Sanchi Stupa

Sanchi Stupa

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10 Interesting Facts About Sanchi Stupa

Sanchi Stupa is one of the prominent monuments of Indian Architecture. It is a Buddhist complex and is written as Sanci. It is a famous Stupa in India as it is situated on top of a hill at Sanchi Town which is situated in Raisen District in Madhya Pradesh. It is located very near to the capital city of Madhya Pradesh , Bhopal.

It was specially made by Emperor Ashoka who belonged to Maurya Dynasty. It is this place where his wife, Devi was born and they both got married at the same place.

In this article, find some interesting facts about this important place in Indian history.

1. There are number of stupas within few miles from Sanchi including Satdhara which is 9kms from Sanchi and contains 40 stupas, Bhojpur which contains 60 stupas. Each stupa contains chamber and Relics were carved on these chambers.

2. The Great Stupa (Stupa 1) was commissioned by emperor Ashoka in 3 rd Century BCE during the Mauryan Empire. He commissioned the stupa after restructuring the mortal remains of Buddha and several stupas were built across India to spread Buddhism. Further additions and restorations were done by various dynasties and kings.

3. Great Stupa was crowned by Chhatri, which looks like parasol was intended to honour and protect the Buddhist relics. Stupa is brick structure and is surrounded by wooden railing. The dome symbolized the wheel of Dharma.

4. A finely polished sandstone pillar was erected on the side of main Torana gateway called Ashoka pillar. The whole pillar is about 42 feet height. National emblem of India was derived from Ashoka pillar. It consisted of round and slightly tapering monolithic shaft, with bell-shaped capital mounted by an abacus with crowing monument of four lions, set back to back. The whole structure is polished to remarkable shine from top to bottom.

5. After the Mauryan Empire, Shunga dynasty took over and Stupa was expanded which is double the size of original with more flattened dome using stone slabs and this covered the original brick structure.

6. Further construction and decoration happened during the Satavahana rule. According to the inscriptions, the four decorated gateways or torans which face all the directions were added during the 1 st century BCE by Satavahana kings. The torans contains illustrations of various events happened in the life of Buddha based on Jataka tales. Lord Buddha has been depicted through figures like wheels and thrones.

7. Sanchi Stupa is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was the year 1989 when the Sanchi Stupa was declared the world heritage site.

8. Sanchi is also known as Kakanaya. It is mainly known for the great Buddhist architectural style in which it was made. It is a heaven for all the Buddhist population and you will be surprised to know that it is one of the oldest stupas of its time.

9. You can see one of the most important historical signs of India here, that is the Ashoka pillar. The pillar contains the picture of four lions and is highly symbolic for India and its culture.

10. The Sanchi Stupa is of great importance as we all know by now. Although Lord Buddha has never visited this place physically, it us known to carry great value for the Buddhist population. You shall be surprised to know that the Stupa remained undiscovered and unexplored until the 14th century. This place and Stupa was discovered in the year 1818 by Taylor.

I hope that the article has been helpful in establishing some of the most interesting facts about the Sanchi Stupa. Do plan a visit to this holy place whenever you get an opportunity of doing so.

Sanchi Stupa History

Inscriptions found embedded in stupa

The buildings of the great sanchi stupa was started by king Ashoka also called as Ashoka the Great who was the most powerful king in the world in his period after Alexander the Great. He belonged to the Manurya Dynasty and was the grandson of famous king Chandragupta Maurya. In the early phase of his life, he was also called as Chanda Ashoka. He conquered many dynasties but an epic war with Kalinga changed his life.

Seeing death and destruction changed his heart to follow peace, fraternity and compassion. With one of his Vidisha’s wife named Devi and with her son and daughter, they spread Buddhist religion to different parts of the world describing Four Noble Truths of Gautama Buddha.

Discovery of Sanchi Stupa in Modern Times

Until the 12th century A.D., Sanchi Stupa was an essential part of India, but soon Buddhism faced declination, and the importance of the monument started diminishing. At some point after 12th century A.D., the memorial was entirely abandoned, and thick woods grew surrounding it. The monument’s unique thing is that, due to the overgrown coverage of forests, the monument was protected from the wrath and destruction of Mughal reign.

