Often referred to as Sarangnath, Sarnath is a rich cultural and spiritual heritage that can be traced back several centuries, with its earliest Buddhist structures dating back to the 3rd century BCE. Over the centuries, Sarnath witnessed the rise and fall of several dynasties, including the Mauryans, the Guptas, and the Mughals, all of whom left their mark on the site in the form of magnificent monuments and structures. Sarnath gets its name from the Sanskrit word Saranganatha (or Sarangnath in Pali), which means "Lord of the Deer". This name is believed to refer to a legend in which the Buddha gave his first sermon in the Deer Park at Sarnath, where a group of deer gathered to hear him speak. Over time, the name Sarnath became associated with this important event in the life of the Buddha, and it remains an important pilgrimage site for Buddhists around the world. Despite suffering damage and neglect during the course of history, Sarnath has managed to retain its charm and importance as a significant Buddhist pilgrimage site. The site draws thousands of visitors each year, who come to soak in its serene atmosphere, explore its ancient ruins and learn about the rich cultural heritage of Buddhism.
Buddhism in Sarnath
Buddhism holds immense importance in Sarnath. The town is considered one of the holiest places for Buddhists as it is believed to be the place where Lord Buddha gave his first sermon, known as Dharma Chakra Parivartan, after attaining enlightenment. This sermon is considered the foundation of Buddhism, and hence, Sarnath holds a significant place in the religion's history. The site is home to several ancient Buddhist monuments and structures that stand as a testimony to the religion's rich cultural heritage. The presence of these sacred sites has made Sarnath a popular destination for Buddhists from across the world, who come here to pay their respects, learn about the religion's teachings, and gain a deeper understanding of Buddhism. Visitors to Sarnath can witness traditional Buddhist ceremonies and rituals, including prayer chants, meditation sessions, and offerings to the Buddha.
- Dhamek Stupa : Dhamek Stupa is a massive and impressive cylindrical structure that stands over 40 meters tall and dates back to the 5th or 6th century CE. The stupa is adorned with intricate carvings and is considered one of the most impressive structures at Sarnath.
- Mulagandha Kuti Vihar : A modern temple, Mulagandha Kuti Vihar was built in the 20th century and houses a collection of frescoes and murals depicting scenes from the life of the Buddha. It is a popular destination for both tourists and pilgrims.
- Ashoka Pillar : Ashoka Pillar is a sandstone column that stands over 15 meters tall and is decorated with carvings of lions and other animals. It is said to have been built by Emperor Ashoka in the 3rd century BCE and is one of the most significant structures at Sarnath..
- Chaukhandi Stupa : An octagonal-shaped stupa, Chaukhandi Stupa is believed to date back to the Gupta period (4th to 5th century CE) and is an important historical site in Sarnath.
- Sarnath Museum : This museum houses a collection of Buddhist artifacts and art, including sculptures, paintings, and manuscripts. It is a great place to learn about the history and culture of Buddhism in India.
- Thai Temple : Thai Temple was built in the traditional Thai style and features a beautiful gold-plated statue of the Buddha. It is a peaceful and serene place to meditate or simply enjoy the tranquil surroundings.
Things to Do
- Visit the ancient ruins and monuments : Sarnath is home to a number of ancient Buddhist structures and ruins, including the Dhamek Stupa and the Ashoka Pillar. Exploring these historic sites is a must-do activity for anyone visiting Sarnath.
- Attend a Buddhist ceremony or meditation session : Sarnath is a major Buddhist pilgrimage site, and visitors can often attend ceremonies and meditation sessions at various temples and monasteries in the area. This is a great way to learn more about Buddhist culture and practice.
- Explore the Sarnath Museum : The Sarnath Museum houses a fascinating collection of Buddhist artifacts and art, including sculptures, paintings, and manuscripts. Visitors can learn about the history and culture of Buddhism in India through these exhibits.
- Take a stroll through the Deer Park : The Deer Park at Sarnath is believed to be the site where the Buddha gave his first sermon. Today, it is a peaceful and tranquil park where visitors can take a leisurely walk and enjoy the natural beauty of the area.
- Shop for Souvenirs : Sarnath has a number of shops and markets where visitors can purchase souvenirs such as Buddhist art, prayer flags, and other items. This is a great way to bring home a piece of the local culture.
- Try local cuisine : Sarnath has a number of restaurants and food stalls where visitors can sample delicious local cuisines such as chaat, samosas, and lassi. Trying the local food is a great way to experience the culture of the area.
- Tibetan Market : Tibetan Market is located near the Mulagandha Kuti Vihar and is known for its selection of Tibetan handicrafts and souvenirs. Visitors can find items such as prayer flags, thangka paintings, and jewelry here.
- Sarnath Handicraft Emporium : This handicraft emporium is located near Deer Park and offers a wide range of locally made handicrafts such as pottery, brassware, and textiles. Visitors can find unique and authentic items here.
- Sarnath Market : This is a small local market that is known for its street food and local snacks. Visitors can sample local delicacies such as chaat, samosas, and lassi here. The market also has a few shops selling souvenirs and religious items.
