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Chethiyagiri Vihara Festival, The Hidden Gem In Sanchi!

Every town and city in India has a unique history and heritage. While some are unknown, there are few that are recognized all over the world. Sanchi is one such popular city with a prominent history and tradition. That is why the Chethiyagiri Vihara Festival is held annually in Sanchi. It celebrates the same heritage and history that makes India proud.

IN Sanchi 0906 (20)
Photo of ‘IN Sanchi 0906 (20)’ by Diego Tirira under CC BY-SA 2.0

Situated approximately 45-46 kilometers from Bhopal, Sanchi is in Madhya Pradesh. It holds a vital place in Mauryan, Indian, and Buddhist history. Everybody knows about the powerful and strong Mauryan Emperor Ashoka. One of the first in his dynasty to rule over several kingdoms, he became a peace-loving ruler in his later life. In his quest for harmony, he decided to build a structure paying homage to Buddha. The Sanchi Stupa is reportedly the oldest stone structure in India. A Stupa is a renowned symbol of Buddhism. Shaped like a mound, it usually houses relics belonging to Buddha. Buddhist relics imply physical remains of the dead person. Hence, Sanchi is the holiest pilgrimage site for Buddhist followers and devotees. The Sanchi Stupa was constructed with bricks and has become the epicenter for several smaller stupas, temples, and monuments of the Buddhist religion. It’s not surprising that Buddhists and devotees come here from all over the world to pay their respects.

Keeping in with the tradition and culture, the Chethiyagiri Vihara Festival is celebrated for Buddhist devotees. As the monuments were being built, relics belonging to Buddha and his followers were collected. After the archaelogical intervention, some of the relics were taken to other countries. The true extent of the relics and their history is revealed to the public only at the Chethiyagiri Vihara Festival. Because of the lack of accurate records, and the ravages of time, there is a certain mystery about the Buddhist followers.

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It is one of the many festivals celebrated in Madhya Pradesh. The region is known for its colorful celebrations of art, culture, dance, and religion. Among several other notable festivals, there are Panchmarhi Utsav, Malwa Utsav, and Tansen Music Festival.

Dynasties kept dying and newer rulers kept damaging religious institutions. This led to wars and the stealing of crucial items that were beloved by devotees and citizens. The Buddhist relics were often misplaced or stolen by other rulers or countries as they invaded India. It is said that two disciples of Buddha- Sariputra, and Mahamoggallana were closest to him. The British discovered their remains and possessions during an excavation at Stupa 3. They made their way to a museum in England. As India achieved independence, they were returned to us. Buddhism is practiced in many countries in Asia. The relics were taken on a tour across the continent and displayed in museums for devotees. They made their way to India eventually. There was no place to house them and hence land was donated for this purpose. The Chethiyagiri Vihara Temple was constructed to house these relics and artifacts.

The Chethiyagiri Vihara Festival is held every year in November. It is a chance for Buddhists, travelers, tourists, and devotees to view these sacred items and pay homage. You can catch a train or flight to Bhopal from any city in India. Sanchi is accessible by road from Bhopal. Hire a cab, private taxi or a local bus for the temple. The two-day festival is held on a weekend where you can experience Buddhist culture and tradition. It can be fascinating to learn about the powerful history of this peaceful and loving religion. Holy figures and men travel from Japan, Sri Lanka, and other nations to take part in this festival. The festival was started in 1952 and has grown exponentially every year. It is a true testament to Buddhism and its growing impact on the world as we see the number of visitors increase every year.

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Featured Photo of ‘Sanchi, Stupa 3’ by Arian Zwegers under CC BY 2.0

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