Sanchi – land of buddhist stupa

Sanchi – synonymous with Buddhism is perhaps the greatest and most popular Buddhist pilgrimage destinations of India. The stupas at Sanchi have been designated as a World Heritage Site because of its archaeological and historical importance. Not only Buddhists from around the world but historians and even researchers get attracted to Sanchi that has been an ancient seat of Buddhist learning. The fact that India has been the cradle of Buddhism has made Sanchi a popular tourism destination for tourists from not only India but from around the world as well.


View of the Great Stupa at Sanchi

Where is Sanchi?

Sanchi is more of a village than a town in Raisen District of the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh. It is located 46 km north east of Bhopal, the capital town of Madhya Pradesh.

About Sanchi

Located on a small hill top, Sanchi is a serene place crowned by a group of stupas, monasteries, temples and the famous monolithic Asokan pillar dating from 3rd century BC to 12th century AD. It’s amazing to know that though Sanchi is not directly connected with events in the life of Lord Buddha and nor did Lord Buddha ever visited Sanchi, yet it became a popular Buddhist pilgrimage. In the soothing stillness and tranquility of Sanchi one could perceive the presence of Lord Buddha more effectively than any of the other famous Buddhist centers.
Sanchi became a seat of Buddhism ever since Emperor Ashoka erected a stupa on the relics of Lord Buddha like His teeth, hair and the shoulder bones in the middle of the 3rd century BC. It is noteworthy that at Sanchi there are no figures of Lord Buddha but His representation has been through symbols. This is in keeping with the tradition of the early period of Buddhism. The lotus is the symbol of the birth of Lord Buddha, the tree symbolizes His enlightenment. The wheel symbolizes His first sermon; the Stupa signifies His Nirvana or Salvation and the footprints along with the throne imply His very presence. It has become a shrine for the followers of Buddhism owing to the several structures and sculptures that illustrate the Buddhist legends.

Sanchi Sightseeing

Sanchi is famous throughput the world for stupas, monolithic Asokan pillar, temples, monasteries and sculptural wealth dating from 3rd century B.C. to 12th century A.D. Emperor Ashoka built a total of eight stupas at Sanchi in the 3 B.C. though today only three of the Stupas remains. These Stupas have the relics of Buddha like His teeth, hair and the shoulder bones.

Great Stupa 1

Built by the Great Mauryan emperor Ashoka, Great stupa 1 is often referred to as the Ashoka’s Stupa. It is undoubtedly the most popular and a must see monuments of Sanchi. The Great Stupa 1 is a major tourist attraction and in a way symbolizes Sanchi in all tourist magazines and literatures. The original construction of the Stupa was done in burnt mud bricks though later the Stupa was largely re-built in the middle of the 2 B.C. Stupas are basically mounds, covered with brick or stone and were meant to keep the remnants and relics of the disciples of Buddha.
This oldest stone structure of India, 37 meters in diameter, 17 meters in height with a massive semi-circular dome and with a cemented path around stands in everlasting magnificence. This massive stupa standing tall on the top of a hill with a colossal hemispherical dome on the top adds a heavenly charm to this century old monument. Highly embellished walls and gateways stand in everlasting majesty and the paved path around it smoothened by centuries of pilgrims is an epitome of architectural grandeur.
There are four entrances to this great stupa. The entrance is through the magnificently carved gates called Torans. These Torans are one of the finest examples of Buddhist art in India and are best works at Sanchi. In the bas-reliefs on the gateway of the Sanchi Stupa, scenes from the life of Lord Buddha find a prominent place. Here Buddha is not represented in human form but by means of certain symbols. On the summit of the gateway stands the emblem of Buddhism, viz., the wheel of Law (dharma-chakra), supported on elephants flanked on either side by a guardian yaksha and at the end by Tri-Ratna the trinity of Buddhism, – the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Sangha.
Near the stupa stands a Chunar sandstone pillar, which has some edicts by Ashoka, warning against the schism within Buddhism.

Stupa No. 2

Standing at the very edge of the Sanchi hill, Stupa number 2 is the second most important and popular monuments of Sanchi. The most striking feature of this 2nd century BC stupa is the stone balustrade that rings it. The stupa housing the vestiges of the two great Buddhist gurus, Kasyapagotra and Suvijayita is a popular pilgrimage destination for all the followers of Buddhism.
Though there are no such entrances to this stupa, yet its decorative walls is a major tourist attraction. The wall of the stupa is decorated with medallions depicting animals, flowers people and scenes from the mythology.

