Mahendra, son of Ashoka is said to have visited his mother in Vidisa who took him up to the beautiful monastery of Vedisagiri built by herself. The above lines found in the Chronicles of Srilanka remain the only testament to the connection between the Maurya’s and Sanchi.
The foundation of the great religious establishment at Sanchi can be attributed to Ashoka (273 – 236 BC). Selection of the hill top to build the stupa might be to give a concrete shape to the newly aroused zeal for Buddhism in the emperor, who is said to have opened up seven out of eight original stupas erected over the body-relics of Buddha and to have distributed the relics among innumerable stupas built by himself all over his empire.
Preservation efforts for this World Heritage Site started in the 19th century. Most of the monuments had to rebuilt with scattered remains. I found the site to be clean and well maintained.
In the 1st century BC, the Shungas built the structure that we see today, which encases a 3rd century BC Ashokan core. The toranas were added by Satavahana kings in the 1st century AD.
The Western slope clarifies the standard ground plan of a courtyard monastery. The monks’ cells are carefully arranged around a paved central courtyard. The main entrance faces east, towards the bottom of the photo, and was originally fronted by a row of columns whose four bases are barely visible in front of the buttressed entryway.
Stupa 2 on the Western slope dates to the 2d century BC. It is plainer than Stupas 1 and 3, lacking toranas and harmika. However, it does have some interesting medallions carved on the balustrade posts. Decorations include flowers and vegetation, various sorts of real and imagined animals, horsemen, yakshas, and kinnaras.
Stupa 3 was originally constructed in the 2d century BC, and repaired and enlarged in the 1st century BC – 1st century AD, in tandem with but lagging the more important Stupa 1. Stupa 3 is smaller and poorer than its more famous relative, having only one chattra and gateway. However, when opened in 1851, Stupa 3 was found to contain reliquary caskets inscribed with the names of Sariputasa and Mahamogalanasa, two men who were disciples (known as the Elders of the Right and Left Hand) of the Buddha during his lifetime. The caskets contained beads and fragments of bone. They are preserved in a modern temple on site, where they are exhibited to the faithful annually for one day each December. This has become a pilgrimage day for numerous visitors from Southeast Asia and Japan.
Toranas (Gateways Of Stupa 1):
The detailed explanation of the north gateway can be found here.
The detailed explanation of the west gateway can be found here.
The detailed explanation of the south gateway can be found here.
The detailed explanation of the east gateway can be found here.
Sati Stones: (Yet another proof that sati was prevalent even before the islamic invasion)
The Sati stones are found all over the Malwa regions, perhaps signifying the presence of this practice. The stones are now preserved in the Museum.
Other Places Of Interest Near Sanchi
Udaigiri Caves: Five kilometers from Sanchi Hill are some 20 Gupta cave shrines dating from reign of Chandragupta II (AD 382-401). The highlight of the caves is the spectacular carvings of Vishnu’s Boar incarnation.
Heliodorus Pillar: The Heliodorus pillar (Khamba Baba) was erected by Greek ambassador Heliodorus around 140 BC and dedicated to Vasudeva. The pillar is worshiped by local fishermen.