Sarnath Temple

About The Temple

Details On Sarnath Temple, Uttar Pradesh

The Sarnath Temple is located about 8 kilometers from the city of Varanasi, in the North Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. It was built in 640 Ad by Emperor Ashoka in dedication to Lord Buddha who gave his first sermon called “Dharma Chakra Pravartana” or “Setting In Motion the Wheels of Law” as it is known in Buddhism, to his disciples in the deer park nearby.

Influence on culture and religion

Lord Buddha gave his first sermon to a group of five disciples at this location to tell them about how to follow the middle path that leads to “Nirvana”. Emperor Ashoka who had embraced Buddhism after renouncing the path of war built a Sarnath stupa in commemoration the first teaching of Lord Buddha. Since then, this Buddhist temple has become a famous pilgrimage spot for both Hindus and Buddhists alike. People from all parts of the country and even the world come to this temple to offer their prayers to Lord Buddha and ask for his blessings to purify their lives of all sins. Emperor Ashoka’s visit to Sarnath is proclaimed by the Ashoka pillar which has the statue of four lions on its top. These four lions have become the state symbol of India.

Presiding deity

The presiding deity of this temple is Lord Buddha. The Lord had come to Sarnath after attaining “Nirvana” at Bodh Gaya and had met his first five disciples here. He preached to them the way to reach the same level of enlightenment that he had reached himself and asked them to teach others. The importance of Sarnath in the Buddhist religion as a place of pilgrimage is evident by the fact that it the main deity that is worshiped in this temple is of Lord Buddha.

Details of idol

The main shrine consists of a golden statue of Lord Buddha and is made of marble. The idol of Lord Buddha is golden in color with eyes closed and his hands in front of his chest in a position of blessing people who come to pray to him. The idol is in a sitting position in the lotus position. The figures of his five disciples are engraved on the base on which the Lord is sitting.

Other nearby shrines

In addition to the various stupas, the main temple site is dotted with monasteries and shrines built by the Buddhists from various countries. The Tibetan Karmappa Temple, the Mulagandha Kuti Vihara built by the Buddhists from Japan, the Sri Digambar Jain Temple are some of the shrines that can be found near the Dhamekha Stupa where Lord Buddha gave his first sermon.

Nature of worship

The main worship of Lord Buddha is carried out by Buddhist monks who hail from different countries. There are separate monasteries constructed by various countries at Sarnath with a large number of Buddhist population such as Japan, Sri Lanka, and others. Each of the countries has their own monk who prays to Lord Buddha in separate ways, and in their own language. The Karmappa Temple is one such place where the 17th Karmappa of the Buddhist Kagaryud sect offered his prayers to Lord Buddha and paid respects to the birthplace of Buddhism. People from this sect come to this particular temple to pray. You can visit the monasteries during any day of the week as per the Sarnath temple timing.

Special occasions and religious events

The main festival is Buddha Purnima which marks the birth of Lord Buddha. It is celebrated with great fervor in the month of April or May or “Baisakh” as per the Hindu calendar. Other than this festival, there are many special occasions which are celebrated at Sarnath. The celebrations teach brotherhood and unity. The most important of these celebrations is the Chatth Puja which is held twice in a year, the first time in the month of March or “Chaitra” of the Hindu calendar and the second time in the month of November or “Kartik” as per the Hindu calendar. The “festival of colors” or “Holi” is celebrated with much gaiety and fervor. The “festival of lights” or “Diwali”is celebrated at Sarnath during October or November as per the Hindi calendar while “Dussehra” is also held during this time to commemorate Lord Rama’s victory over Ravana. A large number of lamps light up the temple premises and homes of the people who live here during “Diwali”. The harvest festival called “Makar Sankranti” is also held just like in other parts of the country at the start of summer when the crop gets harvested and stored.

Pilgrimage to Sarnath

Sarnath is a holy place for pilgrimage for Buddhists from all over the world. Countries including Japan, Myanmar, Tibet, Sri Lanka, Thailand and others which have a large number of people following the Buddhist faith have erected temples in Sarnath in their own styles of architecture. For pilgrims from all over the world, it is now possible to see the influence of Buddhism on different cultures.

How To Reach

It is very easy to travel to the Sarnath temple near Varanasi by local Taxi or Bus. You can reach Varanasi by air, rail, or road as it is very well connected to the other cities of the country.

