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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
  • Very early in the morning of my last day’s sojourn here, I rode with General Simpson to the village of Sarnath. It is six miles north-east of Benares, and three, of the cantonments, and evidently lies on a classic soil, for, that a large and mighty city must have stood here, is amply testified by the numerous ruins, and beautifully-formed bricks, with which all the ground, and especially the banks of a lake, which extends from east to west, are covered. The only fragment which has been preserved, is a vaulted tower about sixty feet high; it is built of granite and blocks of red sandstone, which are let into one another, and fastened without any cement, and in the upper portion some bricks have been introduced. The diameter of its base is about 100 feet, and the whole of the exterior, forms a round domed cone, similar to the Manikeeala in the Punjab. This remarkable tower is a compact mass of stone, without any open space in the interior, and merely covers a deep well, into which the corpse of a king was probably let down. A copper tablet found upon its highest summit bears an inscription, which, as far as I know, has not yet been deciphered: it is now in the museum of the Asiatic Society at Calcutta.
    At an elevation of about twenty feet from the ground are several niches, surrounded by elegant arabesques, in which statutes of men, women, and children, the size of life, formerly stood: some of these have been removed to Calcutta, to save them from the destructive spirit of the natives; seven statutes of red sandstone, which were sadly mutilated were, however, lying about. They are the figures of a people, with flat noses, thick lips, and unusually large eyes. The hair lies perfectly smooth to the head, and falls in innumerable curls over the neck and shoulders. Some of them were quite naked, others wrapped in light garments, which are very curiously wrought, and fit tight to the body, or fall in picturesque folds. One of these figures wore a cord round the waist, exactly similar to that which distinguishes the Brahmins.
    • Orlich, Captain Leopold von, Travels In India Including Sinde And The Punjab, 2 vols., Usha, 1985, first published 1845. quoted from Jain, M. (editor) (2011). The India they saw: Foreign accounts. New Delhi: Ocean Books. Volume IV Chapter12

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