DestinationsHeritageMadhya PradeshSanchiTravel

Sanchi – Buddha’s Journey to enlightenment

Sanchi Stupa is a Buddhist complex, famous for its Great Stupa or Mahastupa, on a hilltop at Sanchi Town in Raisen District of the State of Madhya Pradesh, India. It is located in 46 kilometres north-east of Bhopal, capital of Madhya Pradesh. The MahaStupa at Sanchi is one of the oldest stone structures in India and an important monument of Indian Architecture.  Sanchi’s stupas, monasteries, temples and pillars dating back from 3rd century BC to the 12th century AD have been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO since 1989. As one walks around, you can witness that the Sanchi Hill goes up in shelves. Stupa 2 situated on a lower shelf, while Stupa 1, Stupa 3, the 5th century Gupta temple No 17 & 7th century temple No 18 are on the intermediate shelf. A later monastery is on the crowning shelf.

Here are some of the places to see if you are visiting Sanchi:

1. Great Stupa No.1: This is the oldest stone structure in India, 36.5 m in diameter and 16.4 m in height, with a massive hemispherical dome, the stupa stands in eternal majesty. Its nucleus was a hemispherical brick structure built over the relics of the Buddha, with a raised terrace encompassing its base, and a railing and stone umbrella on the summit, the chatra, a parasol-like structure symbolising high rank. According to legend, King Ashoka was closely connected to the region of Sanchi. When he was journeying as Viceroy to Ujjain, he is said to have halted at Vidisha and there married the daughter of a local banker, named Devi who later gave Ashoka two sons, Ujjeniya and Mahendra, and a daughter Sanghamitta.

Great Stupa No 1 or MahaStupa . Photo Courtesy:

2.The Four Gateways:  Early Buddhist Art has no finer expression than these toranas which surround the Great Stupa. Each of these gateways depicts stories of Gautam Buddha during that period. According to the tenets of early Buddhist art it is portrayed in the symbols, ie; the lotus representing his built, the tree his enlightenment, the wheel derived from the title of his first sermon, the footprints & throne symbolising his presence.
THE EASTERN GATEWAY: Depicts the young Prince, Gautama leaving his fathers palace on his journey towards enlightenment. This gate also shows the dream of Maya, Gautama’s mother before he was born. There are four elephants that act as a support to the architraves of the gate.
THE WESTERN GATEWAY: Depicts the seven incarnations of Lord Buddha.
THE NORTHERN GATEWAY: Crowned by a wheel of law and showcases all the miracles connected to Buddha that are mentioned in the Jatakas.
THE SOUTHERN GATEWAY: The birth of Gautama is revealed in a series of dramatically rich carvings.

The four gateways of Stupa 1
One of the Four Gateways . Photo Courtesy:

 3.Stupa No. 2:  The Stupa No. 2 also called Sanchi II, is one of the oldest existing Buddhist stupas in India, and part of the Buddhist complex of Sanchi in Madhya Pradesh. It displays what has been called “the oldest extensive stupa decoration in existence”. Stupa II at Sanchi is therefore considered as the birthplace of Jataka illustrations. Stupa No. 2 was probably founded later than the Great Stupa (Stupa number 1) at Sanchi, but it contained reliquaries dated to the Mauryan Empire period (323-185 BCE), and it was the earliest to receive decorative reliefs, about a century earlier than Stupa No 1. One of the key indicators to date Sanchi Stupa No.2 has been the similarity of its architectural motifs with those of Heliodorus pillar. The Stupa is located outside of the main complex of Sanchi, about 300 meters to the west, on the slope of Sanchi hill. It is located in a lower position than Stupa 1 because the relics it contained, are those of church dignitaries from the time of Ashoka, who were considered as worthy of a lower position than the Buddha himself in Stupa number 1, or his disciples in Stupa number 3.

The Stupa 2
Stupa No 2, Photo Courtesy:

4. Stupa No.3: Stupa No.3 was built close to the Great Stupa during the time of the Shungas, who also built the railing around it as well as the staircase. The Relics of Sariputra and Mandgalyayana, the earliest disciples of the Buddha were found in its innermost chamber.   The hemispherical dome is crowned as a mark of its special religious significance, with an umbrella of polished stone.

The Stupa 3
Stupa No 3, Photo Courtesy:

5. Ashoka Pillar:  The Ashoka Pillar lies close to the southern gateway of the Great Stupa, which is one of the finest examples of aesthetic proportions and exquisite structural balance.

Ashoka PIllar Sanchi
Ashoka Pillar at Sanchi Stupa,Photo Courtesy: Picture Credits: Suyash Dwivedi

6. The Buddhist Vihara: The Buddhist Vihara has always been considered as one of the finest centres of Buddhist culture. The vihara used to be the dwelling place of the Buddhist monks and was not made of wooden carvings. There is a large area for communal activities inside the vihara. The place is situated at a distance of a few kilometres from Sanchi and is considered to be one of the most important tourist sites of Madhya Pradesh. The sacred relics of the Sathdhara Stupa are enshrined in a glass casket on a platform in the inner sanctum of this modern monastery. Hundreds of people from across the globe visit the place in order to get a glimpse of the Buddhist traditions.

Buddhist Vihara
The Buddhist Vihara, Photo Courtesy :

 7. The Great Bowl:  The Great Bowl is one of the most precious relics and was the storehouse for food. It was carved out of a single block of stone and food was distributed among the monks from this bowl.

The Great Bowl
The Great Bowl, Photo Courtesy:

8. The Gupta Temple: This 5th century A.D. temple is one of the earliest known examples of temple architecture. Sanchi’s Gupta Temple is known all over the world for its simplicity and is referred by the historians as one of the most logically designed structures of Indian architecture.The temple beautifies the middle layer of the Sanchi hill. The structure portrays the outstanding development that was there in the arena of architecture during the Gupta period. The temple consists of a stylish plain-roofed chamber and a covered entrance which is supported by pillars.

Gupta Temple
The Gupta Temple, Photo Courtesy:

9. The ASI Museum:  The Archeological Survey of India maintains a site museum at Sanchi where antiquities on display include the lion capital of the Ashokan pillar & metal objects used by monks, discovered during excavations at Sanchi.

ASI Museum
The ASI Museum at Sanchi, Photo Courtesy:

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