Sarnath – The Place Where Many Nations Converge with a Single Faith!

From history to the famous Buddhist temples, here is all you need to know about Sarnath. Find out how to reach Sarnath.

Sarnath Temple Buddha History How to Reach


The History

Born into a royal family [Shakya dynasty] in Lumbini (Nepal) in 564 BCE, Siddhartha Gautama grew within the confines of his luxuries inside his palace; but when he started venturing out as an adult, he was shell-shocked to see common people suffering due to old age, disease and dying – something that he was completely ignorant about.

He finally decided to renounce his royal titles and chose to become an ascetic at the young age of 29, only to adopt a life of wandering and meditation so that he could understand humans and nature. After spending some years in harsh self-restraint and total self-disciplining, he sat down to meditate under a peepal tree, determined to get up only when he was fully ‘awakened’. This is the very sacred Bodhi tree in Bodhgaya (present in Bihar) where he attained enlightenment.

Thereafter known as the ‘Awakened One’ or the ‘Buddha’, he travelled to Sarnath near Varanasi (Banaras) to share his wisdom with other people. Sarnath owing to its close proximity to Varanasi which was already established as a great centre of Vedic learning, gave him ample opportunity to have his discourses with other great learned men who helped to propagate his ideas. He advocated that everyone should follow the Middle Path between overindulgence and severe asceticism, to reach nirvana (a state of freedom from rebirth, craving, ignorance and suffering).

Sarnath is exactly where Buddha delivered his first sermon, “Dharmachakrapravartana Sutra – turning of the wheel of law”, at 35 years of age. It is also the place where the first Buddhist sangha was formed when the first five of his disciples got enlightened.

Buddhism flourished in India, especially in Sarnath from the 5th century BCE onwards until the 12th century CE, which can be attributed to heavy patronage by kings and wealthy merchants around Banaras during those times. Eventually, Sarnath became the centre for one of the earliest Buddhist schools – Sammatiya school, and also for art & architecture. This was the period when Buddhist monks and pilgrims from all over Asia sought Sarnath for meditation and learning.

In fact, in the 7th century, Sarnath is said to have been filled with 30 monasteries and 3000 monks & scholars!

In the 12th century, Sarnath unfortunately went through a phase of wrath, loot and destruction by the invading Ghaznavids. It was only after the 18th century that Buddhism saw its resurgence.

Archaeological excavations of the 20th century, followed by restoration efforts have helped Sarnath regain prominence. Along with the primaeval site [known as Sarnath Temple where Buddha gave his discourses] including monastic ruins, stupas, viharas, the extremely popular Asokan pillar {which once upon a time bore the 32-spoke wheel of dharma} and a Bodhi tree; many modern temples have been built to represent all those countries where Buddhism spread and is a major religion even in the present world.

Temples belonging to different nations have been constructed in their respective styles and established by each of the countries themselves. They have been built with the help of donations from different Buddhist groups belonging to different nationalities around the world. In recent times, these new places of worship have become a huge draw for visitors who wish to understand the influence of Buddhism on various cultures outside India. The temples are supervised by monks of these respective countries. All of them are well-maintained with gardens, lawns, trees, neat pathways, and keep up a tranquil environment. On the occasions of ‘Buddha Purnima’, hymns are fervently recited by devotees who arrive from all over the world.

Modern Buddhist Temples

Tibetan Temple

One of the biggest temples in Sarnath – the first to be established in India by Dalai Lama, and therefore holds a high place among the pilgrimage sites of Sarnath.

Built in 1955, the temple looks every bit traditional in Tibetan design with remarkable features. The entrance is guarded by two carved lions. A light pink stupa can be spotted inside the campus which was built in gratitude to the Indian government for giving asylum to the fleeing Dalai Lama, and also as a tribute to all those who died during the freedom struggle of Tibet [Tibetan Independence Movement].

The temple which is under the Lhadhan Chotrul Monlam Chenmo Trust, houses a statue of Shakyamuni Buddha (Buddha in resting position)

As in all Tibetan temples, this one too has prayer wheels that release paper scrolls with chants written on them when rotated clockwise. The temple is adorned with frescos and a special form of traditional painting called Thangkas on walls and ceilings.

Japanese Temple

Also called Nichigai Suzan Horinji temple, is built in typical Japanese (Kyoto) style (with a double-storey pagoda, sloping and curved roof) by Dharmachakra Indo-Japan Buddhist Cultural Society. Before the entrance to the main shrine, there is a Buddha statue below a tree to the right and a pillar (tori gate) with a Japanese inscription to the left. It is a calm and serene temple loved by all visitors.

The Buddhist Mantra Na Mu Myo Ho Ren Ge Kyo is placed next to the statue.

Japanese Temple is simple from the outside but extremely beautiful inside. It has a remarkable wooden sculpture of the reclining Buddha inside the main shrine. The rest of the items/sculptures/furnitures in this temple are made out of sandalwood.

