Sarnath is a well known religious site outside in Varanasi, it is the site of Buddha’s first sermon after he obtained enlightenment in the Ganges River. It is a pilgrimage site, but as a tourist without understanding the significance and history of the place, it is simply a nice park to walk around in and look at ancient structures. Yes, what I’m saying is that unless you read up on Sarnath before you get there or have a guide to tell you all about why it is important, it won’t be worth your time. So read up on it before you go to Sarnath, or skip it!
It is important to Buddhists, because it is the location where Buddha delivered his first sermon.
Today Sarnath has a couple of main areas to explore, I’ll go through each of them and provide links to where you can read up on each structure.
Who should go to Sarnath? People who are Buddhists, People who have read up on Sarnath and it’s importance, people who want to get out of the city of Varanasi.
Who should NOT go to Sarnath? People with little time in Varanasi, People who would rather just stay at the Ganges River, People who want to convert people to Christianity.
How long does a visit to Sarnath take? If you are not there for personal religious reasons, then 1 hour. If you are there for religious reasons, then you’ll want more time.
Why is Sarnath Important to Buddhists, what should I know before I get to Sarnath? To really appreciate Sarnath, you’ll have to do some reading. I recommend reading a deep history on at wikipedia, a light version on TripSavy, a different perspective on peepultree, or the India governments official take on Sarnath or a more religious take on Sarnath. All are good resources and will give you enough information to truly enjoy the site when you are there.
Sarnath Buddhist Temple
When you first arrive at Sarnath, after entering through the ticketed gates, in front of you is this huge structure at the end of a long path surrounded by lots of greenery. This structure is the “The Mahabodhi Society Temple at Sarnath”.
I recall the inside of this building to be small, succinct, it contained 2 areas. The more impressive area had worshipers in front of a golden Buddha statue. I included a picture of the statue at the end of this article.
The great thing is that there is not just 1 temple, but there is a Chinese temple, a Thai Temple and a Japanese Temple.
In another Buddhist building on the property, there was an active prayer session going on. But what was interesting to me as a tourist was the art that surrounded us on the walls.
I had learned that each wall told a different story about Buddha’s life, marking significant events
This is what I am told, is the main attraction of going to Sarnath for pilgrims. Yes, it’s a tall cylindrical building made of wood and stone to us, but it marks the exact spot where Buddha shared his first sermon.
As a tourist, you can walk around it but it is not possible to enter the structure. In fact there are no doors at all to the structure.
Buddha Delivering his First Sermon
Also on the property is a re-creation of Buddha’s first sermon, pictured here. You can walk around these sculptures on the outside.
The Holy Wheels in Sarnath
When I saw this I was surprised! The last time I saw these I was in Tibet. However, knowing that there were religious temples on the property mimicking the art from all over the Buddhist world it made sense.
Pilgrims would walk past these inscribed metal scrolls, and turn them with their hands as they past by.
Is it worth it to go to Sarnath?
If you find yourself in Varanasi India, you have the time or just want to get away from the city, and you’ve learned about Sarnath beforehand, then YES absolutely. Go to Sarnath, enjoy the meaning behind what you are seeing and go. It’s a fairly short visit.
If you simply prefer to put your feet up in your hotel room, or along the Ganges River then know that Sarnath can be skipped in my opinion.
More Sarnath Pictures