Sanchi Stupa, Madhya Pradesh

Sachi Stupa in Madhya Pradesh (sanjay austa austa)

Sachi Stupa in Madhya Pradesh


Bhopal may not have any significant archeological monuments of its own. Its grandest  monument the Taj-ul-Masajid mosque -the largest in India- is a comparative newbie in the archeological time scale, completed as it was as late as 1985.

But Bhopal provides a perfect base to plan  day- trips to some the most ancient archeological sites in India,  all of whom  lie  within the  radius of 60 kilometers.

 Bhimbetka caves to its south, has rock paintings harking back the Stone Age when our ancestors lived in these rock shelters as  hunters and gatherers.  To Bhopal’s  east lies the incomplete Bhojeshvar  temple, which has one of the largest Shiva Lingas in the world ( in tourist brochures its tom-tommed  as the largest –but the largest is in Kotilingeshwara in Karnataka ).

 57 kilometers from Bhopal are located  the Udaygiri Caves-one of the oldest Hindu and Jain rock-cut shelters.  To its south and 46 kilometers from Bhopal is the oldest stone structure in India – the Sanchi Stupa.

Sachi Stupa in Madhya Pradesh (sanjay austa austa)

Sachi Stupa in Madhya Pradesh

From Stone Age  to Buddhist and Hindu past,  this region cuts a wide swath of history. However this entire area had until not too far been  associated only with Buddhism. The grand Stupa, the Buddhist  temples and monasteries at Sanchi attracted Buddhist pilgrims and scholars from all over India and abroad. Even Bhimbetka caves until discovered and dated by the peripatetic Indian archeologist V. S. Wakaner was thought to be  Buddhist extensions of the Stupas at Sanchi.

The Buddhist monuments at Sanchi are perched atop a rolling hill. A wide motorable road winds up  right to the top. There are three Stupas here but the largest- – Stupa no 1 is usually the only Stupa that gets any attention by visitors. It sits prominent on the hill and its stone dome and spire are  visible from the  train as you ride into Bhopal.

The stone exterior was however a later addition added on by the Sunga dynasty. The wooden interior encased by the stone and commissioned by  Emperor Ashoka in 3rd century BCE, remain hidden from view. In its interior lie the relics of Gautama Buddha.  But it was on the bases of its four toranas or gateways , facing in all four directions,  that Sanchi Stupa was declared a  UNESCO world heritage site. There are over 85 Stupas in the world but Stupa no I at Sanchi is the only Stupa with such elaborately carves toranas.

 (sanjay austa austa)

Buddhist Monk at a Buddhist Temple at Sanchi, India.


With the decline of Buddhism in India the monuments at Sanchi had fallen into neglect and the four toranas had over time all fallen down. They were re-erected much later.

The carvings on the toranas depict the life of Gautam Buddha not only from the time of his birth but also his previous incarnations. These stories taken from  Jataka are rich in metaphor and lavishly carved on the massive toranas. Buddha is himself not represented in human form but symbolically by his sandals, the lotus, the canopy or the bodhi tree.

Large chunks of the  toranas  with many Jataka  stories  were lost to vandals and time. The  missing pieces were replaced by plain slabs.

A large Ashokan pillar was also erected near one of the gateways. It was also  vandalized and today only its stump remains . The rest of the pillar is kept on display on the ground.

 (sanjay austa austa)

Bhimbetka Cave Paintings, Madhya Pradesh.

Beyond Stupa 1 are the Buddhist temples and monasteries -places where the local guides never takes you. The temples are just rudimentary stone structures and the monasteries are but ruins with only the boundaries of where the walls would have been , visible.

The best time to visit Sanchi is last week of November when this quite hill erupts into festivity with Buddhist pilgrims converging here from all over the world for the Chethiyagiri Vihara festival.  During this festival,  the bones of two of Buddha’s disciples are displayed to the public. For the rest of the year the bones are locked up in a Sri Lankan temple, which was inaugurated by Jawaharlal Nehru in 1952.

How to get here:

Sanchi is 46 kilometers north-east of Bhopal.  Once can take one of the several tourists buses shuttling between Sanchi and Bhopal or hire a taxi.

What else to see:

Bhimbetka Caves. The caves with rock paintings dating back to the stone ages.

Bhojpur: The unfinished temple –the Bhojeshvar temple  with one of the largest lingas

Udaigiri Caves: The Hindu and Jain rock cut shelters with images of Gods carved in them.



One Response to “Sanchi Stupa, Madhya Pradesh”

  1. farah says:

    nice pictures,sanchi stupas is graveyard but looks beautiful and spiritual. Bhopal is nice city.

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