Stupa, earliest Buddhist Monument at Sanchi, India

Buddhist Monuments, Sanchi stupa, MP.

Renowned Buddhist monuments  located on a hilltop at Sanchi town in Raisan district, 46 km from the Capital city of Bhopal of state of Madhya Pradesh  are believed to be the oldest ones. They belong to the 3rd century BCE  and point out the popularity of Buddhism in those periods. This holy place is a huge complex and seemed to be the center of Buddhism. It is replete with many legends  and several complex structures, monolithic pillars, temples, palaces, decorated gateways, etc. One among them is the world famous  beautiful and massive dome called  the great Stupa built by the Emperor Ashoka of the Maurya Dynasty. Ashoka reigned almost the entire Indian subcontinent from c. 268 to 232 BCE. The foundation of the hilltop temple complex was laid by emperor Ashoka  who  built a total of eight Stupas, one of which became known as the Great Stupa. The present Great Stupa (120 feet/37 meters wide and 54 feet/17 meters tall), it is believed, is not the original one. 

 From the 1st century BCE, itself  the gateways and the stone balustrade  have  exited and were built and colored. The  work began earnestly during the period of  the Satavahana. The gateways and toranas are generally dated to the 1st century CE.

Sanchi stupa.
The stupa was commissioned in 3rd century BCE and the later periods saw additions and expansions in different period. The Buddhists' art and sculpture began to develop  from the third century BC through 12th century  and the Stupa is a good example.  This huge hemispherical brick structure - dome with a height of 12.2816.46 m (54.0 ft)  has a central chamber where the relics of Lord Buddha are reverentially kept. In the first century BCE were added  four ornamental gateways facing four directions and a balustrade surrounding the Stupa. It is  a UNESCO World Heritage Site  and recognition was given only in 1989. 

Emperor Ashoka after redistributing the relics of Lord Buddha had  plans to build stupas over his relics. The present Stupa at Sanchi   is counted among the best conserved ancient Stupas of central India. A stupa is characteristic of the Chatra, a parasol like structure (umbrella shaped), a symbol of high rank intended to honor and shelter the relics..  There is a sandstone pillar, inscribed with Schism Edict by Ashoka as also with ornate spiral Brahmi characters from the Gupta period resembling conch shells referred to as ‘Shankhalipi’ or ‘shell-script’ by scholars. While the lower portion of it is still grounded, the upper portions are kept under a canopy of stone crowned the hemispherical brick.

Sanchi monuments. Satavahana decorations. first century.

Above image: Satavahana (first century) decorations on a gateway at Sanchi. The Buddha is never directly represented, due to the early aniconism in Buddhism.The decorations on the gateway represent multiple rituals.................

stone stairway, Sanchi Buddhist monuments.

Above image:  Shunga balustrade and staircase, Great Stupa 1......

3rd stupa. Sanchi.

Above image:  Shunga period stupa 3 (the decorated gateway to the right is Satavahana).

During the early rule of Shunga dynasty (Pushyamitra's period) in the  2nd century, it is believed, that the stupa was vandalized, but in the later Shunga period (Agnimitra's reign) the stupa saw some expansion  with stone slabs almost twice its original size. The dome was flattened near the top and crowned by three superimposed parasols within a square railing. It was, apparently, a symbol of  dharma, the Wheel of the Law with many tiers. The dome was  built on a high circular drum (meant for circumambulation), which could be accessed  through a double staircase. Yet another addition was a  second stone pathway at ground level that was enclosed by a stone balustrade with four monumental gateways (Toranas) facing the cardinal directions. Thus evolved the second and third stupas during this period.

A British officer named General Taylor in 1818 documented  the presence of the Stupa. Till 1881 treasure hunters and Amateur archaeologists caused extensive damage to the Stupa following which appropriate steps were undertaken to restore the ancient monument. Sir John Hubert Marshall, who served as the Director General of the ‘Archaeological Survey of India’ (ASI) from 1902 to 1928 supervised the restoration work of the Stupa between 1912 and 1919 and earlier this great monument was damaged by armature artifacts collectors and treasure hunters.