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06 January 2013

Totagamuwa Vihara, Telwatte

Purana Totagamuwa Raja Maha Vihara
At modern Telwatte (pronounced th-el-what-the) on the south-west coast of Sri Lanka, lies an old Buddhist Monastery that was once one of the great universities of southern Asia. It is the Purana Totagamuwa Raja Maha Vihara (Ancient Totagamuwa Royal Great Monastery), and stands at the centre of the ancient village-complex of Totagamuwa (pronounced thot-a-gum-oo-were). On the premises are archaeological remains and early modern Buddhist art, including the only statue in Sri Lanka of Ananga, the South Asian Cupid. 

The vihara is the cult centre in lowland regions of the god Natha, for whom there is a shrine as well as a statue in the main image house.
God Natha
Natha is said to be the Bodhisatva Avalokiteshvara and his name means 'no form' and also 'Lord'. He was the guardian god of Sri Lanka and the State. His worship faltered after the collapse of the Kandyan kingdom in 1815.

In addition to its Dutch-period  and British period Buddhist art and architecture, the Totagamuwa Vihara has been a significant player in Sri Lanka's lively religious past and is well worth the visit.

Getting there

The Totagamuwa Vihara is located a little  inland, off the 91st kilometre post on the Galle Road. It can be reached via the Kurundugahahetkme exit of the Southern Expressway, via Ambalangoda or via Batapola. It is within easy walking distance of the Telwatte Railway Station.
Map of Totagamuwa
The monastery is within easy reach of the many hotels in Hikkaduwa and is also accessible from the Bentota and Ahungalle resort areas.

Ancient roots


The monastery was said to have been founded by the Norman King William the Conqueror’s long-lived Sri Lankan contemporary King Vijayabahu I, who founded the Vijayaba Pirivena (Vijayabahu Buddhist University) on the site in c. 1055-1110. However, it is possible that a monastery had existed on this site much earlier. 
Stone inscription from ancient monastery
The ancient chronicle the Culavamsa (Part II) mentions a long pasada (palace) of 20 metres (created by King Vijaya Bahu III (1232-1236 A.D). It was renovated by King Parakrama Bahu VI (1410-1468), as related by the Culawamsa (Tr. Geiger):
In the vihara of Titthagama where the big, long pasada [palace] forty-five cubits in size, erected by the great Vijayabahu, had fallen into decay, King Parakkamabahu himself built a beautiful, long pasada of thirty cubits in size, two storeys high, provided with lofty spires, glorious with bright-hued painting, and assigned it then to the venerable Grand thera Kayasatti who dwelt in the Vijayabahu-parivena. He also granted him a village, called Salaggama, on the banks of the river forming the boundary (of the monastery), making it a possession of the parivena. In fair Titthagama he had a park laid down, provided with five thousand cocopalms.
By way of comparison, the Bible (I Kings 6.2) mentions that the Temple of Jerusalem built by Solomon was sixty cubits long.

The park with its cocopalms represents one of the earliest mentioned coconut plantations in the world - the earliest was possibly that laid out by King Aggabodhi I (5th-6th century AD) near Mannar.
Goddess Tara (British Museum)
In the Kotte era (1410-1597), the Vijayaba Pirivena was one of the most famous universities in the Orient, teaching Sinhala, Tamil, Pali and Sanskrit language and literature as well as Buddhist philosophy. At this time the Vijayaba Pirivena also taught Mahayanic and Tantric practices and dabbled in sorcery and astrology; it instituted the worship of Mahayana-derived deities, such as Natha, Tara, and Vibishana. Reference 

Totagamuwe Sri Rahula

The celebrated poet-monk Totagamuwe Sri Rahula (1408-1491) was the chief incumbent during the rule of his paternal uncle King Parakramabahu VI. He was born Wickremasundara Kumara Jayabahu to Prince Jayamahaladana Kumara Wickremabahu (otherwise known as Demeta Kumara - Bushbeech Prince) and the Keerawella Princess Sunethra, in Demetenna in what is now the Kegalle District.
Ven Totagamuwe Sri Rahula, from a  stamp issued in 1977
He was the author of some of the most celebrated poetical work of mediæval Sinhala literature, including the Kavya Sekeraya, the Paravi Sandesaya and the Sælalihini Sandesaya. Learned in seven languages, he espoused unorthodox and Mahayanist beliefs, including 'white magic', contending that the central problem of Buddhism, the alleviation of human suffering, required any help it was possible to obtain, including that of deities. He appears to have believed that Natha was his personal deity (ishta devata).

