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Sarnath Travel Guide – Ultimate Travel Itinerary of Sarnath

Sarnath is one of the most revered Buddhist Pilgrim centres. After attaining enlightenment at Bodh Gaya, here at Sarnath Lord Buddha preached his first Sermon, sanctified as Maha Dharma Chakra Pravartan (Set in Motion the Wheel of Dharma). During the time of Lord Buddha, Sarnath was called Rishipattana or Issipattana and Mrigdav because it was an ideal place for sages and was a dense forest inhabited by deers. Emperor Ashoka visited here at around 234 B.C and erected a stupa here. Today, Sarnath treasures the most expensive ruins on the Buddhist Trail.

In this blog, I am going to share my experience about my trip from Varanasi to Sarnath and the places you can visit in Sarnath with detailed information you should know about each site.

History of Sarnath

In The Rich and Eventful History of Sarnath Uttar Pradesh, Sarnath is one of the four most significant Buddhist pilgrimage sites.

After achieving enlightenment at Bodh Gaya, Gautam Buddha traveled here in 528 B.C., marking the beginning of the history of Sarnath, India. He gave his five former buddies his first sermon at this location. Buddhist literature refers to this occurrence as dharmachakra-pravartana, which literally translates to “the turning of the Wheel of Law.” They studied everything the Buddha knew, and as a result, they attained enlightenment as well. The first Buddhist Sangha, or community of monks, was thus established.

The Buddha spent the following wet season at the Mulagandhakuti vihara in Sarnath after giving his first sermon there. The Buddhist Sangha had expanded to 60 members by that point. The Buddha then dispatched the Sangha to spread his teachings everywhere. The assistance of the local rulers and prosperous merchants is largely responsible for the flourishing of Buddhism in Sarnath. When the Chinese traveller Hsuan Tsang visited Sarnath in the seventh century, there were 30 monasteries and 3000 monks residing there, according to the History of Sarnath.

By the end of the 12th century, Turkish Muslims had looted Sarnath. The location was heavily looted for building supplies and has been abandoned ever since. After that, Sarnath was utterly abandoned until the British started excavating and restoring this ancient city in 1836.

Sarnath is not just a popular Buddhist destination, but it is also a significant Jains sacred site since Shreyansanath, the Eleventh Tirthankara of Jainism, is thought to have been born there. Even Sarnath has a temple that is devoted to him.

Places to visit in Sarnath

While there are many historic stupas, statues, and buildings in the vicinity of Sarnath, a number of Buddhist temples have lately been constructed that are modelled after Thai, Burmese, Korean, and Chinese temples. These temples offer a distinctive viewpoint of this historic town. Here are a few places you might check out while travelling to Sarnath.

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Chaukhandi Stupa

The stupa has great significance in history as Lord Buddha during his first visit to Sarnath after attaining the enlightments, met his first disciples here who earlier had abandoned him.

Sarnath Buddhist Complex

The primary archaeological complex in Sarnath is the Buddhist Complex. The enormous Dhamekh Stupa is without a doubt the complex’s major draw. But other stupas, monastic locations, and artefacts can be found scattered around the complex.

The ancient constructions that may still be seen today in Sarnath date from the third century BC to the twelve centuries AD. Buildings were constructed, they were destroyed, and occasionally another structure was built on top of the demolished one. Therefore, it is apparent that not all of the structures in the complex date from the same era.

Let me take you around the ruins and the key structures hat make up the Sarnath Buddhist Complex.

Dhamekh Stupa

The most well-known structure in Sarnath is the Dhamekh Stupa. Originally constructed in 249 CE, the enormous stupa was a creation of Mauryan emperor Ashoka.

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The Dhamekh Stupa is a sturdy, cylindric building with a diameter of 28 metres and a height of 43.6 metres composed of red bricks and stone. It is thought that Lord Buddha delivered his first sermon here after achieving enlightenment. Dharma Chakra Pravartana, or the setting of the “Wheels of Law,” is the name given to this well-known occurrence in the life of Lord Buddha. The word “Dhamekh” may have evolved from the phrase “Dharma Chakra.” The stupa has undergone numerous alterations and additions over time. The area also symbolizes the inauguration of the first Buddhist Sangh. The stupa’s exquisite art work’s remnants made it clear that the building may have had lovely embellishment and carvings.