 

  • By air – The Babatpur Airport at Varanasi is serviced by a large number of domestic carriers. All of them connect the city to the other major cities of the country. A pilgrim from a foreign country can get down at the international Airport at Kolkata in the Eastern part of the country and then catch a domestic flight to Varanasi. The traveler can get down at other international airports at Delhi and Mumbai also to catch the domestic flight.
  • By rail – Varanasi is a very important railway station in the map of the Eastern section of the Indian Railways. A large number of trains stop at this railway station on their way to other destinations of the country.
  • By road – Varanasi is connected to other cities in the country by the National Highway number 2 and many other state highways. The national Highway number 2 connects the city to Kolkata in eastern India and Delhi in the northern part of the country. Varanasi is about 120 kilometers away from Allahabad which is a major city in India and about 250 kilometers by State Highway number 7 from Gaya which is another pilgrimage spot for Buddhists. Long distance buses reach Varanasi by these highways.

 

Nearby Attractions

There are a large number of Buddhist monasteries and stupas around the main monastery at Sarnath which are worth visiting. Varanasi also has a large number of temples that one can see while on a visit to Sarnath. Some of the places of interest at Sarnath and Varanasi are:

  • Dhamek Stupa, Sarnath: This stupa contains the remains of Lord Buddha and is made partly with stones and partly with bricks. It is almost 34 feet in height and is covered by beautiful floral carvings that were made during the Gupta period.
  • Chukhandi Stupa, Sarnath: This stupa was built by the Mughal Emperor who had respect for all regions in 1555 AD. It is supposed to be the exact place where Lord Buddha met his first five disciples. The original Ashoka pillar was located here but later moved to the Sarnath museum.
  • Mulgandha Kuti Vihara, Sarnath: The present structure was built in 1930 to mark the spot where Lord Buddha had stayed in Sarnath when he was preaching the “Wheels of Law”. It is a Tibetan Buddhist shrine that houses sacred antiques and a golden statue of Lord Buddha.
  • Sarnath Museum, Sarnath: Adjacent to the main site of Sarnath monastery is the Sarnath museum. It houses some of the finest statues of Lord Buddha and Bodhisattya which were recovered from the site. A magnificent statue of Lord Buddha turning the wheel of law is also present here. You can buy a Sarnath temple photo at the shops located near the museum.
  • Bodhi Tree, Sarnath: The sapling of this tree was brought from Anuradhapura in Sri Lanka and planted here. It is believed that the sapling is an offspring of the original tree under which Lord Buddha attained enlightenment about 2500 years ago.
  • Kashi Viswanath Temple, Varanasi: The temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva and is also known as the golden temple with a Siva Linga which attracts thousands of devotees from all over the country.
  • Tulsi Manas Temple, Varanasi: Dedicated to Lord Rama, this temple is located at the spot where the poet and writer Goswami Tulshida wrote the epic“Ramacharitamanasa” which is the life history of Lord Ram.
  • The Sankatmochan Temple, Varanasi: This temple is dedicated to Lord Hanuman where people come to pray to the Lord for deliverance and salvation.

 

History Of Temple

Legend and the Sarnath temple history say that after attaining "Nirvana” in Bodhgaya, Lord Buddha visited Sarnath after five weeks. He stayed at the “Mulgandha Kuti Vihar” during the rainy season and preached his sermon to the first five of his disciples while sitting at the Deer park. His first sermon is called “Dharma Chakra Pravartana” which means “Setting the Wheel of Law in motion” in the Pali language. He taught that the first step through which “Nirvana” could be attained was by following this sermon.

Emperor Ashoka was deeply saddened by the loss of lives during the Kalinga War which he had waged against other people in order to increase his empire. In his remorse, he gave up the ways of war and embraced Buddhism to seek forgiveness for perpetuating persecution and death on people. He visited Sarnath in the 3rd century and decided to build a stupa in dedication of Lord Buddha and his teachings and to spread the message of love and compassion throughout his empire.

By the end of the 3rd century, both Buddhism and arts flourished in the region with Sarnath as its center. It reached its peak during the 4th to the 6th century under the rule of the Gupta dynasty. The great Chinese historian and philosopher came to Sarnath in the 7th century and found that more than 3000 monks lived at this place where there were about 30 Buddhist monasteries spread all over the place. During the 12th century when the region was conquered by the Muslim rulers from the north, the Stupa was razed to the ground along with many other Buddhist monasteries by the forces of Qutb-ud-din-Aibak. The ruins lay under a cover of trees and plants until their discovery in 1798.