Sanchi Buddhist Pilgrimage
Location : 47km NE of Bhopal
1989, Sanchi was included on the World heritage list and is a
must-stop for the millions of devout Buddhists who come to India, from
all corners of the world, every year for pilgrimage.
Buddha himself never came to Sanchi; however in the tranquil
stillness of the place he seems closer than in any of the other famous
places of religious pilgrimage which still follow Hinayana Buddhism,
the original form of the religion or philosophy whatever you
prefer to call it. Sanchi offers a lovely view of the surrounding
countryside and sitting under the trees in the bright sunshine, it is
easy to understand why so many have gone away so moved and touched by
this ancient village.
Even if religion isnt your thing, Sanchi is good place to just
unwind and relax, or explore if you should so wish, as comparatively
few people venture here.
Sanchi can easily be visited by car for a ½-day trip from
Bhopal. The road out of Bhopal runs along the railway and once in the
countryside the Vindhya Hills lie bang to your right the higher
ground all covered in low scrub jungle, the flat lowland cultivated.
¤ History of Sanchi
Sanchi emerges from obscurity to take centrestage as a hub for, first
travelling merchants and then, Buddhist pilgrims rather early in Indias
Sanchi had, even before it caught the eye of a certain king who made
it famous, always been a bustling village, or rather travellers
Because, about 7km away, is Vidisha which had always been a strategic
trade centre and a thriving town throughout history.
In fact Sanchis ancient name was Vidishagiri, the hill of
In the ancient Indian times, majority of the merchants of Vidisha
It is easy to see why Buddhism might have appealed to the
level-headed businessmen of Vidisha it was a way of life that
was not burdened by caste restrictions and gave to everyone the
freedom to attain the respectability which comes with wealth and
We are told that rich merchants and patrons from Vidisha opened their
ample coffers to pour in the money to sustain the religious life and
building activity at Sanchi, dated around 2nd century BC
to 1st century AD. For the Buddhist monks too the location
was ideal. They could live in the calm and peaceful sanctuary of
Sanchi (also called Chaitya-giri, the hill of Chaitya prayer halls)
and walk to Vidisha, according to the tenets of Buddhism, to beg for
alms and their daily food.
¤ The Formation of The City
The story behind the making of Sanchi and its stupas is however
nothing less than a fairy tale and its a substantiated
the merchants of Vidisha decided to convert Sanchi into a Buddhist
retreat, they went to famous Mauryan King (then governor of Ujjaini of
which Vidisha formed a part) Piyadasi Asoka (215 BC) before he
became the most famous convert to Buddhism to ask him to grant
them the land. Asoka not only agreed, but also decided to take a
personal interest in the building activity.
Upto this point Asokas interest can be safely put down to a
kings (even a would-be) natural love for building and plain
curiosity, but mark the sequel.
When he came to Vidisha, the prince fell in love with the beautiful
Devi, the daughter of one of the most powerful merchants of Vidisha.
The love was returned and it is said that it is because of this
connection that Asoka started to take a serious interest in Buddhism.
To honour his ladyloves faith the prince started playing an
active role in the building of Sanchi, giving out generous grants in
form of both money and kind.
The love story meanwhile continued against the backdrop of the
building of Sanchi during which time Asoka also succeeded to the
Although they had two children, Asoka and Devi never married as she
refused to move to Patliputta (the kings capital, now Patna in
Bihar), choosing to stay in Vidisha instead.
She gave two reasons for this. Firstly because she preferred to stay
out of the intricate royal politics of the centre and secondly,
Vidisha was where her religious and community work was based and she
was reluctant to abandon that. One suspects that the first might have
been the real reason, because what with Asoka already having so many suitable
queens and Devi being an outsider, its hardly
conceivable that she would have been warmly accepted as the chief
queen in the capital.
Devi was wise to anticipate complex royal intrigue and wiser
still to choose to stay away from it all.
Many years later it was her children, Mahindra and Sanghamitta, who
led the famous royal embassy that Asoka sent to the island of Sri
lanka to carry the message of the Buddha.
¤ The Rediscovery of The Site
As the centuries rolled on, Buddhism was gradually absorbed back into
Hinduism. and so for many years the site decayed and was eventually
completely forgotten. In 1818 General Taylor, a British officer
accidentally rediscovered the site the year before Ajanta Caves
However this proved to be almost its undoing, for in the following
years amateur archaeologists and greedy treasure seekers did immense
damage to Sanchi.
A proper restoration was carried out in 1881 and finally, between
1912 and 1919, the structures were carefully repaired and restored to
their present condition by Sir John Marshall the hero of the
Indus Valley civilization.