The Great Stupa

The Great Stupa- Sanchi, Madhya Pradesh

The Great Stupa
The Great Stupa

The Great Stupa is not only an important Buddhist monument but also one of the oldest stone structure in India. The stupa is a Sanskrit term that means ‘heap’. It was built by Emperor Ashoka in honor of Lord Buddha in 3rd century BCE. The Stupa was built during the Mauryan period. It is located in Sanchi, Madhya Pradesh. It has its listing in UNESCO’s world heritage sites. It is believed that this Stupa houses ashes of Buddha.

Originally the Stupa was a simple structure. However, it got destroyed in the 2nd century BCE. The Stupa reached its final form after repairing and enlarging it in the 1st century BCE. Currently, the Stupa is 54 feet high and 120 feet high.

The Great Stupa is located 46 km north-east of Bhopal, on the capital city of Madhya Pradesh, India. One can visit the Stupa from Sunrise to Sunset.  The Stupa remains open for visitors from 8 am to 5 pm.

What is the architecture of The Great Stupa?

Every Stupas has three identical features.

  • Anda (hemispherical mound): The Anda is a dome-shaped mound of dirt. It was made to cover Buddha’s remains. The earliest Stupas contained actual relics of the Buddha. With time, the hemispherical mound has got a grander symbolic meaning. It represents the mountain home of the gods at the center of the universe.
  • Harmika (A square railing): The Anda is surrounded by a Harmika. It represents the world mountain. It is inspired by a square railing or fence that surrounded the mound of dirt, marking it as a sacred burial site.
  • Chattra (A central pillar supporting a triple-umbrella form): The Chattra is a triple umbrella structure. It represents the three Jewels or Triantha of Buddhism—the Buddha, the Dharma (doctrine), and the Sangha (community). These three Jewels are the keys to a true understanding of the faith It was placed over the mound to protect it from the elements.

The other unique features of the Sanchi Stupa is:

  • Medhi (A circular terrace): Medhi is a circular terrace. It is surrounded by a similar three-bar railing. The railing supports the Anda and raises it off the ground.  It likely served as a platform for ritual practice.
  • Toranas(wall with decorated gateways): The wall is marked in light blue highlights. The toranas are marked in yellow. Torans are the wall that surrounds the entire structure, with its trademark three horizontal stone bars. The Toranas of the Great Stupa are the greatest achievement of Sanchi sculpture. Each gateway is made up of two squared posts. These posts are topped by capitals of sculptured animals or dwarfs, which are surmounted by three architraves.

All the elements are covered with relief sculpture that depicts the events of the Buddha’s life. There are Jataka stories -about the Buddha’s previous lives, scenes of early Buddhism, and auspicious symbols. The names of donors are also inscribed. The most notable is the ivory workers of  Vidisha.

What is the significance of The Great Stupa?

Stupas were made to remind the Buddhist practitioner of the Buddha and his teachings. These were made almost 2,500 years after Buddha’s death. The practice of building stupas spread with the Buddhist doctrine to Nepal and Tibet, Bhutan, Thailand, Burma, China and the United States where large Buddhist communities are centered.

Building Stupas has Karmic benefits for the Buddhists. Karma plays a key role in Buddhism and Hinduism. Karma means the energy generated by a person’s actions and the ethical consequences of those actions. A Buddhists believe that building a Stupa would help them be born in a good location and they will not suffer from extreme poverty.

Buddhists visit Stupas to perform rituals that help them to understand the Buddha’s teachings. Buddha’s teachings are pointed in Four Noble Truths. Once a person fully understands The Four Noble Truths, they are able to achieve Enlightenment  (the complete knowledge of the dharma).

The Four Noble Truths are:

  • Life is suffering. Suffering means Rebirth.
  • The cause of suffering is Desire.
  • The cause of desire must be overcome.
  • When desire is overcome, there is no more suffering.

Buddha means ‘The Enlightened One’. Buddhist practitioners seek the knowledge that the Buddha gained on his way to achieving Enlightenment.

Sanchi Stupa
Sanchi Stupa

What are the timings of The Great Stupa?

  • The Great Stupa is open for the visitors on all days.
  • The timings are from 8:30 AM – 5:30 PM.

What are the entry fees of the Great Stupa?

The entry fees of the Great Stupa is:

  • Entry fee for Indians: Rs. 10.
  • Entry fee for Foreigners: Rs. 250.
  • Entry fee for Children up to 15 years: Free.

What is the best time to visit The Great Stupa?

  • The best time to visit Sanchi Stupa is during the months of November to March. Majority of the festivals take place during this time.
  • The climate of the great Stupa remains moderately hot throughout the year.
  • Avoid making a trip during the hot summer months.

How to reach The Great Stupa?

  • Air: Nearest airport for reaching Sanchi stupas is Raja Bhoj airport at Bhopal city. Sanchi lies in 55 km north-east of Bhopal airport.
  • Train:  The nearest railway station is Bhopal. It is connected with direct trains from major cities.
  • Road:  Sanchi is well connected by road with other cities. It lies on Bhopal-Sagar state highway.

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