The Stupa @ Sanchi: An Indian architecture marvel

Sanchi is a small village in Raisen District of the State of Madhya Pradesh, India, it is located 46 km north east of Bhopal, and 10 km from Besnagar and Vidisha in the central part of the state of Madhya Pradesh.It is the location of several Buddhist monuments dating from the third century BCE to the twelfth century CE. The most important of all the Sanchi monuments is the Sanchi Stupa. Stupas are large hemispherical domes, containing a central chamber, in which the relics of the Buddha were placed. The Sanchi Stupa is one of the best preserved early stupas in central India. The Sanchi Stupa is surrounded by a railing with four carved gateways facing all the four directions. The 'Great Stupa' at Sanchi was originally commissioned by the emperor Ashoka the Great in the third century BCE. Its nucleus was a simple hemispherical brick structure built over the relics of the Buddha. It was crowned by the chatra, a parasol-like structure symbolising high rank, which was intended to honour and shelter the relics

During the Shunga period the Sanchi Stupa was enlarged and faced with stones and decorated with railings, staircase and a harmika on the top. Around the main Stupa, there is a path for circumambulation. This path is enclosed by a railing with gates at each of the four directions. The railings and gates of the Sanchi Stupa are richly sculptured with different motifs and designs. Another interesting characteristic about the Sanchi Stupa is that Lord Buddha has been symbolically represented by footprints, wheels, thrones etc rather than by his own image.The gateways of Sanchi stupas contain ornamented depiction of incidents from the life of the Buddha and his previous incarnations as Bodhisattvas described in the Jataka tales. The Buddha has been shown symbolically in the form of tree or through other inanimate figures. Stupas at Sanchi are the most magnificent structures of ancient India. UNESCO has included them as one of the heritage sites of the world. Stupas are large hemispherical domes, containing a central chamber, in which the relics of the Buddha were placed. Sanchi stupas trace the development of the Buddhist architecture and sculpture at the same location beginning from the 3rd century B.C. to the 12th century A.D. Emperor Asoka had put up at Sanchi a pillar edict and a stupa containing relics of the Buddha. Addition of new stupas and expressions in stone of legends around the life of the Buddha and the monastic activities at the Sanchi hill continued under several dynasties for over fifteen hundred years. Also, the Brahmi script could be deciphered from the similarities in inscriptions carved at different places in the main stupa

Sanchi stupas are noteworthy for their gateways as they contain ornamented depiction of incidents from the life of the Buddha and his previous incarnations as Bodhisattvas described in Jataka tales.  Sculptors belonging to different times tried to depict the same story by repeating figures. The Buddha has been shown symbolically in the form of tree or through other inanimate figures. One of the sects of Buddhism opposed depiction of the Buddha by a human figure.

Sanchi adopted Buddhism, which replaced the prominent Hinduism. But time took its toll and slowly both the Stupas and the place was forgotten. In 1818 Sanchi was rediscovered and gradually historical and the religious significance of the place was recognized. Restoration work of the Stupas started in 1881 and finally between 1912 and 1919 these were carefully repaired and restored. It was accepted that the structure at Sanchi were the most organized construction which went into the engineering of temples in the medieval period. The carvings here are done with the precision of Jewellers.

Despite the damage and restoration work done Sanchi is the most evocative and attractive Buddhist site in India. Sanchi is primarily a place of Stupas and pillars but the gorgeous gateways add grace to the place. These gateways are beautifully carved and carry scenes from the life of Buddha or Ashoka. These gateways are the finest specimens of early classical art, which formed the seedbed of entire vocabulary of later Indian art. The images carved on the pillars and the Stupas tell moving stories of the incidents from the life of Buddha.