Madhya Pradesh: Sanchi - The Buddhist Pilgramage of Madhya Pradesh


Sanchi, one of the famous Buddha pilgrimage spots of India, was actually built way back in 3rd to 12th centuries at an elevation of 91 meters of Vindhya hill. Pilgrims and tourists would be able to watch the magnificence of Buddhist architecture between 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tourists who access the city on Sundays don’t need to pay anything to watch the special enticements of Sanchi. The pilgrimage spot, spread across 384 meters around the north- southern side of the city and sprawling 201 meters around the east- west corridor of the city, is known as a World Heritage Site since 1989.

Plenty of historical stories of the generous emperor, Ashoka, are associated with the city of Sanchi. To remember the great Buddha, the king Ashoka had erected 84000 shrines, out of which 7 were there in the vicinity of Sanchi. 3 out of the 7 shrines are still significantly recollecting the old memories of the emperor Ashoka and Buddha. After the abolition of the Buddha religion, the ancient city of Sanchi, was in the darkness and was not very prominent Buddha pilgrimage since 14th century. Due to the battles that took place between the strong rulers had hurt the shrines and the city as a whole. Later on, the Government had started taking some proper steps to maintain the primeval shrines and monuments of the singular Buddha pilgrimage. The spot was revamped entirely by Sir John Marshall during 1912-1919. Plenty of strong forces and inhabitants had looted the city as well.

The huge shrine or the shrine number- 1 is the prime and foremost allurement of Sanchi. 16.4 meters tall shrine is spread across a diameter of 36.5 meters. The construction of this gigantic shrine was started by the emperor Ashoka. But the finishing touch on the shrine was given by his ancestors during 3-2 Centuries (B.D). Another batch of people opines that the shrine was built by the emperor of the Kushan dynasty. The stones, however, were placed on the shrine by the great Ashoka (B.D 11th Century). The shrine, made up of bricks, was covered with stones. Later on, after 75 long years, umbrella shaped crest, Railing and balcony were constructed around the impressive historical shrine during Sunga dynasty. The stones were brought all the way from Udaigiri. The carvings and ornamentations on the doorway were the innovative creations of the kings of the Gupta Dynasty during 450. This is the ancient and unique architectural evidence in India. Even though the shrine with immense historical value commemorates the death of Buddha but no idol of Buddha was constructed on the shrine. Lotus and papal trees are engraved on the shrine. The manifestation of Buddha through the wheel is marvelous. The representation of Buddha achieving the divinity and illustrating sermon to his followers would fascinate one and all. Watching the footstep of Buddha on the shrine is a charming and enticing experience.

The 8.5 meters tall four entrances of the shrine prove the creativity of the emperors of Satavahana dynasty. All these impressive doorways were built long back in 1st century (B.D). The stories of seven lives of Buddha were artistically depicted on the doorway, placed at the western side of the shrine (B.D 35). Buddha, however, is just a symbolic representation. The third birth of Buddha had been illustrated on the shrine where as the fourth birth had been exemplified on the holy pipal tree. The excellent architectures on the sandstone, at the upper side of the shrine, momentously demonstrate a story where the devil is getting dominated by a divine power. Pilgrims can watch the engraved Buddha, riding on a horse. The tale of Chaddanta Jataka had also been imprinted. You can see the exhibited images of Buddha illustrating sermon to his followers as shown in Sarnath. The tale of Bodhisattva of Buddha is nicely depicted at the lower side of the shrine in the lower row.

Symbolic representation of Buddha’s birth on the lotus and the idol of Mayadevi (the mother of Buddha) standing on the lotus are remarkably embossed on the southern entrance of the shrine, built by the ruler of Andhra Shataparni. Two elephants are spreading water from both the sides on the head of Mayadevi.

The oldest entrance, the southern gateway of the shrine, represents the birth of Buddha. A number of tales of Ashoka (after he had changed his religion to Buddhism) and Chaddanta Jataka are imprinted on the southern doorway. It was the main entrance previously.

12.8 meters tall Ashoka pillar-10, located adjacent to the southern gateway, is in ruins. An idol of lion was placed right at the top of the pillar.

An idol of lion is also there in Sarnath. This finicky idol of lion represents the entire India and is visible on the Indian coins as well.

