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Buddhist Monuments at Sanchi*
UNESCO World Heritage Site

The Great Stupa at Sanchi
State Party  India
Type Cultural
Criteria (i)(ii)(iii)(iv)(vi)
Reference 524
Region** Asia-Pacific
Inscription history
Inscription 1989  (13th Session)
* Name as inscribed on World Heritage List.
** Region as classified by UNESCO.

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 and is one of the important places of Buddhist pilgrimage. It is a nagar panchayat in Raisen district in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh. Toranas surround the Stupa and they each represent love, peace, trust, and courage.

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[1].



Sanchi is located at 23°29′N 77°44′E / 23.48°N 77.73°E / 23.48; 77.73[2]. It has an average elevation of 434 metres (1423 feet).



Sunga period

Location of Sanchi
in Madhya Pradesh
Coordinates 23°28′50″N 77°44′11″E / 23.480656°N 77.736300°E / 23.480656; 77.736300
Country  India
State Madhya Pradesh
District(s) Raisen
Population 6785 (2001)
Time zone IST (UTC+5:30)
The compound Buddhist symbols: Shrivatsa within a triratana, over a Chakra wheel, on the Torana gate at Sanchi.

The stupa was vandalized at one point, sometime in the second century BCE, an event some have related to the rise of the Sunga emperor Pusyamitra Sunga. It has been suggested that Pushyamitra may have destroyed the original stupa, and his son Agnimitra rebuilt it.[3] During the later rule of the Sunga, the stupa was expanded with stone slabs to almost twice its original size. The dome was flattened near the top and crowned by three superimposed parasols within a square railing. With its many tiers it was a symbol of the dharma, the Wheel of the Law. The dome was set on a high circular drum meant for circumambulation, which could be accessed via a double staircase. A second stone pathway at ground level was enclosed by a stone balustrade with four monumental gateways (toranas) facing the cardinal directions. The buildings which seem to have been commissioned during the rule of the Sungas are the Second and Third stupas (but not the highly decorated gateways, which are from the following Satavahana period, as known from inscriptions), and the ground balustrade and stone casing of the Great Stupa.

Satavahana period

Carved decoration of the Northern gateway to the Great Stupa of Sanchi

The gateways and the balustrade were built after 70 BCE, and appear to have been commissioned by the Satavahana. An inscription records the gift of one of the top architraves of the Southern Gateway by the artisans of the Satavahana king Satakarni:

"Gift of Ananda, the son of Vasithi, the foreman of the artisans of rajan Siri Satakarni"[4].

Although made of stone, they were carved and constructed in the manner of wood and the gateways were covered with narrative sculptures. They showed scenes from the life of the Buddha integrated with everyday events that would be familiar to the onlookers and so make it easier for them to understand the Buddhist creed as relevant to their lives. At Sanchi and most other stupas the local population donated money for the embellishment of the stupa to attain spiritual merit. There was no direct royal patronage. Devotees, both men and women, who donated money towards a sculpture would often choose their favourite scene from the life of the Buddha and then have their names inscribed on it. This accounts for the random repetition of particular episodes on the stupa (Dehejia 1992). On these stone carvings the Buddha was never depicted as a human figure. Instead the artists chose to represent him by certain attributes, such as the horse on which he left his father’s home, his footprints, or a canopy under the bodhi tree at the point of his enlightenment. The human body was thought to be too confining for the Buddha.

Detail on the Sanchi stupa

Some of the friezes of Sanchi also show devotees in Greek attire (Greek clothing, attitudes, and musical instruments) celebrating the stupa[5].

Later periods

Further stupas and other religious Buddhist and early Hindu structures were added over the following centuries until the 12th century CE. Temple 17 is probably one of the earliest Buddhist temples as it dates to the early Gupta period. It consists of a flat roofed square sanctum with a portico and four pillars. The interior and three sides of the exterior are plain and undecorated but the front and the pillars are elegantly carved, giving the temple an almost ‘classical’ appearance (Mitra 1971). With the decline of Buddhism in India, the monuments of Sanchi went out of use and fell into a state of disrepair.

Western rediscovery

A British officer in 1818, General Taylor, was the first known Western historian to document (in English) the existence of Sanchi (Sāñcī). Amateur archaeologists and treasure hunters ravaged the site until 1881, when proper restoration work was initiated. Between 1912 and 1919 the structures were restored to their present condition under the supervision of Sir John Marshall.[6]

Today, around fifty monuments remain on the hill of Sanchi, including three stupas and several temples. The monuments have been listed among the UNESCO World Heritage Sites since 1989.


As of 2001 India census[7], Sanchi had a population of 6,785. Males constitute 53% of the population and females 47%. Sanchi has an average literacy rate of 67%, higher than the national average of 59.5%: male literacy is 75%, and female literacy is 57%. In Sanchi, 16% of the population is under 6 years of age.


