Thursday, January 24, 2013

Dakshinayana Part Three – Sanchi

Sanchi Railway station

Leisurely moving ‘Bhopal – Bilaspur’ express, after crossing empty check dams and dried river beds, finally reached Sanchi (Raisen district, MP). Container Corporation’s lengthy train was sleeping in the tracks. From the top, it looked like a lengthy snake sleeping after having heavy food. From station, I took an auto to reach stupa area, located on the top of a hill measuring 91m in height.

Sanchi hills

Close to Bhopal, this small village is believed to be located on an ancient trade route connecting Ujjain with northern cities. On the way to stupa, at the base of the hill, there is a ticket counter and museum. After buying the ticket, I continued my journey and reach the front gate. Here, visitors have to undergo security check before entering the gate. An audio guide is also available in a nearby building.

I slowly walked in. Probably this may be the same way, once used by Emperor Ashoka, his wife Devi, son Mehendra and hundreds of other Buddhist followers walked in with the lines,

“buddham sharanam gacchami. 
dharmam sharanam gacchami
sangham sharanam gacchami”

on their lips. It is believed that, Devi – wife of emperor Ashoka – may spent her later life in the cells of a monastery located here. It was from here, Mahendra – son of Ashoka – started his missionary journey to Ceylon (modern Sri Lanka) to propagate the message of Buddha; which in turn influenced the life in many South East Asian nations.
Standing at the eastern side of main stupa

Sanchi’s importance to world history doesn’t end there. It was Sanchi inscriptions, which provided clues to James Princep for deciphering Brahmi inscriptions – key for unlocking ancient Indian history. The key word was ‘danam’ (gift). Years of hard work by Princep, finally opened the gate of India’s ancient history in front of us. In this air you can experience the presence of Sir John Marshall and Alexander Cunningham as well.

History of Sanchi and its magnificent stupas

According to ASI,

During third century BC, Mauryan emperor Asoka, great patron of Buddhism, selected Vedisagiri (Sanchi Hill) for foundation of a Buddhist establishment, because the hill ensured a quiet and seclude place necessary for monastic life. Sanchi hills were situated near the rich and patronising city of Vidisha. He erected a stone column and a brick stupa.

Sunga period (2nd century BC) witnessed stone encasing and enlargement of Asoka stupa (Stupa one), erection of balustrades around its ground, berm, stairway and harhika, reconstruction of temple 40 and building stupas two and three.

During the period of Satavahanas (first century BC), four lofty gateways were added to stupa one and one gateway to stupa three. Structural activities were on a slow pace during the reign of Malwa Kshtrapas (early centuries in the Christian era); Sanchi imported images from Mathura during this period. Four images of Buddha were placed against the beam of stupa one, facing the four entrances.

Another Stupa - From a distance
Temple entrance and some other edifices came in the age of Guptas. During 7th and 8th centuries several Buddha images were installed and temple 18 erected on the foundations of an earlier edifice. Several temples and monasteries were built during medieval period, when Parthiharas and Paramars of Malwa flourished in the region, among these temple 45 is typical for its dimensions and exuberant ornamentation.”

From 14th century onwards, there were not much protection for the stupas and they slowly started disintegrating. The credit for stitching it together goes to a number of English men - General Taylor (1818), Captain Johnson (1822), Alexander Cunningham (1851), Captain F.C. Maisay (1851), Sir John Marshall (1912-19).

Snachi Stupas – UNESCO World heritage site

I reached in front of main stupa and looked towards the torana for some time. How many times I saw that picture on television and text books!!! I was about to enter, but something on my left – a mirror like polished structure, captured my attention and I walked towards it.

Asokan Pillar

Here lays the Asokan pillar, cut into pieces. It is believed that, this pillar - weighing 50 tonnes - originally came from Mirzapur - located some 800kms away – around 2300 years ago. Pillar stood here for centuries and finally fell prey to the needs of a local zamindar. You would be tempted to touch its Mauryan polished outer surface.

Gently moving my hands over its surface took me centuries back. Magnificent lion capital of this pillar is preserved in a nearby museum. ‘those monks and nuns attempting to create schism in the sangha (Buddhism) would be excommunicated’ is written in Prakrit over it.


A view from the middle
Main Stupa measures 36.8 m or 120.70 ft in diameter and 16.46m or 54 ft in height - excluding railings in its sides and umbrella on the top. Four gateways picturing the life of Buddha and Jataka tales, all belongs to first century BC, are located in its four sides.

Lot of Koreans and Japanese were there tracing the origin of their faith. Using stair cases, I reached the upper railings of Stupa. Touching the stones for some time, allowing the cold to infuse my body and fell in the dream of emperors, kings and monks was indeed an unforgettable experience.

On the west, at a lover area, you can see monastery 51 built by Queen Devi. On its western side, there is a large stone bowl. Further down, you can see stupa two, its railings and gateways.
From here you can see the plains at the bottom. I took another way to came back from there, which ends in front of a group of moneys engaged in a meeting. In the eastern side there is Buddha temple; view point is there in a corner.


Instead of taking an auto, I decide to walk to the museum. Kids from a nearby school were there, to see the remains of ancient India. Main attraction in the museum is the lion capital of Asoka. After spending some time here, I left the museum and walked towards main road.

Vidisha is just 9 km away, if you have time don’t miss the excitements of Vidisha.

I didn’t have to wait for much time for a direct bus to Bhopal.


How to reach here: Well connected with Bhopal – you can take a train, bus or a taxi to reach here.

Sanchi Gateways
Sanchi gateways
Another Stupa
Another monument
A view from the top of Sanchi Hill

For reading rest of the articles please visit,

Dakshinayana Part One – An Introduction
Dakshinayana Part Two – Bangalore to Bhopal
Dakshinayana Part Three – Sanchi
Dakshinayana Part Four – Bhopal: The city of lakes
Dakshinayana Part Five: Ujjain – The Holy City, hearing the sounds of forefathers
Dakshinayana Part Six: Indore – Trade hub of Central India
Dakshinayana Part Seven – Jabalpur: Kalchuris, Gonds and Narmada
Dakshinayana Part Eight – Kanha National Park and Mandla
Dakshinayana Part Nine – Chhattisgarh and Raipur
Dakshinayana Part Ten: Nagpur – The Orange City
Dakshinayana Part Eleven – Sevagram: Walking with Gandhi
Dakshinayana Part Twelve – Aurangabad: The City of Gates
Dakshinayana Part Thirteen – Ellora Memories
Dakshinayana Part Fourteen – U shaped Ajanta
Dakshinayana Part Fifteen – Pune: The Maratha heartland

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