Sanchi, about 50 km from Bhopal, the capital of Madhya Pradesh, is a world heritage site. Along with other relatively small stupas, there are three main stupas at Sanchi. Stupa-1 is presumed to have the relics of the Buddha, Stupa-2, the relics of ten less famous arhats belonging to three different generations. Their names are found on the relic casket. Stupa-3 has the relics of Sariputta and Mahamougalayana.
Stupa-1, known for the carvings on its gateways is one of the finest examples of stupa architecture. Originally the stupa was small brick structure which expanded over a period and was covered with stone, vedika and the torana (gateways). The Ashokan lion- capital pillar with an inscription is found on the southern side of the stupa, indicating how Sanchi became a centre of monastic and artistic activities.
The south gateway was made first followed by the others. The pradakshinapath around the stupa is covered with the vedika. There is also the upper pradakshinapath which is unique to this site. The four gateways are decorated profusely with sculptures. Buddha is shown symbolically as an empty throne, feet, chhatra, stupas, etc. Toranas are constructed in all four directions.
Their stylistic differences indicate their possible chronology from the first century BCE onwards. Though Stupa-1 is the oldest stupa, the carving of images on the vedica of Stupa-2 are earlier than those on Stupa-1. Jatakas also become an important part of the narratives in stupas. The figures at Sanchi, despite being small in dimension, show considerable mastery of sculpting. Their physiognomic. treatment of the body shows both depth and dimension which are very naturalistic.
There are guardian images on pillars and the shalbhanjika (i.e., lady holding the branch of a tree) sculptures are remarkable in their treatment of volume. The rigidity of the earlier sculptures of Stupa2 is no more there. Each torana consists of two vertical pillars and three horizontal bars on the top: Each horizontal bar is decorated with different sculptural themes on the front as well as at the back. Supporting the extensions of the lowermost horizontal bar from below are the images of shalbhanjikas.