Buddhism is pretty widespread throughout India and traces of the religion can be found in the quaintest parts of the country. One such is Sanchi. About 46 kms to the north- east of Bhopal, capital of the state of Madhya Pradesh in central India, Sanchi houses the great stupas.
One of the oldest stone structures in India, this was commissioned to be made, by King Ashoka, way back in the 3rd century BCE. As is known, Ashoka had embraced Buddhism after the Kalinga war. In the war he had witnessed so many deaths that upon reflecting on them, he took up Buddhism and later spent a lot of time and money to spread the religion. In his quest to spread the teachings of Gautam Buddha and Buddhism, he got the stupas built at Sanchi, amongst others.
A hemispherical structure made of bricks, the great stupa is said to be built over Buddha’s relics. Because of its parasol like structure, it was called the chhatra. The stupa is surrounded by sandstone pillars which have inscriptions on them in Sankha Lipi dating back to the Gupta period.
It is believed that parts of the structures were vandalized in the 2nd century BCE, during the Shunga empire.
The grounds surrounding the great stupa houses smaller stupas, vast gardens and beyond the gardens are the hammam area. Even after all these centuries, when you look down at the hamman area, you can imagine hustle-bustle of life there. The gardens are neat and very well-maintained. Every inch of the premises are well-maintained, adding to the serene atmosphere of the place. Doesn’t matter which religion you follow in your personal life, once here, you’ll want to sit on the green grass, close your eyes and meditate. Alas! It is forbidden to step on the lawns.
There are a couple of smaller stupas as well and those are in better condition in comparison to the great stupa. The stupas of Sanchi makes for great photographic experience. The grounds are thronged with devotees from world over, apart from other world tourists who have special interest in history.
There are a large number of Brahmi inscriptions which have been found at Sanchi, specially on the first stupa. The Brahmi script is the modenn name of the oldest writing scheme in our part of the world. It consists of a mix of languages like Prakrit, Dravidian, Saka, etc.
Till about 1881, amateur archeologists and hunters of treasure kept looking and digging up the stupas of Sanchi and only after this year was proper restoration of the site started. In the year 1989, it was listed amongst the UNESCO World Heritage Sites.