was brought from the famous tree in Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka, which in turn originated from the original tree at Bodhgaya, under which the Lord Buddha attained enlightenment about 2,500 years ago.
Time to Visit
Pleasant time to visit Sarnath Temple is October to March.
Accommodation Facilities at the Temple
Not much accommodation options are available in Sarnath. The more convenient way is to stay in Varanasi, which has accommodation options in all the three different categories.