Sri Rahula was involved in a controversy with a contemporary, more orthodox practitioner of Theravada Buddhism, the author of the poetical Buddhist work, the Loweda Sangarawa, Ven. Vidagama Maitreya, who argued that the aid of deities was unnecessary to liberation from suffering, and who hence condemned their cults. This controversy has come down in folk-lore as personal animosity between Sri Rahula and his guru, Maitreya.

In the third line of the first stanza of the Loweda Sangarawa, it says the Buddha is

 Thith ganandura duralana dinidanan
(The Lord of the day - the sun - who dispels the thick darkness of heresy)
The ancient Sinhala for 'heresy', thith, comes from the Jain Sanskrit word for a 'crossing over', thirtha (which in Sinhala has the same secondary meaning of  'a sacred place'),  for which the Pali is thith - having the same root as in thitthagama. Maitreya may have been indulging in a pun, as 'Thith gam andura' means 'the darkness of Tithagama/Totagamuwa'.
Incidentally, the phrase Thith ganandura has come down to modern Sinhala idiom as 'thittha kalu' (bitter black) congruent with the English 'pitch dark'.

Body of St Francis Xavier
There are many who believe that Sri Rahula gained his knowledge by drinking an overdose of 'Saraswathi' oil (Saraswathi is the goddess of music, arts,culture and knowledge). Hence his body did not decay after death. The Portuguese, it is said, took his body and, substituting it for the body of St Francis Xavier, laid it to rest at the Basilica of Bon Jesu in Goa. There are several variants of this legend, such as this example, including - interestingly - some Roman Catholic ones!

Modern era

In the 16th century, the superstitious Portuguese conquistadors destroyed the monastery and the university, killing many monks in the process. Apparently only several stone inscribed pillars have survived this destruction.
Inscribed stone pillars from the original Vihara

In 1765, the Ven. Wehella Dhammadinna Thera recognised some of the ruins and instructed his pupil Ven. Pallatara Punyasara remain there and resurrect the temple. In 1772 it was the scene of the first ceremony of higher ordination to take place outside the auspices of the Siam sect. 
Ven Hikkaduwe Sri Sumangala (right) with US colonel Henry S Olcott
In 1840 the Ven. Hikkaduwe Sri Sumangala, a star of the Buddhist-Christian Panadura debate, the first principal of the Vidyodaya Buddhist College in Colombo and a leading figure in the Buddhist revival, was accepted into the order here - the building at which this occurred still exists.

Buildings and art

The modern monastery contains the following buildings: 

Purana Buduge (Old Image House)

Completed in 1799, this was the original image house built under Ven Punyasara. It lies between the new image house and the dagoba.
Purana Buduge (Old Image House)

The outer passageway surrounding the inner sanctum contains a fresco representation of the mara yuddhe (the Mara War, in which the Buddha is assailed by the armies of Death, the Buddhist equivalent of Satan). 
Mara Yuddhe (the Mara War)
The inner sanctum contains statues of the Buddha, representing him conventionally in the standing (educative), sitting or Samadhi (meditative) and recumbent or Nirvana (absolute perfection of the process of liberation). The Buddha statues appear to be newer than the older frescoes, probably replacing the originals. The recumbent Buddha is stylistically older (early modern) than the other two, and may merely be a restoration of the original.
Recumbent Buddha from Old Image House

Recently, several of the original Dutch-period frescos in this building, which had later been painted over with newer frescos) have come to light, notably one of the Buddha's two main disciples, the Arahant Moggallana, who is seen worshipping the standing Buddha.
The Arahant Moggallana
There are also several other frescos, notably of the Jataka story which explains the 'hare in the moon', the Oriental equivalent of the 'man in the moon'. Also notable are the fading fresco of god Vishnu and the exquisitely painted ceiling of the inner sanctum.