It was not until 1818 that the Sanchi Stupa was discovered by Henry Taylor, a general in the British army. But the restoration work of the monument did not start before 1881. Sir John Marshal, the Director-General of Archaeological Survey of India at that time, restored the monument. It is quite amusing to know that a memorial of this stature was abandoned for so many centuries.

Rediscovering Sanchi

It is said that when Bimbisara (born c. 543 – died 491 BCE), the king of Magadha, was contemplating where he could offer the Buddha and his followers a place to rest, he thought aloud that the place should be ‘not too far from the town and not too near. Suitable for going and coming and easily accessible to all people by day. But by night, not exposed to noise and alarm. Clean of the smell of people, well fitted for a retired life.’ Sir John Marshall (Director-General of ASI from 1902-28) opens his book Monuments of Sanchi (still the most authoritative book on Sanchi) with this anecdote. He wanted to underline how this idea that Bimbisara had articulated went on to determine the location of all ancient Buddhist stupas and monastery complexes, from Sarnath to Sanchi.

Walking up the hill towards Sanchi’s Great Stupa and the complex around it, you can’t help but think of how logical this would have been. The hill affords a certain quietude even with teeming tourists around. It is close to the town below but not too close, and at night it has an ethereal, spiritual quality that transports you to a different plane.

Located around 50 km from Bhopal, the Great Stupa at Sanchi is today an iconic symbol of Buddhism. No matter how many times you have seen its picture, it will leave you spellbound when you first see it. Not only is it exquisitely designed, it also sits bang in the heart of a large complex of over 50 monuments built over a period of 1,400 years, starting in the 3rd century BCE. Here, you will see the history of Buddhism and the far-reaching patronage it received in the subcontinent.

Zoom out of the Sanchi complex itself and you will realise that this vast complex was just a small part of a larger whole. Archaeological excavations around Sanchi have shown that there were as many as 145 ancient settlements in and around the complex, and just 11 km away was the ancient city of Besnagar/Vidisha.

Sadly, much of this has been lost through time. In fact, as unbelievable as it may sound, this massive complex in Sanchi itself was ‘lost’ for nearly 700 years after the last monk lived here.

Though Sanchi is considered one of the most holy (and popular) sites of Buddhist pilgrimage – in the league of Bodh Gaya and Sarnath – the Great Stupa is not linked to the Buddha himself. Instead, it represents the legacy of his greatest ambassador, Mauryan Emperor Ashoka (c. 269 – c. 232 BCE). While legend has it that Ashoka built 84,000 stupas to ‘redistribute’ the relics of the Buddha, Sanchi was perhaps closest to his heart.

The story goes that he chose this site to build the stupa because it was in Vidisha that he met his wife, Devi, who was the daughter of a prominent Mahajan or banker from here. At that time, Ashoka was a Prince and Viceroy of Avanti (an ancient Mahajanapada roughly corresponding to the present-day region of Malwa). Vidisha was en route to Ujjain, the capital of Avanti.

While we don’t know if the selection of this site had a ‘romantic’ connection for Ashoka, we do know that Devi, who was a Buddhist herself, played an important role in influencing Ashoka. In fact, Mahendra and his sister Sanghamitra, who are credited with taking Buddhism south to Sri Lanka, were her children. Mahendra is said to have visited the Sanchi Stupa to bid adieu to his mother before sailing to Lanka.

Interestingly, there is no reference to the name Sanchi itself in early texts or inscriptions. The earliest literary sources refer to the site as Kakanava, Kakanaya or Kakinadabota.

The Many Layers at Sanchi

In 1912-19, John Marshall did the most comprehensive survey of Sanchi (he even moved here for a year in 1912), creating a classification of the many monuments in the complex and the layers of history they represented. But while he did this, he also gave a chilling account of the damage that had been done after the ‘rediscovery’ of Sanchi.

