Sarnath is located eight km from Varanasi in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. It is famous as the place where the Buddha first preached his message after attaining nirvana.
Due to its location near the Tropic of Cancer, Sarnath enjoys a comfortable winter but a hot summer. During winter, the mercury can dip to as low as 10°C at night and the daytime temperature remains around 20°C.
Summer brings a less comfortable weather situation. Begining in April and continuing through June, it is extremely dry and daytime temperatures often climb up to 45°C.
In late June or early July, the monsoon season brings torrential rains and high humidity. Fortunately, the temperatures normally remain under 37°C, although uncomfortably humid.
Sarnath derives its name from Saranganatha (Lord of the Deer). After the Buddha attained enlightenment in Bodh Gaya, he came to Sarnath. Here in the Deer Park, he delivered his first sermon or set in motion the Wheel of Law (Maha Dharmachakra Pravartan.). On the day before his death, the Buddha named Sarnath along with Lumbini, Bodh Gaya and Kushinagar as the four places that his followers should consider sacred.
The Emperor Ashoka, who spread Lord Buddha's message of love and compassion throughout his vast empire, visited Sarnath around 234 BC and constructed a stupa here. Several Buddhist structures were built at Sarnath between the 3rd century BC and the 11th century AD and today this place has the most expansive ruins among the places related to the Buddha.
Explorations during a recent Japanese-funded UNESCO project have yielded this "biggest Buddhist settlement in all of Central India." The remains point to monasteries of enormous proportions. Earlier, eight structures had been identified. Now, 14 more monasteries and 23 stupas have been found. The Archaeological Museum here as well as the Chinese and Tibetan Temples are all worth a visit.
Places To See :
Believed to have been built in 500 AD, the Dhamekh stupa, the largest in the region, marks the spot where the Buddha proclaimed his faith in front of his first five followers. The lower portion of this tall cylindrical stupa has fine floral carvings. It houses a stone slab with Buddhist inscriptions on it dating back to the 6th century BC. The sprawling green lawns around it provide the right environment to meditating monks.
The main excavation site is a vast expanse of low lying structures and standing amidst them one can view the various facets of Buddhist history, its interesting twists and turns, the rise and fall of empires and kingdoms. One can witness the ancient relics of Buddhist art, which was designed to communicate the message of the Buddha through signs and symbols. The earliest and most important relic is found in the Ashoka pillar that was erected in 250 BC. Four lions representing the spirit of India sit back to back with a wheel between them. The original piece is in the Sarnath archaeological museum.
As one explores the open complex of ruins, one can find monasteries dating back to different periods, reflecting different tenets of Buddhism. Kumar Devi was a Buddhist queen of Kannauj, who built perhaps the last of the great monasteries. Remnants of its basement and halls are visible here.
The dilapidated remains of the Choukhandi Stupa belonging to the Gupta period are a reminder that this is the place where the Buddha was reunited with his five disciples, who had previously deserted him. Standing on a terraced rectangular plinth, the Stupa is capped by an incongruous octagonal Mughal tower built by Emperor Akbar to commemorate his father's visit to the place.
The Mulagandha Kuti Vihar was built in 1931 by the Mahabodhi Society. The entrance of the vihar is dominated by a huge bell, a gift from Japan, and the interior contains a beautiful life-size golden image of the Buddha and colorful murals and frescoes painted by a Japanese artist.
The Sarnath Archeological Museum houses the superb Lion capital of the Ashokan Pillar. This symbol has been adopted as the national emblem of modern India.
Buddhists from various countries have built temples, each one unique in that it is built according to the architectural style of the country. Life in each of these temples-Chinese, Thai, Korean, Tibetan, Vietnamese, Sikkimese, or Burmese-revolves around cleaning the temple, meditating, reading holy books, teaching and offering food to the hungry and help to the needy.
Nearby Places :
Varanasi is the most important place near Sarnath and a regular stop for the tourists headed for Sarnath. The city is famous for its temples, ghats, lanes, and most importantly its religious and cultural significance in the Hindu society.
Sarnath is a part of one of the major tourist circuits of India-the Buddhist circuit-and is linked to Bodhgaya, Rajgir, Nalanda, Kushinagar, and Lumbini.
By Air : The nearest airport is Babatpur 30 km away from where one can take daily flights to Delhi, Calcutta, Bhubaneswar, Kathmandu, and Patna.
By Rail : Sarnath is a halt on the Northern Railway network and several of the trains, which cross Varanasi, stop here. From Varanasi direct trains are available for almost all the major cities of India.
By Road : Sarnath is 9.6 km by road from Varanasi, and is linked by a regular bus service. One can also hire a taxi from Varanasi.