6 adjoining small symbols of Buddha on the eastern entrance illustrate different life stories of Buddha, such as, appearing in maternal womb, leaving from his own home (elephant), achieving divinity (horse), illustrating sermon (papal tree), helping mankind (wheel), attaining Mahanirvana (an umbrella on two symbols of feet). The great leader Ashoka is praying with lot of devotion and even the dream of Mayadevi (elephant standing on the land of moon) had been remarkably exhibited on the eastern doorway. The hanging Jakha idol is praiseworthy as well.

The architectural magnificence of the northern entrance of the shrine is significant and noteworthy. The impressive doorway displays Buddha at the time of throwing a religious speech to his followers underneath the mango tree. His legs are shimmering where as a stream of water is coming out of his head. Angel is astonishingly conveying Buddha’s messages to the followers with a drum (musical instrument). The demonstration of the mysteries of the supernal knowledge to Prasenjit in Sravasti had been depicted on this entrance as well. The ruins of the Dharmachakra are placed at the top of the northern entrance. The picture of Banar, offering a bowl of honey to Buddha is striking as well. Watching the titanic doorway is a pleasing sight. But, Buddha had never visited the sanctified land of Sanchi.

Apart from the astounding doorways of the shrine, plenty of other pillars are scattered around as well but most of these pillars are in ruins now.

A lot of other significant shrines are also dotted in the city as well. 15 meters tall shrine-3 is another pleasing attraction of Sanchi. A small doorway, located at the north- eastern side of the shrine-3, is the way through which you can get into the premise. The excavation in 1851 had shown two skeletons of two of the Buddha’s descendents called Sariputta and maha moggallana under this particular shrine. Pearls, crystals, emeralds, amethysts and a divine garland of gypsum had been excavated as well. These priceless memorials are on display only for one day in December for general people. To watch these imposing memorials tourists flock to Sanchi on that particular day. The begged foods were collected in a huge bowl, kept in the vicinity previously. The worship hall resembles the primeval structure of the Church of Athens.

The Shrine-4 was there at the back end of the worship hall but had been destroyed. The Shrine-5 which was there in between the Shrine 1 and 3 had been annihilated as well. The Buddha idol, once placed in the proximity of the Shrine-5, had been shifted to the museum.

Located at the western side of the Shrine-1, on the hilly slope, the 7 meters tall Shrine-2 is different for its ornamentations. There are no portals in the vicinity but pilgrims can get onto the premise through four ‘L’ shaped entrances. Every wall of the shrine is decorated. A circular small pillar is there as well. A number of mythological tales along with flowers, animals and humans are displayed on the time-honored walls of the shrine.

The main Vihar, erected by the wife of the emperor Ashoka, can be viewed on the way to the Shrine-2.

The newest allurement of Sanchi is New Vihar, erected by the Buddhist society of Singhal on 30th November, 1952. The monument resembles the structure of Sarnath. One of the renowned disciples was buried here. The divine tree, brought all the way from Singhal in 1987, is there at the opposite side of the New Vihar.

The Gupta temple, erected during 4th century, at the right hand side of the Shrine-1, has both Garbhagriha and Mandapam.

Plenty of ancient consecrated temples, innumerable monasteries and Vihars on the holy land of the Buddha pilgrimage spot. The impressive Greek architectural touches on the walls of pillars and balcony of these righteous temples are inspiring and imposing.

A mound-shaped Math had been built in the close proximity by the Buddhist pilgrims. The Math keeps and maintains hair, nails and other body parts of Buddha. All these, however, are in ruins. It is believed that the structures of the temples of Sanchi had inspired others to build the temples of Khajuraho later on.

Located at the foothill, the archeological museum has an affluent collection of architectural sculptures and innumerable art forms of the prolonged ancient period (Gupta dynasty to 4th century). You can access the museum during 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. except on Fridays.

If you are not running out of time then don’t miss the opportunity to move around the city of Sanchi, spread across a diameter of 7.5 km. The entire territory is popularly known as Buddha Circuit. To maintain the quality of various primeval collections and safeguard them from destruction a number of initiatives have been taken by UNESCO with the Japanese aid. Very recently the archeologists of UNESCO have excavated 14 Buddha Maths and 32 shrines. The saffron colored effigy of Buddha, written in Brahmi characters, on a stone, was also excavated. Plenty of ancient sculptures are yet to be excavated. To maintain the balance of the environment a lot of works are done around the area of Sanchi and Satadhara. 8 Buddha shrines, about 10 km towards the south- western side of Sanchi, 2 Buddha shrines in Satdhara, about 15 km towards the west side of Sanchi, 3 shrines, located at a distance of 8 km towards the south- eastern side of Satdhara deserve a visit as well.

