Bharhut Stupa at the Indian Museum, Kolkata
high-definition creative commons photographs showing the extensive carving on the remains of the Bharhut Stupa in the Indian Museum in Kolkata, together with further information.
3-minute documentary on the Bharhut Stupa by Benoy K. Behl
24 more photographs of the Stupa on this site
by Ken Kawasaki
The Bharhut Stupa is now in the
Indian Museum, Kolkata
you may wonder why is the Stupa now in a Museum?
The answer will be found when you read this extract from
Stupa Of Bharhut:
A Buddhist Monument
Ornamented With Numerous Sculptures
Buddhist Legend And History
Third Century B.C.
Alexander Cunningham, C.S.I., C.I.E.
2.- Description Of Stûpa (pp. 4 - 14)
[In what follows I have omitted the notes, which gave references to plates I am unable to reproduce here, and very occasionally omitted sentences that contained the same references, marked by [...]. Cunningham refers to the language of the inscriptions as Pâli, but in fact it is Prâkrit. Note that I have retained the idiosycacy of Cunningham's original spelling.]
if you would like to read the whole book (pp. 213) in pdf format
it can be downloaded here (12 MB)
When I first visited Bharhut in the end of November 1873 I saw a large flat-topped mound, with the ruins of a small Buddhist Vihâr, and three pillars of a Buddhist Railing, with three connecting rails or bars of stone, and a coping stone covering them, besides a single gateway pillar which once supported the Toran or ornamental arch of the entrance. The three pillars were more than half buried in the ground ; but there were three inscriptions still visible ; one on the gateway pillar, the second on the first pillar of the railing, and the third on the coping stone. To the north I found some fragments of a pillar, as well as a piece of coping, but they had evidently been disturbed. On the south side, however, I was more fortunate, as I discovered some pillars of that entrance after a few hours digging, and as one of these proved to be the corner pillar of the south-west quadrant I was able to obtain an accurate measurement of the chord of the quarter circle of railing by stretching a tape to the first pillar of the south-east quadrant. This distance was 62 feet 6 inches, which gives an interior diameter of 88 feet 4½ inches for the stone railing. I then tried to ascertain something about the Stûpa itself, but there was nothing left in the middle of the mound except a mass of rubbish formed chiefly of earth and broken bricks. I made a wide excavation in the middle of this heap, but without any result save the finding of a number of rough blocks of stone which had formed a part of the foundation of the brick Stûpa. I then made two excavations from the stone railing inwards towards the Stûpa - and in both places I found that the terraced flooring ceased abruptly at 10 feet 4 inches. This point was therefore the edge of the base of the Stûpa, which was consequently 67 feet 8½ inches in diameter. Afterwards, while excavating the railing, I found numerous specimens of the bricks of which the Stûpa had been built. Most of them were plain, and square in shape, and of large size 12 X 12 X 3½ inches ; but there were others of much larger size, of which I could obtain only fragments from 5 to 6 inches in thickness.
On my second visit to Bharhut, in company with my assistant Mr. Beglar, the whole of the space inside the railing was excavated to a width of from 12 to 15 feet. This extensive digging brought to light the sole remaining portion of the Stûpa, on the S.E. face, where the rubbish had been accumulated over it. The portion remaining was a mere fragment, 6 feet in height, by about 10 feet in length at bottom. It was entirely covered with a coat of plaster on the outside. The lower half was quite plain, but the upper half was ornamented with a succession of triangular-shaped recesses, narrow at bottom and broad at top, formed by setting back a few of the facing bricks. I conclude that these recesses were intended for lamps. The sides of each recess were formed in two steps, so that each would hold five lights. These recesses were nearly 13½ inches broad at top and 4½ inches at bottom, and from 8½ to 9 inches apart. Consequently there would have been 120 recesses in the whole circumference of 212¾ feet. Each row would therefore have held 600 lights for an illumination. But as each row of these recesses would have given three lines of lights, and as there were several rows of recesses the illumination would have taken the form of a diamond-shaped network of lights covering the whole of the lower part of the Stûpa up to the spring of the dome.