Stupa No 3


Stupa 3 at Sanchi

Third stupa or Stupa number 3 is located very close to the Great Stupa and is a popular tourist and pilgrimage destination of Sanchi. This stupa is characterized by a hemispherical dome, which is crowned as a mark of its special religious significance, with an umbrella of polished stone. The stupa contain relics of two of Buddha’s first five disciples, Sariputa and Mahamogallan. This stupa was built buring 150-140 BC. And is having only one entrance

Ashoka Pillar

Located near the Great Stupa, this architectural masterpiece though in ruins today reminds the rich legacy of not only Sanchi but also of India as well. This Greco Buddhist style structure lies close to the Southern Gateway of the Great Stupa and is known for its aesthetic and sumptuous proportions.
The chunar sandstone pillar is known for its polished surface and carries Emperor Asoka’s edicts to his people. One would be astonished to find that the dazzling polishing of the pillar still glitters as if it were painted recently. This pillar bears close resemblance to the Sarnath pillar and the only difference is that here the lions do not hold the Dharmachakra. One would be well aware that these lions are found depicted in the national emblem of India. Only the shaft of the pillar can be seen here. The crown of the pillar is displayed in the museum along with the other artifacts of yesteryears.

The Four Gateways

The four gateways called toranas on the four sides of the Great Stupa at Sanchi is an architectural marvel which is extremely popular among tourists. These four gateways, constructed in 35 B.C are one of the best form of Buddhist art found anywhere in the country. All the gateways are covered with explicit carving that depict scenes from the life of Buddha and the the Jatakas, the stories relating to Buddha and his earlier births.
The Northern Gateway is crowned by a wheel of law and showcases all the miracles connected to Buddha that are mentioned in the Jatakas. It is the best preserved gateways of Sanchi. The Southern Gateway has carvings that showcase the birth of Gautama Buddha. This is the oldest of the four gates and is very rich in the carvings. The carvings on Eastern Gateway depict the different incidents of Gautama Buddha’s life. The pillar shows vividly the moments when the Gautama was leaving his father’s palace in search of Enlightenment. It also depicts the dream which Gautama’s mother, Maya had before his birth. On the pillar Buddha is shown as rider less horse. There are four elephants that act as a support to the architraves of the gate. The Western Gateway displays the seven incarnations of Lord Buddha. One of the pillars shows Buddha resisting the temptation of Mara.

Gupta Temple


View of the Gupta Temple at Sanchi

Belonging to the golden age of Indian history, this centuries old temple dating back to the 5th century A.D reflects the rich cultural traditions of a bygone era. Constructed in the fifth century, this is one of the early structural temples of India, built of stone slabs with a flat roof.Though in ruins today, yet whatever is left tells the saga of architectural marvel which had no match during its times. The Gupta temple is one of the must-visit spot of Sanchi. This well-designed temple with a simple dreary covered compartment and a pillared overhang at the entrance symbolises the renaissance of structural movement in India during the Gupta age..

Sanchi Museum

Developed by Sir John Marshall in the year 1919, this archeological museum was later converted into the famous Sanchi Museum. Neatly set up in very luxuriant surroundings and verdant setting displaying several rare and antique items making this museum worth visiting. A proud testimony to the rich cultural and religious heritage of India, Sanchi Museum houses invaluable objects that belong to the early years of fist to third centuries.
It has now become one among the alluring tourist attractions in Sanchi. Maintained and run by The Archaeological Survey of India, this Museum is kept open for public viewing from 9’o clock in the morning to 5’o clock in the evening.

