We continued on the Buddhist leg of our journey with a trip to Sanchi. It is one of the three World Heritage Sites in Madhya Pradesh and just fifty Kilometres from Bhopal. But don’t be fooled by the distance like we were, every bus journey in this part of the country is like an epic voyage! Even at the times of emperor Ashoka, when the Stupa was constructed, people would not have taken three hours to cover those fifty kilometres!
After those arduous three hours of a bus ride, we finally reach Sanchi. The village is situated on the peripheries of the great Stupa. The Stupa is located on a hill, which on climbing, one is treated to an amazing view of the surrounding plains. Enclosing the Stupa are beautiful gardens providing a serene green tinge to the entire complex. A special mention has to be given to Madhya Pradesh Tourism, the lawns were spick and clean, the monument was well maintained and there were adequate amenities in place including audio guides that provided a descriptive account of the history and architectural details of the monument.
One is immediately awe struck by the imposing structure of the great Stupa upon entering the complex. The Stupa can be considered as a simple hemispherical brick structure built over the relics of the Buddha, commissioned by the emperor Ashoka the Great in the 3rd century BCE. It is surrounded by four Thorans (gateways) placed strategically in four different directions. These majestic gateways contain detailed carvings depicting various Jataka tales (life of Buddha and his past births). One definitely needs a guide (the audio guides are worth the money!) to actually understand the meaning of the carvings on each of the Thorans. An interesting aspect to note is that the Buddha is never shown in human form in any of these Thorans; his presence was alluded to through symbols. For example, the Lotus was used to symbolize his birth and the Bodhi tree his enlightenment. Some of the other figures there actually helped us to better understand the lifestyles of people who lived during those times, their clothing, housing and modes of transport etc. It’s beyond ones imagination as to how such minute carvings could be completed so meticulously on elevated platform s, nearly 2300 years ago!
After its rediscovery in 1818, there was a sudden influx of treasure hunters here, to locate the ashes of the enlightened one. The Stupa actually has no entrance, and lot of underground digging took place to figure out what exactly lies under this mammoth structure. All these were stopped, and the Stupa and its surrounding structures were restored to their original state in the beginning of the 20th century. Around the main stupa are several smaller Stupas built by later Buddhist kings. Hindu temples also find a place here, indicating the gradual decline of Buddhism in the later stages. Buddhist monasteries are also located in the complex. These were once the abode of esteemed monks who came from all over the country to this important Buddhist pilgrimage site. This hill site provided the monks a perfect place to meditate and the presence of the Lord’s remains further enhanced the holiness of the place.
We were overwhelmed by the time we finished our round of this huge complex. The imposing Stupa, the artistic Thorans, the beautiful lawns and the majestic views of the vast plains make this place, which is steeped in religious history, one of the most fulfilling visits of our trip. No visit to this part of the country can ever be complete without a trip to this holy site. Come and soak in the spiritual atmosphere, which has been enthralling visitors for more than two millennia, and be one with our country’s great heritage.