The Great Stupa of Sanchi and the complex were actually found quite by chance. They were discovered by a British officer, General Taylor, who was here on a military exercise, chasing an army of Pindaris (bands of mercenaries) in 1818, during the Pindari War (1817-1818).

According to Marshall, records from that period showed that Taylor found the Great Stupa with part of the balustrade or railing on top. Three of its four gateways were still standing while one, the Southern Gateway, had fallen in situ. That apart, the complex also had Stupas 2 & 3 and eight minor stupas. Sadly, there is little in the form of a record from that period.

In Monuments of Sanchi, Marshall goes on to describe the terrible destruction the newly discovered site saw in the following years. He writes, ‘The site quickly became the hunting ground for treasure seekers and amateur archaeologists.’ In 1822, for instance, a Captain Johnson, who was the Assistant Political Agent of the state of Bhopal, under which the site fell, actually opened up the stupa from top to bottom on one side, and left a deep breach in it. This, writes Marshall, ‘led to so much damage to the body of the structure that soon even the Western Gateway collapsed.’ Johnson, Marshall believes, was also responsible for the partial destruction of Stupas 2 and 3, which had stood intact until then.

Around 30 years later, Major Alexander Cunningham (later General Cunningham, who went on to found the ASI) and F C Maisey, a fellow officer and archaeology enthusiast, reached the site, and as Marshall says, ‘together contributed to the general spoliation of the site by hasty excavations of several of the monuments’. Their focus seemed to be trying to find relic caskets, which they did, from Stupas 2 and 3. But to find these caskets, they stripped much of the stupas, as old pictures of the time show.

Though Cunningham did go on to write his classic book The Bhilsa Topes – Buddhist Monuments of Central India, a survey of Sanchi and the four other stupas around it (still the go-to book because all the findings from the stupas are now scattered across museums), it took another 60 years for Marshall to reach the spot and do a thorough study.

The earliest layer of the Great Stupa is a brick core, which was probably half its present size. This forms the original structure from Ashoka’s time. That apart, there is an Ashokan pillar to the right of the Southern Gateway, which is now in three pieces, and its lion capital is at the Sanchi Museum not far away.

The 2nd BCE – 1st CE was a period of intense building work after the Great Stupa was destroyed by Pushyamitra (reign c. 185 – 149 BCE), the Shunga who usurped the Mauryan throne. His son Agnimitra (r. 149 – 141 BCE), who was Governor of the region, based in Vidisha, later made this his capital. He also rebuilt much of the stupa, adding the outer structure or casing of the Great Stupa and the railings. It was during this period that Stupas No 2, 3 and 4 were built, as were additional structures like platforms and enlargements of temples.

The 1st to 3rd century CE saw the erection of the iconic gateways with their exquisite carvings that depict the life and times of the Buddha and tales from the Jatakas. Interestingly, none of the carvings show Buddha himself. He is always shown symbolically, either as a Bodhi tree or just a footprint. The reliefs also depict the history of early Buddhism and have panels showing the battles over the Buddha’s relics and Ashoka’s efforts to redistribute the relics.

The Southern Gateway of the Great Stupa also has an inscription referring to a certain ‘Ananda’, who is described as the foreman of artisans of Satavahana King Satakarni II, dated to 25 CE. It is believed that much of the exquisite work on the gateways of the Great Stupa was done by ivory carvers of the region.

Between the 4th century CE and 6th century CE, the Guptas dominated the region and they too were great patrons of the Sanchi complex. It was at this time that large statues of Buddha were added to the four gates, and that Temple No 17 (considered the oldest free-standing temple in India) and Temple No 19 were built. There is also an inscription of Chandragupta II (450 CE) here. The Gupta inscription on the balustrade, interestingly, refers to this place as ‘Kakinadabota’.

In around 500 CE, Marshall notes that this region seems to have passed into the hands of a local king Bhanugupta, and a decade later it was annexed by the Huna king Toramanna. In 528 CE, his son Mihirakula was defeated. Things were quiet for the next century or so but the building work at Sanchi seems to have continued in the 7th-8th century CE, with around seven small stupas, monasteries and temples being built.