Avail a bus or a train from Sanchi to Vidisha, located at the congregating point of Betwa and Vidisha Rivers. It was a popular business hub way back in 600 B.D. Kalidas, one of the greatest literary personalities of India, had mentioned the richness and exuberance of the city of Vidisha. Jibanananda, the Bengali author, had also mentioned the name of Vidisha in his poem.

Spread across the area of 27 km, Vidisha, houses 65 astonishing shrines and numerous pillars of stones. To maintain the archeological sculptures of different dynasties, such as, Sunga and Parmar, a museum had been built at the back end of the railway station. The museum, however, is closed on Mondays. The entry to the museum is restricted to the visitors who purchase a ticket spending 2 rupees.

Erected long back in 2nd century (B.D), in front of the railway station, the Vishnu temple was the first of its kind. Cement was used for the first time to build the temple in India. Besides the Vishnu temple, a lot of pious temples and Sati stone are there on the wonderful banks of the Betwa River.

The next station of Sanchi is Vidisha on the Bhpal- Delhi railway track. Buses and trains directly travel to Vidisha from Bhopal and Sanchi.

Tourists can stay at Circuit House, Dharamsala, Hotel Amrai, Adarsh Lodge, Vasant Lodge and Lakshmi.

The soaring hill, about 10 km away towards the western side of the Vidisha museum, beyond the Betwa River, is standing like a natural barricade. In Udaigiri, on the slope of the hill of sandstones, there are a primeval fort and 20 caves of 4-5 centuries. Another group of historians opine that these caves were formed during Chandra Gupta 2nd (382-401). The contemporary lifestyles have been pictorially depicted on the walls of these caves. The 1st and 18th caves were of Jain devotees where as rest of the caves belonged to the Hindu communities. The quadrilateral idol of Narayana is there in the 3rd cave, Shiva lingam and a gigantic idol of the deity Ganesha are placed inside and outside (at the entrance) the 4th cave respectively. The idol of Baraha, one of the incarnations of Vishnu, is residing in the 5th cave. “Devi world” had been carved out of stone in the same cave as well. The incarnation of Vishnu has 5 faces and Anantnag is placed at the top of the idol. The mythological tales, associated with the deity Baraha and Kangsa are exhibited on the walls of the cave. Devi Ganga and Yamuna, positioned at both the sides of the cave, are carrying water bodies. The 7th cave was built for the emperor Chandra Gupta 2nd (382-401). Chandra Gupta had won the entire north India later on. That particular historical story had been displayed on the walls of the 7th cave. A bloomed lotus on the ceiling along with the deity with 10 arms on the wall still fascinates spiritual crowds and tourists. The largest of all the caves, the 9th one, showcases an 8 feet tall pillar. The balcony and hall are standing on pillars. The gargantuan ceiling of the cave is worthy of mention as well.

18 feet tall Vishnu is lying for years on the floor of the cave-13. The imagination of the ancient artists can be seen in the formation. A lotus was formed near the navel and the same lotus had become a residing platform for Brahma and other deities. The deities, residing on the lotus, are praying with devotion.

The 18th cave is quite simple. The carvings of the 20th cave are worth watching though. Archeological department had discovered Sanskrit inscriptions from the 20th cave. A hallowed temple, atop the hill, was erected during Gupta dynasty.

Besnagar, placed at the confluence of Bes and Betwa Rivers, can be accessed if you are willing to recall the old memories of Maurya and Sunga dynasties. The prime spots of Besnagar are Gumbaz-Ka Maqbara, Bijamandal Masjid, and Lohangi Rock. Innumerable notable shrines are there as well. Plenty of archeological and architectural evidences are dotted in and around the city. The famous holy Vasudeva temple was destroyed long ago. The monolithic Khamba Baba or Heliodorus Pillar was carved out of stones way back in 140 B.D. Even though this enticing pillar looks like Ashoka pillar but actually it is a Garuda (Eagle) shaped pillar. This picky pillar, erected by Heliodorus (the son of the Greek Ambassador), had been dedicated to the God Vishnu. The lower and upper portions of the pillar had been given octagonal and hex decagonal shapes respectively. This pillar was dedicated to the Hindu deity Vasudeva (an incarnation of Vishnu). The Brahmi scriptures on the pillar tell the historical story about the pillar. Cement was used on this pillar for the very first time in India. It is also known as a pillar of Ghosts in the close proximity. A spooky tamarind tree is there beside the pillar. Hordes of holiday makers would be able to witness a lot of mysterious and surprising rituals of the inhabitants around the pillar.

