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Sanchi (India)
Red pog.svg
State : IndiaIndia India
State : Madhya Pradesh
District : Raise
Sub-district : Raise
Location : 23 ° 29 ′  N , 77 ° 44 ′  E Coordinates: 23 ° 29 ′  N , 77 ° 44 ′  E
Height : 425 m
Area : 14.4 km²
Residents : 8,401 (2011)
Population density : 583 inhabitants / km²
The "Great Stupa" of Sanchi
The "Great Stupa" of Sanchi


Sanchi ( Hindi : सांची, Sāñcī) is a town with around 8,500 inhabitants in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh . Sanchi is mainly known because of the partly from the 3rd century BC. Buddhist stupas dating back to the 3rd century BC , which are among the oldest structures of this type still in existence. Since 1989, the entire archaeological site of Sanchi has been included on the UNESCO World Heritage List .


Sanchi lies at an altitude of approx. 450 m above sea level. d. M. approx. 48 km (driving distance) north-west of the city of Bhopal and approx. 10 km south-west of the city of Vidisha , which was built in the 5th and 6th centuries BC. Was an important trading post. Sanchi has its own small train station, but only regional trains stop there; from there, the archaeological site, located on a hill nearly 60 meters high, can be reached in about 15 minutes. At the entrance to the site there is an archaeological museum with exhibits worth seeing (Ashoka capital, reliquary boxes, sculptures, etc.).


Sanchi - Buddha in lotus position , hands in meditation position ( dhyanamudra ). The sculpture from the Gupta period (approx. 400) at Stupa No. 1 shows the meditating and deeply absorbed Buddha on a lotus throne carried by two lions , from which a richly 'embroidered' stone ceiling hangs.

The eight oldest stupas in and near Sanchi (the old name of the place is 'Kakanaya' or 'Kakanadabota') as well as one of its famous columns were built during the reign of King Ashoka from the Maurya dynasty (ruled approx. 268–232 BC .) built; his wife came from the neighboring town of Vidisha. Further stupas and other religious buildings (temples, monasteries) were added - mostly as part of foundations - up to the 12th century, when Buddhism was finally almost completely displaced from India by the growing Hinduism and the advancing Islam from the west (see History of India ). After that, the Buddhist buildings were hardly noticed by the population; they were overgrown by bushes and trees and largely fell into disrepair.


In 1818 a British colonial officer, General Taylor, came across the ruins. As a result, amateur archaeologists and treasure hunters looted the sites and caused further damage until professional restoration work began in 1881. Between 1912 and 1919, under the direction of the archaeologist Sir John Marshall, further reconstruction and restoration measures were carried out, through which the buildings were brought into their present state.


The archaeological site of Sanchi comprises around 50 numbered buildings or structures, including three large and many smaller stupas as well as a number of temples and monasteries. Only the most important structures are described below. Many smaller votive stupas, memorial or honorary columns or buildings that have largely disappeared, of which only the foundations have been preserved, are ignored.

Stupa No. 1

Building history

The oldest parts of the "Great Stupa" go back to the time of King Ashoka; However, he was in the middle of the 2nd century BC. BC almost entirely rebuilt and enlarged to the current dimensions. A complete cladding made of sandstone was applied and an elevated walkway including a balustrade and a paved processional path were added. Around the year 75 BC. Four stone gates ( toranas ) with detailed reliefs followed. During the Gupta period (4th - 6th centuries) it had become common to depict the Buddha in human form, not only represented by symbols such as the "wheel of teaching" ( Sanskrit : dharmachakra ), the " footprint of the Buddha " ( buddhapada ), the Bodhi tree or the stupa. During this time, four stone sculptures of the seated and meditating Buddha were placed on the outer stupa walls that face the gates.

Sanchi - Stupa No. 1 is surrounded by a stone fence with four richly decorated arches ( toranas ).


Today's circular stupa has a diameter of 36.60 meters and a height - without the honor fence ( harmika ) and umbrella attachment ( chhatri ) - of 16.46 meters. It is surrounded by a largely decor-free stone fence ( vedika ) with four richly decorated gate entrances ( toranas ). A staircase leads to a raised walkway, which is bordered on the outside by a stone balustrade. The pradakshina of the stupa, which is so extremely important for the Buddhist worship rite, was thus possible on two levels, whereby it can be assumed that the upper level was normally reserved for monks or high-ranking and / or wealthy believers. In contrast to Stupa No. 2, no relics or votive offerings were found inside Stupa No. 1.


Mention should be made of the fact that the early Buddhist stupas did not have a square substructure, which in later buildings of this type was supposed to symbolize the limited earth space, while the infinite circular or dome shape was equated with the sky in many early cultures. The dome shape was also understood as egg ( anda ) in the Buddhist tradition or identified with Mount Meru . The screen ( chhatri ) can be seen as a pure symbol of sovereignty or as the end of a rod that is connected to the center of the universe and thus represents the world axis.


