Sarnath is close to Bodhgaya and takes about 5 hrs from Gaya to arrive at Varanasi by train. Sarnath is one of the four most holy places for people following the words of Buddha or Buddhists and also for Jains.
The best way to reach Sarnath is by flight to Varanasi from anywhere in India or few places abroad. You can also take a train to Varanasi although there is a railway station at Sarnath. As a backpacker I travelled around the country and took the cheapest way. You can take a taxi, auto rickshaw or share a tuk tuk to Sarnath.
Guess which if these options did I take? Refer to Lonely Planet or various other websites to take a place very close to the Ghats if you intend to stay in Varanasi. If you visit Sarnath, then Varanasi is a great place to stay. I suggest stay least two days in Varanasi since Sarnath is a very small place and maybe one to two days in Sarnath.
Sarnath is about 13 kms from Varanasi. Sarnath also known as Isipatana is where Lord Buddha delivered his first sermon called Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta, which stated the wheel of Dhamma. Buddha delivered the sutta in the deer park where Ashoka has made a huge stupa where people come to pay respects.
Sarnath has been variously known as Mrigadava, Migadāya, Rishipattana and Isipatana throughout its long history. Mrigadava means “deedstuper-park”. Isipatana is the name used in the Pali Canon, and means the place where holy men (Pali: isi, Sanskrit: rishi) landed. Source: Wikipedia.
The place was also called Dharma Chakra or Sadhamacharka pravartana vihar as revealed by the inscriptions of early medieval period (found at Sarnath). The current name Sarnath seems to be a short version of Sarangamath that stands for Lord of deer. ( Please refer to http://www.sarnathindia.com/history-of-sarnath.html).
Sarnath is also the birthplace of the Eleventh Tirthankara in Jainism and there is a Jain temple right next to the deer park in Sarnath.
Dhamekh Stupa ( side pic) is the largest stupa which has relics of Lord Buddha and this is where people come and pay homeway to The Enlightened One.
Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta is the first discourse also known as The Setting in Motion of the Wheel of Dharma which Lord Buddha gave to his five former companions with whom Lord Buddha had observed austerities and severe penance which Buddha left to find his middle path to Enlightenment. In the sutta for the first time Buddha discusses the Four Noble Truths, dependant origination, causation and impermanence.
The Four Noble Truths: There is misery in this world
Second: There is a beginning of misery
Third: There is an end to the misery
Fourth: There is a path leading to the end of misery..The path of liberation..The path of Enlightenment
Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta is one of the most important suttas in chantings especially in Theravada tradition of Buddhism. Sutta is the pali word for discourse.
Sarnath is a very small place and you can find some monasteries and hotels to stay in Sarnath. I found generally visitors come for a day especially from South East Asia in chartered buses as they tour India paying homage to Buddha. Due to lack of good facilities as well a world class accommodation, the visit is limited to a day only.
A separate report coming on this.
Another good option could be home stay wherein you can find accommodation for Rs 400 (pls contact me on email@example.com for more details) . I had stayed in a monastery for Rs 100 but I will not recommend you since the toilets were not attached and it was quite a fit to pass my stools in the toilet. I had borrowed money from my father and so I used money very sparingly. On hindsight I feel I could have spent a bit more so I could be more focussed on my spiritual path..The Middle Path.. Rs 300-400 per day is reasonable to pay.
Above Pic: The Dude with Ven Monks from Thailand
Sarnath is a splendid lush green deer park and had an electrifying effect on myself. The park has the main Dhamek Stupa which is colossal in size apart from excavation of the monasteries surrounding the great stupa. The place is great for self reflection, mindfulness and solitude. The place is very clean and no one is allowed to smoke inside. I saw a person who was trying to smoke and admonished him.
Poor guy was ignorant,I felt compassionate and stopped him from the unwholesome action he was performing.
To enunciate in a more articulate manner, when a mother watches her little baby trying to insert his little fingers in an electric socket, she reprimands her baby. She does so because of fear for her baby’s life backed by infinite compassion. Similarly I reprimanded the guy although I certainly had much less compassion for him compared to mother’s example cited above. The Middle Path. Sometimes you have to be strict to enforce discipline especially when the person is illiterate and with his actions spoil the sanctity and cleanliness of the place. The garden has a small beautiful zoo at the end as well as a Bodhi tree for paying respects within the park premises.
Sarnath has a great archeological museum which traces the history of Buddhism in India including the downfall of Buddhism due to rise of worship of various deities by inculcating them in Buddhism. The purity of teachings of Buddha especially his teachings on mindfulness and self awareness had started to disappear from 1 AD as foretold by Lord Buddha. We will discuss this in my upcoming book.
I had stayed a day in Varanasi before I came to Sarnath and decided to spend another day in Varanasi. Sadly there is no direct bus between Sarnath and Varanasi and this should be implemented at the earliest especially air conditioned buses travelling back and forth at least three times a day.
