Sanchi A Journey to Solitude

Sanchi comprises a group of Buddhist monuments. It is the oldest Buddhist sanctuary in existence and was a major Buddhist centre in India until the 12th century A.D.

WORDS: SANGEETA

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JUST 46 kms from Bhopal, Sanchi has plenty of historical and archaeological significance. Many monuments were built in Sanchi.
The city is known for Buddhist stupas of which Sanchi Stupa stands out. Buddhist stupas are hemispherical brick structures containing relics of the Buddha.
The place is related to Buddhism and Emperor Ashoka. Ashoka built the first stupa and put up many pillars here. It is a fine example of the development of the Buddhist architecture and sculpture beginning from the 3rd century B. C to the 12th century.
Sanchi Stupa is one of the oldest stone structures in India and also one of the most important Buddhist monuments reflecting gem of Buddhist art and architecture. Located near Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, it is an important monument of Indian Architecture.

Built during Mauryan period and originally commissioned by emperor Ashoka during the 3rd century BC, it is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Emperor Ashoka built many stupas all over India and the other territories under the Mauryan Dynasty.
He built stupas in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Nepal.
Attracting visitors from across the world the Sanchi Stupa is counted among the best conserved ancient stupas of central India. This huge hemispherical dome consists of a central chamber where the relics of Lord Buddha are placed. The ornamental gateways were later added in the 1st century BC. Various designs and motifs are carved on the railing and the gates of the stupa.
Decorative illustrations of events encompassing the life of Lord Buddha are shown as sculptures here.

Instead of images of Lord Buddha in human form he has been depicted symbolically by figures like thrones, wheels and footprints among others. This makes the structure more interesting and striking. Lord Buddha has been shown symbolically in inanimate figures.
However the beautiful monuments and Sanchi complex was forgotten for over 600 years. It was during the time when Buddhism was on decline that the monuments of Sanchi went out of use and fell into a state of disrepair. It was re-discovered by General Taylor in 1818 when it was found that the structures were not in good shape. Gradually historical and the religious significance of the place was recognized and restoration work started. The Great Stupa was restored, but it wasn’t until the pioneering restoration work done by Sir John Marshall, between 1912 and 1919, that these beautiful monuments were revealed in their full glory.

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The credit for the restoration of the Sanchi site goes to Sir John Marshall, the Director General of Archaeological Survey of India, under whom this work was carried out. Altogether over 50 monuments were excavated and conserved. Despite the damage and restoration work done Sanchi happens to be the most attractive Buddhist site in India.
The fascinating stupa with brilliant Buddhist architecture is a place worth visiting. The place attracts tourists from within India and abroad including archaeologists and historians. It can be visited anytime from sunrise to sunset by paying the entry fee. November to March is a good time to visit this place.
The place is worth visiting and many arrangements and good facilities have been provided to make the visit comfortable for visitors. Special thought has been given for physically challenged people too. In co-operation with the Bhopal-based voluntary organization, Arushi, the Archaeological Survey of India has made the site the first in India to be barrier-free for physically challenged people. The stupas have been made wheelchair accessible and along with other facilities the guides and other staff have been trained and sensitised to deal with physically challenged tourists, including those in wheelchairs and with visual impairments.
Sanchi being one of the great archaeological sites of the world, should not be missed.

WHAT IS A STUPA?

Stupa is a dome-shaped building erected as a Buddhist shrine. Stupas are considered the living presence of the Buddha, his protective powers, and living energy. Buddhist stupas were originally built to house the earthly remains of the historical Buddha and his associates and are almost invariably found at sites sacred to Buddhism; they are used as a place of meditation. The concept of a relic was afterwards extended to include sacred texts. Miniature stupas and pagodas are also used by Buddhists throughout Asia as votive offerings.

GATEWAYS OF STUPA

Sanchi is primarily a place of Stupas and pillars but the gorgeous gateways add grace to the place. These gateways are beautifully carved and carry scenes from the life of Buddha or Ashoka. The whole of the Great Stupa is encircled by a railing and four gateways, which are richly decorated with relief sculpture depicting Jataka tales, events in the life of the Buddha, and popular mythological figures. Four Gateways of Sanchi Stupa have four sets of lions situated at the top of each pillar. All the four gateways of the Sanchi Stupa which dates back to the first century BC have one of the finest architectures and are covered with reliefs. They are supported by a superstructure and three curvilinear architraves and intermediate parts.
The southern gate is the principal entrance, and it was built first. After that, the northern, eastern and western gates were built. Southern gateway has scenes of Gautam Buddha’s birth embedded along with events from Samrat Ashoka’s life as a Buddhist. The architraves are supported with four pillars that have four lions on their top.

HOW TO REACH SANCHI

By Air or rail to Bhopal which is well-connected with many other cities of India From Bhopal Sanchi can be reached by road by private cars or public transports Sanchi can also be reached by road from Vidisha (10 km) and Indore (232 km) Regular bus services connect Sanchi with Vidisha, Raisen, Bhopal, Sagar, Indore and Gwalior.