Aluth Buduge (New Image House)

This building was completed in 1805.

Aluth Buduge (New Image House)
In the outer passage surrounding the inner sanctum are statues of deities, notably the only representation in the island of the God of Love, Ananga.
Ananga, the South Asian Cupid
The deity is clearly identified by his bow his left hand and his arrows made of flowers (surely less harmful than the wood and metal ones apparently used by Cupid), which induce those struck to fall in love, in his right. Also notable is the statue of Natha, of which deity this monastery is a cult centre.
God Natha from the New Image House
Note the two lions rampant acting as supports for the torana (pandal or gateway) in which Natha stands. These are adapted from the lions rampant used by Dutch East India Company (Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie or VOC) and are symbolic of the God's role as guardian of the state. An excellent example of the VOC lions from Galle are here.

Poyage (Ordination House)

Poyage (ordination house)
Built in 1815, this was the building in which Hikkaduwe Sri Sumangala was ordained as a monk. 

Natha Devale (Shrine of Natha)

Built in 1780.  Because of the decline of the Natha cult, the main deity now shares this with other deities of the modern Quaternity (Sathara Varam Deviyo - gods of the four warrants), Vishnu and Kataragama. A notable absentee is Pattini, who receives obeisance in the Seenigama Devol Shrine.
Natha shrine with newer Vishnu shrine in the background

Vishnu Devale (Shrine of Vishnu)

 Completed in 1906.

Dharmasalava (sermon hall) 

Completed in 1905, the sermon hall is still used for preaching and the chanting of the scriptures.         
Dharmasalawa (Sermon Hall)

There is also a Bodhi (a sacred Bo-tree) planted in 1780.

There are also several more modern buildings, including a museum and a reading room, but mainly residential.  The vihara was slightly damaged in the Boxing Day Tsunami of 2004, only the surrounding parapet wall being affected seriously. Reference: ICOMOS report

As one of the first Buddhist monasteries in the low-country areas to be resurrected following the depredations of the Portuguese, and as a repository of the religious art and architecture of the early modern era, the Totagamuwa Vihara  should be a greater attraction than it is. 

However, hardly any of the guidebooks mention it, despite its proximity to the Hikkaduwa resort area. This is a pity, since its rich heritage should make a visit almost mandatory.

15 August 2012

Church of St John dal Bastone


Church of St John dal Bastone, Pelawatte
The Church of St John dal Bastone (John of the Staff), in Pelawatte, Talangama South, is the only church in the world dedicated to the Sylvestrine hermit. His other cult centre is at St Benedict’s Cloister Church, Fabriano, in Italy.

John of the Staff

Giovanni Bonelli Bottegoni was born on 24 March 1200 in the village of Paterno, Fabriano, in the area of Italy known as the March of Ancona. He was the youngest of the five children of his wealthy farming parents, Bonello and Supela Bottegoni. A studious boy, his parents sent him to study the humanities at the University of  Bologna, where he was attracted to religious matters.  

He was suddenly afflicted with a purulent abscess on one side of his thigh, which put a stop to his studies in Bologna. He journeyed home on the back of a donkey, which weakened his thigh further. Consequently, he remained lame for the rest of his life, needing a staff to help him walk, for which he was nicknamed Giovanni dal Bastone (‘John of the Staff’).
St John of the Staff, figurine from the crypt, Fabriano
Although unable to continue studying, John had acquired a certain degree of culture. In order to support himself financially, he opened a school in Fabriano. About 1230 he was attracted by the reputation for holiness of the venerable Silvestro Guzzolini of Osimo, later canonised as St Sylvester Gozzolini, the founder of the Sylvestrine eremitic holy order.
St Sylvester Gozzolini
St Sylvester had established a hermitage at Montefano, not far from Fabriano, which followed a modified Benedictine rule. It was here that John went, to be tested by St Sylvester and be received into the holy order. The lifestyle at Montefano was austere, the aim being to minimise material things so that one’s attention was solely on God. John lived the next 60 years reclusively in a cell, observing the greatest poverty and dedicating himself to prayer. 
Sylvestrine hermitage, Montefano
Seeing his progress, St Sylvester caused John’s promotion to the priesthood. His advice was sought by his fellow monks, when afflicted by worries or doubts.  In 1264 Marsilia, a widow of Attiggio, a village at the foot of Montefano, together with her daughter Sorabona, named John a co-executor of their will, which left modest sums to each of the monks of the order (as well as other religious men and women and the poor of Fabriano). John was named first after St  Sylvester in precedence, indicating his importance.