In the 9-12th century CE, under the Gurjara Pratiharas and the Paramaras, there was another bout of building work. The Paramaras added a massive temple to the complex. Much of the structure has been destroyed but you can still see the scale of what it would have been like around 1,000 years ago, from the scattered bits of the old temple stored nearby. Sadly, this temple gets little attention.

The Rise and Fall of Vidisha

The story of Vidisha, earlier referred to as Besnagar and then Bhilsa, and the area around it, which is about 62 km from Bhopal, predates the Mauryan Empire. The earliest layer of habitation here goes back to 1200-1000 BCE but detailed excavations in the area – the most extensive being the recent Sanchi Survey Project (SSP) spearheaded by a team led by archaeologist Dr Julia Shaw from University College London (UCL) between 1998-2007 – helps paint a broader picture of the area in its prime. The SSP covered an area of 750 sq km and during the course of the excavations, the team found around 35 Buddhist sites, 145 old settlements, 17 irrigation dams and over 1,000 sculptural and architectural fragments associated with Brahmanical, Jain, Buddhist and local traditions.

While the core area of the city changed over time, we know that the town of Vidisha is today situated east of the Betwa River, in the fork of the Betwa and Bes Rivers. The ancient town of Besnagar lies 3 km from present-day Vidisha, on the west side of the river, and there is evidence of this having become an important trade centre even in the pre-Mauryan period. Both, the ancient town and the modern one, are 9-11 km from Sanchi today.

Marshall in his book underlines the importance of the region. He explains, ‘The area had a commanding position at the junction of the Bes and Betwa (the latter was important for transport during the monsoons). It was also strategic vis-a-vis its position linking it to two great trade routes – one that ran West-to-East from the busy sea ports of the west through Ujjain, Kaushambi, Kashi to Pataliputra and the other South-to-North East, from Pratisthana to Shravasti as well as other cities like Kosala and Panchala.’

In fact, while it was around 225 km from Ujjain, the biggest city in Central India in ancient times, Vidisha often vied with it for supremacy. In his book Monuments Of Sanchi Vol1, Marshall points to the fact there was a time when Vidisha even superseded Pataliputra during the time of Shunga King Agnimitra, Pushyamitra’s son. Agnimitra, who was the viceroy of Vidisha, shifted his capital here when he took over the throne.

In her paper, Sanchi As An Archaeological Area, archaeologist Dr Julia Shaw says, ‘The city mounds of Vidisha represent the earliest phase of urbanism in Central India.’ And while this process was later here than in the fortified cities of the Gangetic plain where the Buddha lived and preached, Shaw points out how Buddhism and urbanisation were interlinked here too.

But Vidisha was an important place for many faiths. As Shaw points out, ‘Vidisha is also home to some of the earliest archaeological evidence of the Pancharathara system of the Bhagavata cult.’ Evidence of this is the famous Heliodorus Pillar in Besnagar and the Gupta-period Udayagiri Caves.

However, by the time of the Guptas, the old city of Vidisha seems to have lost its position, falling to ruins soon after.

From the 13th century CE, the town of Bhilsa (the primary town of the region by this point) faced the brunt of marauding armies. In 1293, Alauddin Khilji of the Delhi Sultanate sacked the city. In 1532, Bhilsa was run over by Bahadur Shah of the Gujarat Sultanate, after which this area fell under the control of the Malwa Sultans.

Thankfully, none of these armies seem to have reached the hilltop of Sanchi – leaving the monuments undisturbed. By the 19th century, this great stupa complex at Sanchi seems to have disappeared from public memory – till its rediscovery in 1818.

But there is a lot more to be rediscovered around Sanchi. Very little work has been done on the four other ‘topes’ that Alexander Cunningham covered in his Bhilsa Topes (1854) – the stupas of Sonari, Satdhara, Morel Khurd and Andher, all in a radius of 15 km from Sanchi. Subsequent research has shown that all these stupas were connected and formed part of a network under a sect of Hemavata Monks. But little work has been done on them or even the cave complexes in and around Sanchi, which were perhaps used by early monks.

