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World Heritage Sites - Buddhist Monuments at Sanchi

Sanchi is situated at a distance of forty km from Bhopal on a Hill top. It consists of numerous monuments of Buddhist faith. Some of the commonly found monuments are monasteries, monolithic pillars, temples and palaces. These monuments are very ancient and date back to 1st and 2nd century B.C. Sanchi is presently an oldest existing Buddhist sanctuary and was the center of Buddhist culture and learning till 1200 A.D.
The sculpture work on monuments at Sanchi, especially on the 4 gateways at No. 1 Stupa depicts remarkable talents of Buddhist period. This complete site contains fifty ruined monuments which include monolithic pillars, a monastery, temples, and three large stupas. Sanchi was initially a main center of Buddhist culture and learning.
Ashoka the Great embraced Buddhism in 250 B.C. He constructed a twelve meter high stone column and a sanctuary at Sanchi. This stone column contains his proclamations.
A main attraction of Sanchi is Stupa No. 1 which is over sixteen meter high and has porticoes made of stone railings. The Stupa has 4 gateways, which are immensely decorated with rich artistic works. The artistic work on Stupa is a symbolic representation of Buddha’s life and teachings.
Apart from main stupa, there are two more stupas which are believed to be of 2nd century B.C. The stupas are provided with a crown called chhatra, which represents high rank, reverence and regard. These stupas were rediscovered by historians and archaeologists in the year 1818 after it was covered by wild growth for more than 6 centuries.
Rich art work and carvings describing birth and life sequence of Gautama Buddha are placed on southern Gateway. It also has a wheel of law, which explains a miracle associated with Gautama that was narrated in Jataka tales. The stage of life in which Gautama renounces earthly pleasures and leaves his Kingdom is explained in the form of carvings. On eastern gateway Maya’s (Gautama’s Mother) dream when she conceived him is displayed on right inner pillar. Finally a western gateway displays 7 incarnation of Buddha. Out of seven, three are represented by Stupas and remaining 4 are indicated by trees. The gateway also has carvings of Buddha preaching his first sermon at Sarnath.
The inscriptions of Sanchi are believed to have helped James Princep in deciphering Brahmi, which is an ancient script of India. These books did not indicate any sense till 1837. Sanchi inscriptions mostly ended with a word danam which meant gift. By using inscription and correlating facts he was able to get clues of Ashoka’s proclamations made on the stone pillar and inscriptions found at Allahabad and Delhi. If Sanchi would not have helped him with some clues, majority of Brahmi script would have remained as a book without any essence like many of the Harappan scripts. Princep spent many days at Sanchi to understand and analyze scripts and inscriptions. He used to gaze at alphabets to understand its usage and meaning. His contributions helped us in better understanding ancient inscriptions. However, this great man died at a young age of forty.

About Sanchi Stupa
The Sanchi stupa was renovated and adorned with railings, harmika and staircase during Shunga period. This main Stupa is provided with a special path for circumambulation. This path is specially designed with railings and is provided with gates on all directions. All gates and railings of Sanchi Stupa are decorated with rich art works and designs. The most fascinating fact about Sanchi stupa is that Lord Buddha is characteristically displayed using wheels, thrones and is footprints rather than his image. Sanchi Stupa Gateways are a source of enormous knowledge about early life and incarnations of Lord Buddha. These gateways depict Buddha in form of certain in animate shapes and trees.
Sanchi Stupa is a magnificent structure of ancient period. It is part of Heritage site released by UNESCO. The stupas at Sanchi are classical examples of expansion, sculpture, and architecture of Buddhist culture from 3rd century B.C to 12th Century A.D. Sanchi stupas were discovered by General Taylor in 1818. An archaeological museum was set up at Sanchi site by Sir John Marshall in the year 1919.

The principal monument at Sanchi is Stupa 1, which boasts the largest scale. It was constructed in the 3rd century B.C.E. at first, in the age of the Mauryan emperor Ashoka (r. c. 268–232 B.C.E.). Although it was half the size of the present one at that time, its body of baked bricks was enlarged a century later, in the age of the Shunga Dynasty, by being covered with sandstone. As a result, the Stupa attained an enormous scale: 16m in height for the ‘Anda’ (hemispherical dome) and 36m in diameter for the pedestal.
The formation of the Great Stupa is as follows: the top of the Anda was cut flat and enclosed by a square fence to make a ‘Harmika’ (box-like structure), where a receptacle for ashes may have been buried, though the excavation did not find one. A ‘Stambha’ (upright) stands in the center, supporting a triple ‘Chhatra’ (umbrella).
It has been a form of worship in India since ancient times to circle clockwise around a ‘Chaitya’ (sacred place or object), and this passage is referred to as a ‘Pradakshina-patha’ (circumambulatory way). The Great Stupa has a double Pradakshina system. The 5m high upper-level passage is reached through a flight of steps in the south, on the railings of which remain a few reliefs. The lower passage is encircled with stone ‘Vedica’ (balustrades) over 3m high, which seem to have been made of wood in older times.
At the cardinal entrances to the Pradakshina stand four ‘Torana’ (monumental gateways) that are carved in reliefs across their surfaces. The figure of these gateways also looks like the substitution of stone for wood, showing itself as an archetype of a gateway. 

Stupa 2 stands on the hillside about 320m downward to the west of the Great Stupa. This might have been constructed during the end of the 2nd century to the 1st century B.C.E., indicating it to be the oldest of the three Stupas from the Shunga period. 
The diameter of the Anda is about 14m. It has no Harmika or Chhatra, though it has been cut flat on top, but the excavation found a relic chamber holding four caskets for ashes made of steatite, on which the names of ten senior priests from the age of Ashoka are engraved.
Around the Stupa, Vedicas encircle the Pradakshina-patha, but there are no Toranas at the cardinal entrances. The most intriguing item in Stupa 2 is the collection of exuberant reliefs, such as medallions, carved on Vedica posts. The embellishing motifs are lotus flowers and other vegetation, as well as various animals.

Stupa 3, which is located some 60m north of the Great Stupa, was built in the 1st century. As the diameter of its pedestal is about 15m, its scale is nearly the same as Stupa 2 as a whole. As if imitating the Great Stupa on a small scale, its formation was almost the same as that of the Great Stupa in old times, except that its Chhatra has a single layer, in contrast to the three of the latter. However, the outer Vedica has been lost and there remains no more than the South Torana among those of the four cardinal points at present.
In the small relic chamber in this Stupa were found two steatite caskets for ashes, on which the names of the foremost of Buddha’s ten disciples, Shariputra (Sariputta) and Maudgalyayana (Mahamogalana), were inscribed. There were some bone fragments, crystals, amethyst, pearls, and so on inside the caskets. They were brought to Britain and long after returned to India, and are now stored in a new temple on the hill of Sanchi. 

Best time to visit Sanchi
Ideal time for tourists to visit Sanchi is between Nov and Feb months. Weather remains very pleasant during this time for sightseeing.

How to reach

By Flight
If you are planning to visit Sanchi by Flight then nearest airport is Bhopal. Sanchi can be reached from Bhopal airport by Taxi and it is located at a distance of forty six km.
By Railways
Bhopal is a major Railway Junction; however nearest railway head is Vidisha which is located at a distance of ten km from Sanchi.
By Road
The road connectivity between Sanchi and other major cities like Indore, Bhopal and Vidisha are excellent. An excellent network of roads facilitates easy transportation for tourists.

Where to stay
Tourism department of this state has made elaborate arrangement for tourists in Sanchi. There are good lodges and hotels provided by tourism department and private managements. However, majority of tourists like to stay in Bhopal and visit Sanchi from there.

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