Sanchi, a quaint Buddhist complex, is famous for having one of India's most important historical structures, the Sanchi Stupa. Located towards the northeast, it is about 46 km away from the capital city Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh. Enlisted as the UNESCO World Heritage site since 1989, the Sanchi Stupa is considered as the best preserved ancient stupa in Central India.
A stupa is an important Buddhist monument, which is usually a huge semi-hemispherical dome with a parasol or chatra on the top. Its purpose is to house and honour relics of Gautama Buddha. The basic format of a stupa underwent many changes, as it was introduced in different cultures and therefore a stupa is known as a dagoba in Sri Lanka, zedi in Myanmar and pagoda in China, according to different shapes and structures.
History Of Sanchi Stupa
PC: Suyash Dwivedi
Sanchi Stupa was originally commissioned and built by Emperor Ashoka in the 3rd century BC with his wife Queen Devi, the daughter of a merchant in Vidisha (a city nearby), supervising the construction. Originally, the stupa, which was just a dome built with bricks, saw expansions and additions under the rule of various dynasties belonging to different periods.
An interesting backstory to the stupas can be found in the ancient Buddhist texts, which claim that Buddha's followers divided his cremated remains into eight portions and erected stupas in the eight kingdoms where the Buddha lived. In the third century BC, Emperor Ashoka is said to have opened these stupas, and further distributed Buddha's relics into 84,000 portions for the stupas to be built all over the world where Buddhism was rapidly spreading.
Architecture Of Sanchi Stupa
The stupa as we see today, has double the original diametre with stone slabs surrounding it, an addition of three parasols with a square railing crowning the dome and circulatory pathways along with four-pillared gateways called Toranas.
A pillar of sandstone originally inscribed with Schism Edict by Ashoka was erected, of which the lower portion remains while the upper portion is covered with a canopy. Apart from the changes made by different rulers, Sir John Marshall (Director-General of the Archaeological Survey of India at the time) closed the stupa for renovations for a brief time.
The stupa is approximately 120 feet in diameter and 42 feet in height, excluding the railing and parasol.
Other Places To Visit In Sanchi
PC: Biswarup Ganguly
Apart from the magnificent Sanchi Stupa, there are a few other spots to visit in Sanchi.
The Archaeological museum, established by Sir John Marshall in 1919, has leftover artwork that reveals the rich Buddhist heritage. Photos from the pre-restoration can be found here. A number of beautiful Buddhist monuments and other stupas can be found in and around Sanchi.
Sanchi Stupa is open from sunrise to sundown, whereas the Archaeological museum is open from 9 AM to 5 PM.
How To Get There?
By Air: The nearest airport to Sanchi is the Raj Bog Airport in Bhopal. Flights connect regularly to Hyderabad, Delhi, Chennai, Raipur and Indore to Bhopal.
By Train: Closest railway stations are found in Bhopal and Vidisha. Trains connect Vidisha to all the major cities of India.
By Road: Private taxis are the most convenient forms of transport. Although Sanchi is well-connected to Bhopal via buses, they tend to get crowded.
Best Time to Visit
Winter (October-March) is the best time to visit Sanchi, as summer can be unbearably hot. The temperature tends to go up to 45 degree Celsius. Monsoon is also a good time to visit, but it might hamper travelling within the city.