'St John dal Bastone celebrates mass', altar of St Benedict's, Fabriano
At the conclave held after the death of St Sylvester in 1267, John was the person to whom all turned to ensure harmonious relations. He continued to preach and acquired a reputation for great sanctity, becoming the most illustrious of the first generation of followers of St Sylvester.When he was 90 years old, John’s affliction worsened. The Sylvestrine Prior-General, Blessed Bartolo Tebaldi da Cingoli had a vision of a beam of light streaming down the mountain from John’s cell to the monastery at Fabriano.  John was taken to Fabriano for treatment and died there on 24 March 1290, saying
 'Courage brothers, when I get to heaven I will pray for you. I expect you all there!'
He was laid to rest in the cloister church of St Benedict in Fabriano.
Cloister Church of St Benedict, Fabrian
John was immediately acclaimed a saint by the voice of the people, without any canonical procedure. Venerable Rambotto Vicomanni, the Franciscan Bishop of Camerino, appointed a commission of two canons, aided by two laymen with a notary as their secretary, to collect and verify evidence of the authenticity of his miracles. However, it was not until 29 August 1772, under Pope Clement XIV, that he was beatified.

Cult centres and the Sylvestrines in Sri Lanka

In 1586 a crypt was built  at the Cloister church of St Benedict,with its ceiling adorned with scenes from John's life. At the centre of the crypt is John's tomb, holding his relic and the staff that gave him his nickname. It is said that this crypt is in the house that John lived in when he moved to Fabriano; he is said, while living here prior to taking vows, to have prophesied that a church would be built on this spot.
Crypt of St John dal Bastone at the Cloister Church of St Benedict, Fabriano

In 1845, the Sylvestrine monk Fr. Giuseppe Maria Bravi (later the Vicar Apostolic of the southern vicariate of Colombo) had arrived in Sri Lanka under the auspices of Propaganda Fidei, soon to be joined by other missionary confrères. They were the first Benedictines in the island and their foundation in Sri Lanka was the first the Sylvestrines had outside Europe. They were responsible for the establishment of St Anthony's College, Katugastota, in 1854 and St Benedicts College, Colombo in 1863.

One hundred years after John dal Bastone's beatification, on 29 August 1872, the foundation stone was laid for a Church in his name, in the suburb of Pelawatte, in the town of Talangama, just outside Colombo. The Church, completed in 1881, was administered by the Sylvestrines.

Following the consecration of the Church of St John dal Bastone, the Sylvestrines moved from Colombo to the new Diocese of Kandy in 1883. They established St Sylvester's Monte Fano Monastery at Ampitiya, St Benedict's Monastery on the former Villiers' property of Adisham in Haputale and St Sylvester's College, Kandy.

By the turn of the century, Sri Lanka accounted for about 40% of the Sylvestrine congregation. It was from Sri Lanka that Fr Peter Farina, an Italian, went to Sydney in 1949, to begin the Sylvestrine congregation Down Under. 

