Among the earliest monuments of ancient India that have survived are the Buddhist stupas of Sanchi, situated on a hilltop less than 50 km away from Bhopal in Madhya Pradesh. They are a World Heritage Site.
The most famous stupa is encircled by a railing cut by four exquisitely carved gateways facing the four directions of the compass. The carvings show a world where people and animals live together in happiness and plenty. Female tree spirits, symbols of fertility, were used as welcoming figures on the gateways. Lotus flowers were both a beautiful decoration and a religious symbol.
The Buddha himself is depicted by symbols, such as the wheel, which represents his teaching, or by footprints or an empty throne. Probably, the Buddha is not shown because he asked his followers not to make images of him.
What to see
Great Stupa No.1: The oldest stone structure in India, 36.5 metres in diameter and 16.4 metres high and with a massive hemispherical dome. Begun by Emperor Ashoka, the Stupa was completed by his successors in the 3rd and 2nd centuries, B.C. A balustrade encircles the entire structure which has 4 magnificent gateways as points of access. The Eastern, Western, Northern and Southern gateways, these gateways are covered with carvings depicting scenes from Buddha’s life, with Buddha represented in symbols.
Stupa No.2 Situated close to the Great Stupa, dated between 150-140 B.C.
Stupa No.3: The hemispherical dome of this stupa, is crowned with an umbrella of polished stone. The relics of Sariputta and Mahamogallena, two of the Buddha’s earliest disciples were found in it’s inner chamber.
Ashoka Pillar: This 3rd century B.C. column lies close to the southern gateway of the great Stupa and is one of the finest examples of the Ashokan Pillar.
Buddhist Vihara: The sacred relics of the Satdhara Stupa, a few kms. away from Sanchi have been enshrined in the inner sanctum of this modern temple monastery.
The Great Bowl: Carved out of one block of stone, this mammoth bowl was carved to contain food that was distributed amongst the monks of Sanchi.
Gupta Temple: In ruins now, this 4th cent A.D. temple is one of the earliest known examples of temple architecture in India.
Museum: The Archaeological Survey of India maintains a site museum at Sanchi. Noteworthy antiquities on display here include the lion Capital of the Ashokan Pilar. (Timing : 0900 hrs to 1700 hrs).
Sonari and Satdhara (I0 Km & ll Km): There are a group of stupas at Sonari, on one of which numerous relics are recorded. At Satdhara there are 2 stupas.
Andher and Mural Khurd (12 Km & 17 Km): With ruins ancient stupas.
Vidisha or Besnagar (12 Km): A 2nd century B.C. monolithic Pillar and the Khamba Baba, gives this settlement its antiquity.
Udaigiri (13 Km): A group of rock-cut caves carved into a sandstone hill dating back to the 4th and 5th century AD.
Gyraspur (41 Km): Gyraspur was a place of considerbale importance, in the medieval period. One can see here the Athkhamba and Chaudkhamba, ruins of the columned halls of 2 temples belonging 9 th and 10th centuries. Other monuments include the early 10th cent. Bajra Math and the Mala Devi Temple.
Rahatgarh (32 Km): It has a medieval fort and a picturesque waterfall.
Udaypur (93 Km.) : The colossal Neelkenteshwar temple here is an outstanding example of Parmar Art of the 11th century. Bijamandal, Sahi Masjid, Sher Khan-Ki-Masjid and Pisnari Ke-Mandir are some of the other monuments here.