One of the oldest surviving stone structures in India and a specimen of Buddhist architecture, the Great Stupa at Sanchi will help you join the dots between one of ancient India’s most powerful rulers, King Ashoka, and the subsequent rise of Buddhism. This hemispherical stone dome however synonymous with Sanchi, when originally commissioned by Emperor Ashoka in the 3rd Century BCE, was a simple brick structure with the relics of Lord Buddha placed in a central chamber. About 46 kilometres northeast of Bhopal in Madhya Pradesh lies the Sanchi Stupa, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and a landmark structure in tracing the evolution of Indian architecture starting with the Maurya period.
One of the best conserved Stupas, the Great Stupa at Sanchi with its four ornamental toranas or gateways lures visitors from all over the world to this day who spend hours at the site marvelling at this Buddhist architectural masterpiece, and the richness of its sculptures. The great Maurya ruler, Ashoka, who reigned over the entire subcontinent between 268 and 232 BCE, can be credited for laying the foundation of a typical Vihara (Buddhist monastery) architecture as evident in Sanchi, a trend that flourished through the centuries until the 12th century AD.
When Ashoka built the Great Stupa, he had at the nucleus a huge hemispherical brick dome covering the relics of Lord Buddha, with an elevated terrace surrounding the base, a balustrade, and a chatra or stone umbrella on the top to indicate high rank. The current structure goes back to the Shunga period when the brick was replaced with stone and the diameter of the dome was nearly doubled. The Shunga Empire was founded in the north after Pushyamitra Shunga, an army general in the Mauryan Empire killed the last ruling Maurya, Brihadratha Maurya in 185 BCE. Experts assert that the Stupa was pillaged in the Shunga reign, an instance associated with the growing power of Pushyamitra, and went on to be reconstructed later by his son, Agnimitra. However, unlike the more rounder brick structure, the stone one has a flattened top surmounted with a three-tier chatra symbolic of the Wheel of Dharma. A flight of double staircase was introduced to let one walk around the sacred dome and get to the elevated rounded drum that came to be the seat of the structure.
Early inscriptions indicate that the extremely ornate gateways on all four directions and the heavily carved balustrade running the circumference of the Stupa were added to the original structure in the 1st Century BCE in the reign of the Satavahanas. Take a closer look at the gateways and the balustrades and you will witness a spectrum of illustrations revolving the life of the Buddha including tales from Aryasura’s Jatakamala. It is interesting to note the way symbolic manifestations of the Buddha have been used across the carvings in the form of tree or inanimate objects like wheels, thrones or footprints. Notice one of the Pillars of Ashoka in polished sandstone in the main torana, though only the bottom half of the pillar stands on the site. To look up the upper half you need to visit the Sanchi Archaeological Museum close by.
Just as you descend the hill from the main Stupas site, you will notice a single-storeyed white building in a compound of tall trees and green gardens. This is the ASI Museum for Sanchi and was setup in 1919 by its then director general, Sir John Hubert Marshall, although the current building is a newer property acquired in 1966. The four galleries of the museum are a treasure-trove of relics from Sanchi’s Buddhist heritage and includes sculptural artifacts across several kingdoms that ruled the region. The museum is shut for maintenance on Fridays. The entry fee to this INR 5.
General Taylor, a British officer was the first to document the existence of the Great Stupa in Sanchi in 1818. And by the time Sir John Hubert Marshall, the director general of Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) took up the task of restoring the ancient monument between 1912 and 1919, it had already suffered significant damage in the hands of treasure hunters and general trespassers.
To explore the Sanchi Stupa and the Sanchi Archaeological Museum, you can stay in Sanchi town at one of the budget hotels. Else pick a hotel in Bhopal city which has wider choices for board and lodging, and is a fairly easy commute to the Stupa site as well. Choose the winter months of November to March to visit Sanchi as the weather for the rest of the year remains perceptibly hot and arid. In the said months it would be easy to walk around and spend more time viewing the extensive reliefs.
The Sanchi Stupa opening hours are from sunrise to sunset.
Sanchi Town, Raisen District, Madhya Pradesh 464661
The monument complex remains open on all days of the week.
Being at a short distance from Bhopal, most visitors prefer to hire a cab to get to the Stupa complex, as this is the fastest and most convenient way of getting to Sanchi from the state’s capital, Bhopal.
|Nearest Airport||The Raja Bhoj Airport|
|Nearest Metro Station||NA|
|Nearest Railway Station||The Sanchi Railway Station|
|Nearest Bus Stand||Bhopal Bus Stand|
A metro rail connectivity for Bhopal is on the cards, therefore, currently this service is not available in Bhopal, or in the town of Sanchi.
There are several buses plying from Bhopal bus stand, which is about a kilometre from the Bhopal Junction railway station, that take you to Sanchi in roughly an hour. Such a bus stops at a point on the road which has an information board on how to get to the Stupas complex. From there, the UNESCO World Heritage Site is a brief walk away.
