Great Stupa at Sanchi
The Great Stupa at Sanchi is the largest of the stupas that crown the hill of Sanchi in India. Like all stupas, the Great Stupa was once a burial mound, though now it is a symbol for Buddhism. The Great Stupa is both a burial mound for relics and a symbol representing Buddha himself. It is meant to show the Final Dying, the release from the Buddhist belief in the wheel of life and death. This is why the Great Stupa, and other stupas, has circular rails surrounding the egg shaped mound.
The egg shape represents the World Egg that supports the Heavens and is covered by the Heavens. The mound rests on a platform that is aligned to all four cardinal points and the stupa represents the axis of the Earth holding up Heaven. There are also three ‘umbrella’ structures going up the mound, meant to represent Buddha, Dharma, and Sanghai. Then all along the mound and around it there are elaborate statues of Buddha that were erected around 450 BCE.
The Great Stupa is the most elaborate and one of the oldest of all the stupas in Sanchi. It was built as part of eight stupas that were built by Emperor Ashoka in the second century BCE. Ashoka became a devoted Buddhist after around 258 BCE and his rule concerned itself with the ethics of Buddhism and spreading its doctrine all around India and its neighbors.
The Great Stupa was one of his testaments to his faith in Buddhism and though it underwent a great deal of vandalism after his reign, especially as Buddhism decayed in the area, it was restored and built up from its original foundations in the early part of the twentieth century when the site was found again.