Buddhist Monuments at
Sanchi (1989), Madhya Pradesh
Sanchi, variously known as Kakanaya, Kakanava, Kakanadabota and
Bota-Sriparvata in ancient times, has a singular distinction of having
remarkable specimen of Buddhist art and architecture right from the
early Mauryan period (c. third century BC to twelfth century AD).
Sanchi is famous in the world for stupas, monolithic Asokan pillar,
temples, monasteries and sculptural wealth.
It was Emperor Asoka who laid the foundations of a religious centre
at Sanchi fascinated probably by the location of the hill or because
of his Queen Devi, who was the daughter of a merchant of Vidisha. 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. This stupa was originally a low
structure of brick, half the diameter of the present edifice
hemispherical in shape with raised terraces at the base. It was
enclosed by a wooden railing and a stone umbrella at the top. This
Great Stupa served as a nucleus to the large Buddhist establishment
during the later period.
During Sunga times, several edifices were raised at Sanchi and its
surrounding hills. The Asokan stupa was enlarged and faced with stones
and decorated with balustrades, staircases and a harmika on the top.
In the first century BC the Andhra-Satavahanas, who had extended
their sway over the eastern Malwa, caused the elaborately carved
gateways to Stupa 1. The Great Stupa of Sanchi displays an austere
grandeur and the exquisite carvings of the doorway depict in detail
the significant episodes and miracles from Lord Buddha’s life and
events depicted in the Buddhist Jataka stories.
The reconstruction of Temple 40 and erection of Stupas 2 and 3 also
seem to date back around the same time.
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 A.D. when shrines and
monasteries were continued to be added. Thus Sanchi displays
harmonious co-existence of Hindu and Buddhist faiths.
Since the fourteenth century Sanchi remained deserted and uncared
for till 1818 when General Taylor rediscovered the site. Sir John
Marshall established an archaeological museum in 1919, which was later
transformed into the present site museum at Sanchi.
Presently under an UNESCO project Sanchi and Satdhara, a Buddhist
site, 10 km south-east of Sanchi, is being further excavated,
conserved and environmentally developed.
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