The Great Stupa in Sanchi
The Great Stupa of Sanchi is a great stupa of amazing proportions, the most important structure on the hill of Sanchi (Stupa 1) which stands right in front of you if you approach the complex from the north. Originally built by Ashoka, it was enlarged and the brick stupa is now inside a stone stupa. Now its height is 16 m and in diameter it reaches 37 m. The Great Stupa is surrounded by a wall with four beautifully decorated rams (gates), the most beautiful Buddhist works of art in Sanchi, if not all of India.
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The gates of the Great Stupa were installed around 35 BC, but they were all destroyed by time by the time the British found them. They have now been replaced. The scenes carved into the columns and triangular architraves are mainly from the jatakas, stories of the Buddha’s earthly reincarnations. During this period of artistic development, the Buddha was never portrayed directly, but his presence was identified by recognizable symbols. The lotus signified his birth, the bodhi tree his enlightenment, the wheel his teaching, and the footprints and throne his presence. The stupa itself also symbolizes the Buddha.
The northern gate, topped with a broken wheel of justice, is better preserved than the others. Among the images is a monkey offering a bowl of honey to the Buddha. The Buddha here is represented in the form of a bodhi tree. Another shows the miracle of Shravasti, one of several miracles depicted here, with the Buddha in the form of a bodhi tree rising into the air. Elephants support the architraves above the columns, with gracefully carved yakshas (devas) hanging fearlessly on each side .
The stunningly carved figure of a yakshi hanging from the architrave on the eastern gateway is one of the most famous images in Sanchi. One of the columns, supported by elephants, depicts the Buddha’s attainment of nirvana. Another scene is the dream of Maya, the Buddha’s mother, about the elephant standing on the moon that she dreamt at the time of the Buddha’s conception. Right in the center of the main architrave is the Great Departure when the Buddha (the riderless horse) renounced his sensual life and went in search of enlightenment.
Lions standing back to back on the southern gate, the oldest gate, form the national emblem of India, which can be seen on any banknote. This gate tells the story of Ashoka’s Buddhist life, with scenes of the birth of the Buddha and the Great Retreat. It also depicts the Jataka Chhaddanta, the story in which Bodhisattva (Buddha before he attained enlightenment) took the form of a king of elephants with six tusks. The less beloved of the elephant king’s two wives was so jealous of the other that she decided to starve to death and vowed to be reborn as the queen of Benares (the former name of Varanasi) to avenge her husband for not loving her enough. Her wish came true, and, becoming queen, she ordered hunters to find and kill the king of elephants. But before the hunter killed the elephant, the elephant held out his tusks to him. This act was so noble that the queen died of remorse.
The bumpy dwarfs support the architraves of the western gate, which depict some of the most interesting scenes. On the main architrave we see the Buddha in seven different reincarnations (three times his symbol is a stupa and four times a tree) . On the reverse side of one of the columns is a depiction of Buddha resisting the temptation of Mara (the Buddhist personification of evil, often called the Buddhist devil): the demons flee and the angels triumph.
Other Stupas of Sanchi
Stupa 2 is in the middle of the western slope (turn right from stupa 1) . If you followed the main road out of the village, you can walk down past stupa 2, but be prepared to climb over the fence at the foot of the hill. Instead of a gate, the surrounding wall of the stupa is decorated with medallions, naive but full of energy and imagination. The stupa is surrounded by a ring of images of flowers, animals, and people, many of them heroes of myths.
Stupa 3 is to the northeast of the Great Stupa (if you walk through the main entrance it will be on the left). It is similar in design to the Great Stupa, but slightly smaller, and there is only one, but very beautiful, gate. It once housed the remains of two important disciples of the Buddha, Sari Puttha and Maha Moggallana. They were transported to London in 1853, but were returned in 1953 and now rest in the present vihara.
