The giant, red dome on top of the hill dominates the peaceful countryside with benign majesty. More than any other monuments, the Great Stupa at Sanchi symbolises the rise and spread of Buddhism in India.
Sanchi is located in the district of Raisen in Madhya Pradesh, 46 km from the state capital of Bhopal. The ruins of stupas, temples and monasteries that lie strewn across the hill recall the time when Buddhism had spread across the land and the monasteries at Sanchi teamed with monks and lay worshippers.
Sanchi is the largest site of Buddhist remains in India. However, unlike most other Buddhist pilgrimages, it is not directly connected to the life of the Buddha. It's 1,300 years of history chronicle the rise and decline of Buddhism in India.
Originally, stupas were built over the relics of the Buddha or at sites important to his life. Later Emperor Ashoka (273-236 BC) is said to have built 84,000 stupas and renovated many more, of which the Sanchi stupas are the best known.
Presently under a UNESCO project Sanchi and Satdhara, a Buddhist site, 10 km south-east of Sanchi, is being further excavated, conserved and environmentally developed.
The Great Stupa
Amongst the many Stupas, the most renowned are the Great Stupa. The Stupa is believed to have the relics of Buddha like his teeth, hair and the shoulder bones. The stone railing that surrounds the base of the Stupa has four gateways. The carving done on the gateways or the Toranas is excellent and captivating. These gateways are examples of best work of art at Sanchi and feature as the finest examples of Buddhist art in India. Three horizontal beams surmount each of these gateways. The carvings illustrate the life and times of Gautam Buddha and his previous incarnations i.e. the Jataka Bodhisattvas and the Manushi Buddhas.
Archeological Survey of India maintains a site museum at Sanchi. Noteworthy antiquities on display include the lion capital of the Ashokan pillar and metal objects used by the monks, discovered during excavations at Sanchi.
20 km north of Sanchi, has fine examples of 5th-century AS rock-cut caves, carved into the hillside. Most notable is Cave 5m with its impressive sculpture of Varaha, the incarnation of Vishnu as a boar, rescuing the earth goddess from the churning ocean.
Best time to visit
You may plan your visit to Sanchi anytime between the months of July and March. In the month of November, Sanchi celebrates the festival of Chethiyagiri Vihara. As a part of the rituals of the festival two relics of Gautam Buddha's early disciples are displayed.