Sanchi Stupa

 

Sanchi Stupa, located in Madhya Pradesh is one of the most visited places amongst Buddhist. India is the birthplace of several religions. Many religions took birth in India and flourished in India and even outside India. Buddhism is one such religion.  Gautam Buddha, who founded this religion, was born in India, and later his followers (including Ashoka the great) propagated the religion outside India as well. In India, there are some places where there are Buddhist monasteries and stupas, which are a symbol of this religion.

 

 

 

Location of Sanchi Stupa:

The great stupa at Sanchi is regarded as one of the oldest stone monument in India, and an important milestone in the history of Indian architecture. It is a very famous Buddhist complex located on the top of a hill at Sanchi town, in the Raisen district of Madhya Pradesh. Sanchi is located at a distance of 46 km from Bhopal.

 

History of Sanchi Stupa:

Sanchi is a famous centre for Buddhism and is also the hub of several stupas around Sanchi at a small distance. The great Stupa of Sanchi is the most famous stupa. In addition, there are several more stupas around Sanchi. There are many more stupas in the cities like Satdhara, Bhojpur (also called Morel Khurd), Andher, Sonari, Saru Maru, and Bharhut.

            However, these stupas at these places are as famous as the Great Stupa at Sanchi. All these stupas have been numbered, and the great stupa at Sanchi is also referred to as ‘Stupa No. 1’. This stupa was built on the orders of the great emperor of Indian history, Ashoka, who had given up violence and adopted Buddhism. People believe that this stupa is very important as it houses the ashes of Buddha.

The work on the Stupa started in the 3rd century BCE, under the direct supervision of King Ashoka. Sanchi was chosen as the spot for building the great stupa, as this was the birthplace of his wife Devi, who was the daughter of a local merchant from Vidisha. Sanchi was also the venue of their wedding.

Around the 2nd century BCE, the structure suffered some damage. Though there are different versions, as per ‘Ashokavadana’, it is believed that the stupa was damaged by an emperor from the Shunga dynasty, Pushyamitra Shunga, who had a disliking for Buddhism. But it was his son Agnimitra who not only repaired it but made it bigger and added more elements to it. The original stupa was only half in the diameter of what we see today. Agnimitra got the stupa expanded with stone slabs to double its original size. The dome was crowned by three superimposed parasols within a square railing and was on a high circular drum meant for doing parikrama. Among the elements added were 4 elaborately carved toranas (ornamental gateways) and a balustrade, which encircled the entire structure. The structure was completed somewhere in the 1st century BCE.

However, sometime after the 12th century CE, Sanchi was abandoned, and its monuments fell into disrepair. The monuments got back their lost glory in the year 1818 when a British General Henry Taylor chanced upon this monument site and documented his findings. The restoration work could however start only in 1881, which was completed in 1919 under the supervision of Sir John Marshall, who established an archaeological museum at Sanchi. In the year 1989, the great Stupa at Sanchi, along with other Buddhist monuments were collectively designated a UNESCO World Heritage site.

 

The Architecture of the Stupa:

The great stupa at Sanchi is 120 feet (37 metres) wide and 54 feet (17 metres) high. The nucleus of the stupa was built in the shape of a huge hemisphere (anda) kept upside down. Among other things, this dome symbolizes heaven encircling the earth. This dome houses the relic chamber, where the remains of Lord Buddha are believed to have been kept safely.

The dome is surmounted by a squared railing (called harmika) that is believed to represent the world mountain. Some other elements include a central pillar (called yashti) that symbolizes the cosmic axis, which joins three circular discs. This triple umbrella structure is called chattra and holds great significance to this stupa and also to Buddhism because these three circular discs represent the 3 jewels of Buddhism—the Buddha, the dharma (doctrine), and the sangha (community). This parasol like structure was built to crown the structure and symbolize a high rank with an intention to provide shelter and pay respect to the relics of Gautam Buddha.

