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Sanchi, the quintessential stupa – a photo journey


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Duration: 1 Day
Expenditure 2000
Photos of Sanchi, the quintessential stupa – a photo journey 1/33 by Bee The Musafir
This photo was taken at the base of the Adam’s Peak, Sri Lanka. Read: On the top of the world @Adam's Peak, Sri Lanka

The emergence of Gautam Buddha as a preacher had, to a large extent, changed the course of social, cultural, philosophical and religious beliefs in the Indian subcontinent and it spread up to the south-east and far-east Asia.

The Sanchi (‘n’ is silent) stupa in Raisen district of Madhya Pradesh stands as a spectator of a history of more than 2300 years. The stupa, commissioned by a merciless warrior turned into an ideal ruler, Emperor Ashoka, gives us an insight on the socio-cultural, economic and daily life of the years bygone. The 'inverted bowl' like stupa was built upon the relics of Gautam Buddha.

The stupa of Sanchi had undergone changes several times for a thousand years. Emperor Ashoka patronized a sect of Buddhism, which was later known as the 'Hinayana'. Idol worship was barred in Hinayana; so the life and events of Gautam Buddha’s life are depicted on the stupa walls in the form of symbols like peepal tree, dhamma chakra, lotus flower etc.

After Emperor Ashoka’s death, Buddhism was divided into two sects – the Hinayana and Mahayana. The followers of Mahayana sect made idols of Buddha which were then added to the stupa. Stone sculpture art reached its pinnacle during the Gupta era – Sanchi stupa is replete with the additions made by the Gupta rulers.

The cultural and trade exchange between India and ancient Greece was also at its prime during the Mauryan times – the pillars, mounds and monastery show a heavy Greco-Roman influence on the architecture. There are motifs and bas reliefs showing foreigners visiting the stupa.

Without divulging more into the historical and religious aspects of the stupa, its architecture, its makers and those times – let us start a photo tour of the place I visited in December.

Here I have shared only the photos of the stupa and its premises. The Sanchi circuit offers more – the museum, the memorials of Buddhist monks, a British era park and buildings of archeologists (that of the great British archaeologist Sir Alexander Cunningham), and the resort of Madhya Pradesh Tourism Development Corporation, where I stayed.

Vidisha railway station is close by. Some trains also stop at Sanchi railway station, which is at a walking distance from the stupa. One can chose to stay at Vidisha, which will also give you access to the Udaygiri Hills.

Photos of Sanchi, the quintessential stupa – a photo journey 2/33 by Bee The Musafir
Way to the stupa. The stupa is closed from all sides. One can circumambulate the inverted bowl shaped stupa.
Photos of Sanchi, the quintessential stupa – a photo journey 3/33 by Bee The Musafir
The Sanchi stupa. Archeological Survey of India must be lauded for the upkeep.
Photos of Sanchi, the quintessential stupa – a photo journey 4/33 by Bee The Musafir
The gateway. Below photo explains the stories/episodes carved on the columns.
Photos of Sanchi, the quintessential stupa – a photo journey 5/33 by Bee The Musafir
A sign board details the stories and events engraved on the gateway.
Photos of Sanchi, the quintessential stupa – a photo journey 6/33 by Bee The Musafir
A side view. The lion capitals of Ashoka seen on the pillars.
Photos of Sanchi, the quintessential stupa – a photo journey 7/33 by Bee The Musafir
Buddha’s statue at the circumambulatory pathway.
Photos of Sanchi, the quintessential stupa – a photo journey 8/33 by Bee The Musafir
One more, but defaced. The placement also suggests that these statues were added by later rulers.
Photos of Sanchi, the quintessential stupa – a photo journey 9/33 by Bee The Musafir
A closer look at the pillar of gateway.
Photos of Sanchi, the quintessential stupa – a photo journey 10/33 by Bee The Musafir
There are four gateways in all the four directions.
Photos of Sanchi, the quintessential stupa – a photo journey 11/33 by Bee The Musafir
The figurine of shalabhanjika (the dancing nymph at the corner of pillar) is one of the most outstanding examples of aesthetics of the times.
Photos of Sanchi, the quintessential stupa – a photo journey 12/33 by Bee The Musafir
A much better view of the carved decoration on the gateway.
Photos of Sanchi, the quintessential stupa – a photo journey 13/33 by Bee The Musafir
A ruined highly polished pillar outside the stupa.
Photos of Sanchi, the quintessential stupa – a photo journey 14/33 by Bee The Musafir
A monastery seen from the stupa. Notice the symmetry. An empty water tank of the left.
Photos of Sanchi, the quintessential stupa – a photo journey 15/33 by Bee The Musafir
There is another small stupa near the main one, quite identical.
Photos of Sanchi, the quintessential stupa – a photo journey 16/33 by Bee The Musafir
The apsidal in the backyard of stupa.
Photos of Sanchi, the quintessential stupa – a photo journey 17/33 by Bee The Musafir
The ruins and stupa.
Photos of Sanchi, the quintessential stupa – a photo journey 18/33 by Bee The Musafir
Ruins and stupa.
Photos of Sanchi, the quintessential stupa – a photo journey 19/33 by Bee The Musafir
Bricked monastery.
Photos of Sanchi, the quintessential stupa – a photo journey 20/33 by Bee The Musafir
The plaque explains it all.
Photos of Sanchi, the quintessential stupa – a photo journey 21/33 by Bee The Musafir
Read the plaque.
Photos of Sanchi, the quintessential stupa – a photo journey 22/33 by Bee The Musafir
A lotus base of an Ashokan capital. Imagine the amount of time spent to complete one such piece of art with precision during those times.
Photos of Sanchi, the quintessential stupa – a photo journey 23/33 by Bee The Musafir
The plaque explains.
Photos of Sanchi, the quintessential stupa – a photo journey 24/33 by Bee The Musafir
A base and the pillar. A lot of emblem and pillars have been shifted from their original positions from time to time.
Photos of Sanchi, the quintessential stupa – a photo journey 25/33 by Bee The Musafir
A Gupta-era Hindu temple.
Photos of Sanchi, the quintessential stupa – a photo journey 26/33 by Bee The Musafir
A highly polished pillar. May be it was glazing some 2000 years back!
Photos of Sanchi, the quintessential stupa – a photo journey 27/33 by Bee The Musafir
The mounds in the backyard.
Photos of Sanchi, the quintessential stupa – a photo journey 28/33 by Bee The Musafir
Mounds and steps.
Photos of Sanchi, the quintessential stupa – a photo journey 29/33 by Bee The Musafir
Another pillar. Below is the detail.
Photos of Sanchi, the quintessential stupa – a photo journey 30/33 by Bee The Musafir
Details of the above pillar.
Photos of Sanchi, the quintessential stupa – a photo journey 31/33 by Bee The Musafir
Stupa seen from a distance.
Photos of Sanchi, the quintessential stupa – a photo journey 32/33 by Bee The Musafir
A different angle.
Photos of Sanchi, the quintessential stupa – a photo journey 33/33 by Bee The Musafir
The ruins in the backyard.

One must visit Sanchi for its rich history, the peace and the fact that it is easily approachable from any part of India. School children must be taken here on excursion. Entry ticket is nominal for Indians.

Bharati Nadkarni is a Pune-based software professional and travel writer. She can be contacted on Facebook.

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