The four stone arches ( toranas ) are aligned with the four cardinal points, which underlines the universal character of the stupa and the Buddhist teaching; they were erected in quick succession because the same donor names can be found at different gates. Each of the over 8 meter high arches consists of two lateral pillars, which are connected or mortised at the top with three monolithic arches; the laterally protruding arches were made separately and only suggest a connection with the respective middle section. The overall construction seems to have been derived from - not preserved - wooden models.

Sanchi - The north gate of Stupa No. 1 is adorned with narrative reliefs and stately intended, fully plastic individual figures; only a fragment of the wheel of Buddhist teaching ( dharmachakra ), which exaggerated everything, with its formerly eight spokes has survived.

Architectural jewelry

While the pillars of the fence and balustrade were decorated with only a few decorative reliefs (flowers and animals) and a few donor inscriptions, the four Toranas are extremely richly decorated with reliefs and fully plastic figures. The reliefs mostly tell legends from the rich Buddhist tradition ( jatakas ) with stories from the countless previous existences of Gautama Buddha, who as an enlightened person ( Bodhisattva ) lived through countless lives without wanting to enter nirvana , because he - filled with love and compassion - for others Wanted to help people achieve enlightenment themselves. Buddha or Bodhisattva is not depicted in his human form, but in various forms (as an elephant, as a stupa, as a wheel, etc.). The free figures represent human (guards, servants, riders, playmates, etc.) or animal figures (lions) and are therefore essentially meant to be sovereign. Some scenes are repeated at other gates, some are unclear as to their meaning.

Stupa No. 2

Sanchi - The stupa no. 2 dates from the 2nd century BC. Chr .; There are no gate structures ( toranas ), the stone fence border with its four angled entrances is richly decorated with small bas-reliefs.


Stupa 2 stands more than 300 meters down the hill from Stupa 1. It has a well-preserved stone border - but without free-standing gate structures ( toranas ), but with four angled entrances. Its arching, which is more steeply proportioned or reconstructed compared to the other two stupas by Sanchi, has been flattened in the upper area during the extensive restoration (one can almost speak of a new construction); an umbrella attachment ( chhatri ) has not been preserved. The stupa was built in the last quarter of the 2nd century BC. Dated. During the restoration work towards the end of the 19th century, a small reliquary container with the remains of important Buddhist teachers of the 3rd century BC was found. Found, which shows the historical development of the Buddhist cult towards a 'saint' veneration - a way that should develop in the tantric Buddhism of Nepal and Tibet as well as in the Zen Buddhism of Japan. The remote and lower position of this stupa may have something to do with the less important relics.

Sanchi - Stupa No. 2 Chimera (eagle lion) and inscription

Architectural jewelry

The stone balustrade is richly decorated with flowers and animals (griffins, lions, elephants, which are often conceived as hybrids, centaurs and chimeras ), but yakshas , makaras and nagas also occur, although it should be noted that the craftsmanship of the scenes in the type of bas-relief - despite all their thematic originality - is significantly less of a quality than in the case of stupa No. 1.

In addition, there is a large number of foundation inscriptions that do not contain any clear data at the time of the foundation, but at least provide information that many Buddhist monks (and nuns) - despite the vow of dispossession - made building foundations and also non-Buddhists funds and / or provided materials for the construction of the buildings or in kind to supply the craftsmen. In addition, it was sometimes the craftsmen themselves who acted as donors, for example by working for some time without wages.

Stupa No. 3

Sanchi - The stupa no. 3 dates from the 2nd century BC. Chr .; The balustrade and gate ( torana ) were probably added in the 1st century AD.


With its diameter of about 15 meters and a height of a little over 8 meters (without an umbrella structure), stupa no. 3 is a scaled-down copy of stupa no. 1; it also has only one gate structure ( torana ). The stupa was built in the 2nd century BC. Dated; The balustrade and gateway were added later (possibly in the 1st century AD). It is often reported that during excavations and restoration work towards the end of the 19th century, a chamber covered by a large stone slab with two small inscribed reliquary boxes was found inside the stupa, in which the bones of two of the Buddha's favorite disciples ( Sariputra and Maudgalyayana ) as well as some precious stones were found and pearls lay; However, this story could also refer to the excavation carried out at the same time in the Satdhara stupa about 10 km west of Sanchi.

Architectural jewelry

The lower bar of the gateway shows a scene - playing in a rocky landscape and framed by two Naga kings and their servants or playmates - which is interpreted as 'Indra's Paradise'.

Temple No. 17


Sanchi - Temple number 17 belongs to the group of Gupta temples and dates from the early 5th century AD; it stands on a small platform and is laid flat.