- Dasaswamedh Ghat Market : While not in Sarnath itself, this market is located in nearby Varanasi and is a popular destination for shopping and dining. The market offers a range of items such as textiles, jewelry, and handicrafts, and is a great place to experience the vibrant culture of Varanasi.
- Buddha Purnima : Also known as Vesak, Buddha Purnima is a festival, that celebrates the birth, enlightenment, and death of the Buddha. It falls on the full moon day in the month of May and is a significant festival in Sarnath, with many Buddhist devotees gathering to pay homage to the Buddha.
- Dhamma Chakra Pravartan Day : Dhamma Chakra Pravartan festival commemorates the Buddha's first sermon at the Deer Park in Sarnath. It is celebrated on the full moon day in July and is an important festival for Buddhists.
- Guru Purnima : This festival is celebrated on the full moon day in July and is devoted to paying homage to one's guru or spiritual teacher. It is a significant festival for Buddhists and is celebrated in Sarnath.
- Lassi : Lassi is a popular yogurt-based drink that is refreshing and perfect for hot summer days. It is made by blending yogurt with sugar and spices and is often served with a scoop of cream on top.
- Chaat : Chaat is a popular street food in Sarnath, and it is a savory snack made with fried dough and topped with a variety of spices, chutneys, and vegetables. Some popular types of chaat in Sarnath include aloo tikki chaat, papdi chaat, and samosa chaat.
- Kachori : Kachori is a deep-fried pastry filled with spiced lentils or potatoes. It is a popular breakfast item in Sarnath and is often served with spicy chutney.
- Chana Masala : Chana Masala is a spicy curry made with chickpeas and a blend of spices. It is a popular vegetarian dish in Sarnath and is often served with rice or naan bread.
- Kulfi : Kulfi is a frozen dessert made with milk, sugar, and a variety of flavors such as pistachio, mango, or saffron. It is a popular dessert in Sarnath and is perfect for cooling down on a hot day.
- Hotel Buddha International : Hotel Buddha International is located near the main entrance of the Sarnath archaeological site and offers comfortable and well-appointed rooms with modern amenities. The hotel also has an on-site restaurant that serves a variety of Indian and international cuisines.
- Hotel Anand Retreat : Hotel Anand Retreat is located in the heart of Sarnath and offers comfortable rooms with modern amenities such as air conditioning and Wi-Fi. The hotel also has a restaurant that serves vegetarian food.
- The Fern Residency Sarnath : An eco-friendly hotel, The Fern Residency Sarnath is located near the Sarnath archaeological site and offers spacious rooms with modern amenities. The hotel also has a rooftop restaurant that offers panoramic views of the surrounding area.
- Hotel Benares Haveli : Hotel Benares Haveli is located in the nearby city of Varanasi and offers a traditional Indian experience with its beautifully restored heritage building and antique furnishings. The hotel also has a restaurant that serves a variety of Indian and international cuisines.
- Hotel Ajaya : This hotel is located in the heart of Sarnath and offers clean and comfortable rooms with modern amenities. The hotel also has an on-site restaurant that serves Indian and Chinese cuisine.
- The Orchard : The Orchard is a multi-cuisine restaurant, located within the premises of Hotel Buddha International in Sarnath. The restaurant offers a wide variety of Indian, Chinese, and Continental dishes, and has a relaxed and comfortable ambiance.
- The Chocolate Room Cafe : A bakery shop, The Chocolate Room Cafe is located in the heart of Sarnath and offers a range of sweet and savory items such as cakes, pastries, sandwiches, and pizzas. The cafe has a cozy ambiance and is a great place to relax and unwind.
- Sarnath Family Restaurant : Sarnath Family Restaurant vegetarian restaurant, located in the center of Sarnath and serves a variety of Indian dishes such as thali, biryani, and dosa. The restaurant has a casual and relaxed atmosphere, making it a popular spot among locals and tourists alike.
- The Ganga View Restaurant : A rooftop restaurant, The Ganga View Restaurant is located in the nearby city of Varanasi and offers stunning views of the Ganges River. The restaurant serves a variety of Indian and international dishes and is a great place to enjoy a meal while taking in scenic views.
- Flavours Restaurant : Flavours Restaurant is a multi-cuisine restaurant located within the premises of The Fern Residency Sarnath and offers a range of Indian, Chinese, and Continental dishes. The restaurant has a modern and elegant ambiance and is perfect for a fine dining experience.
Best Time To Visit
The best time to visit this spiritual place, Sarnath is during the winter season between the months of November to February, when the weather is pleasant and mild. During this time, the temperature ranges between 10°C to 25°C, making it ideal for outdoor activities and sightseeing.
How to Reach
- By Air - The nearest airport is Lal Bahadur Shastri International Airport situated at a distance of 24 km from Sarnath.
- By Train - Nearest Railway station is situated at a distance of 1.3 km from Sarnath.
- By Road - The Nearest Bus Stand is located at a distance of 8.4 km from Sarnath.