Varanasi The Holy Kashi
Varanasi also known as Kashi is the most holy city according to Hindus. Varanasi is known for Ghats which are right next to Ganga, the sacred river. Many Hindus aspire to have their bodies cremated in the ghats next to Ganga. Vishwanath Temple is one of the most most holy temples of Lord Shiva, one of the three supreme Indian deities. There are also many temples here including one of Hanuman, the deity of strength (considered by many to be the strongest person in this Universe) Side Pic: Ganga, Varanasi Varanasi comes alive early morning or in the evening.
Varanasi is very clean now compared to few years back especially to the proactive effort of Mr. Narendra Modi, the present Prime Minister of India but still lot has to be done especially in case of Sarnath. I could not find a cheap accommodation so I stayed at a place for Rs 500.
The ghat is breathtaking with an ethereal energy which is very hard to explain scientifically. I remember I had once met a Foreigner in train in India and asked him the most memorable place he had visited in India. He replied unhesitatingly that it will be Varanasi. I had never been there and felt annoyed at myself. As I travelled around Asia, I would soon discover that I had not visited many places in India and was stunned by the plethora of spiritual places in India I was not aware about. I consider those years the lost years in my life. I went to the ghats early morning to take in the scenic beauty as well as the early morning view of Ganaga. I also took a boat ride along the ghats. The feeling was splendid.
Mother: Do Not come back unless you go to Siva and Hanuman temple. Otherwise Siva will be very angry
The Dude: I do not think Siva has time or concerned whether I visit the temple or not. He is happy in his own world.
Mother: I will give you two slaps. Do not speak like this
The Dude: I will try if I can find time
Mother: Time. You have enough time you are unemployed. If you do not go to the temple, I will not talk to you
The Dude: I am on spiritual sabbatical. Not correct to say I am unemployed.
Mother: What? What did you say
The Dude: Sigh..Ok I will. Stop doing Tandava on my head. ANYTHING ELSE
Mother: Yes. Please donate Rs 500, wear new clothes and also take some sweets
The Dude: I thought I will donate only Rs 20 since Shiva has no need for money. He has enough power to make money and I want to donate money to the needy, underprivileged people begging for arms especially handicapped children
Mother: I will throw you out of the house if you talk like this.
The Dude: Ok great. I always want to become a monk. So..phone disconnected. A bit of improvisation from my end to make it lively and humorous.
Lord Shiva: Tandava is a celestial dance which Shiva is known to do. Shiva is one of the deities in the holy trinity, the other being Vishnu and Brahma. Shiva is known for his magical poweress and according to a legend, he meditated for a millennium years. As he opened his eyes tears fell down on Earth and from there Rudraksh, a type of bead grew forth. Kashi Vishwanath Temple is one of the Jyotirlinga temples in India dedicated to Lord Shiva.
I wanted to visit the temple and be mindful and as everyone I got greedy and asked for something. I will not tell you what it was? I am sure Lord Buddha would not have approved of this but then It’s alright alright alright. BTW Mr. Modi is a big time follower of Lord Shiva..
I deeply admire and respect Hanuman, a deity in India for his character, strength and tenacity and visited his ancient temple in Varanasi to pay my respects. There was a lot of crowd but it was a good experience. I visited another temple where I saw the priest chewing tobacco inside the premises of the temple. I felt so bad that I wanted to slap him. The Middle Path: Slap someone who openly digresses a sacred place where people come to pay respects. However I did not slap him just avoided him. Anyways always a next time.
There are many temples and I did not visit anything else so I suggest you can google up all the places on internet.
The highlight of Varanasi is the evening arti. I was told by many residents of Varanasi to watch the Ganga Aarti but not even in my wildest dreams did I expect the spectacle which beholded myself. The whole world melts down at the ghats where the Ganga Aarti is performed. People sit on the steps or boats to watch the ritual which in my opinion deserves an Olympic medal and I must congratulate Mr Modi for encouraging this. A must watch..
I want to highlight a special incident which happened when I was in Varanasi. I had gone for shopping and has returning back to my hotel, when a young boy came running after me. He appraised me that I had dropped my wallet and had come to give me back the same. I was so touched by his gesture since I would have been ruined because all my money including debit card was in my wallet. The kid looked Muslim and he refused any cash or any good when I tried to offer him. I was so pleasantly surprised and stunned that I will never forget this incident in life. Varanasi which is in UP is not known for charity but then miracles happen. If you do good, good follows you.
I travelled in Tuk Tuk and it was fun as I met and chatted with people around Varanasi. It was fun as I found most of them to be simple, honest and helpful. There were a few exceptions but then bad apples are everywhere.
To wrap up, there has been a huge improvement in cleanliness in Varanasi but still it’s a long road ahead.
A separate report is coming up on improvements. If you reading this on 11 November, Happy Diwali a big festival in India. My paparents call me for pooja, a mandatory custom in India and I politely refuse. Thank you not interested.
Diwali is celebrated to mark victory of good over evil or I could say that it means to win control over your senses and remove impurities of mind. Prayer or pooja does not help but mindfulness surely helps…
But do your own thing..Give me a break and thanks for reading my experience and article.. Stay tuned..