Of the ancient Stupa 4 (II century B.C.) remained only the base, located behind Stupa 3. Between the stupas 1 and 3 there is a small Stupa 5. There used to be a statue of Buddha, which is now in a museum.
Columns in Sanchi
Among the remains of columns scattered everywhere, the most important is Column 10, which was built by Ashoka and which was later destroyed. The two upper sections, perfectly proportioned and beautifully carved, lie near Stupa 1; the capitel (the top of the column, often with sculptural elements) is preserved in the museum. Column 25 (to the left of Stupa 1) dates from the Shunga Empire (2nd century B.C.), the other, less impressive column 35 (to the right of Stupa 1) dates from the 5th century A.D.
Temple 18 behind the Great Sanchi Stupa is a chaitia (prayer and assembly hall) . Its style is very reminiscent of the classical ancient Greek buildings with columns. The temple dates from the 7th century AD, but there are traces of earlier wooden buildings beneath it. On the left is Temple 17, which is also reminiscent of Greek architecture. Behind them is temple 40, which dates to the Ashoka era.
Rectangular temple 31 (behind stupa 5) was built in the 6th or 7th century and was reconstructed in the 10th and 11th centuries. There is a beautifully rendered depiction of the Buddha.
The earliest monasteries were built of wood and have long since deteriorated. They usually consisted of a central courtyard surrounded by monastic cells. Only the courtyards and stone foundations have survived to this day. Monasteries 45 and 47, standing on the east ridge to the left of Stupa 1, date from the period of transition from Buddhism to Hinduism, as the architecture has clear elements inherent in Hinduism. In one of the monasteries are two statues of seated Buddhas, one of which is admirable.
Behind Monastery 51, halfway down the hill toward Stupa 2, is the Great Bowl, carved in stone. Here food and offerings were placed for the monks.
Literally the word vihara (9:00-17:00) , translates to “tomb. It was built to hold the relics of Stupa 3. They can be seen every last Sunday of the month. The museum is on the left, immediately at the entrance to the complex.
5 rupees, free if you have a ticket for the stupas; 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Sat-Fri.
This wonderful museum has a small collection of local sculptures. The main artifact is the lion-shaped capitol from Column 10, built by Ashoka and dating back to the 3rd century B.C. Among other interesting items, note the yakshi hanging from a mango tree and the beautiful red sandstone figures of a tranquil Buddha, the earliest found anywhere in the world. There are also some interesting photographs of the area before the restoration.
Indians/foreigners 10/250 rupees, car 10 rupees, museum 5 rupees; sunrise-sunset
The stupas at the top of Sanchi Hill are easily reached by a path and stone steps at the end of Monuments Road (Monuments Rd; this is an extension of the street beginning at the train station) where the ticket office is located.
If you are going to the stupas at dawn, buy your ticket a day in advance. Remember: it is considered auspicious to walk around the Buddhist monuments in a clockwise direction.
There is no currency exchange in Sanchi; the nearest ATM is in Vidisha. A few places in the market near the bus station have an internet cafe (hourly 30-40 rupees)
The way there and back
You can rent a bicycle at the market near the bus station (hour/day Rs 5/30) .
There are regular buses between Sanchi and Bhopal (Rs. 25, 1.5 hours, 6.00-22.00) , there are also buses to Vidisha (Rs. 8, 20 minutes, 6.00-23.00) . It is better to wait for the bus in the village at the crossroads than to go to the bus station, which is on the right at the exit from the train station.
It is possible to reach Sanchi from Bhopal by train. The journey takes less than an hour, so there is no need to reserve a seat: just come a little early, buy a general ticket (7-21 rupees) and get on the train. There are six day trains from Bhopal (8.00, 10.20, 15.15, 16.10, 18.00 and 20.55) . Back – only four (8.00, 8.50, 16.30 and 19.10) .
Stupa in Sanchi
The Stupa in Sanchi is not only an amazing landmark, but also a treasure of Indian culture.