In 1972, Friar Michael Lanza, OFM obtained in 1972 from Archbishop Thomas Cardinal Cooray, the quasi-parish of Talangama and the church was entrusted to his order, of Franciscans and in 1974, a foundation of the Order of Friars Minor was established here. Almost nine years later, the foundation stone for a friary was laid here.
Foundation stone for the re-established OFM order, built into church wall
The church celebrated its 125th anniversary in 2006, and a commemorative five-rupee stamp was issued by the Sri Lanka Post, which depicted the façade of the church together with an image of St John Bastone from one of the stained glass windows in the church.
125th anniversary stamp

 Description

The church has a unique Italianate faux-Baroque façade (see larger photo HERE), with tropical Iberian influences. The façade is flanked by two bell towers (also used to mount loudspeakers). It is distinguished by a wide portico leading to the traditional three great doors. There are also two smaller doors leading to the outer aisles (which are not separated in this church by pillars, but form part of the nave).

Northern bell tower
The place of the traditional aisles is taken by two verandahs on the outside on either side of the nave (to which it is connected by steel-grilled doorways), to which access is via the lower arches of the bell towers. These lead (on the left) to the southern transept and the chapel and (on the right) to the northern transept and the padre's office at the rear. Two confessionals are located on these verandahs.
View from the crossing: the nave and narthex.
Above the central doorway is a cartoon of St John dal Bastone. The place of the narthex is taken by the eastern end of the nave (the traditional westward alignment is reversed), and the baptismal fount is located here. It is separated from the seating area by the shrines of two Saints - St Benedict and St Francis - which flank the entry to the central aisle.
Shrine of St Benedict



Shrine of St Francis of Assisi


















 Above the doorways leading to the verandahs on either side of the nave are a number of stained-glass clerestories, depicting scenes from the Passion of Christ.
Northern aisle
In place of the apse, the transept itself houses the chancel and the sanctuary, so the main area of the church is in the shape of a 'T' rather than a '+'. However, the semblance of a cross is restored by the Sacristy, accessed via two doors on either side of the altar.
Chancel and sanctuary
Unlike the rest of the church, the crossing, the chancel and sanctuary have a ceiling, of wood. On either side of the chancel, the two arms of the transept house various shrines.
Northern transept
In the northern transept, which houses the choir, is a triple altar, the central place occupied by the shrine of St John the Apostle, flanked by those of St Anne the mother of Mary and the Madonna and child.

Shrine of St John flanked by St Anne (left) and the Madonna and child (right)
There is also a wooden triptych altar piece with a Madonna and Child  (a reproduction of the original icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help enshrined in the Redemptorist Church of St. Alphonsus in Rome), flanked by the two sides of the Miraculous Medal of St. Catherine Labouré.

Triptych with Our Mother of Perpetual Help
The stained-glass image of St John dal Bastone used in the commemorative postage stamp was taken from that in the circular clerestory on the wall of the northern transept.
St John dal Bastone in stained glass clerestory in Northern transept
The southern transept, which leads (via a glass door) to the chapel, has a similar clerestory, this time depicting St Francis of Assisi with Christ on the Cross.

Southern transept
The southern transept contains shrines of Jesus Christ,the Virgin Mary and various saints. A triple shrine, mirroring that in the northern transept, depicts St John dal Bastone, flanked by St Sebastian, St Francis of Assisi and St Anthony of Padua, as well as the Infant Jesus.

Shrine of St John dal Bastone, flanked by St Sebastian & St Francis (on left) and St Anthony and the Infant Jesus (on right)

Feast

John dal Bastone is remembered by the monks of the order of Sylvestrines on 24 March, but the feast of the church in Pelawatte is in late July. On the day following the ninth day of prayer (Novena), the vespers mass is followed by a procession, during which the statue of the Saint is paraded through Pelawatte.
Image of St John dal Bastone taken in procession
The statue of the Saint is preceded by marching bands and by members of the congregation bearing candles. The statue's arrival at places along the route is marked by the faithful by the lighting of crackers and launching of rockets.
Women of the congregation bearing candles
The streets along which the procession travels are decorated with coconut leaves, banners, lights and crosses, punctuated by images and shrines of the Saint.

