Sarnath is one of the most important religious places for the followers of Buddhism. It is also popular by the name of Sarangnath, Mrigadava, Migadaya, Rishipattana or Isipatana. It is the place where Lord Buddha gave his first sermon after attaining enlightenment.
Situated about 13 km north-east of Varanasi, in Uttar Pradesh, Sarnath is home to a number of Buddhist temples, belonging to different Buddhist sects and countries- the main Buddha temple at Sarnath is, however, the Mulagandhakuti Vihara Temple.
After attaining enlightenment, Buddha traveled to the Isipatana to teach his friends and was able to make them understand the Dharma. His friends also became enlightened. That was the time when Sangha, a community of enlightened ones, got its existence.
Besides the numerous Buddhist temples, there are various other Buddhist sites like Dhamekha stupa, Chaukhandi stupa, the 80 ft high statue of standing Buddha and other sites like the ancient ruins (where the Ashokan pillar containing the Lion capital was found) are present in Sarnath. The emblem of India is an adaptation of the Lion Capital of Ashoka at Sarnath.
Sarnath or Sarangnath (also called Mrigadava, Migadaya, Rishipattana and Isipatana) is one of the most important Buddhist pilgrimage centres in India. It is also an important place for the followers of Jainism.
Sarnath is situated 13 kms to north-east of Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh. It is the place where Gautam Buddha gave his first sermon to his five disciples named Kaundinya, Bashpa, Bhadrika, Mahanaman and Ashvajit after he attained enlightenment at Bodh Gaya (presently in Bihar).
Sarnath is, thus, the place where foundation of Sangha, a new order of monks and Dhamma, was laid. It is also a religious and sacred place for Jains. It is the site of the birth of Shreyamshanath, the 11th Trithankara.
In the ancient Buddhist literature, Sarnath has been identified as Rishipatna and Mrigdava or Mrigadaya. The reason for it being referred to as Rishipatna was that after attaining nirvana, Pratyeka Buddhas or Rishis (Sages) fell at this place.
The reason behind the place being called Mrigadava (deerpark) is found in the Buddhist Jatakas. As per Jataka, Buddha had been a leader of herd of deer in his previous births had saved the life of a doe and appeared before the king of Benaras and offered himself to be killed in the place of the doe who feasted on the flesh of deer regularly. The king was moved by the sacrificial zeal of Buddha and made a free roaming ground.
The place was also called Dharamchakra or Sadhamacharka Pravartana Vihar, as revealed by the inscriptions of early medieval period (found at Sarnath). The current name Sarnath seems to be a short version of Saranganath that stands for Lord of deer.
Places of Interest
Chaukhandi Stupa :
Chaukhandi Stupa, situated 13 kilometers away from Varanasi, is said to be built originally as a terraced temple in 4th to 6th century during the Gupta period. The Chaukhandi Stupa is a brick structure crowned with an octagonal tower. According to the famous Chinese traveller Hiuen-Tsang, this was the tallest stupa at that time in the region. The octagonal tower was added to the structure during the reign of the Mughal Emperor Akbar in 1588, to commemorate the refuge given to Humayun in Sarnath.
Dharmarajika Stupa :
Another significant structure at Sarnath is the remains of the Dharmarajika Stupa, just a short distance from the Dhamekh Stupa. According to archaeologists Dharmarajika Stupa contained the bones of the Buddha.
Mulagandhakuti Vihara Temple :
The Mulagandhakuti Vihara temple, built by the Sri Lankan Mahabodhi Society, is one of the many Buddhist temples in Sarnath and probably the most famous. This Mulagandhakuti Vihara Buddha temple was built in 1931 and houses Buddha’s relics found in Taxila. The relics are displayed every year on Karthik Purnima. The walls of this temple have beautiful frescoes depicting the life of the Buddha. These frescos were made during 1932-1935 by a Japanese artist, Kosetu Nasu.
Sarnath Archaeological Museum :
The ASI museum at Sarnath is an on site museum and houses a number of artifacts related to Buddhist art as well as many images and sculptures of Hindu Gods recovered during excavations in the region. The museum comprises of five galleries with two verandahs. Some of the prominent artifacts at the museum include a life-sized image of a standing Bodhisattva, a panel depicting Shiva slaying Andhakasura, and the most important being the Lion Capital. Photography is not permitted inside the Sarnath museum, which may come as disappointment to many visitors.
By Air :
One of the important domestic airports of India is Varanasi from where you can reach Sarnath. Almost all public and private airlines operate flights on regular basis to Varanasi linking it to cities like Mumbai, Khajuraho, Chennai and Delhi. Varanasi can also be reached from Katmandu.
The nearest Airport from Sarnath is the Lal Bahadur Shastri Airport at Babatpur (Varanasi). Sarnath stands approximately 27Kms from this airport.
By Train :
A small railway station connecting Sarnath to Gorakhpur and Varanasi is located in Sarnath. Varanasi Junction is the major railway station, which is situated 10 Kms away from the place. Varanasi Junction railway station is linked to all major cities of the country via trains.
Varanasi, being an important tourist destination, is well linked to other cities in India. Number of Government owned buses connect Sarnath to the adjoining cities. Many cities of Uttar Pradesh like Prayagraj, Mathura, Agra, Lucknow, Kanpur etc have Private A/C and non A/C deluxe buses running on Varanasi route.
Local Transportation from Varanasi to Sarnath :
If you are residing in a hotel in Varanasi you may easily board a taxi or auto on hire and travel to Sarnath in approximately half and hour to 1 hr.
Few fun loving people also prefer to explore the route from Varanasi to Sarnath by Auto Rickshaw.The ride is pretty bumpy yet it’s great fun. In Sarnath you can go exploring the place in an auto rickshaw, taxi, bicycle rickshaw or by walking.