Another nearby charming destination is Vijay mandir or Vijay mandal. The Mughal emperor Aurangzeb had constructed a mosque in 1686 on the ruins of the temple, built by the ruler Vdayaditya 1000 years before the birth of the Christ’s child. In 1971-72 when the mosque was demolished due to huge amount of rainfalls, the ancient temple again came in limelight. The excellent architectures of the Hindu temple are still prominent. Sanskrit inscriptions had also been discovered. Different idols of deities were recovered after excavation as well.

Udaipur, about 7 km away from the nearest railway station Bareth, houses a primeval Nilkantheshwar Shiva temple, built in 1080. The carvings on the red sandstones and fine arts on the elevated crest of the temple make this holy temple a special attraction. 22 long years were taken to complete the temple. The emperor Udayaditya of Parmar dynasty had constructed the temple. The Indo-Arya architectures are prominent on the Garbhagriha, Sabhamandapam and Prabeshmandapam of the temple. The rays of sun directly fall on the face of the idol in the temple. The idols of Nataraja Shiva and Saptamatrika are exhibited on the panel pictures. Bijamandal, Shahi Masjid or Mahal, Sher Khan Ki Masjid and Pisinari Ki Mandir are the coveted destinations of Udaipur.

Atkhambha (8), Chowkhambha (4), stony pillar, vault, pond and the ruins of the palace in Gyaraspur are noteworthy attractions. Gyaraspur is located at a distance of 41 km towards north- eastern side of Sanchi and can be accessed hiring a car or auto. Ruins of the temples, built during 9-10th century, would enthrall temple lovers. Watch the Buddha shrine of 6th century and Bajra Math of 10th century in Gyaraspur. The Mahadevi temple, carved out of stones in 9th century, looks like a cave. Devotees belonging to both Hindu and Jain communities pay tribute to the deity in Mahadevi temple.

Tourists can purchase various items from the Friday market of Gyaraspur.

It is advisable to hire a car from Bhopal and watch the important spots, such as, Buddha Circuit, Bhimbetka and Bhojpur.

The medieval fort and spring, located at a distance of 82 km from Sanchi, are nearby interesting spots.

Bhojpur: Astounding Lake and dotted orchards are the prime allurements of Bhopal and Bhojpur. Covering a rambling 700 square km, the largest Lake of Asia, about 28 km away towards the south- eastern side of Bhopal, was excavated by the emperor Bhoj. This gigantic Lake doesn’t exist here anymore.

Two dams (44 feet and 24 feet) were installed on the Betwa River. Due to the existence of both of these dams, an artificial Lake, covering 500 square km of straggling area, had been formed. Historical values of this Lake and the dams are immense. Later on, the entire territory is now the homeland of the city dwellers of Bhojpur.

Bhojeshwar Shiva temple, erected long back in 11th century, on the banks of the Lake, is a prime destination, especially for the spiritual people and is popularly known as the Somnath of the east. The deity, placed on the holy throne of the temple, is 2.35 meters tall and has a diameter of 6 meters. The largest Shiva idol of India was artistically carved out of a single stone. The temple, built with red sandstones, is an epitome of the ancient cultures and architectures. The main entrance and pre Muslim corbelled dome are truly excellent. 1300 architects had toiled hard for many years to build the temple.

The nearby monolithic Jain temple was an incomplete one and was built at the same time when Bhojeshwar Shiva temple was built. 6 meters tall idol of Mahavir, the founder of the Jain religion and idols of many other Jain Tirthankars are there inside this righteous temple.

Countless numbers of holy temples are spotted around the area as well.

Visit Ashapuri, about 6 km away towards the northern side of Bhojpur, to watch the grandeur of the temple of Asha Mata (mother), 11th Rudrapinda and 6 meters tall Buddha idol.

To watch the splendor of the Islampur palace, built by Dost Mohammad Khan and the grove, you have to travel to the hilltop of Islampur, about 11 km from Bhojpur.

How to reach: Sanchi railway station can be accessed from Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Bhopal and many more Indian cities. The small city of Sanchi is connected to the nearby destinations by roads as well. The best option is to hire a car if you want to visit Sanchi and its adjoining spots comfortably and quickly. The nearest airport of Sanchi is Bhopal.

Where to stay: Gateway Retreat, Sri Lanka Mahabodhi Society Rest House, Sanchi Rest House, Travelers Lodge and Railway Retiring rooms.

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