Buddhist Sanctuary Near Sanchi

The sanctuary in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh contains the oldest Buddhist buildings in India. These include stupas, reliefs and Buddha sculptures from the 3rd century BC. The sanctuary was an important religious center until the 12th century.

Buddhist sanctuary at Sanchi: facts

Official title: Buddhist sanctuary near Sanchi
Cultural monument: most important Buddhist buildings on Indian soil; Stupa 1 (stone, Buddhist burial and reliquary mound) originally almost 17 m high and almost 37 m in diameter, as well as stupa 2 and stupa 3; numerous reliefs, including with scenes from Buddha’s life on the so-called »Toranas« (gates), among others. at the north gate of stupa 1 scenes from the Jataka, stories from an earlier incarnation of Buddha (first crossbar) and representation of Buddha as an elephant (top crossbar) as well as representation of Buddha as a tree of enlightenment at the west gate
Continent: Asia
Country: India, Madhya Pradesh
Location: Sanchi, northeast of Bhopal
Appointment: 1989
Meaning: an important early Buddhist center in India

Buddhist sanctuary at Sanchi: history

3rd century BC Chr. Under Emperor Ashoka laying the foundation stone for Stupa 1 (Great Stupa)
200 BC Chr. -200 AD Construction of four “magnificent gates” of the Great Stupa
5th century in the “golden era of ancient Indian art” under the Gupta dynasty (320-510) construction of temple no. 17, also called Gupta temple
at 650 Construction of Temple No. 18
10/11 Century Construction of temple and monastery no.45
1818 Rediscovery of temples and monasteries
1853 Excavations of relics from two Buddha’s disciples
1881 first restoration work
1912-19 extensive restoration of the facility
1936 Discovery of the remains of other monasteries
2012 On December 17th, the foundation stone was laid for the University of Buddhist and Indian Studies in the immediate vicinity of the large stupa

From the innocence of the beginning

Like a Greek acropolis, stone relics of a bygone era protrude from the flat landscape on a high hill. From up there there is an impressive panoramic view of the surrounding area, which in its untouched state gives no clue of the life that pulsed here more than two millennia ago. At that time, the trading town, once located on a caravan route, was one of the most powerful cities in the great empire of Kaiser, who had declared Buddhism the state religion.

It is said to have been this ruler over large parts of the Middle East who laid the foundation stone for the Great Stupa in the middle of the 3rd century BC, by far the most important structure on the hill of Sanchi. With the construction of more monasteries, temples, memorial columns and stupas, the place developed over the centuries into one of the most important early Buddhist pilgrimage sites in India.

The stupa as the classic form of Buddhist architecture symbolizes the cosmos: the stone hemisphere called “Anda” symbolizes the globe, the tip growing out of it symbolizes the world axis, the angular enclosure from which it grows, the residence of the gods and the staggered umbrellas Heaven. The stone fence surrounding the stupa symbolizes the cycle of the stars and at the same time separates the sacred area from the profane outside world.

The four entrance gates of the Great Stupa of Sanchi, each about ten meters high and called »Toranas«, point in the cardinal directions and are considered to be the greatest examples of archaic art in all of India according to homosociety. These silent stone witnesses seem to be able to speak; On the triple long crossbeams and vertical pillars of the gates symbol after symbol, event after event. The unity of creation confronts you here in its whole unbroken abundance of life, which knows no difference between humans and animals, plants and objects.

In addition to gods, spirits and demons, the everyday scenes carved out of the sandstone by the sculptors are particularly fascinating. As in an illustrated book, the visitor takes part in village life as it took place thousands of years ago. Processions and battle scenes pass the eye of the beholder, but everyday things also come to mind: a farmer plowing, a housewife fetching water and cooking. At the same time, the reliefs reveal a joie de vivre that stands in striking contrast to the Buddhist philosophy wrongly portrayed in the West as the “doctrine of suffering”.

With all this wealth of images, it is easy to overlook the fact that the person to whom the entire complex is dedicated, namely the founder of the religion himself, is nowhere depicted. At the time when the monuments of Sanchi were being built, Buddha, who had forbidden any kind of personal worship after his death, was represented symbolically rather than in human form. The four most important stages of his life – birth, enlightenment, first public sermon and death – correspond to the recurring symbols lotus flower, bodhi tree, wheel and stupa.

How far the unique meaning of Sanchi was forgotten with the decline of Buddhism in India is documented in an almost tragicomic way by the remains of a stone column that stands somewhat lost next to the south gate of the main stupa. It was one of several thousand edict pillars that King Ashoka had erected throughout his kingdom to instruct and admonish his subjects. On the one found in Sanchi, the ruler threatens all believers who criticize Buddhist teaching with excommunication. The unsuspecting peasants in the area were far less interested in the art-historical significance of the column than in its everyday use, and so they simply misappropriated it as a sugar cane press.

Buddhist Sanctuary Near Sanchi