Today, looking at Sanchi, it is hard to imagine that it was once a huge, flourishing city. It was on the route of caravans, and with the help of influential Indians it became one of the main regions of the country. Many annals prove the unique wealth of the city.
By the decline of Buddhism, Sanchi too began to fade away, becoming a mere memory, drowned in the sands and greenery.
This landmark was discovered quite by accident by English military commander Taylor in the early 19th century.
When visiting this place, the call for the Electrification of the country comes to mind (obsessive thoughts).
Sanchi is located in Madhya Pradesh, near Bhopal. It gained its fame among tourists because of its preserved temples and stupas.
History of the stupa in Sanchi
The stupa is the very first Buddhist structure, which from ancient times was considered to represent Mount Meru. When Ashoka ascended the throne in the 3rd century, Buddhism became the leading religion in the state. From there the ruler’s son later began to spread the teachings of the Buddha.
During Ashok’s reign more than 8,000 monasteries and stupas were erected. The first is recognized as the Great Stupa. Its walls are painted with images of Indians and people of Greek origin in national dress. The construction of the structure was originally intended as an illustration of a doctrine advocating the renunciation of rebirth.
From the beginning the stupa was built as a hemisphere of brick. The structure was surrounded by a high wall of wood. Later the stupa was enlarged and a keeper of gifts with a spire and harmikas – peculiar umbrellas symbolizing the coming of man to heaven was added.
During the reign of the Satavahans, the wooden wall was torn down and a stone gate was built in its place.
The stupa is fully decorated with images of the founder of Buddhism and the history of the origin of the doctrine. You can also see images of people and animals on it. On the stupa Buddha is shown in human form, but you can see quite a few objects symbolizing him: a hand, a lotus, footprints.
The unusual rounded shape of the shrine has a meaning. Its foundation was built of brick and sandstone. There are no halls inside, but the remains of the great teacher are hidden in the brickwork.
Surrounding the stupa is a fence built of stone, and on the sides of the world are gates, which are two giant columns with images of animals. They are decorated with carvings and ornaments. All the drawings on the gates depict the life of the Buddha in all its manifestations. Indian mythology and the teachings of the Buddha are intertwined in this design. Religious ceremonies have always been performed through the gate, representing a circumambulation around the shrine.
In addition to the huge Great Stupa, there are several small structures on the grounds of Sanchi. A second stupa was erected on the western slope, not far from the Great Stupa. There are no walls and the shrine is fenced only medallions of stone with carved on them people, animals from Indian mythology.
Today, the entire complex is recognized as a historical value and is included in the list of UNESCO.
The third is located on the eastern slope. It is a scaled-down copy of the Great Stupa. It is also surrounded by a gate of extraordinary beauty.
Here long ago were the remains of two of the Buddha’s followers, Sari Putghi and Mahi Moggalan. After archaeological excavations they were taken to England, but a century later they returned to their homeland.
The fourth stupa remains in a ruined state. Tourists can only see the large base.
All of the local attractions are within walking distance, but if you are traveling from the city, you can use the following means of transportation:
- Rent a car or cab. This is the most convenient way of travel. The service will be inexpensive, and you will get there quicker.
- Train. If you take the train from Bhapol to Sanchi, the journey takes less than an hour. The main thing is to arrive at the station a little early and buy a ticket for up to 20 rupees. There are four trains daily in two directions. Another train comes from Mumbai, but you have to change trains.
- A shuttle bus. There is a daily bus service from Bhapol. The ticket price is 25 rupees.
- Excursions. You can get to the stupa complex as part of a tour. The guide will tell not only about the stupas, but also tell about the traditions and culture of India.
For Indians the entrance ticket will cost 10 rupees, but for foreigners the cost is 250 rupees.
The ticket itself is like a postcard, which shows the local attractions.
The ticket can be purchased directly at the train station at a special ticket booth. From there, a path with steps leads to the stupa.