The Sanchi railway station is a small railway station, about 1.5 kilometre from Sanchi Stupa. There are a few passenger trains and a couple of long distance trains that have a brief halt here. However, if you are coming by rail, it is best to take a train to Bhopal Junction as it is well-connected to the rest of the country with a decent train network that includes five pairs of Rajdhani Express, two pairs of Shatabdi Express, Garib Rath Express, Duronto Express and several Express and passenger trains. The New Delhi Bhopal Habibganj Shatabdi Express 12002 originates here and is among the fastest trains in the country covering Delhi - Agra - Gwalior - Jhansi - Bhopal/Habibganj.
The Raja Bhoj Airport in Gandhi Nagar, Bhopal, is the closest airport to the Sanchi Stupa, about 55 kilometres away. From the airport you can hire a taxi that will bring you to the heritage site in under an hour and a half. The Bhopal airport is a domestic one with great connectivity to Delhi, Mumbai, Ahmedabad, Hyderabad, Raipur, Shirdi, Jaipur and Bangalore. Some popular airlines operating out of here include Air India, IndiGo, SpiceJet, Jet Airways and Alliance Air.
|Entry Fee (Indian)||INR 40|
|Entry Fee (SAARC and BIMSTEC)||INR 40|
|Entry Fee (Foreigner )||INR 600|
|Entry Below (Children Below Age 15)||Free|
The Sanchi Stupa entry ticket for Indian tourists is INR 40. The Sanchi Stupa entry ticket price for tourists from SAARC and BIMSTEC countries are also the same. However, foreigners need to pay INR 600 as Sanchi Stupa ticket price. Children under the age of 15 can gain free entry to the monument complex.
The ticket counter is a stone’s throw from the main road, but it is always better to make an advance booking online and arrive at the site with better preparedness. For the same, you can check Yatra’s Monuments section, and key in ‘Buddhist Monuments at Sanchi’. The corresponding page will display all the information related to the monument complex including the Sanchi Stupa ticket price. Add the monument to your cart, enter your card details and make the payment. Your Sanchi Stupa online ticket will be sent to your email id. The ASI website also accepts online bookings for various monuments under its purview.
On a visit to Sanchi, you can also club it with other attractions in Madhya Pradesh like Khajuraho Temples, Ujjain and Satpura National Park.
Unique in India because of its age and quality, the group of Buddhist stupas, temples and monasteries at Sanchi (variously known as Kakanaya, Kakanava, Kakanadabota and Bota Sri Parvata in ancient times) is one of the oldest Buddhist sanctuaries in existence. These monuments record the genesis and efflorescence of Buddhist art and architecture over a period of 1,300 years from the 3rd century BC to the 12th century CE, thereby spanning almost the entire classical Buddhist period in India. Surprisingly, Sanchi was not hallowed by any incident in Buddha's life. The only early reference to Sanchi occurs in the chronicle of Sri Lanka, Mahavamsa and Dipavamsa (c. 3rd-4th century CE). Sanchi was discovered in 1818 after being abandoned for nearly 600 years, and gradually the archaeological site was explored, excavated and conserved.
The religious establishment at Sanchi was founded by the Mauryan Emperor, Asoka (c. 272-237 BC). Here, he built a Maha Stupa and erected a monolithic pillar and a monastery atop the hill at the insistence of his queen, who was from Vidisha, located 10 km from Sanchi. With its serene environment and seclusion, Sanchi ensured a proper atmosphere for meditation and fulfilled all the conditions required for an ideal Buddhist monastic life. Several edifices were raised at Sanchi and its surrounding hills during the Sunga times. The Asokan Stupa was enlarged and covered with stone veneering, and balustrades along with a staircase and harmika were added. The reconstruction of Temple 40 and the erection of Stupa 2 and Stupa 3 also appear to date to about the same period. In the 1st century BC, the Andhra-Satavahanas, who had extended their influence over eastern Malwa, created the elaborately carved gateways to Stupa 1. From the 2nd to 4th centuries CE, Sanchi and Vidisha were under the Kushanas and Kshatrapas and were subsequently passed on to the Guptas. A number of temples were built and sculptures added at Sanchi and Udayagiri, near Vidisha, during this period. Shrines and monasteries were also constructed at this site during the 7th and 10th centuries CE.
The rich decorative art associated with this architecture was also utilised on the toranas (gateways), where prodigious, lush carvings in bas-relief, high-relief and the round constitute a treasure trove of iconographic depictions. The theme of the decorative work centres on the former lives (Jataka) of Buddha and events from the life of the Master. The fresh and charming representation of plants, animals and human beings, the narrative quality of the stories and the creativity apparent in the sculpted capitals and cornices combine to make this site an unrivalled masterpiece of early Buddhist art as well as a milestone in the development of art that integrates indigenous and non-indigenous influences.
Sanchi, Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh- 464661
Monsoon : Maximum: 39 °C, Minimum: 23 °C.
Summer : Maximum: 41 °C, Minimum: 27 °C
Winter : Maximum: 23°C, Minimum: 10 °C
Recommended Season to Visit : Winter Season (November to April)
Terms & Conditions