There is a circular terrace (called Medhi), which surrounds the dome. This medhi, enclosed by railings, is meant to be used by devotees to perform a parikrama (circumambulate) around the relics in a clockwise direction and pay their homage. This entire structure is within a boundary of low walls (called vedika). At 4 cardinal points, there are ‘torana’ (ceremonial gates), which are the shining part of the Sanchi sculpture. Each torana is made up of two squared pillars topped by capitals of sculptured animals or dwarfs, surmounted by three architraves. All the elements are covered with relief sculpture depicting the events of the Buddha’s life, Jaatak tales (Buddhist moral stories which talk about previous births of Buddha and teach some important moral lessons), scenes of early Buddhism, and auspicious symbols. Among the main Jaataka stories depicted are the Syama Jaatak, the Vessantara Jaatak, and the Mahakapi Jaatak.

 

The railings also have inscribed the names of the donors. One of the notable entries here is the ivory workers of Vidisha. There are very brief records of the donors written in Brahmi script. In addition, there are more inscriptions on the railings, which were added later during the time of the Gupta Period.

On the lines of pillars of Ashoka, a 42 feet high pillar of finely polished sandstone was errected on the side of the main Torana. The pillar is now broken, with only the bottom part standing there. The upper parts are kept at the nearby Archaeological Museum.

 

Best time to visit Sanchi Stupa:

The best time to visit Sanchi is during the winters, from November to March. The weather is quite pleasant during this time of the year. Summers can be very hot here. Monsoon is also a good time to visit Sanchi, though you may face some difficulties getting around the city if it is raining very heavy.

 

How to reach?

 

  • By Air: The closest airport to Sanchi is Raja Bhoj Airport at Bhopal, which is about 55 km away. From here, you can easily get a taxi that will get you to Sanchi in about an hour. Bhopal is the capital city of Madhya Pradesh and has regular flights from all major airports of India.

 

  • By Train: The nearest railway Station to Sanchi Stupa is Sanchi, which is a relatively small station, and is located at a distance of about 2 km. You can get a bus or rickshaw outside the station to reach the great stupa. There are only a few passenger trains and a couple of long-distance trains that halt here for a brief time. You have a direct train from your city, which halts here and that too at a decent time of the day, a better idea is to take a train to Bhopal, as it is well-connected to the rest of the country with a good rail network.

 

  • By Bus: There is a regular bus service from Bhopal to Sanchi. The Bhopal bus stand is about a km away from the railway station, from where you will get several buses. These buses will take about an hour and drop you at a particular point on the road. At this point, there is a direction board on how to get to the Stupas. From this point, the stupa is just a walking distance. The nearest cities are: Vidisha (10 km), Raisen (18 km), Bhopal (42 km), Sagar (108 km), Ujjain (203 km), and Jhansi (234 km).

 

Entry Ticket:

There is an entry ticket for entry into the great Sanchi Stupa. The ticket is ₹ 40 for Indian nationals. Foreigners have to shell out ₹ 600 for an entry here. However, for tourists coming from SAARC countries and BIMSTEC countries, the ticket amount is again ₹ 40. The entry for children under 15 years is free.

The ticket counter is a stone throw distance from the main road. You can also go online, and make an advance booking online, make the payment and your online ticket will be sent to your email id. You may book tickets online on the website of Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) as well.

Final words:

The great Stupa of Sanchi is the oldest Stupa and one of the finest structures of Buddhism. One visit here can take you into a world of spirituality. The Sanchi stupa is an important symbol of the rich cultural heritage of India and is depicted on the reverse side of the Indian currency note of ₹ 200, which signifies its importance.

 

 

 

FAQs:

Q. 1: Which is the oldest stupa in India?

Ans: The great Stupa at Sanchi is the oldest stupa.

Q. 2: Whose relics are believed to be preserved at this great stupa?

Ans: Gautam Buddha

Q. 3: Who discovered Sanchi Stupa?

Ans: The Sanchi Stupa was discovered by British Gen. Henry Taylor in the year 1818.

Q. 4: What are Jaatak tales?

Ans: Buddhist moral stories which talk about previous births of Buddha and teach some important moral lessons

Q. 5: What is depicted on the reverse side of the Indian currency note of ₹ 200?

Ans: The great stupa of Sanchi

 

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