The present village of Bharhut, which contains upwards of 200 houses, is built entirely of the bricks taken from the Stûpa. The removal of bricks continued down to a late date, and I was told that a small box (dibiyâ) was found in the middle of the brick mound, and made over to the Râjâ of Nâgod. This must have been a Relic casket ; but my further inquiries were met by persistent ignorance, both as to its contents and as to whether it was still in the possession of the Râjâ.
According to the information which I received from the present Jâgirdar, the site of the Stûpa was entirely covered with a thick jungle so late as 60 years ago, when his family first got possession of the estate. The stone railing is said to have been then nearly perfect. This perhaps is doubtful, as the castle of Batanmâra, which contains several of the Bharhut stones, is said to be more than 200 years old. But when the wholesale removal of the Stûpa was once begun, part of the railing of the north-east and north-west quadrants on the side towards the village would have been first pulled down, and afterwards gradually removed. With the exception, however, of the rail bars, which weigh from 1½ to 2 cwt. each, the greater part of the railing, consisting of pillars and coping stones, was too heavy for convenient removal. Several of them were accordingly split lengthwise by regular quarrymen. Some of these split pieces yet remain on the ground, and amongst them there is one coping stone showing a row of quarrymen's holes or drifts along the top, but which is still unsplit. From this it would appear that the process of general spoliation may have been suddenly stopped, perhaps at the time when the present Jâgirdar's ancestor first got possession. This is also Mr. Beglar's opinion, who thus writes, "The cause of the sudden stoppage is doubtless the granting of the land on which these ruins stand in Jâgir to the ancestor of the present holder, a poor Brahman, who naturally would not allow the Thâkur of Batanmâra to carry off building materials lying on his land without payment. And being probably too poor to be able to split and move the heavy stones, he was obliged to content himself with pulling down the Stûpa, and carrying off the bricks to build his own house. To this circumstance, as I believe, we are indebted for the preservation of what still remains of this once magnificent Stûpa."
While the Stûpa was being excavated on the side towards the village, the rubbish, consisting of a great mass of broken bricks and earth, was thrown out to the south-west and south-east, on the sides away from the village. The weight of this rubbish at last threw down these two quadrants of the railing, as I found that the pillars had fallen outwards with most of the rail bars still sticking in their socket holes. The rains of many successive years gradually spread a mass of earth over them, until they were effectually buried to a depth of from 5 to 8 feet.
Although only a fragment a few feet in length now remains of the Stûpa itself we know from the pavement that its shape was circular, and its general appearance we learn from the bas-reliefs of three or four Stûpas which are found amongst the sculptures, all of which present the same common features. The dome was a hemisphere which stood on a cylindrical base ornamented with small recesses for lights arranged in patterns. A bas-relief on one of the longer rails, found at Uchahara, gives a good representation of the cylindrical base, with the addition of a regular railing in the usual position surrounding the Stûpa at a short distance. On the top of the hemisphere there was a square platform, also decorated with a Buddhist railing, which supported the crowning Umbrella, with streamers and garlands suspended from its rim. Large flowers also spring from the top as well as from the base of the square summit, and a cylindrical ornament is hung in undulating folds completely round the hemisphere.
The great stone railing which surrounded the Stûpa had four openings towards the four cardinal points. It was thus divided into four quadrants, each of which consisted of 16 pillars joined by three cross-bars and covered by a massive stone coping. From the left side of each entrance the railing was extended outwards for two pillar spaces so as to cover the direct approach to the Stûpa. With these four return railings of the entrances the whole railing forms a gigantic Swastika or mystic cross, which was no doubt the actual intention of the designer.