Apart from the stupas, in the area of ​​the archaeological site of Sanchi there are also several free-standing stone temples, in which the Buddha was also venerated, but mostly only preserved as ruins. Temple No. 17 is one of the earliest free-standing and entirely stone-built temples in India: It belongs to the group of Gupta temples and consists of a small, windowless cella ( garbhagriha = 'mother's womb chamber') and one supported by four columns and two half-columns Vestibule ( mandapa ), which is slightly lower and smaller in size. Entering the sanctum or walking around ( pradakshina ) the former cult image by the pilgrims was not possible with this type of architecture; perhaps that is why this temple shape has not caught on in Buddhism. The temple, which is flat-roofed with large stone slabs, stands on a - comparatively low - platform that protected the structure and its visitors (pilgrims) from heavy rain (thunderstorms, monsoons ).

Architectural jewelry

The decoration is limited to the pillars of the vestibule and the door portal of the sanctum. The pillars and half-columns of the vestibule are only carved in a cubic manner in their plinth area; Above this there are octagonal and sixteen -sided column parts with channels, which end in a bell-shaped element, which in turn is elevated by a cube-shaped block and several square striker plates. The upper parts of the fighter are each adorned with four or two lions - a national emblem that can also have apotropaic (disaster-warding) meaning. The door portal is stepped inwards twice; the inner door frame shows surrounding vegetal ornaments. Figurative jewelry is missing; a Buddha figure that was found inside the temple at the end of the 19th century - sitting on a lotus throne - has disappeared.

The architectural decoration of the columns and the portal walls is a little simpler than that of the Kankali Devi temple in Tigawa (see Gupta temple ); therefore one can assume a somewhat earlier construction period (approx. 400–410).

Sanchi - The once extremely imposing temple no. 18 dates from the 7th – 10th centuries. Century; only parts of the vestibule ( mandapa ) that were once over 5 meters high have been preserved.

Temple No. 18

From temple no. 18, which stands directly next to temple no. 17 on a small platform and is still imposing due to its dimensions, a single-nave apsidal hall with an open vestibule ( mandapa ) from the 7th – 10th centuries. Century, there are only nine monolithic pillars of the more than 5 meters high and open on three sides vestibule ( mandapa ) with resting stone architrave beams. The apsidial shape of the temple is reminiscent of the preserved Chaitya halls of Buddhist cave temples, which are a circumference ( pradakshina ) of the cult image (in early Buddhist times always an aniconical stupa about 2 to 4 meters high; from the 4th or 5th century one - mostly seated - Representation of Buddha in front of a stupa) made possible by monks and pilgrims. Probably the entire building was covered by a wooden vault, which however collapsed centuries ago and initiated the structural deterioration of the temple.

Sanchi - Temple No. 45 dates from the 7th / 8th centuries. Century; the upper chamber, which can only be reached via a ladder and is covered with three heavy stone slabs, may have been used to store the temple treasures.

Temple and Monastery No. 45

The buildings, which used to be richly decorated with sculptures, originally date from the 7th or 8th century, but were renovated and expanded around 100 years later, with older parts (pillars, figures, etc.) being reused as spoilers ; the whole complex is badly ruined today. The most important part are the remains of a temple - standing on an approximately 1.50 meter high platform - with a structure above the cella ( garbhagriha ), which could have served as a treasure chamber. (Many temples had large financial resources in the form of money, gemstones, precious metals, etc., which could not be used or installed immediately and thus represented a kind of 'future security'.) On the side of the doorway there are two figural reliefs of the river goddesses Ganga and Yamuna which actually come from the Hindu world of imagination, but can also be found in Buddhist and Jain temples as door guards. Inside the cella, the image of a Buddha sitting on a lotus throne has been preserved. The former monastery area is largely in ruins.


The Sanchi archaeological complex is the only one of its kind preserved in India; Even if it does not include any cave temples, it documents the development of Buddhist architecture - and thus also Buddhist thought - over a period of almost 1500 years. In addition to the archeological site of Sarnath and the cave temples of Bhaja , Karli , Ajanta and Ellora , Sanchi is undoubtedly one of the greatest Buddhist sights in India.

For several years now, Sanchi has been visited again by Buddhist pilgrims and groups of pilgrims from other countries in Asia (above all from Japan and Sri Lanka ).


Other sights can be reached from Sanchi or Vidisha:

See also


  • Alistair Shearer: The Travelers Key to Northern India. A Guide to the Sacred Places of Northern India. Harrap Columbus, London 1983, ISBN 0-7471-0010-1 , p. 329ff.
  • Swati Mitra (Ed.): Buddhist Circuit in Central India: Sanchi, Satdhara, Sonari, Andher, Travel Guide. Eicher Goodearth 2010, ISBN 978-93-80262-05-5 , pp. 20ff.
  • Debala Mitra: Sanchi. Archaeological Survey of India , Calcutta 1984.
  • Vidya Dehejia (Ed.): Unseen Presence. The Buddha and Sanchi. Marg Publications, Mumbai 1996, ISBN 81-85026-32-7 .

Web links

Commons : Sanchi  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Sanchi - Census 2001 + 2011
  2. Sanchi - Map with altitude information