Dharmarajika Stupa

Another stupa in the complex from where two Buddhas staues were excaveted. The stupa was built by Emperor Ashoka in 3rd Century B.C.

Ashokan Piller

A glass exhibit surrounds the Ashokan Pillar. The bottom part of the original 5.25 m high pillar, which was crowned with the Lion Capital, is all that is left of the pillar.There are three inscriptions on the Pillar. The earliest one is an Ashokan decree written in Brahmi script. The King threatens the monks and nuns with punishment in the inscriptions if they split up the Sangha.

The second and third inscriptions date from the Kushan and older Gupta periods, respectively.

Main Shrine

Today, the entire shrine lies in ruins. It seems sense that when it was at its grandest, the building was large. The main shrine was over 60 metres high, according to the renowned Chinese traveller and monk Hiuen Tsang, who wrote about it in his journal.

Panchayatana Shrine

This one built at the time Gupta dynasty and looked like a temple.

Rectangular Courtyard

Rectangular Courtyard situated between Dhamek Stupa and main shrine. There are so many votive stupas and shrines one can see here.

Monastery I – VII

The complex has three sites designated as monasteries. Monastery I has an open courtyard and rows of cells on three sides.
Monastery II belonged to Gupta period . There are only traces of nine cells surviving today in this one. Monastery III dates back to the Kushan period and looked like Monastery II. Monastery IV is not fully excavated. The work is still in process. The exposed portion consists of some cells and the remains of a verandah. There are other remains of monasteries around the complex which you can check while roaming aroound the ruins.

Sarnath Deer Park

The first Buddhist Sangha was founded in the Deer Park, where Lord Buddha preached his first sermon at Sarnath.

Mulgandha Kutir Vihara

From the Dhamekh Stupa, one can view the current state of the historic Mulgandha Kuti Vihara’s remains. There is a plaque at the historic location that states that Lord Buddha most likely meditated there. Possibly during the Gupta era was when the old temple was built. The ASI excavation site’s remains are just next to the rebuilt Mulgandha Kutir Vihara.


Inside the temple is a beautiful golden statue of Lord Buddha. The stunning frescoes painted by Japanese artist Kosetsu Nosu inside the temple are its most famous feature. The life of Lord Buddha is shown in these frescoes inside the temple, from his birth until the moment he attained Nirvana. In front of the temple sits a huge bell and inside the temple a relic of Lord Buddha is treasured which only brought out during Buddha Purnima to seek blessings.

Vishwa Shanti Stupa

Just one kilometre to the southeast of Sarnath’s primary Buddhist complex is where you’ll find the Vishwa Shanti Stupa. One of the gateways at the Great Sanchi Stupa is replicated at the Stupa’s entrance. The replica Ashokan pillars with lion capitals are also visible when you pass through the gate.

Bodhi Tree

According to legend, Sanghamitra, the daughter of Emperor Ashoka, visited the Bodhi tree in Bodh Gaya, the place of Lord Buddha’s enlightenment, and she removed a branch from the tree and planted it in Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka. Angarika Dharampala removed a sapling from the tree and placed it at this location in Sarnath in 1931 after the branch turned into a tree. The tree currently stands as a representation of tranquilly, offering shade and rest to weary travellers.

 

There are a few other temples in Sarnath that you can visit that show how Buddhism is practised in other nations.

  • Japanese Temple or Nichigai Suzan Horinji Temple
  • Chinese Buddhist Temple
  • Tibetan Temple or Lhaden Chenmo Tibetan Monastery
  • Thai Temple and the huge Buddha Idol
  • Burmese Buddhist Temple

 

Museum in Sarnath

Buddhism-related items can be found in abundance in the Sarnath Archaeological Museum. Along with other priceless relics, there are many statues and idols of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. The Ashokan Pillar’s Lion Capital is also shown inside the museum. India’s national emblem is a lion capital.

Sarnath Museum remains open all days except friday from 9 in the morning to 5 in the evening.

Entry Fee:

Indian – INR 5 pp
Foreigner – INR 100 pp

Accomodation in Sarnath

There are a few good hotels available at Sarnath, you can stay there. The Tibetan Monastery also offers stay options to tourists against some donation. Otherwise, you can stay at Varanasi and make a day trip to Sarnath.

How to reach Sarnath from Varanasi

You can take a cab or auto to reach Sarnath from Varanasi as it is only 10 km distance from Varanasi. I would suggest you to talk about the places in sarnath and the rate before the trip. You can bargain as the auto or cab drivers ask little hire price to take you to Sarnath.

