Sanchi is just 46 kms Bhopal. It is more of a village than a town. Sanchi is a religious place with historical and archaeological significance. Sanchi is a site for the numerous stupas, which were built on a hilltop. The place is related to Buddhism but not directly to the life of Buddha. It is more related to Ashoka than to Buddha. Ashoka built the first stupa and put up many pillars here. The crown of famous Ashoka pillars, with four lions standing back to back, has been adopted as the national emblem of India. Sanchi adopted Buddhism, which replaced the prominent Hinduism. But time took its toll and slowly both the stupas and the place were forgotten. In 1818 Sanchi was rediscovered and it was found that the marvelous pieces of structure were not in good shape. Gradually historical and the religious significance of the place was recognized. Restoration work of the stupas started in 1881 and finally between 1912 and 1919 these were carefully repaired and restored. It was accepted that the structures at Sanchi are the most organized construction, which went into the engineering of temples in the medieval period. The carvings here are done with the precision of Jewellers.Despite the damage and restoration work done Sanchi is the most evocative and attractive Buddhist site in India.
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. These gateways are the finest specimens of early classical art, which formed the seedbed of entire vocabulary of later Indian art. The images carved on the pillars and the stupas tell moving story of the incident from the life of Buddha. The purpose of these stupas was mostly religious. The most likely use of the stupas has been said to keep the relics. Some of these stupas have been found containing relics of disciples of Buddha. The stupas date as early as the 3rd century and are built in brick made of stone. Though most of the stupas are in ruins now three remain intact and are of great archaeological value. The designs and the carvings on the walls and gates of these stupas spell a heavenly grace and are very tastefully done.
Great Stupa No. 1 - This is one of the oldest stupas in India. 36.5 m in diameter and 16.4 m high with a hemispherical dome this massive structure was constructed by Ashoka in the 3rd century B.C. But the whole structure was enlarged later. Today the original brick structure by Ashoka is inside the enlarged stone one. The stupas of Sanchi stand on the top of a hill. There are four entrances to the great stupa. A railing encircles the stupa. The entrance is through the magnificently carved gates or as they call it the Torans. These Torans are one of the finest examples of Buddhist art in India and are best works at Sanchi. The path to the stupa has been smoothen by the centuries of pilgrims visiting the place. Near the stupa stands a Chunar sandstone pillar, which has some edicts by Ashoka, which warns against the schism within Buddhism.
Stupa No. 2 - This is second stupa on the Sanchi hill. This again a very good example of the Buddhist architecture. The stupa stands on the very edge of the hill. Though there are no entrance to this stupa, it attracts visitors for the stone balustrade, which encircles it. The wall of stupa is decorated with medallions. But the seems to be an imagination of a child as they depict animals, flowers people and scenes from the mythology.
Stupa No. 3 - The third stupa is located near Great Stupa. A polished stone umbrella crowns this stupa. The crown denotes some religious significance. There is only one entrance to this third stupa, In the stupa the relics of Sariputta and Mahamogallena were discovered. These two were the earliest disciples of Buddha. The relics were carried to England in 1853 and were returned to Sanchi in 1953.
The Ashoka Pillar - The Ashoka pillars is one many pillar which are scattered in the area some of these are in broken and some in shape. The Ashoka pillar is on the southern entrance. Today here only the shaft stands and the crown is kept in the museum. The crown is the famous four lions, which stand back to back. This figure was adopted as the national Emblem of India. The Ashoka pillars are an excellent example of the Greco-Buddhist style and are known for the aesthetic proportions and the exquisite structural balance.
The Buddhist Vihara - The earlier monasteries were made from wood, which was exquisitely carved and tastefully decorated. The present monasteries are not even the shadow of what they were in the past. A few kms from Sanchi are the relics of the Satdhara Stupa. The relics are kept in glass casket, which is placed on the inner sanctum of the modern monastery.
The Great Bowl - Sanchi had a huge bowl carved out of single rock. Grain was stored in this bowl and it was distributed among the monks in Sanchi.
The Gupta Temple - This temple is now in ruins. But what ever is left tells a saga of greatness and a temple which had no match during its times. The temple was built in 5 the century and is an excellent example of ancient temple architecture in India.
The Museum - The archaeological survey of India maintains a museum, which house many items, which were discovered during the excavation of Sanchi area. Most prized possession of the museum is the lion crown from Ashoka pillar. The museum has a sizeable collection of utensils and other items used by the monks who lived here.
Four Gate Way - The Four gateways constructed in 35 BC is the best from of Buddhist expression one can find anywhere in the world. Gateways or Torans as they are called are covered with explicit carving which depict scenes from the life Buddha and the Jatakas, the stories relating to Buddha and his earlier births. At this stage Buddha was not represented directly but symbols were used to portray him-- The lotus represents his birth, the tree his enlightenment, the wheel, derived from the title of his first sermon, the footprints and throw symbolizing his presence. The carvings on the Torans are done with inspired imagery, which in harmony with the surrounding figures balance the solidity of massive stupas.
The Western Gate: This gate has depictions of the seven incarnations of Buddha. The six incarnations before becoming the Buddha is called the Manushi Buddha. The architrave's is supported by the dwarfs. One of the pillars shows Buddha resisting the temptation of Mara. While the demons are fleeing the angles cheer Buddha. On the bottom Architraves the colourful stories of the Chhadanta Jataka are also carved with the intense care. Pot bellied dwarfs support the architraves on this gate.
The Eastern Gate: The pillar of this gate depicts story of the great departure of Prince Gautama. The pillar shows vividly the moments when the Gautama was leaving his fathers a place in search of Enlightenment. It also depicts the dream which Gautama's mother had before his birth. On the pillar Buddha is shown as riderless horse. Also on the architraves are hanging images of Yakshi, which is one of the best known images from Sanchi.
The Southern Gate: This gate is a representation of scenes from the life of Ashoka and Buddha's Birth. There is another representation of the Great Departure. This oldest of the three gates and is very rich in the carvings.
The Northern Gate: This gate is crowned by the wheel of law and depicts the miracles, which took place during the life of Buddha. Though the wheel is broken the northern gate is the most well preserved gates of all the four. The architraves of this gate is supported by elephants facing four directions, the gap between the architraves is filled by more horses and elephants.