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26 October 2016 / leggypeggy

A good look at India’s oldest stone structure

Main gate at Sanchi stupa 1

The main gate at Sanchi’s main stupa

Stupa 1, Sanchi, India

Approaching Stupa 1 at Sanchi. The heat is already setting in and the glare is intense

The Great Stupa at Sanchi is the oldest stone structure in India and we were lucky enough to visit it on a day trip from Bhopal.

Buddhist emperor Ashoka, often thought to be India’s greatest ruler (more about him another time), commissioned the original stupa during the Mauryan period in the 3rd century BC.

The core was a simple dome-shaped brick structure built over relics of the Buddha. It was topped with a parasol-like structure (a chatra) that symbolised high rank and served to honour and shelter the relics.

History says that Ashoka’s wife, Devi, oversaw construction of the stupa. She was born in Sanchi, and it was where she and Ashoka married.

We headed to Sanchi early in the day, so arrived well before the hottest part of the day and the arrival of most of the visitors. The place gets a lot of traffic. It is considered sacred, plus it has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1989.

Stupa 1 from the monastery

The view of Stupa 1 from the monastery

Stupa 3, Sanchi

Stupa 3 just near Stupa 1

During the Shunga period (2nd century BC), the stupa was expanded (or possibly vandalized and rebuilt) and the bricks were covered with stone. A century later, four elaborately carved toranas (ornamental gateways) and a balustrade encircling the entire structure were added.

We walked around the stupa on the upper level and visited all the gates, which mark the cardinal points of north, east, south and west. The main gate is on the north.

Although made of stone, the gateways were carved and constructed as if they were made of wood. They are covered with narrative sculptures.

These show scenes from Buddha’s life integrated with everyday events that would be familiar to onlookers and make it easier for them to understand the Buddhist creed as it applied to their lives.

At Sanchi (and many other stupas), the local population donated money to embellish the structure and to gain spiritual merit. There was no direct royal patronage.

stupa gate with monastery sanchi

South gate at Stupa 1 overlooking old monastery

Main gate, Stupa 1, Sanchi

Detail at the main gate

detail, Main gate, Stupa 1, Sanchi

More detail at main gate

Devotees, both men and women, who gave money towards a sculpture would often choose to have it done as their favourite scene from the life of the Buddha and then have their names inscribed on it. This is why there is often repetition of particular Buddha episodes on the stupa.

But with the decline of Buddhism in India, the Sanchi monuments went out of use and fell into a state of disrepair.

In 1818, British officer General Taylor of the Bengal Cavalry recorded a visit to Sanchi. He was the first known Westerner to document (in English) the existence of Sanchi. At that time, he found the monuments to have been left undisturbed for a long time and generally well preserved.

Unfortunately, after his discovery, amateur archaeologists and treasure hunters ravaged the site until 1881, when proper restoration work was begun. Between 1912 and 1919, the structures were restored to their present condition under the supervision of Sir John Marshall.

Today, around 50 monuments remain on the hill of Sanchi, including three stupas, several temples and the remains of a monastery.

Stupa 2, Sanchi

Stupa 2

We visited as much of the sie as we could find, including Stupa 2, which was way farther down the hill than we expected. Never mind, we got in our exercise for the day. The collage of pics above show some detail at Stupa 2 and the steps to it.

Oh, and if you’re in to numbers, the main stupa is 12 metres tall (54 feet) and 32 metres in diameter (120 feet). The others are much smaller.

Temple, Sanchi

One of the temples at Sanchi

Countryside, Sanchi

A view of the countryside below Sanchi

45 Comments

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  1. spearfruit / Oct 26 2016 4:46 am

    Thank you for the tour Peggy, the main gate details are amazing – I am impressed. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Popping Wheelies / Oct 26 2016 4:57 am

    Fascinating.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. lorriedeck / Oct 26 2016 5:10 am

    Beautiful!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. beetleypete / Oct 26 2016 6:12 am

    A wonderful site indeed, Peggy. My Dad was in the army in India from 1941-1946, but I don’t believe he ever visited any historical sites as interesting as this one.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Oct 26 2016 12:52 pm

      Oh wow, it must have been an amazing experience for your dad to spend that time in India. Where was he based and I’ll see what historical sites were in the ‘neighbourhood’?

      Like

      • beetleypete / Oct 26 2016 7:47 pm

        He spent time in Bangalore, Hyderabad, and Calcutta. He was an artillery instructor, working with Sikhs and Punjabis. He had been a regular soldier before the war, since 1936, and by the time he was sent to India, he was the Regimental Sergeant Major in the Royal Artillery.
        He loved his life in India, and only left because the Army was pulled out in 1946.
        Regards, Pete.

        Like

  5. Sharon Bonin-Pratt / Oct 26 2016 6:14 am

    I love this photo tour of these incredible monuments. They are masterfully carved and incredibly beautiful. Thanks for the history lesson as well.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. lambieland / Oct 26 2016 7:27 am

    Okay—I have obviously led a very sheltered life. I have never seen pictures of these monuments. They are so beautiful!! The carving is exquisite. Thanks for the tour!

