The stupa was vandalized at one point sometime in the 2nd century BCE, an event some have related to the rise of the Sunga emperor Pusyamitra Sunga who overtook the Mauryan Empire as an army general.It has been suggested that Pushyamitra may have destroyed the original stupa, and his son Agnimitra rebuilt it.During the later rule of the Sunga, the stupa was expanded with stone slabs to almost twice its original size. The dome was flattened near the top and crowned by three superimposed parasols within a square railing. With its many tiers it was a symbol of the dharma, the Wheel of the Law. The dome was set on a high circular drum meant for circumambulation, which could be accessed via a double staircase. A second stone pathway at ground level was enclosed by a stone balustrade with four monumental gateways (toranas) facing the cardinal directions. The buildings which seem to have been commissioned during the rule of the Sungas are the Second and Third stupas (but not the highly decorated gateways, which are from the following Satavahana period, as known from inscriptions), and the ground balustrade and stone casing of the Great Stupa.
Satavahana periodCarved decoration of the Northern gateway to the Great Stupa of Sanchi
The gateways and the balustrade were built and appear to have been commissioned by the Satavahana. An inscription records the gift of one of the top architraves of the Southern Gateway by the artisans of the Satavahana king Satakarni:
"Gift of Ananda, the son of Vasithi, the foreman of the artisans of rajan Siri Satakarni".
DC Sircar observes that palaeographically the Hathigumpha record is slightly later than Naneghat record whereas the letters of Sanchi inscription of Satakarni resemble the script of Hathigumpha inscription. Kharavela in his inscription mentions one Satakarni, who is identified as Satakarni II, who is also identical to the one who inscribed in Sanchi. If this be true, then the dating of Sanchi gateway and balustrade will be belonging to much earlier period of 180-160 bce.
Although made of stone, they were carved and constructed in the manner of wood and the gateways were covered with narrative sculptures. They showed scenes from the life of the Buddha integrated with everyday events that would be familiar to the onlookers and so make it easier for them to understand the Buddhist creed as relevant to their lives. At Sanchi and most other stupas the local population donated money for the embellishment of the stupa to attain spiritual merit. There was no direct royal patronage. Devotees, both men and women, who donated money towards a sculpture would often choose their favourite scene from the life of the Buddha and then have their names inscribed on it. This accounts for the random repetition of particular episodes on the stupa (Dehejia 1992). On these stone carvings the Buddha was never depicted as a human figure. Instead the artists chose to represent him by certain attributes, such as the horse on which he left his father’s home, his footprints, or a canopy under the bodhi tree at the point of his enlightenment. The human body was thought to be too confining for the Buddha.
Main attraction of Sanchi Stupa:
However, the most magnificent as well as the largest one of these is the "Great Stupa of Sanchi". One of the best-preserved stupas, it is also the oldest of the existing structures in India, dating back to the Buddhist period. Encircling the Great Sanchi Stupa is a railing, with four carved gateways, each facing one of the four directions. It is believed that these gateways were carved around 100 AD. All the stupas at Sanchi, Madhya Pradesh, have a unique feature of not having any images of Lord Buddha in human form.
How to reach there:
Bhopal airport is the nearest, situated at a distance of approximately 46 km.
Nearest railway station is at Vidisha, approximately 10 km from Sanchi.
Sanchi is well connected to Bhopal, Vidisha and Indore through well-laid road network.