It was a hot Saturday afternoon. As beads of sweat gathered around my forehead, a group of tourists gathered near the entrance waiting for their guide. I was trying to get a good shot of the finely detailed carving but my view was obstructed with the excited crowds in front of me.
In a few minutes they exited creating a cacophony like a flock of birds taking off, and leaving a trail of silence. The sunlight cast a warm glow over the elegant stone structure. A deep stillness surrounded me as I raised my camera to take a shot.
The gravel crunched, and I saw him appear from the corner of my eye. He glided towards the structure as if in a trance and made himself comfortable on the stone floor. His eyes were transfixed on the stunning creation in stone.
It seemed that he came here often, to sketch. He was comfortable sitting on the bare floor and was oblivious to the crowds or the noise.
As a magician tries new tricks, or a stand-up comic artist comes up with a new act, this artist too opened his sketch book to create something new and different this time.
I could sense, that, this was a love affair between the artist and his muse. Even though this was a center for meditation and spirituality, for him, it was the architecture that attracted him here.
As he sketched away, he seemed to be having a conversation with his muse. The pages of his sketchbook would be filled with his creative interpretations.
It was a refreshing perspective to look at this ancient monument through his eyes. Most of us who came here had a superficial view of the structure. We only saw an ancient collection of exquisite statues, symbols and shapes.
However, this artist saw both – the beauty and the damage of time done to his muse. He appreciated every shape and curve and also held in regard the wrinkles of age and the scars. I was confident, he would come back several times to immortalize this timeless beauty in his pages.
The rays of the setting sun caught my eye and I realized that my observation had turned into brazen staring. I couldn’t help it, I was enamored with the artist’s passion.
On that hot Saturday afternoon, I had traveled to the town of Sanchi very eager to see the Stupa that featured in our history books and also on our Indian currency.
The Story of the Stupa
Emperor Asoka was a devout Buddhist and was keen to spread the Buddhist faith. He decided to build a stupa, a shrine for the relics of Buddha and his saints. It would be a stunning masterpiece in stone, befitting and honoring the memory of Buddha.
He visualized it to be a unique dome shaped structure with four gateways. Intricate carvings would decorate these gateways depicting the life of Buddha. The construction began in the 3rd century BC.
What is a stupa?
It is dome shape structure symbolizing Buddha in the enlightenment pose. Stupas are built to house relics of Buddha or his saints.
Deconstructing the Stupa
The Stupa of Sanchi is a protected monument, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is located 48 kms away from Bhopal, in the state of Madhya Pradesh, India. The Stupa was constructed over a hilltop in the village of Sanchi.
It has an upper and a lower level, with the dome in the center. A balustrade encircles the dome at both levels. A flight of stairs takes you to the upper level.
There are four gateways or entrances constructed around the dome. Each one is uniquely sculpted with fine details revealing the life of Buddha. It is a visual treat to see these images in stone.
A timeless tribute
As I witnessed the love story of this artist, I realized that there was another love story, that of the creator of the Stupa. It was Emperor Asoka’s love for Buddhism that inspired him to create a simple structure surrounded by stunning artwork, a symphony in stone.
On that hot Saturday afternoon there were two such love stories revealed to me and both had their special places in Sanchi.
Sanchi is a village 48 kms away from the city of Bhopal.
Bhopal is well connected by road, rail and air. It has an international airport.
If you have a full day in Bhopal, you can explore Sanchi Stupa and Bhimbetka caves with an add on to explore Bhopal city.
If you have FOMO, then there are other important places of interest like Udyagiri caves and Bhojpur which are worth visiting. Plan your day.
It is safe for women travelers to explore these places on their own.
It is best to hire a car as public transport is unreliable. You can contact Raja Car Services, Bhopal. Since I was travelling alone, I found their services very good and safe.
Tel: +91 99 93 37 4761.
Through my lens – Glimpses of the Stupa