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Stupas were built of stones or bricks to commemorate important events or mark
important places associated with Buddhism or to house important relics of Buddha.
Ashok Maurya who laid the foundation of this group of monuments is said to have
built 84,000 stupas, most of which have perished.
The Hill of Sanchi is situated about 9 kilometres south-west of Vidisha in Madhaya
Pradesh, India. Crowning the hilltop of Sanchi nearly 91 metres in height, a group of
Buddhist monuments commands a grand view even from a distance.
This is rather surprising, for Sanchi was not hallowed by any incident in Buddha's life;
not is it known to have been the focus of any significant event in the history of
Buddhist monachism. Hiuen Tsang, who so meticulously recorded the details
connected with Buddhist monuments, is silent about it.
The only possible reference to it is contained in the chronicles of Sri. Lanka,
according to which Mahendra, son of Asoka and his queen Devi, daughter of a
merchant of Vidisa, (modern Besnagar near Bhilsa or Vidisha) whom Asoka had
married during his halt there on his way to Ujjayani as a viceroy, is said to have
visited his mother at Vidisa, and the latter took him up to the beautiful monastery of
Vedisagiri built by herself. Mahendra had stayed there for a month before he set out
for Sri Lanka.
• The foundation of the great religious establishment at
Sanchi destined to have a glorious career as an
important centre of Buddhism for many centuries to
come, was probably laid by the great Maurya emperor
Asoka (circa 273-236 B.C.),
• The stupa built by Ashoka was damaged during the
break-up of the Maurya Empire. In the 2nd century
B.C., during the. rule of the Sungas it was completely
reconstructed. Religious activity led to the
improvement and enlargement of the stupa and a
stone railing was built around it. It was also
embellished with the construction of heavily carved
Sanchi Stupa
• The Great stupa has a large hemispherical dome which is flat at the top,
and crowned by a triple umbrella or Chattra on a pedestal surrounded by a
square railing or Karmika.
• Buddha's relics were placed in a casket chamber in the centre of the
Dome. At the base of the dome is a high circular terrace probably meant
for parikrama or circumambulation and an encircling balustrade.
• At the ground level is a stone-paved procession path and another stone
Balustrade and two flights of steps leading to the circular terrace.
• Access to it is through four exquisitely carved gateways or Toranas in the
North, South, East and West.
• The diameter of the stupa is 36.60 metres and its height is 16.46 metres. It
is built of large burnt bricks and mud mortar.
• It is presumed that the elaborately carved Toranas were built by ivory or
metal workers in the 1st. Century BC during the reign of King Satakarni of
the Satavahana Dynasty.
• The last addition to the stupa was made during the early 4th Century AD
in the Gupta period when four images of Buddha sitting in the dhyana
mudra or meditation were installed at the four entrances.
Plan of Sanchi
Torana gateway
The first Torana gateway to be built is the one at the principal entrance on the
South. Each gateway has two square pillars. Crowning each pillar on. all four sides
are four elephants, four lions and four dwarfs.
The four dwarfs support a superstructure of three architraves or carved panels one
above the other. Between these are intricately carved elephants and riders on
The lowest architrave is supported on exquisitely carved bracket figures. The
panels are decorated with finely carved figures of men, women, yakshas, lions and
The entire panel of the gateways is covered with sculptured scenes from the life of
Buddha, the Jataka Tales, events of the Buddhist times and rows of floral or lotus
The scenes from Buddha's life show Buddha represented by symbols - the lotus,
wheel a riderless caparisoned horse, an umbrella held above a throne, foot prints
and the triratnas which are symbolic of Buddha, Dharma and Sangha.
The top panel has a Dharma chakra with two Yakshas on either side holding
chamaras. South of the Scenes depicted from Buddha's life are the Enlightenment
of Buddha (a throne beneath a peepul tree); the First Sermon (a Dharma chakra
placed on a throne); The Great Departure ( a riderless horse and an empty chariot
with an umbrella above ); Sujata's offering and the temptation and assault by
Ashokan Pillars
• Asoka's pillars are basically a series of pillars that are spread all over the
northern part of the Indian sub continent. These pillars were set up during the
time Emperor Ashoka reigned in India. Most of the pillars, though damaged to
some extent still stand upright and are protected by the concerned authorities.
• Out of all the pillars, the most famous is the Ashokan pillar located at Sarnath.
Most of King Asoka's pillars have inscriptions of Ashoka's Dhamma or
philosophies. Read further about the famous Ashoka Pillar.
• The pillar at Sarnath is believed to mark the site where Lord Buddha preached
his first sermon.
