Sanchi, in the state of Madhya Pradesh, is globally renown for its many stupas, monasteries, temples and pillars dating from the 3rd century B.C. to the 12th century A.D. The most famous amongst these, the Sanchi Stupa 1, was built by the Mauryan Emperor Ashoka, the then governor of Ujjaini. His daughter and son, Sanghamitra and Mahindra respectively, were sent to Sri Lanka where they converted the king, queen and the local people to Buddhism. 

A Chunar sandstone pillar fragment lies near the Stupa 1, and carries the famous Ashoka edict warning against any kind of fracture in the Buddhist community. The Sanchi Hill works up in shelves, with Stupa 2 on a lower shelf, while Stupa 1, Stupa 3, a 5th century Gupta temple No.17, and a 7th century No.18 lie at a middle shelf, and the apex of the hill crowned by a later monastery. The elaborate gateways of Stupa 1, built in the 1st century by the Satavahanas, are the greatest instances of ancient classical art. These are carved with tales of the Buddha's past and present lives, and with anecdotes from the subsequent history of Buddhism. These in a way, provided the inspiration for later Indian art. The Gupta temple No.17, was deemed as one of the most logically designed structures in Indian architecture, by Sir John Marshall. It embodied all the principles, that were necessary in the construction of a medieval Indian temple. Neighbouring monuments like the 2nd century B.C. Heliodoros pillar, the 5th century A.D. Udayagiri caves and the Lohangi hill monuments, in the town of Vidisha, are placed within 10 km of Sanchi, and are of great historical interest.

Sanchi is, undoubtedly, a landmark in Indian history, specifically the part which deals with the nurture and subsequent flowering of Buddhism.

Places to See 

The oldest stone structure in India, the great Stupa No. 1, is almost 16 m high, with a huge hemispherical dome, still retaining its old grandeur. The toranas, or gateways that surround this Stupa are the earliest and finest known specimens of Buddhist art. Here, the Buddha is portrayed in symbols: the lotus representing his birth, the tree his enlightenment, the wheel derived from the title of his first sermon, the footmarks and throne representing his presence. These are considered the greatest of all Buddhist toranas and counter - balance the sheer bulk of the stupa they surround. The Eastern Gateway depicts the dream, that Buddha's mother had before his birth and also the young prince, Siddhartha, leaving his father's palace and the lifestyle that it represents, on his journey towards enlightenment. The Western Gateway portrays the 7 incarnations of the Buddha. The Northern Gateway, crowned by a wheel of law, depicts the miracles associated with Buddha, as told in the jatakas. The Southern Gateway portrays the birth of Gautama in a series of elaborate carvings.

Stupa No.2 lies at the edge of the hill, and its most notable aspect is the stone balustrade that encircles it. Stupa No.3 is placed near the Great Stupa No.1. The hemispherical dome is crowned with an umbrella of polished stone, which is religiously symbolic. The relics of Sariputta and Mahamogallena, two of Buddha's earliest disciples, were discovered in its inner chamber.

The great Ashoka pillar, as mentioned earlier, lies close to the Southern Gateway, and is renown for its incredible structural balance, and artistic design apart from the vital message that it carries. The Buddhist Vihara, a modern day monastery, enshrines the sacred relics of the Satdhara Stupa, in a glass casket on a platform, in its inner sanctum. The Great Bowl is a huge bowl carved out of one block of stone, which contained the food that was distributed amongst the monks of Sanchi. The Gupta Temple, built in 5th century A.D. is one of the earliest known specimens of Indian temple architecture. 

Below the Sanchi Hill, the Archaeological Survey of India Museum houses invaluable antiquities, like the lion capital of the Ashoka pillar, and metal objects used by the monks, and other ancient stone sculptures dating back to 3rd century B.C.  

Some of the greatest thinkers of India are