Pilgrimage to
Holy Sites
Dharma Wheel.svg
The Four Main Sites
Lumbini · Bodh Gaya
Sarnath · Kushinagar
Four Additional Sites
Sravasti · Rajgir
Sankissa · Vaishali
Other Sites
Patna · Gaya · Kosambi
Kapilavastu · Devadaha
Kesariya · Pava
Nalanda · Varanasi
Later Sites
Sanchi · Mathura
Ellora · Ajanta · Vikramshila
Ratnagiri · Udayagiri
Bharhut · Barabar Caves


  1. ^ Dehejia, Vidya. (1997). Indian Art. Phaidon: London. ISBN 0-7148-3496-3.
  2. ^ Falling Rain Genomics, Inc - Sanchi
  3. ^ "Who was responsible for the wanton destruction of the original brick stupa of Asoka and when precisely the great work of reconstruction was carried out is not known, but it seems probable that the author of the former was Pushyamitra, the first of the Sunga kings (184-148 BCE), who was notorious for his hostility to Buddhism, and that the restoration was affected by Agnimitra or his immediate successor." in John Marshall, A Guide to Sanchi, p. 38. Calcutta: Superintendent, Government Printing (1918).
  4. ^ Original text "L1: Rano Siri Satakarnisa L2: avesanisa vasithiputasa L3: Anamdasa danam", John Marshall, "A guide to Sanchi", p. 52
  5. ^ "A guide to Sanchi" John Marshall. These "Greek-looking foreigners" are also described in Susan Huntington, "The art of ancient India", p. 100
  6. ^ John Marshall, "An Historical and Artistic Description of Sanchi", from A Guide to Sanchi, Calcutta: Superintendent, Government Printing (1918). Pp. 7-29 on line, Project South Asia.
  7. ^ "Census of India 2001: Data from the 2001 Census, including cities, villages and towns (Provisional)". Census Commission of India. Archived from the original on 2004-06-16. Retrieved 2008-11-01. 


  • Dehejia, Vidya. (1992). Collective and Popular Bases of Early Buddhist Patronage: Sacred Monuments, 100 BC-AD 250. In B. Stoler Miller (ed.) The Powers of Art. Oxford University Press: Oxford. ISBN 0-19-562842-X.
  • Dehejia, Vidya. (1997). Indian Art. Phaidon: London. ISBN 0-7148-3496-3.
  • Mitra, Debala. (1971). Buddhist Monuments. Sahitya Samsad: Calcutta. ISBN 0896844900

External links

See also

Travel guide

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikitravel

The Buddhist stupa at Sanchi
The Buddhist stupa at Sanchi

Sanchi is the site of a great Buddhist stupa. It is located in Madhya Pradesh, India, about 9 km southwest of Vidisha and 46 km from Bhopal.



Vidisha was the capital city of the ancient Malwa kingdom. Over the years, many Buddhist monuments were constructed within a 20 kilometre radius of Vidisha.

The emperor Asoka married a woman from Vidisha. He built for her the Caityagiri Vihara at Sanchi. Their son the arahant Mahinda set out from this place to convert Sri Lanka. Their daughter Sanghamitta set off from here with a sapling of the sacred Bo-tree from Bodhgaya, which was planted in Anuradhapura: the Sri Mahabodhi which is the oldest recorded tree in the world.

The Sanchi stupas date from the third century BC and are some of the best preserved historical monuments in India. There is no direct connection between Sanchi and the Buddha. The seventh century Chinese traveler Huen Tsang, who journeyed across India and wrote in detail about Buddhist monuments in India does not even mention Sanchi in his travelogues.

Yet Sanchi is a must-see on every Buddhist's pilgrimage of Buddhist holy sites.

Get in

Just 46 km from Bhopal, which is very well connected to the rest of India. Your own vehicle is not a must, as any buses going to Ashta from Bhopal can drop you within half a kilometre of the Site. And everything, including the site and the lodging facilities, is within 1 square kilometre. Also, the Sanchi railway station is very close to the site.

Get around

Apart from the Stupas, and the nearby Archaeological Museum, there's not much to be seen in Sanchi. Around 15 km from Sanchi, Udaigiri Caves is another good-to-visit place.


The stupas site (of course) and the Archaeological Museum--they have some wonderful artifacts there.


The Archeological Museum is a must-see. The history and historical artifacts from places around Sanchi. Metal-tools and beautiful sculptures as old as 2000 years make you think about that era.

The museum also showcases the history and revival of this place.


Within the stupas boundary, you can buy literature and maps for various tourism sites in MP.


Good north Indian, south Indian, continental, and Chinese food is available.


MP tourism has two very good lodging facilities with good, tasty MP food. The availability of rooms, however, can be an issue.

Apart from these government owned places, there are a couple of private ones also. The Mahabodhi Society of Sri Lanka and the Sri Lanka High Commission in New Delhi together administer the Sanchi Vandana Niketana, a pilgrims' rest house.

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1911 encyclopedia

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