Dating from the 3rd century BC to the 2nd century AD, the stupas at Sanchi exemplify a high water mark in Buddhist art and sculpture.
Just 46 kms from Bhopal, Sanchi is renowned for its monuments representing various Buddhist architectural styles, the stupas, the chaitya temple, and the monasteries.
The city's history can be traced back to as early as the third century when Buddhism was at its peak and Emperor Ashoka, who had embraced Buddhism, was at the zenith of his power and glory.
The period of 3rd century BC -12th century AD, which saw Buddhism flourishing under the patronage of Emperor Ashok, was marked by the construction of magnificent rural monuments that speak volumes of both the fine craftsmanship of the time and the vision and foresightedness of the ruler.
Undoubtedly the most outstanding of these are the world's renowned stupas of Sanchi designated as the World Heritage Site for their archaeological and historical importance.
Of these, the most famous and well known is Stupa-1, originally built by emperor Ashoka.
In India, this stupa is known to be the oldest stone sculpture, measuring 36.
5 m in diameter and 16.
4 in height with a massive hemispherical dome.
Around the stupa is a paved procession path which has been traversed by pilgrims over the centuries.
Close to the Stupa is a chunar sandstone pillar fragment with the proverbial Mauryan polish and bearing the famous edict of Ashoka, warning the occurrence of any schism in the Buddhist community.
Surrounding the great stupas are the four gateways acclaimed as masterpieces of early Buddhist art.
Built in the 1st century BC they bear carvings depicting legends and stories portraying the various phases of the Buddha's life, through symbols such as the Lotus, (representing his birth), the Tree (enlightenment), and the Wheel derived from the title of his first sermon and the Footprints, as well as those symbolizing his physical presence.
The exquisite carvings combined with the surrounding figures together present a fitting balance to the massive solidity of the stupa that they encircle.
The gateways Comprise: a) the eastern gateway depicting the seven incarnations of the Buddha, b) the northern gateway bound by a wheel of law which depicts the miracles associated with what Buddha had mentioned in the Jatakas and the southern gateway representing the birth of Gautama which is recreated in a series of delicate carvings.
The second stupa stands at the very edge of the hill, and its distinction is the stone balustrade that forms a ring around the stupa.
The third stupa is located close to the Great Stupa (Stupa 1).
Resembling a hemispherical dome this stupa is crowned with an umbrella of polished stones, which is indicative of its religious significance.
The stupa's innermost chamber contains the relics of the Buddha's Earliest disciples.
Standing close to the Southern Gateway of the Great Stupa is the famous pillar known for its highly aesthetic design and impressive structured balance.
Apart from the Stupas that stand as eloquent symbols of the Buddhist architecture at its best, there are other places of religious significance such as the Buddhist Vihara, the Great Bowl, the Gupta temple and the archaeological museum.
The 'Buddhist Vihara are the sacred relics of the stupa locate d a short distance away from Sanchi.
They have been enshrined in a glass gasket on a platform installed in the inner sanctum of this modem monastery.
The Great Bowl - as the name implies - is a mammoth bowl carved out of a stone bloc which contained food that was distributed among the monks residing in the city.
The Gupta temple (now in ruins) belonging to the 3rd century AD, provides one of the earliest known examples of temple architecture of this period.
Located in its vicinity, the museum showcases some of the rare antiquities of the time that include the lion symbol of the Ashokan pillar and the metal objects used by the monks and discovered during the excavations in Sanchi.