Sanchi is the site of some of India’s most important Buddhist temples. The oldest of these were built by King Ashoka after he converted to Buddhism in roughly 258BCE. Altogether there are fifty monuments at Sanchi, including three stupas and several other temples.
The largest building constructed by Ashoka is the Great Stupa, 16 metres high and 37 metres in diameter. It has as its nucleus a simple hemispherical brick structure built over some relics of the Buddha. The Great Stupa is crowned by a chhatra, a parasol-like structure symbolising high rank, which was intended to honour and shelter the relics. Four carved gateways, or Toranas, are found at the cardinal points around the stupa. The Toranas exhibit the most intricate and delicate carving and are supposed to be the oldest stone sculptures in India. These carvings show episodes from Buddha’s life and what are believed to be early Indian royal palaces. Sanchi is nearly 60 km from Bhopal in the state of Madhya Pradesh. The site first came to the attention of Western historians when the British officer, General Taylor, documented its existence in 1818. Sadly, it was ravaged by amateur archaeologists and treasure hunters until 1881 when proper restoration work was initiated. Between 1912 and 1919 the structures were restored to their present condition under the supervision of Sir John Marshall.
The monuments at Sanchi have been on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites since 1989, so that they can be preserved for future generations to enjoy.