More than 200 years after its discovery, Sanchi and the area around it remain a mystery, still waiting to be ‘discovered’ and studied.


The Shanti Stupa was built by both Japanese Buddhists and Ladakh Buddhists. Original idea was stated by Nichidatsu Fujii (Fujii Guruji) in 1914. [3] The mission of Nichidatsu Fujii was to build Peace Pagodas and temples over the world and try to resurrect Buddhism back in India. [3]

Construction of the Shanti Stupa began in April 1983 under the supervision of Bhikshu Gyomyo Nakamura and Kushok Bakula, a lama of Ladakh from New Delhi, member of the Minority commission of Govt of India, former statesman and former international diplomat of the Republic of India. [3] The project was built with the help of Ladakhi Buddhists, who offered voluntary labour, and Japanese Buddhists, who consider India as the "sacred" birthplace of the Buddha. [3] The then Prime Minister of India, Indira Gandhi, sanctioned the construction of a vehicular road to the stupa in 1984. [3] The state government also provided some financial assistance for the construction of the Shanti Stupa. [ citation needed ] The 14th and current Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso inaugurated the Shanti Stupa in August 1991. [1] [3] [4]

The Shanti Stupa features the photograph of the current Dalai Lama with the relics of the Buddha at its base. [3] The stupa is built as a two-level structure. The first level features the central relief of Dharmachakra with deer on each side. A central golden Buddha image sits on a platform depicting the "turning wheel of Dharma" (Dharmachakra). The second level has reliefs depicting the "birth" of Buddha, the death of Buddha (mahanirvana) and Buddha "defeating the devils" while meditating. [5] Both levels feature a series of smaller meditating Buddha reliefs.

The Shanti Stupa was built to promote world peace and prosperity and to commemorate 2500 years of Buddhism. [1] [3] It is considered a symbol of the ties between the people of Japan and Ladakh. [3]

Since its inauguration, Shanti Stupa has become a popular tourist attraction. According to The Hindu it is the "most famous tourist attraction" around Leh, though its architectural style is different from the Ladakhi style. [1] [6] The Shanti Stupa overlooks the city of Leh, providing panoramic views of the city, the village of Changspa, Namgyal Tsemo in the distance and the surrounding mountains. [7] [8] Sunrise and sunset are considered to provide the best views from Shanti Stupa. [9] The stupa is illuminated with lights at night. The stupa is open for tourists between 5:00 a.m. and 9:00 p.m. [9]

Situated at a height of 3,609 metres (11,841 ft), [4] the stupa is located 5 kilometres (3.1 mi) from Leh - the former capital of Ladakh - on a steep hill facing the Leh Palace. [3] The stupa can be reached by a drivable road or on foot using a series of 500 steep steps to the hilltop.

A similar replica of Shanti Stupa is also built in New Delhi near Kale khan

The Great Sanchi Stupa History

In this article, we have told about the history and architecture of Sanchi Stupa, The Great Sanchi Stupa History. Also, you will know the way and important things to reach here.

Sanchi does not require any introduction. It is already inscribed as one of the most important places in India. This place speaks of Buddhism, and is a small village, located about 52 kilometers from Bhopal (Madhya Pradesh). Sanchi is a famous tourist destination, in which innumerable Buddhist structures, pillars and monasteries are seen.

Most of these monuments date back to the era between the 3rd and 12th centuries, and Sanchi is now listed by UNESCO as World Heritage Sites.

Emperor Ashoka of the Maurya Empire was the initiator of all “stupas” in Sanchi. These stupas pay homage to Lord Buddha. Sanchi Stupa is made of a semi-circular rock, which we can also call a round dome. It is the most important and influential stupa of all the stupas.

This great monument was built on the basis of the relics of Lord Buddha. Sanchi is one of the famous places, which is not only recognized in India, but today it is famous all over the world. This place has become a great center of Buddhism.

