The Great Stupa standing on a hilltop at Sanchi Town in Raisen District of the state of Madhya Pradesh is one of the most attractive tourist spots in India. Widely regarded as the focal point in the Buddhist faith, The Great Stupa at Sanchi is a significant cultural achievement of India.
Here are 10 quick facts about the Great Stupa of Sanchi.
1) It is one of the oldest stone structures in the history of India.
The great Stupa at Sanchi was originally commissioned by emperor Ashoka and dates back to the 3rd century BCE. In his attempts to spread the religion of Buddhism which the Emperor held dear, he constructed 84,000 stupas each containing some of the Budhha’s cremated mortal remains obtained from a stupa in Rajgriha. The great stupa of Sanchi was the first such stupa that was built by Ashoka.
2) The Great Stupa was initially not as ‘Great’.
The Stupa’s original earthen brick and mortar structure were much more basic than what exists today. In fact, the stupa built by Ashoka is only half the size of the current one. After getting vandalized by Pushyamitra Shungain, in the mid 2nd century BCE, it was later encased in stone, rebuilt, and expanded by future shunga kings during 187-78 BCE. The elaborately carved gateways which is the hallmark of the stupa were added later in the first century BCE.
3) The Great Stupa adorns a symbolical architecture.
The design of the stupa in itself is symbolic of the Buddha and the Buddhist faith. The central structure consists of a hemispherical dome (anda) which symbolizes the dome of heaven enclosing the earth. It is topped by a “harmika” that represents the ‘world mountain’. A central pillar called the “yashti” symbolizes the cosmic axis and supports a triple umbrella or “chhatraveli” which represents the three jewels of Buddhism, the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha.
4)The Great Stupa has four gateways.
At the four cardinal points, there are four great stupas which are the highlights of this structure. All these gateways have a series of detailed carvings showing Buddhist symbols and important historical and religious scenes. Buddha however is shown as a symbol, like a horse without a rider, an umbrella above an empty throne, the Bodhi tree, or as footprints.
5) The Great Stupa under colonial rule was restored and repaired.
The Great Stupa had been abandoned post 12th century CE. It was only in 1818 that British General Henry Taylor rediscovered this site and on the basis of his findings, restoration work began in 1881 and was completed in 1919 under the supervision of Sir John Hubert Marshall, Director General of the Indian Archaeological Survey.
6) The Great Stupa is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
In 1989, the Great Stupa and other Buddhist structures at Sanchi were collectively declared as a world heritage site for their cultural importance.
7) You cannot go inside the Great Stupa.
Nobody is allowed to go inside the Stupa. Instead, Buddhists worship it by walking around it in a clockwise direction.
8) There are regular light and sound shows at the Great Stupa.
In the Sanchi Stupa Complex, there is a light and sound show in the evenings giving insights into Buddhism, Buddha’s life, and Ashoka’s propagation of Buddhism. The Great Stupa is personified as the Past Buddha giving knowledge and wisdom to the smaller stupa personified as present/future Buddha.
9) Europeans wanted “The Great Stupa”
The Europeans in the 19th Century wanted to take the embellished gateways of the Great Stupa to their country’s museums. But they were allowed to take only the plaster copies of them.
10) The Great Stupa has been featured in the new Indian 200 rupees notes.