Sanchi Stupa is situated on top of a hill in a small town called Sanchi, Madhya Pradesh. It is in an ancient Buddhist complex.
The Great Stupa is the oldest and largest Stupa at the Sanchi Buddhist Monument Complex. The Great Stupa is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
History of Sanchi Stupa
The Great Stupa is also called stupa no. 1. It was originally built in the 3rd century BCE by the Mauryan emperor Ashoka. It is believed to house the ashes of the Buddha. His intention behind constructing this Stupa was to protect and spread the Buddhist philosophy and way of life. The Great Stupa is the oldest and largest Stupa at the Sanchi Buddhist Monument Complex.
The original structure built by Ashoka was not made of stone. It was a simple hemispherical monumental made using bricks. According to many historians, the Great Stupa was destroyed in the 2nd century BCE, during the reign of Emperor Pushyamitra Shunga. His son, Agnimitra, reconstructed the monument and covered the original brick Stupa with stone slabs. During the latter part of the Shunga period, additional elements were added to the Stupa and as a result, it became twice its initial size.
The second and third Stupas at Sanchi were also built during this period. During the Satavahana rule, i.e. in the 1st BCE, four ceremonial gateways aka toranas, and an ornamented balustrade were also added to the main structure.
Over centuries, the Great Stupa came to be recognized as the symbol of dharma or the Wheel of Law. This Stupa along with other structures in the Sanchi Complex was functional till the 12th century. The Great Stupa and other Buddhist monuments at Sanchi were discovered in 1818 as a result of excavations. Currently, the Archeological Survey of India protects this stupa.
The Great Stupa at Sanchi shows the Buddhist architectural style. With a height of 54 feet and a foot diameter of 120 feet, it is the largest of its kind in the entire country. The main structure of the Stupa is a hemispherical dome that has a simple design. The dome rests on a base, under which is a relic chamber. According to popular beliefs, the dome was built over the relics belonging to Lord Buddha. That is why it was decorated with three chhatris (umbrella-like structures) meant to shelter the relics. The three structures are said to stand for Triantha or the three jewels of Buddhism, namely the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. A large central pillar holds the chhatris.
The railings surrounding the Great Stupa are empty of any artistic décor. These railings are nothing more than plain slabs bearing dedicatory inscriptions.
Four intricately ornamented ceremonial gateways face all four directions. Scenes from Jataka stories, events of Buddha’s life, scenes from the early Buddhism period, and several auspicious symbols are carved on these ceremonial gateways.
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