• It is said to be place where Buddha taught Dharma to five monks. The pillar at
Sarnath has an edict inscribed on it that reveals information about Ashoka's
stand against divisions of any sort in the society. When translated, it says "No
one shall cause division in the order of monks".
• The pillar at Sarnath is made of sandstone and is maintained in proper shape
even today.
• The appearance of the pillar is quite imposing. At the base of the pillar is
an inverted lotus flower which forms a platform for the pillar.
• At the top of the pillar are four lions sitting back to back facing the four
prime directions. Other illustrations on the pillar include the Dharma
Chakra (Wheel) with 24 spokes which can be seen on the Indian national
flag as well.
• All illustrations have their own meaning and significance. There are four
animals illustrated on the
• The illustration of an Elephant signifies Lord Buddha's conception. When
Buddha was conceived, his mother dreamt that a white elephant had
entered the womb.
• A Bull illustrated on the pillar signifies the zodiac sign of Taurus as it is said
that Buddha was born during the month of April May and also attained
enlightenment during this time.
• The Bull also stands as a symbol of Lord Shiva.The Horse stands for the
horse named Kanthaka that Buddha rode when he departed from his
palace to practice asceticism and attain enlightenment.
• The Lion that is illustrated signifies the attainment of enlightenment.
• The physical appearance of the pillars underscores the Buddhist doctrine. Most
of the pillars were topped by sculptures of animals.
• Each pillar is also topped by an inverted lotus flower, which is the most
pervasive symbol of Buddhism (a lotus flower rises from the muddy water to
bloom unblemished on the surface thus the lotus became an analogy for the
Buddhist practitioner as he or she, living with the challenges of everyday life
and the endless cycle of birth and rebirth, was able to achieve Enlightenment,
or the knowledge of how to be released from samsara, through following the
Four Noble Truths).
• This flower, and the animal that surmount it, form the capital, the topmost part
of a column. Most pillars are topped with a single lion or a bull in either seated
or standing positions.
• The Buddha was born into the Shakya or lion clan. The lion, in many cultures,
also indicates royalty or leadership. The animals are always in the round and
carved from a single piece of stone.
Some pillars had edicts (proclamations) inscribed upon them. The edicts were
translated in the 1830s. Since the 17th century, 150 Ashokan edicts have been
found carved into the face of rocks and cave walls as well as the pillars, all of which
served to mark his kingdom, which stretched across northern India and south to
below the central Deccan plateau and in areas now known as Nepal, Pakistan,
Bangladesh, and Afghanistan.
The rocks and pillars were placed along trade routes and in border cities where the
edicts would be read by the largest number of people possible. They were also
erected at pilgrimage sites such as at Bodh Gaya, the place of Buddha’s
Enlightenment, and Sarnath, the site of his First Sermon and Sanchi, where the
Mahastupa, the Great Stupa of Sanchi, is located (a stupa is a burial mound for an
esteemed person. When the Buddha died, he was cremated and his ashes were
divided and buried in several stupas. These stupas became pilgrimage sites for
Buddhist practitioners).
Some pillars were also inscribed with dedicatory inscriptions, which firmly date
them and name Ashoka as the patron. The script was Brahmi, the language from
which all Indic language developed.
A few of the edicts found in the western part of India are written in a script that is
closely related to Sanskrit and a pillar in Afghanistan is inscribed in both Aramaic
and Greek—demonstrating Ashoka’s desire to reach the many cultures of his
kingdom. Some of the inscriptions are secular in nature. Ashoka apologizes for the
massacre in Kalinga and assures the people that he now only has their welfare in
mind. Some boast of the good works that Ashoka has done, underscoring his
desire to provide for his people.
• There are a few hypotheses about why Ashoka used the pillar as a means
for communicating his Buddhist message. It is quite possible that Persian
artists came to Ashoka’s empire in search of work, bringing with them the
form of the pillar. which was common in Persian art. But is also likely that
Ashoka chose the pillar because it was already an established Indian art
form. In both Buddhism and Hinduism, the pillar symbolized the axis
mundi (the axis on which the world spins).
• The pillars and edicts represent the first physical evidence of the Buddhist
faith. The inscriptions assert Ashoka’s Buddhism and support his desire to
spread the dharma throughout his kingdom.
• The edicts say nothing about the philosophical aspects of Buddhism and
scholars have suggested that this demonstrates that Ashoka had a very
simple and naïve understanding of the dharma. But, as Ven S. Dhammika
suggests, Ashoka’s goal was not to expound on the truths of Buddhism,
but to inform the people of his reforms and encourage them to live a
moral life. The edicts, through their strategic placement and couched in
the Buddhist dharma, serve to underscore Ashoka’s administrative role
and as a tolerant leader.