The railing thus contained 20 pillars in each quadrant or 80 in the whole circle, including the returns at the four entrances. But on each side there was an ornamental arch, called Toran, supported on two curiously shaped pillars, which are formed of a group of four octagons joined together, and crowned by four distinct bell capitals. These four capitals are covered by a single abacus on which rests a large massive capital formed of two winged lions and two winged bulls. One of these curious pillars was still standing on the south side of the east entrance, and the excavations brought to light the lower half of the second still standing in its original position, the upper half having been broken off and carried away. The mutilated capital of the second with four winged bulls was also found in clearing away the rubbish lying in the entrance ; but only a few fragments were discovered of the horizontal stone beams which must have covered these pillars, and which form such a remarkable feature of the similar entrances to the Sânchi Stûpa.
But in the walls of a garden tank, one mile to the westward, I discovered the broken end of a stone beam, which from its dimensions would exactly fit the capitals of the gateway pillars. The end of the beam, which is straight and heavy in the Sânchi examples, is here sloped downwards, and a spiral is formed not unnaturally of the curled tail of a crocodile. Three other crocodile ends of beams were found afterwards in excavating the ruins of the East Gateway as well as a middle portion of the lowermost beam.
Other portions of the Toran or upper part of the gateway were subsequently discovered. Of these the principal piece was found built into the wall of the castle at Batanmâra. This piece formed nearly the whole of one face of the middle beam of the Toran. The Thâkur of Batanmâra kindly permitted me to take it out of the wall. The sculptured face presents a central throne with a clump of bambu trees behind, to which two leonine animals are approaching, one each side. The animal on the right has a human head and that on the left a bird's head, but the two in the middle are true lions with huge open mouths. All have thick manes regularly arranged in two rows of stiff tufts. This face of the beam is complete with the exception of a very small piece at the left end, so that nothing is lost except the hind quarters of the bird-headed lion.
The fragment of the other Toran beam, which was found in excavating the rubbish in front of the East Gateway is unfortunately short ; but as it presents both faces of the beam, the whole can be restored without any difficulty. This beam represented a procession of elephants - two on each side of the centre, where I presume there must have been a banian tree with a throne - corresponding to the bambu tree on the other beam.
From these two fragments I infer that the Toran consisted of three beams, as in all the gateways of the Sânchi Tope. My reasons for coming to this conclusion are as follows : -
1. The lion beam is pierced, both above and below, with a series of small mortice holes, 11 in number, for the reception of the tenons of other portions of the Toran. This beam must therefore have been a middle one.
2. The short portion of elephant beam shows some mortice holes above but none below. Accordingly this must have been the lowermost beam.
3. The left-hand lower fragment of the great piimacle of the gateway shows a portion of a very large tenon below, which must have had a corresponding mortice hole in the upper side of the beam on which it stood. It could not therefore have been placed on the lion beam, and consequently there must have been a third beam, of which unfortunately not a single fragment was discovered.
The projecting ends of the Toran beams have already been described as composed of open-mouthed crocodiles with curled tails. The square part of the beam, between the curved centre and the crocodile end, was ornamented with a Stûpa on one side and a temple or shrine on the other.
Of the square block, or dado which was placed between the Toran beams and immediately over the pillar, no complete example was found. But from an examination of a number of fragments I have been able to restore this member of the Toran with certainty. It presented a face of three Persepolitan half -pillars standing on a Buddhist railing, with large lotus flowers in the spaces between the pillars.
The long spaces between the central curved parts of the Toran beams would appear to have been filled with a number of small balusters and pillar statues placed alternately. Many fragments of these were dug up, some of which were found to fit one another. The pieces were accordingly glued together, and as both their tops and bottoms were sloped is was clear that they must have stood upon the curved Toran beams. On placing them along the lion beam it was found that the two kinds of balusters must have been placed alternately, as their tenons were of somewhat different sizes, and would only fit into the alternate mortice holes. Their height also was found to fit exactly with the distance between the curved beams as determined by the size of the square block, or dado above described.