Sarnath is a small place and most of the attractions are located within walking distance. You can walk around to explore the places or hire a auto to cover the places.

What to Buy in Sarnath

Sarnath has so many small shops to buy suvenir but you have to bargain for that. Small buddisht idols, pray flags, key chains, magnets are available at Sarnath. Also wooden toys, and handicrafts are available too.

 

Is Sarnath Safe for solo female travelers?

Yes. You just have to take care of basic rules to be followed by solo female traveler in India. It is a small city so no roaming around at night, dress up according to the local people’s sensibility and enjoy your trip to Sarnath.

I hope you will like the places and find calm and peace while visiting the places at Sarnath. If you liked this blog and found it useful, then please share it with your family and friends.

This trip in collaboration with Uttar Pradesh Tourism Board  but the views and experiences are mine.

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11 thoughts on “Sarnath Travel Guide – Ultimate Travel Itinerary of Sarnath

  1. Sarnath is high up on my wishlist. I’ve been wanting to go on a Buddhist trail since quite some time. Good that I came across your blog. It would indeed be a good idea to visit Sarnath during my Varanasi trip. I may not be much interested in the modern Buddhist temples modeled after Thai or Chinese styles, but concentrate entirely on Sarnath complex. Dhamekh Stupa is quite majestic. I’m sure I’ll feel goosebumps when I get to see the original Ashokan Pillar. Btw, are there any deers in the deer park now?

  2. I’m curious to learn more about this sort of location. The history of Sarnath is really fascinating. It’s great to know there are so many excellent places to explore in this area. The ancient building of the Dhamekh Stupa is quite beautiful! I can’t wait to begin my exploration of this lovely location.

  3. I have been to Sarnath once and I agree that it has so many things to offer. I loved the museum there. Hopefully I can go back again soon.

  4. I am very interested in Buddhism and visiting the historical sites connected with Lord Buddha is one of my dreams. The huge Dhamekh Stupa looks quite impressive to me. But I think it takes a good guidebook to imagine how Sarnat looked like before. Judging from your pictures, there is not so much left. It has been more than ten years ago that I visited India. Back then we travelled mostly in the south, so a visit to the north should be great.

  5. It was interesting to read about the Sarnath and its connection with Anuradhapura, in Sri Lanka. I have visited the latter and I remember the Bodhi tree there. Also, that was where I have seen stupas for the first time. I have visited Varanasi before but I haven’t made it to Sarnath as well. Next time, hopefully. It’s so interesting to see how different the stupas are from each other.

  6. I love that you always provide some great information about the history of places you visit. It was good to understand why Sarnath is both a sacred destination for many peoples. As a Civil Engineer I am always fascinated with architecture and construction and to see structures built in the past. Even if much of this site is in ruins. The golden statue of Lord Buddha seems like such an amazing contrast.

  7. I realized I only know a tiny bit of the history of Buddha after reading this post. With 3000 monks residing there at one time, it’s no wonder they built a lot of monasteries. I’ve seen Buddhist stupas at Borobudur only. The one in Sarnath is totally different.

  8. Sarnath in Uttar Pradesh is one of the significant historical sites connected to the roots of Buddhism. The trip from Varanasi to Sarnath looks like a perfect pilgimage. The place holds importance on how Lord Buddha delivered his first sermon on Dharmachakra-Pravartana after attaining enlightenment from Bodh Gaya. And also interesting facts related to the Bodhi tree and how one of its branches was taken from Sarnath by Emperor Ashoka’s daughtar Sanghamitra and planted in Anuradhapura in Srilanka. The Dhamek stupa, the Vishwa Shanti Stupa, , the Bodhi tree and The Sarnath museum is something I would love to visit. It reminds me of Sanchi stupa in Madhya Pradesh another significant site of Buddhism with an enormous stupa and relics from Buddhism.

  9. I am not really familiar with Sarnath but I am happy to know that there are many places to see and visit. Thank you for sharing a bit of its history. It made me appreciate the place more. It would be nice to see all those infrastructures up close.

  10. Wow, what an interesting history this place has. I’m glad that they started to restoration work and made sure to save everything after it was abandoned. It looks like there is a lot to see even today. I love the legend behind the Bodhi Tree. I feel like there is always story to everything and knowing them just gives more depth to our visits.

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