India is known mainly for its Hinduism but the country was also the birthplace of Buddhism. There are still many Buddhist monuments and one of the best known is Sanchi. Recognised as the best preserved stupa complex in India, Sanchi lies in the state of Madhya Pradesh, about 45 kilometres from Bhopal. The group of stupas stand in a lovely location at a point where two rivers meet, on an old caravan route close to the ancient trading city of Vidisha. Sanchi is on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Sanchi was built as a monastery in the 3rd century BC during the reign of the Buddhist emperor Ashoka. It continued to function as a monastery until it was abandoned in the 13th century, when Buddhism declined as Hinduism grew in importance. The complex was rediscovered by chance in 1818 by the British General Taylor of the Bengal Cavalry. At that time the structures were still intact, but they were very soon plundered by amateur archaeologists and treasure hunters. Proper restoration of the site was first begun by a Major Cole in 1881, followed between 1912 and 1919 by John Marshall, Director-General of the Archaeological Survey of India. He identified a total of 50 monuments at the site.
The largest stupa has a diameter of 40 metres and stands roughly 18 metres high. Originally it was much smaller but was enlarged over the years with a surrounding wall of sandstone blocks. It was covered with a thick layer of plaster and had a double staircase, balustrades and a corridor. Many bas-reliefs on buildings, gates and other structures portray the story of the Buddha.
Text Harrie Wolters
Translation Alun Harvey