These little balusters are of considerable interest, as their sculptured statues are much superior in artistic design and execution to those of the railing pillars. They are further remarkable in having Arian letters engraved on their bases or capitals, a peculiarity which points unmistakably to the employment of Western artists, and which fully accounts for the superiority of their execution. The letters found are p, s, a, and b, of which the first three occur twice. Now, if the same sculptors had been employed on the railings, we might confidently expect to find the same alphabetical letters used as private marks. But the fact is just the reverse, for the whole of the 27 marks found on any portions of the railing are Indian letters. The only conclusion that I can come to from these facts is that the foreign artists who were employed on the sculptures of the gateways were certainly not engaged on any part of the railing. I conclude, therefore, that the Râja of Sugana, the donor of the gateways, must have sent his own party of workmen to make them, while the smaller gifts of pillars and rails were executed by the local artists.
I have ventured to restore the pinnacles which crowned the East Gateway from the existing fragments, of which enough have been found to make the restoration of the great central symbol quite certain. The wheel at the top has been taken from one of the Dharma Chakras, as the end of the hanging garland shows that the symbol was crowned by a wheel. The whole symbol is of common occurrence in Buddhist sculptures and coins. The smaller symbol of the Tri-ratna, or "Triple Gem Symbol," has been restored from a single fragment of one of the bars. The existing fragment is doubtless a small one, but, like the point of an elephant's trunk, it is the significant portion from which the whole can be restored with certainty.
Toran is a well-known name at the present day for an ornamented archway as well as for the ornamental frames of wood which are placed over doors and archways at the celebration of weddings. Some of these have a single horizontal bar, some two, and others three, just like the stone Torans of the Sânchi Stûpas. In the wedding Torans the ornaments placed on the top are birds and flowers. In the religious Torans the ornaments would appear to have been confined to well-known Buddhist symbols, which occur on the old Hindu coins, and which still crown the summits of the gateways of the Sânchi Stûpa. I have [reconstructed] one of the entrances restored, with its three Toran beams, its baluster pillars, and its crowning symbols. It is very much to be regretted that no portion of the upper Toran beam has been discovered, so that the restored gateway might have been made more complete. Amongst the numerous existing fragments I found none that could have belonged to the missing beam, which has accordingly been left blank in the restored elevation.
The Pillars of the Gateway are 1 foot 4¼ inches thick, and 9 feet 7½ inches high ; the four grouped capitals with their abacus are each 1 foot 1¾ inches high, and the large single capital 1 foot 10½ inches, making the total height of the Pillars 12 feet 7½ inches. With its three Toran beams, or architraves, each gateway tnust have been upwards of 20 feet in height without its crowning symbols.
The coping, or continuous architrave, which crowned the circle of Pillars, is formed of massive blocks of stone, each spanning two intercoluminations. The blocks are upwards of 7 feet in length, with a height of 1 foot 10½ inches, and a thickness of 1 foot 8 inches. They are secured firmly to each other by long tenons fitting into corresponding mortises, and to the tops of the pillars by a stout tenon on each, which fits a socket on the under side of the coping stone. Each block is of course slightly curved to suit the circumference of the circle, and this curvature must have added considerably to the stability of the Railing ; for as each set of three tenons formed a triangle, each coping stone became an efficient tie to keep the three Pillars on which it was set in their places.