Getting there, staying there

St John dal Bastone's church is on Church Rd, Pelawatte, off the Battaramulla-Pannipitiya road, just past the Cargill's supermarket. It can be reached easily from Colombo, Ethulkotte and Rajagiriya (via Parliament Road), from Nugegoda and Pitakotte (via Talawatugoda Road) or from the E1 Southern Expressway (via Kottawa and Pannipitiya Road). Access is also possible, via the Pahalawela Road, from the Japan-Sri Lanka Friendship Road, which borders the Diyawanna Lake.
Map of Pelawatte, showing location of church

There are regular bus services along the Panniipitiya Road, and the church provides an interesting addition to a visit to the Parliament area or the Diyawanna Bird Sanctuary.

If one wishes to stay in the area, there are two very expensive villas available for rent. La Villa Sanctuary, Talawatugoda, borders the marsh, less than a kilometre from the Church. The Villa Talangama lies on the Talangama Tank, about two kilometres away. Both have excellent views of the wetlands and of the bird life protected by the sanctuary.

Click HERE for the website of the church.


25 July 2012

Sanchi - rediscovery & restoration

Continued from: Sanchi - expansion & fall

Sanchi was rediscovered in 1818, after 600 years, by General Taylor of the Bengal Cavalry, who came upon the overgrown monuments during a campaign against the Pindharas. He reported them to be in a good state of preservation, an opinion backed by Captain Fell, who visited Sanchi the next year.
Drawings of stupas 1 & 2 by Maisey, which show the damage inflicted on them by British treasure hunters
However, in 1822 Herbert Maddock, the political agent of Bhopal, aided by his zealous assistant Captain Johnson, inflicted considerable damage to the magnificent monuments, looking for treasure.

Eastern gateway and Great Stupa by Murray

Subsequently, several - more serious -  observers recorded plates at Sanchi, sending them to Numismatist and Philologist James Prinsep of the Asiatic Society. Most importantly, in 1837, Captain E. Smith copied and sent Prinsep twenty-five inscriptions and Captain W. Murray sent more drawings. The most important for Prinsep were Smith's copies of the inscriptions.

Facsimile of inscription from Sanchi copied by Captain Smith
Prinsep noticed that they all ended with two letters:He guessed (with the help of an Indian Pundit, who is seldom given any credit) that they represented the word danam (gift) and took their values to be 'D' and 'N'. He used this clue as a key to decipher the Brahmi Script. Prinsep's article in the Asiatic Society journal can be read HERE. 

The ruins, then called the 'Bhilsa Topes' ('Bhilsa' being the mediaeval name of Vidisha, tope being Hindi for a stupa) were further explored, beginning about 1840, by the 'Father of the Indian Archaeological Survey', by Captain (later Major General) Alexander Cunningham. Together with Captain (later General)  Frederick Charles Maisey he managed to recover a great deal of valuable material.  Unfortunately, the primitive techniques they used damaged the monuments further.
Great Stupa in 1906 [original at Victoria & Albert Museum]

The structures were not in good shape, and restoration work was begun in 1881, supervised by Major HH Cole, the Curator. However, work was slow and did not go very far (as may be observed from the 1906 photo of the Great Stupa, above). The credit for the restoration of the Sanchi site should go to Sir John Marshall, the Director General of Archaeological Survey of India, under whom this work was carried out in 1912-1919.
Sanchi hilltop site plan
Altogether over 50 monuments were excavated and conserved. Of these 30 were stupas which, apart from the Great Stupa and Stupas 2 & 3, were quite small, as exemplified by Stupas 28 and 29, seen below.
View from the top: the lesser domes of Stupas 28 & 29 adjacent to Stupa 5, which is hidden behind the trees
Before Marshall came on the scene, however, there had been much looting of the site. Articles such as the beautiful thrice-bent (tivanka) Bodhisattva torso from Temple 45 (9th century, now at the Victoria and Albert Museum) ended up in private collections. Indeed, there was even a proposal to cart off the fences and gateways of the Great Stupa to England!
Figurines of Sariputta and Maha-Mogallana
In 1851, Cunningham found two relic boxes inside Stupa 3, engraved with the names of Sariputta and Maha-Moggallana, the two chief disciples (agra-sravakas) of the Buddha, containing bone-relics. These found their way to London and ended up in the Victoria and Albert Museum. 

