Sanchi stupa - the iconic UNESCO World Heritage Site in Madhya Pradesh

The world in 3rd century BCE was quite an interesting place. Most of India was ruled by the Maurya Empire, while South India was ruled by Chola Empire. The Chola empire went on to become one of the longest ruling empires of all times, while Maurya Empire gave us Ashoka - one of the foremost rulers of India who adopted Buddhism and led to its phenomenal rise in the country. To me what Ashoka did to Buddhism was a bit similar to what Constantine did to Christianity, though eventually Hinduism become a dominant religion in India later on while Buddhism gained prominence outside its land of birth.

sanchi buddhist stupa madhya pradesh
The Great Stupa

Anyway, I digress here. Coming back to the Sanchi Stupa - the great stupa was commissioned by Ashoka to house the relics of Buddha. These relics were probably obtained by Ashoka by opening the eight primary stupas located at places relevant to Buddha’s life. Today the Sanchi Stupa is part of UNESCO World Heritage Site and a must-visit destination in Madhya Pradesh.

The stupa doesn't just house the relics of Buddha but were also educational in nature. The stories carved out all around the stupas are also meant to share the knowledge of Enlightenment with those who came here to pay their regards. Back in the days, this was the only way to make teachings of Buddha available for the common men and women to get inspired from.

sanchi buddhist stupa madhya pradesh mural carving
Stories from the life of Buddha 

sanchi buddhist stupa madhya pradesh mural carving
More stories from the life of Buddha

sanchi buddhist stupa madhya pradesh carving mural
I was so in love with these details and stories!

Destruction of Stupas

The stupas were first vandalised by Pushyamitra Shungain. It was restored by later kings and many of them expanded on the stupa as well the site. The original stupa built with bricks was covered with stone - that's what we see today.

The main toran or gate of the stupa was almost exported in the 19th century to France and then England, but it eventually stayed on and is an iconic part of the monument. 

Restoration of the stupas

The credit for restoration goes to the British and the two queens of Bhopal - Shahjehan Begum and her successor Sultan Jehan. Sultan Jehan also funded the museum that's built on the site. In fact the site was restored to what it looks like right now back in the 19th century.

sanchi buddhist stupa madhya pradesh
Stunning sunset at the stupa

sanchi buddhist stupa madhya pradesh
Little visitors :)

sanchi buddhist stupa madhya pradesh
Buddha? It's hard to tell for a novice like me...

What to see at the World Heritage Site?

There's quite a bit to see at the site, and if you are like me, you can easily spend a day on site looking at these monuments in detail. 

Some the key points of interest there include:
  1. The Great Stupa
  2. The Buddhist Vihar
  3. Sanchi Stupa 2
  4. Gupta temple
  5. ASI Museum

sanchi buddhist stupa madhya pradesh
Sachi Stupa 2

sanchi buddhist stupa madhya pradesh
Gupta Temple

sanchi buddhist stupa madhya pradesh
Headless Buddha

Where to stay?

I think it's a really good idea to stay at Sanchi and there's a nice MPT property right there - MPT Gateway Retreat, Sanchi. 

Alternately, you can stay in Bhopal. Most people stay there and come to visit Sanchi for a day's trip.


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