Madhya Pradesh can be said to be the microcosm of India, for the land reflects the glory of India in many ways. These can relate to the architectural grandeur of its palaces, temples and mosques, the natural beauty surrounding the Vindhyas and other regions, the prehistoric art at places like Bhimbetka, the pilgrimage centres of Amarkantak, Chitrakoot and others, and the adventure trail of the tiger sanctuaries to name a few. For those with a spiritual bent of mind and in the quest for peace and tranquillity, the land of Sanchi can be an added attraction in the Madhya Pradesh tourism circuit.
How to reach?
The religion of Buddhism started by Lord Buddha had led a trail in India with many centres reflecting the glory of the Lord and his teachings. The town of Sanchi in Madhya Pradesh is one such centre that is well connected by road, railroad and air. If one takes the road then Sanchi can be reached easily from important cities like Bhopal, Indore or Ujjain by buses or cars. The nearest railway station and airport happen to be in the capital city of Bhopal, about 50 kilometres from Sanchi. Located in the Raisen district of the state, the quaint town with an old world charm is known for its beautiful stupas, monuments, and monasteries.
A bit of history
The main attraction of the town is the Buddhist Stupa or a hemispherical dome housing the relics of Lord Buddha. The Stupa was built by Emperor Ashoka, the monarch who reigned during the period from 268 BC to 232 BC. One of the greatest monarchs the world has ever known, Emperor Ashoka had embraced Buddhism and decided to propagate the teachings of the lord after witnessing the wanton destruction wrought by the Kalinga war. As a part of that exercise he had set up many Buddhist monasteries, stupas and pilgrimage centres all across the country, and through his emissaries, even beyond the boundaries of India as well.
The beauty of the Great Stupa at Sanchi
Declared as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, the construction of the Stupa began in the third century BC. The 51 ft high Stupa (mound) or the hemispherical dome consists of a central chamber that contains the relics of Lord Buddha. The archaeological wonder is said to be the oldest stone structure in India built during the Mauryan era. The Stupa is surrounded by four ornately carved gateways or Toranas facing the four directions with each of them representing the eternal and subliminal qualities of love, trust, courage and peace.
The present Stupa is double the size of the original one built by Emperor Ashoka. The expansion of the Stupa was carried out during the Shunga dynasty lorded over by the General of the Mauryan Empire. It was during this period, a chatra or an umbrella measuring 37 meters in diameter and 16 meters tall was erected over the dome.
Interestingly, near the Sanchi Stupa is another important tourist attraction, the Udayagiri Caves.
The magnificence of Udayagiri Caves
These caves consist of an assemblage of twenty rock-cut caves near the ancient town of Vidisha, from the early years of the 5th century CE. These contain some of the oldest surviving Hindu temples and iconography in India. As one of India’s most important archaeological sites, the Udayagiri hills and its caves are protected monuments managed by the Archaeological Survey of India.
Udayagiri caves are notable for the ancient monumental relief sculpture of Vishnu in his incarnation as the man-boar Varaha, rescuing the earth symbolically represented by Bhudevi clinging to the boar’s tusk as described in Hindu mythology ( Cave No 5 ).
Besides the great Stupa and the magnificence of Udayagiri caves, Sanchi has other places of interest as well such as the famous Ashoka Pillar, a number of Viharas (places where Buddhist monks used to stay,) Gupta Temple and others.
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