    Liked by 3 people

    • leggypeggy / Oct 26 2016 1:07 pm

      Oh, I’m with you. I had not seen or heard of Sanchi before we visited. Pity it’s not better known.

      Like

  7. chattykerry / Oct 26 2016 7:56 am

    Fantastically intricate!

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Dorothy / Oct 26 2016 8:11 am

    Glad it was restored, so much history has been destroyed. Awesome place Peggy, another great post.

    Liked by 2 people

    • leggypeggy / Oct 26 2016 1:09 pm

      Thanks. So glad it has been restored and that so many from India choose to visit.

      Like

  9. gerard oosterman / Oct 26 2016 8:23 am

    Really amazing, and it sure beats Coff’s Harbour ‘The big banana.’ I wonder if the tiger is still ‘sawing?’ I hope not. Say hello to’ poor John.’

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Oct 26 2016 1:10 pm

      Oh my, that made me laugh. So far we haven’t seen any ‘Big Bananas’ in India, and I bet old Albert is still sawing. 🙂 Poor John says hello back. One day we’ll make it to your neck of the woods for lunch.

      Like

  10. Midwestern Plant Girl / Oct 26 2016 9:38 am

    Thank you for sharing! These are so intricate and detailed. That took time and talent. Something we seem to lack, nowadays 🤔

    Liked by 2 people

    • leggypeggy / Oct 26 2016 1:12 pm

      I know what you mean, but I’m pleased to say I often see examples of work that show people are proud of what they do.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. fiftywordsdaily / Oct 26 2016 10:09 am

    Nah that’s not a good look – that’s a great look! Really intriguing! N

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Oct 26 2016 1:12 pm

      It is a great look. More to come, too!

      Liked by 1 person

      • fiftywordsdaily / Oct 27 2016 5:46 am

        Great news – I look forward to it!

        Liked by 1 person

  12. calmkate / Oct 26 2016 6:05 pm

    Wow, never heard of this place or seen photos before, thanks heaps for sharing!
    Have been to Sarnarth and Bodh Gaya, may have to put this on my to do list.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. The Year I Touched My Toes / Oct 26 2016 8:37 pm

    The gate is lovely and stupa 2 is beautiful with a pleasing shape and the bricks provide beautiful texture Louise

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Oct 27 2016 3:23 am

      I thought Stupa 2 was a pleasing shape too. Glad we lumbered down the hill to see it.

      Liked by 1 person

  14. derrickjknight / Oct 26 2016 9:59 pm

    Quite amazing

    Liked by 1 person

  15. The Whitechapel Whelk / Oct 26 2016 10:00 pm

    I was the 100th person to ‘like’ your excellent piece. Do I win anything? Extremely serious question.

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Oct 27 2016 3:25 am

      Sure, I promise to give you a pack of likes when I’m home from my travels. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • The Whitechapel Whelk / Oct 27 2016 4:25 pm

        Ha! Fair made me chuckle did that Peggy. Stop it at once! I’ll do the gags round here if you don’t mind young lady! 😀 Hope you’re having a great trip btw. The Dodger and myself always enjoy your ‘travelblogs’. They take our minds off being in prison you see. 😦

        Like

      • leggypeggy / Oct 27 2016 8:44 pm

        Okay, I’m gagged for the moment—except for travelblogs. I’ll try to behave, sort of.

        Like

  16. Curt Mekemson / Oct 27 2016 3:55 am

    Absolutely Stupa-fying, Peggy. 🙂 Thanks for the tour. Ashoka was one of the great emperors of his time. Surprised to learn that one of his wives oversaw the building of the temple. –Curt

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Oct 27 2016 4:05 am

      Thanks Curt. I hope to do a piece on Ashoka when I have more time online to make sure of my facts. I’ve read about him and seen his edicts in India, but the mind can be hazy.

      Like

  17. Roberta Pimentel / Oct 27 2016 11:20 pm

    Thanks for sharing Peggy! Really nice to know more about India 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Oct 28 2016 3:11 am

      Thanks for stopping by Roberta. Hoping to post lots more when connections permit. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  18. Brenda / Oct 28 2016 12:25 am

    In the same vein as Curt above, quite stupa-endous. The intricacy of the stone carving is so impressive. Although it sort of gives me achy hands and itchy brain just thinking about the interminable hours delicately chipping away at rock. And it always amazes me that people who live with so little will put in so much time and resources to satisfy deities (cathedrals make me feel the same way).

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Oct 28 2016 3:13 am

      The artworks and the efforts that have gone in to them overwhelm me. Truly magnificent work at a time when people had their two hands and rough tools to work with. Amazing!

      Liked by 1 person

  19. sepultura13 / Oct 28 2016 9:30 am

    Such beautiful sculpture and architecture…excellent post and photos! Thank you for sharing.
    😎

    Liked by 1 person

  20. jerseydreaming / Oct 28 2016 1:08 pm

    Truly incredible stuff. Thanks, Peggy.

    Liked by 1 person

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