Chinese Temple

The Chinese Buddhist temple was established in 1939 by the abbot of Beijing, Tao-Kai, and the president of the Eastern Asian Buddhist Association, Fa-Yuan-Tsu. It is a simplistic Chinese-styled structure painted in an attractive combination of red and yellow. It has two red pillars at the entrance, and other noteworthy features in the temple are statues of varying sizes and Chinese lanterns hanging on the walls.

The Chinese temple has a huge route map of the scholar-traveler Hiuen-Tsang, who visited India in the 7th century CE. It also has a representation of the life of Buddha in the form of photographs and write-ups in English, Hindi and Chinese pinned onto a large board.

Chinese artisans like Sriutli Chun Sang, have made the temple in Brusni art style. The temple also bears paintings of China’s five main religious gurus – Moji, Mensi, Lolaoji, Confucius and Jwangji.

Thai Temple

Popular as Wat Thai temple, this Hinayana Buddha temple was built by Thai dignitaries in Thai architectural style in 1933. It has a statue of the Laughing Buddha in front of the main temple, a statue of Buddha giving sermons to his disciples, and another statue in Bhumisparsha mudra (touching the earth to summon mortal spirits) below a tree.

There is an 80-foot-tall standing Buddha statue towards the left side of the temple which took about ten years to construct (1997-2007). Visitors are welcome with running fountains and blooming lotus flowers before approaching the statue. This is the tallest Buddha statue in India.

There is also an old tree within this compound which is muffled up with a layer of striking gold leaves.

Thai songs and slogans are chanted in here, and Thai devotees wearing orange robes are usually seen around paying their respects to the Lord.

SriLankan Temple

When Angarika Dharmapala (founding father of the Mahabodhi Society) witnessed the neglected and dilapidated state of Sarnath, he decided to revive the Buddha temple and built a new one in 1931 to replace the original shrine (Mulagandha Kuti Vihara built during Gupta period – the spot where Buddha sat in meditation) which used to be present in the ancient site.

Being one of the prettiest temples, built using red sandstone, has spires rising above the rectangular prayer hall and is decorated with carved bells, a Buddhist wheel and a small ornamental stupa. It has four smaller spires at the corners of the building.

The entrance foyer has an enormous bell gifted by Japan, and there is a golden statue of Buddha seated on a marble platform inside.

Devotees enter the temple with a soft chant of mantras and pray at the altar which has sacred Buddhist relics of Sakyamani Buddha. They then pay obescience to a Bodhi tree outside grown from a sapling brought from Anuradhapura in Sri Lanka.

The inside walls of the Srilankan temple are stunningly covered with frescoes depicting scenes from Buddha’s life. The paintings were made by a Japanese artist named Kosetsu Nosu in 1936.

Korean Temple

Korean Temple (Nokyawon) is one of the oldest in Sarnath. It has many scriptures and an Indo-Korean friendship pillar.

Burmese Temple

Migadawun Myanmar Temple established in 1908 which follows Theravada Buddhist tradition, has a unique architecture with a golden triple-pagoda roof and several statues of Buddha in a lush garden. It has fine detailing and pleasing colours.

Vietnamese Temple

Sivali Vietnamese Buddhist Temple (Jyotirmoy Temple) boasts a 70-foot-tall statue of a meditating Buddha along with other statues like that of Ashoka. Due to its pinkish colour, it is also called as Gulabi Mandir. The temple has a Vietnamese-style one-pillar pagoda with a bell on top. A Vietnamese monk named Doan Lam Tan sold his properties and car in Vietnam to come to India in 2014 and fulfil his dream of building this temple. He lives in the temple premises even now.

Cambodian Temple

A beautiful temple located at the centre of the Cambodian monastery; is the smallest among all temples which houses a 4.5 m tall statue of Lord Buddha.

How to Reach Sarnath

Sarnath Temple – How to Reach

By Air

The closest airport to Sarnath is situated in Varanasi, the cultural heart of India. Varanasi Airport at Babatpur is approximately 30 km away from Sarnath, serving as a pivotal domestic air hub. Major airlines operate regular flights to and from Varanasi, connecting it to cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Khajuraho, and more. Additionally, you can also catch a flight from Kathmandu to reach Varanasi seamlessly.

By Train

Sarnath boasts its own railway station, offering convenient connectivity to Varanasi and Gorakhpur through passenger trains. Varanasi, a major railway junction in the region, serves as the nearest railhead to Sarnath. It is well-connected to the rest of India with numerous important train services. From Varanasi, trains run to various destinations within Uttar Pradesh and other parts of India, including New Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Agra, Lucknow, Bangalore, and Ahmedabad.

By Road

Sarnath, nestled in Uttar Pradesh, enjoys well-laid road networks connecting it to different parts of the state. The nearest major bus terminus is located in Varanasi, approximately 10 km from Sarnath. Varanasi, well-linked by buses, connects to significant cities such as Lucknow, Bareilly, Kanpur, Allahabad, Agra, and Mathura. Both the Uttar Pradesh State Road Transport Corporation and private operators run regular bus services from Varanasi to these destinations, making Sarnath easily accessible by road from Varanasi and other key locations in Northern India. Explore the historical wonders of Sarnath hassle-free through various transportation options!

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