In 1939 the Maha Bodhi Society (the Buddhist organisation established by Sir Edwin Arnold and the Sri Lankan Buddhist leader Anagarika Dharmapala) requested their return. In 1947 the relics arrived in India and were entrusted to the  Maha Bodhi Society. After touring India, Myanmar and Sri Lanka (parts of the relics remained in the latter two countries), they were returned in 1952 to Sanchi, where they were enshrined in the newly-built Chetiyagiri Vihara by Prime Minister Shri Jawarhalal Nehru.
Chetiyagiri Vihara
Fortunately, the Indian government has separated the modern Vihara premises from the archaeological site, preventing the inhibition of the latter's pristine splendour (as has taken place, for example in Anuradhapura in Sri Lanka). 
Guides in shalwar khameez & dupatta
Visitors are shown around the site by pulchritudinous women guides, dressed in monochromatic but not displeasing attire. For a touch of colour, one should look at the local visitors from Bhopal and Vidisha, in their sarees, shalwar khameezes (pajamas), lehenga cholis (long skirts & blouses) and dupattas (scarves).
Visitors: sarees, shalwar khameezes, and (girl in orange) lehenga choli & dupatta; the little boy wears a Nehru waistcoat with his shalwar khameez.
The site offers breathtaking vistas of the Malwa countryside, particularly from the upper pradakshina patha of the Great stupa. The view of the landscape from near the Western gateway is HERE.

The Archaeological Museum, run by the Archaeological Survey of India, is at the foot of the hill, between the station and the archaeological site. It holds many of the items excavated from Sanchi and other nearby sites, including material returned from Britain.

physically challenged
Barrier free
In co-operation with the Bhopal-based voluntary organisation Arushi, the Archaeological Survey of India has made the site the first in India to be barrier-free for physically challenged people. The stupas have been made wheelchair-accessible, special tactile walkways have been constructed for easy access and manoeuvrability, information plaques and signs in braille have been made available, along with beepers and a Braille map, while toilets and canteen areas which cater to the otherwise-abled have been provided. Most importantly, the guides and other staff have been trained and sensitised to deal with physically challenged tourists, including those in wheelchairs and with visual impairments.

The people speak a local dialect, but standard Hindi is understood. Because of tourists from Sri Lanka, Sinhala and English are also widely spoken, and it is possible to get by in these languages as well.
Sanchi - map of location
Sanchi can be visited with ease from Bhopal, which is well connected by air (domestically, from  Ahmedabad, Delhi, Ahmedabad, Hyderabad, Indore, Mumbai & Raipur) and rail as well as road. There are road and rail links from Vidisha. Regular bus services connect Sanchi with Vidisha, Raisen, Bhopal, Sagar, Indore and Gwalior. 

There are few places to stay in Sanchi: the Madhya Pradesh Tourism Development Board's Gateway Retreat hotel (**½, bookable on-line) and its Gateway Cafeteria (also bookable on-line), the Krishna Hotel and the New Jaiswal Lodge. There is also a Public Works Department 'circuit house', but this must be booked through the Raisen District Collector

It was due to the dearth of rooms in Sanchi that the governments of Sri Lanka and Madhya Pradesh co-operated to build the New pilgrims' rest house for the Mahabodhi Society, the Sanchi Vandana Niketana (Sinhala) or Theertha Niketan (Hindi). It includes an image house and sermon rooms for pilgrims. Rooms can be booked by contacting the resident monk.
Mahabodhi Pilgrims' Rest and temple
During the pilgrimage season (Autumn-Winter), rooms are difficult to come by, so it may be easier to stay at Vidisha or even Bhopal (where there are many more hotels) and commute. 

However you may come, or wherever you may stay, Sanchi should not be missed. It is one of the great archaeological sites of the world. Unfortunately it is not sufficiently appreciated. Neither, it should be noted, is the rest of incredible Madhya Pradesh which, while resplendent with ancient sites, beautiful vistas and nature reserves (Rudyard Kipling's Mowgli stories were set in 'Seeonee' and the Mowgli Pench Sanctuary is located there)  receives only a fraction of the more than 5 million visitors to India each year.