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STUPAS • • • • 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 gateways. Sanchi Stupa Architecture • 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 horseback. The lowest architrave is supported on exquisitely carved bracket figures. The panels are decorated with finely carved figures of men, women, yakshas, lions and elephants. 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 motifs. 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 Mara. 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.