Udaygiri caves


Inside Udaigiri caves at Sanchi

At a distance of about 13 Km from Sanchi lies the famous caves of Udaygiri which has been a huge attraction for tourists from around the world. During the rule of the Gupta Empire, when Vidisha was the provincial capital, these caves were built as resting abodes of Buddhist monks. This group of 20 rock-cut caves is sculpted into a sandstone hill and provides a true testimony to the architectural superiority during the Gupta age. They evoke pictures of Gupta regime and possess all the archetypal characteristics that gave Gupta art its unique vitality and fervor.
Of the 20 rock-cut caves two are Jain caves while the other eighteen are Hindu caves. The caves are assigned numbers, probably listing the sequence in which they were excavated. Though most of the caves are in ruins today, yet mention must be made of Cave No. 1, 3, 4, 5, and 9. Cave 1, the Rani Gumpha or ‘Queen’s Cave’, is around the corner. The pillars, arches and the rear of the courtyard, on the lower level, exhibit beautiful sculptures. Caves 3 and 4 are double-storied caves that contain sculptures of a lion holding its prey, elephants with snakes wrapped around them and pillars topped with peculiar winged animals. Cave 5 has the most famous sculpture, the monumental figure of Lord Viṣṇu in his incarnation as the boar-headed Varaha. Cave No. 9 is remarkable for its large cell and massive, 8 feet high pillars, its long portico and pillared hall.

How to reach Sanchi?

Sanchi by Air

Raja Bhoj Airport of Bhopal is the nearest airport of Sanchi. It is just 46 Km from Sanchi. Major airlines like Jet Airways, Air Deccan and Air India Regional connect the airport to other important places in India. Air India operates flights to Dubai and Sharjah as well.

Sanchi by Rail

The nearest railhead of Sanchi is Bhopal, at a distance of about 50 Km. Bhopal is an important junction of the West Central Railways. Various express and mail trains ply between Bhopal and cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Agra, Gwalior, Jhansi and Ujjain.

Sanchi by Road

Good motorable roads connect Sanchi to places like Bhopal (46 Km), Vidisha (10 Km) and Indore (232 Km). There are regular tourist buses (deluxe/ non deluxe) that travels between Bhopal and Sanchi. The road networks that link Sanchi to places in and around Madhya Pradesh are well-laid and well-maintained.

Where to stay at Sanchi?

Most of the tourists visiting Sanchi are either pilgrims or followers of history and architecture. For this reason, number of hotels in Sanchi is limited and most of them provide basic amenities only. Most of the travelers prefer to stay at Bhopal and visit Sanchi on a day tour. But if one wishes to soak in the serene and aesthetic environment and witness the richness of its architectural legacy then he or she must stay at Sanchi. The main hotels of Sanchi are given below along with their contact numbers.

Gateway Retreat

Undoubtedly the best accommodation facility of Sanchi is Gateway Retreat, run by MPTDC. With almost all modern amenities along with basic amenities, this MPTDC hotel offers perfect blend of attentive care and modern convenience in a tranquil atmosphere. Multicuisine restaurant and swimming pool are other modern day facilities offered by the hotel. To book this hotel, just click HERE. One can also contact at the regional office of MPTDC at Bhopal, by dialing at (0755) 2746827

Gateway Cafeteria

It is another good staying option of Sanchi, run by MPTDC. Hotel Gateway Cafeteria is situated in a plot of 5 acres, spread in the backdrop of hills from where stupa number 1 is clearly visible. The splendor of open cafeteria coupled with serene tranquil environment is something to enjoy. To book accommodation in this hotel, just click HERE. One can also contact at the regional office of MPTDC at Bhopal, by dialing at (0755) 2746827.

Hotel Sambodhi International

This is the only luxury hotel of Sanchi. It offers a very clear and distinct view of the Stupa. Apart from offering all modern amenities like satellite TV, phones, TV and open cafeteria this hotel offers a very pleasant stay. It has 10 double bed rooms. It also has a swimming pool and lots of out-door activities. To know more about this hotel and avail its online booking facility, just click HERE. To book accommodation in this hotel, contact at (07482) 2666662.

Sri Lanka Mahabodhi Society Guest House

It is another clean staying option of Sanchi at a budgeted price. Visiting Buddhists stay here in cloistered rooms around a garden quadrangle. There is a prayer room. The monks are friendly and it’s a good choice of staying if one don’t mind basic rooms. For booking accommodation in this hotel, contact at (07482) 262739.

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About the Author: Hi! friends, travelling is my passion and my only hobby. High mountains to deep seas, lush green forests to barren deserts, holy places to sites of historical importance, - every beautiful place attracts me the same way. I want everyone to feel the same and so through my writing I intend to take you all to a virtual trip to all those lovely places that I have visited.

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