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Sarnath is a place located 10 kilometres north-east of Varanasi near the confluence of the Ganges and the Varuna rivers in Uttar Pradesh, India. The Deer Park in Sarnath is where Gautama Buddha first taught the Dharma, and where the Buddhist Sangha came into existence through the enlightenment of Kondanna.

Singhpur, a village approximately one kilometre away from the site, was the birthplace of Shreyansanath, the Eleventh Tirthankara of Jainism. A temple dedicated to him is an important pilgrimage site.

Also referred to as Isipatana, this city is mentioned by the Buddha as one of the four places of pilgrimage his devout followers should visit. It was also the site of the Buddha's Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta, which was his first sermon after attaining enlightenment, in which he explained the four noble truths and the teachings associated with them.


  • With the conversion of Ashoka to Buddhism, Indian architecture began to throw off this alien influence, and to take its inspiration and it symbols from the new religion. The transition is evident in the great capital which is all that now remains of another Ashokan pillar, at Sarnath; here, in a composition of astonishing perfection, ranked by Sir John Marshall as equal to “anything of its kind in the ancient world,” we have four powerful lions, standing back to back on guard, and thoroughly Persian in form and countenance; but beneath them is a frieze of well-carved figures including so Indian a favorite as the elephant, and so Indian a symbol as the Buddhist Wheel of the Law; and under the frieze is a great stone lotus, formerly mistaken for a Persian bell-capital, but now accepted as the most ancient, universal and characteristic of all the symbols in Indian art. Represented upright, with the petals turned down and the pistil or seed-vessel showing, it stood for the womb of the world; or, as one of the fairest of nature’s manifestations, it served as the throne of a god. The lotus or water-lily symbol migrated with Buddhism, and permeated the art of China and Japan. A like form, used as a design for windows and doors, became the “horseshoe arch” of Ashokan vaults and domes, originally derived from the “covered wagon” curvature of Bengali thatched roofs supported by rods of bent bamboo.
    • Will Durant, Our Oriental heritage
  • There is in the land of Mnar a vast still lake that is fed by no stream and out of which no stream flows. Ten thousand years ago there stood by its shore the mighty city of Sarnath, but Sarnath stands there no more.
    • H.P. Lovecraft, The Doom That Came to Sarnath
  • Lofty and amazing were the seventeen tower-like temples of Sarnath, fashioned of a bright multi-coloured stone not known elsewhere.
    • H.P. Lovecraft, The Doom That Came to Sarnath
  • The tremendous complex at Sarnath which had grown up on the site of the first Buddhist sermon was wrecked beyond recovery, thus ending a continuous tradition of refuge and meeting-place for ascetics which went back to the centuries before Buddha.
    • D.D. Kosambi, The Culture and Civilization of Ancient India, New Delhi, 1984, quoted from Goel, S. R. (1993). Hindu temples: What happened to them. (Second Enlarged Edition) [1]
  • The inscriptions found there extending to the twelfth century A.D. show that the connection of Sarnath with Buddhism was still remembered at that date.
    • Archaeological Survey of India, Annual Report 1925-26. Quoted from Shourie, A., & Goel, S. R. (1990). Hindu temples: What happened to them. [2]
  • The condition of the excavated ruins leaves little doubt that a violent catastrophe accompanied by willful destruction and plunder overtook the place.
    • Archaeological Survey of India, Annual Report 1925-26. Quoted from Shourie, A., & Goel, S. R. (1990). Hindu temples: What happened to them. [3]
  • Sages such as Sri Aurobindo who have meditated on Hindu iconography, and savants such as Ananda Coomara-swamy, Stella Kramrisch, and Alice Boner who have studied the subject, assure us that the forms and features of Hindu icons have a source higher than the normal reaches of the human mind. The icons are no photocopies of any human or animal forms as we find them in their physical frames. They are in fact crystallizations of the abstract into the concrete, of the infinite into the finite. They always point beyond themselves, and a contemplation of them always draws us from the outer to the inner. Hindu Šilpašãstras lay down not only technical formulas for carving holy icons in stone, and metal, and other materials. They also lay down elaborate rules about how the artist is to fast, and pray, and otherwise purify himself for long periods before he is permitted, if at all, to have a psychic image of the God or Goddess whom he wants to incarnate in a physical form. It is this sublime source of the Šilpašãstras which alone can explain a Sarnath Buddha, or a Chidambram Natarãja, or a Vidisha Varãha, to name only a few of the large assembly of divine images inhabiting the earth. It is because this sublime source is not accessible to modern sculptors that we have to be content with poor copies which look like parodies of the original marvels.
    • S.R. Goel, Defence of Hindu Society, Chapter 5
  • Hari (Vishnu), who had been commissioned by Hara (Siva), in order to protect Varanasi from the wicked Turushka warrior, as the only one who was able to protect the earth, was again born from him, his name being renowned as Govindachandra...
    • Inscription at Sarnath of Kumara Devi, the queen of Govindachandra.Epigraphia indica IX: 337). in Jain, M. (2017). The battle of Rama: Case of the temple at Ayodhya. 108.
  • Vincent Smith wrote: “The ashes of the Buddhist sanctuary at Samath near Benares still bear witness to the rage of the image-breakers. Many noble monuments of the ancient civilization of India were irrevocably wrecked in the course of the early Muslim invasions. These invasions were fatal to the existence of Buddhism as an organised religion in northern India where its strength resided chiefly in Bihar and certain adjoining regions.”
    • Vincent Smith, Enc. of Rel & Eth, quoted in Swarup, R. (2015). Hinduism and monotheistic religions. 528

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