Architecture of Sanchi Stupa

The Sanchi Stupa is a huge semi-circular, dome-shaped chamber in which the remains of Lord Buddha are depicted calmly. It is constructed of brick, it dates back to the 3rd century A.D. This chamber is about 16.5 meters long, and has a diameter of 36 meters.

Sanchi Stupa is said to be one of the most organized structures, it was decorated with stones in the medieval era. The structure and designs depict the nature of love and the historical period during the development of the stupa. The outline and design depict the nature of love and the historical period during the development of the stupa.

The Sanchi Stupa has a rich heritage of architectural prestige. It is the most stunning stupa that has been stirring up a divine attraction for centuries. It is a sacred place rich in reverence and peace.

Sanchi Stupa – An Important Buddhist Center

Sanchi Stupa is an ancient monument that shows the record of the origin of Buddhist architecture and culture. The Sanchi Stupa shows records of the origin of Buddhist architecture and culture, it is an ancient monument. Covering the entire range of Buddhism in India, it represents an amazing proof of various artistic works of Buddhist monks.

The place was made one of the important centers of Buddhism, which is worshiped not only by the Indian people, but also by people all over the world. The foundation of this place was laid by Emperor Ashoka, and today it has become an important historical monument for India.

How to reach Sanchi Stupa
Sanchi Stupa is located near Bhopal city of Madhya Pradesh, which is very well connected to various other cities of the country in terms of traffic, be it rail, road or air transport.

The availability of private transport has increased due to the increasing demand from people wishing to enjoy the beauty of the place. Depending on your needs and budget, you can choose any mode of transportation to reach Bhopal.

Best time to travel

Bhopal’s weather remains hot all year round, yet, avoid traveling during the summer months. The best time to visit Sanchi Stupa is during November to March. Also, it is the time when most festivals are held here.

Sanchi is a religiously a very significant spot in Madhya Pradesh. The place is home to many Buddhist monuments, stupas, temples and doorways. Though this place is a not a typical shopping destination, there are a few things that you’d want yourself wanting to buy from Sanchi.

Some of the shops have souvenirs that the roadside vendors sell to the tourists. The competition among these vendors is high to find out who can sell more. After trying out some souvenirs from the roadside shops, there are also some shopping hubs that have a few more interesting products to buy.

The shops here also have a very good collection of handicrafts. A few examples of these are muslin woven by some top skilled craftsmen, zardozis, which are embroidered Indian Garments, leather works are also some of the greatest things that you can find in Sanchi.

Monuments at Sanchi

There are numerous monuments at Sanchi. The main are these, using the numbers assigned by Sir Alexander Cunningham, founder of the Archaeological Survey of India, who led excavations at Sanchi in 1854, which are still often used in the literature: [ 3 ]

  • The main terrace: Stupa 1 (Great Stupa), Stupa 3, Pillar 10 (Asoka Pillar), Temple 18 (Mauryan apsidal), Temple 17 (Gupta).
  • Eastern Area: Temple 45 (10th century CE).
  • Southern Area: Temple 40
  • The western slope: Monastery 51 and Stupa 2.
  • Chetiyagiri Vihara: Modern temple built in the 1960s (for the 2500th celebration of Buddha's Parinirvana) housing the remains of Sariputta and Mogglayan. [ 4 ]
  • The Archaeological Museum [ 5 ]

Naturally, the Stupa derives its name from Sanchi, the place which it belongs to. Sanchi is a Sanskrit word, which is often termed 'Sancha' in Hindi. These words mean Moulds. More specifically, they are the Moulds of bricks.

History tells that, the Sanchi Stupa was built during Ashoka's tenure in the third century B.C. Further, the Gateways and the Balustrades were built by the Satavahanas in about 35 B.C.

This site disappeared from people's notice for many centuries. But in 1818, a British official, General Taylor rediscovered it. At that time about half of the monument was earthed and the rest was exposed to deterioration. However, in 1881, government took initiative to repair them and hence by 1912, the Stupa again stood to magnetize the world.

Sanchi Stupa, even after milleniums of its formation, stands with the same ease and strength. This proves its strong foundations and structure. It is indeed a glory for Madhya Pradesh.

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