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SANCHI
Sanchi is located 46 km north east of Bhopal in Madhya Pradesh. Sanchi is famous for its stupas, monolithic Asokan pillar, temples, monasteries and sculptural wealth dating from the 3rd century BCE to the 12th CE and is one of the important places of Buddhist pilgrimage. It was Emperor Asoka who laid the foundations of a religious centre at Sanchi. He erected the Great Stupa (Stupa 1) here after redistribution of mortal remains of Lord Buddha for erecting several stupas all over the country in order to spread Buddhism. The 'Great Stupa' at Sanchi is the oldest stone structure in India which was originally commissioned by Emperor Ashoka in the 3rd century BCE. Its nucleus was a simple hemispherical brick structure built over the relics of the Buddha. It was crowned by the chatra, a parasol-like structure symbolising high rank, which was intended to honour and shelter the relics. The construction work of this stupa was overseen by Ashoka's wife, Devi herself, who was the daughter of a merchant of Vidisha. Sanchi was also her birthplace as well as the venue of her and Ashoka's wedding. In the 1st century BCE, four profusely carved ornamental gateways and a balustrade encircling the whole structure was added.

From the second to fourth century AD Sanchi and Vidisha came under the Kushanas and Kshatrapas and subsequently passed on to the hands of the Guptas. During the Gupta period some temples were also built and sculptures were added displaying the classical grace and simplicity of the era. Further, statues of Lord Buddha seated in the canopies facing the four entrances of the Great Stupa were also added. Sanchi also flourished during the 7th - 12th centuries AD when shrines and monasteries were continued to be added. Thus Sanchi displays harmonious co-existence of Hindu and Buddhist faiths.

Sanchi is a World Heritage site and is well maintained and open to public viewing from sunrise to sunset.
AMRAVATI
Amravati is a town located on the banks of the Krishna River in Guntur district of Andhra Pradesh. It was the capital of the Satavahanas, the first great dynasty of the Andhra kings who ruled between 2nd century BC to the 3rd century CE. Amravati was also once amongst the four major learning centres in India which attracted a large number of students from all over the world. It gave impetus to the development of art, architecture, and trade and was instrumental in spreading Buddhism to the east coast. The town was the site of a great Buddhist stupa originally built during the reign of emperor Ashoka. It was completed in 200 CE and is decorated with carved panels which tell the story of Buddha's life. The region between Krishna and Godavari rivers was an important place for Buddhism from the 2nd century BCE and some ancient sculpture in low relief has been found here. The stupa was then adorned with limestone reliefs and free standing Buddha figures. During the period of the decline of Buddhism, this stupa was also neglected and it was buried under rubble. Around the year 1796 CE, Colonel Colin Mackenzie, who visited the site twice, prepared drawings and sketches of the relics in the area. Eventually, several European excavated the site and unearthed many sculptures that once adorned the stupa. Many bas-relief medallions and paneled friezes decorated the Amaravati stupa. Similar to Sanchi Stupa, the stupa was decorated with carvings of life and teachings of Buddha and events of Jataka Stories. The 95 ft tall stupa was made of brick with a circular dome and platforms protruding in four cardinal directions. Recent excavations have revealed remains of an Ashokan pillar, the first such example of Mauryan art to be found in South India. This stupa is related to the Vajrayana teachings of Kalachakra, still practiced today in Tibetan Buddhism. According to the Kalachakra tantra texts, Suchandra, the King of Shambhala and many of his retinue received the initiation into this practice by the historical Buddha. For this reason, the Dalai Lama conducted a Kalachakra initiation at this location in 2006. Art historians regard the Amaravati art as one of the three major styles or schools of ancient Indian art, the other two being the Gandhara style and the Mathura style. Some of the Buddhist sculptures of Amaravati betray a Greco-Roman influence that was the direct result of the close trade and diplomatic contacts between South India and the ancient Romans.
PLACES OF INTEREST


The Amravati Stupa

Also known as the Mahachaitya Stupa, the Amravati Stupa happens to be the largest stupa in the country. Today, only remains of the stupa can be seen.




Ashokan Pillar

Excavations in Amravati have also unearthed the ruins of an Ashokan Pillar which is perhaps the first example of the Mauryan art in south India.


Amravati Museum

A small but interesting museum in Amravati display exhibits that range between 3rd century BC to 12th century AD. Some of the finest exhibits include statues of the Buddha with lotus symbols on his feet, curled hair and long ear lobes. Apart from this, there are also limestone sculptures of goddess Tara and bodhisattva Padmapani. A whole lot of other Buddhist sculptures that were excavated from here now adorn the Chennai Government Museum and the British Museum in London.

The Amareswara Temple

This temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva and houses a 15 feet high white marble Shiva Lingam. On the four sides of the temple are huge gopurams in a typically Dravidian temple architectural style. As per a legend, the temple was initially a Buddhist one and was converted into a Hindu one only later. The walls of the temple have a number of inscriptions that tell us about the various kings who held power in the area.

 
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