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My visit to Sanchi

‘Between two extremes, there always lies a middle path.  The path of Buddha’

Somethings take free space in our mind and remind us about some beautiful moments. A year before the covid hit, 2019 was a year of travel and learning for me. Among many places in India, Madhya Pradesh is the most culturally diverse region I visited.

Ajay Singh ji explaining us about the destinations in western Madhya Pradesh

The yellow coloured 200 rupee note holds the image of the beautiful Sanchi stupa situated 46 kilometres, North West of Bhopal. Having read about the beautiful monument in my class 12th textbook, I have always been excited to visit this monument. Starting our journey with an escort who had in depth knowledge about the state, we stopped at a midway over which the virtual line of tropic of Cancer passes. From there with a constant speed we were able to reach the Buddhist site of sanchi in about an hour.  The monuments of sanchi are crowned over a hill and isolated from the town of Sanchi.

Tropic of cancer virtual line between Sanchi and Bhopal

Upon reaching at the top we searched for tree to park our car under the natural shade. The very first view at the entrance is of the colouful Tibetan prayer flags. Moving forward was the great site indicating the great idea of peaceful coexistence. There were temples, Buddhist stupas and sculptures of gods and goddesses. Historically Sanchi was a predominantly Buddhist site, however one can still have a view of Hindu temples, showcasing the mutual respect and tolerance for each other’s religion.

Tibetan prayer flags

For almost 1000 years the land of Sanchi was ruled by the Hindu kings, Buddhist kings and nomadic Huns, even Indo Greeks and Scythians came to this sacred site. The sacred site is a culmination of different cultures of different eras. It accepts everything and also sets the ideal for future constructions due its great architecture and elaborated carvings on its gateways.

The main Stupa – dedication to Buddha 

First Gateway of Sanchi

The biggest stupa on site looked a very large upside down bowl. Initially built by Ashoka in 2nd century BC, it was upgraded by other ruling dynasties for over 1000 years. As told by our escort the stupa is mound under which relics of Gautama Buddha and other great Buddhist monks are kept. The main stupa was separated by rock railing and 4 gateways. The 4 gateways are purely dedicated to the life of Buddha. There is a great story that sanchi in ancient times was center for ivory trade and elephants were trained here. All 4 gateways were carved by those ivory craftsmen who could carve elephant tusks with precision. Almost anyone familiar with the story Siddharth transforming into Buddha can understand those beautiful carvings easily so great is the imagery.  The carvings also show the peaceful coexistence of different cultures, one can see the Greeks, the early Indian kings and other cultures living peacefully. Stepping inside one  can climb the stairs and reach the Harmika (balcony of gods). From above the stupa is crowned by a yashti and three chatris (umbrella) indicating the stupa belongs to Buddha. As one means disciple and 3 are used forb indicating Buddha all over world. 

You can see the elaborate carvings on right

The other interesting monument there was a fifth century temple made by the Guptas (the dynasty whose reign is said to be golden age of India). It is one of the oldest temples of India maybe one of the firsts in Gupta style of architecture. A prayer hall was also present in indo greek architecture too.  

Then we were told about the sad decline of Sanchi. The 2000 year old open air monument was lost to weeds and the forest after 12 century AD. Added to the ravages of time and nature, greedy treasure-hunters and amateur archaeologists during British rule cracked open the stupas out of curiosity and a local landowner axed the Ashoka Pillar to use as a sugar-cane press. This all went on largely unhindered till Sir John Marshall, Director General of Archaeological Survey of India restored the monuments to their present condition in 1912 – 1919. If not for him some of the finest monuments and temples from the Mauryan period to the Golden Age of India during the Guptas would have been like the others of this kind. Marshall lived here for 7 years. He also grew many trees at site, which were providing us ever comforting shade that day. Today Sanchi is one of the most well conserved ancient sites in the world. All around we could see ruins of once had been Buddhist monasteries a whole culture still present in the soul of India. After the visit we had a refreshing buttermilk and returned to the hotel. 

Notice that in place of Buddha space has been left in centre

Sanchi today is UNESCO world heritage site, it was preserved by the fruitful efforts of John Marshall. Unlike other Buddhist monuments which have been forgotten and dusted. It is the perfect example for the immortality of culture of India. Extension of the old culture without destroying the past. Buddhist philosophy is all about middle path. Extremes lead to conflict, conciliation leads to peace. 

‘Long is the night for sleepless, long is the road for tired, Long is the wait for nirvana’ 



Hi I am Brijraj Chauhan ,passionate about reading and listening stories from my grandmother, also a screen junkie, foodie, a sports enthusiast, A law person and with keen interest in history and culture of India

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