The total length of ithe coping, including the returns at the four entrances, was 330 feet, the whole of which was most elaborately and minutely sculptured, both inside and outside. As before mentioned only one coping stone now remains in situ, resting on the three Pillars of the south-east quadrant, which abutted on the Eastern Gateway. But no less than 15 other coping stones have been found in the excavations out of an original total of 40, so that exactly three-fifths of this most important part of the Railing is at present missing. My second season's operations failed to bring to light any of the missing stones, although several fragments were recovered. The value and importance of this coping will be at once acknowledged, when I mention that amongst the sculptures which adorn the inner face there are no less than nine Jâtakas or legends of previous births of Buddha, with their titles inscribed over them. But besides these Jâtakas there are no less than 10 other scenes with their names labelled above them, and about double that number of uninscribed scenes, some of which are easily identified ; such for instance as the Asadrisa Jâtaka, or legend of Buddha when he was the Prince Asadrisa; and the Dasaratha Jâtaka, or legend of Dasaratha, including the exile of Râma and the visit of Bharata to his hermitage. There is also the story of Râja Janaka and the Princess Sivala Devi, both of whose names are duly labelled above them. These human scenes usually alternate, with bas-reliefs of various fruits or female ornaments, all boldly designed, and generally well carved.
At the end of the coping stone which faced the visitor as he approached each of the four entrances there was a boldly carved Lion, with a curly mane and long bushy tail, sitting on his haunches. The remains of three of these Lion statues were found, but all were unfortunately broken, and the head of only one of them was discovered. Next to the Lion, on both the inner and outer faces of the coping, there is a kneeling Elephant, from whose mouth issues a long undulating stem, which continues to the end of the quadrant, and divides the face of the coping by its undulations into a number of small panels, each of which is filled with sculptures. On the inner face some have flowers and fruits, some necklaces and earrings, and other personal ornaments, while the rest are occupied with the Jâtakas and other scenes which have been noticed above. On the outer face all the spaces marked off by the undulations are filled with repetitions of the same elaborate representation of a full blown lotus flower. This broad line of bas-reliefs is on both faces finished by two rich borders, the lower one consisting of a continuous row of bells. The carvings are bold and deep ; and where not injured by actual breakage, they are still as sharp and as perfect as when first set up.
The Pillars of the Bharhut Railing are monoliths of the same general pattern as those of other Buddhist Railings. They are called thabho throughout; the invariable ending of the record of a "Pillar gift being either thabho dânam or dânam thabho. The word is the Pali form of the Sanskrit Stambha a pillar. They are 7 feet 1 inch in height, with a section of 1 foot l0½ inches face for sculpture, by 1 foot 2½ inches side for the mortises of the Rail-bars. The corner pillars at the entrance are 1 foot 10½ inches square, which is the very same section as that of the Railing Pillars of the great Sânchi Stûpa. The Bharhut Pillars are, however, 1 foot less in height. The edges of all of them, except the corner Pillars, are slightly bevelled on both faces, and they are ornamented, after the usual manner of Buddhist Railings, by a round boss or full medallion in the middle, and by a half medallion at top and the same at bottom. All of these medallions are filled with elaborate sculpture, chiefly of lotus flowers, or of flower compositions. But there are also several of animals, and a considerable number of scenes taken from Buddhist legend and history. A few have single figures either of Yakshas or Yakshinis, or of Devatâs or Nâga Râjâs, and in one instance of a soldier. Several of these single figures unfortunately have no inscriptions by which to identify them.
Amongst the sculptured scenes of the Pillars there are several Jâtakas with their titles incribed above them. The conception of Mâyâ Devi, with the approach of the White Elephant is also suitably labelled. There is besides a curious view of the Tikutika, which seems to represent the world of Serpents and Elephants, with its name duly inscribed above it. And lastly there are representations of the Bodhi trees of six different Buddhas with their respective names attached to them [...]
The scalloped or bevelled edges of the Pillars are also sculptured with various ornaments, which add greatly to the decorative enrichment of the whole Railing. These consist chiefly of flowers and fruits with human figures, both male and female, standing on the flowers, with their hands either in an attitude of devotion, or reaching upwards to the fruits. On some Pillars the flowers bear Elephants, winged Horses, Monkeys, or Peacocks, while Parrots and Squirrels hang from the branches and nibble the fruit.
The ornamentation of the corner Pillars of the entrances is quite different from that of the others. The Pillars of the inner corners generally bear figures of Yakshas and Yakshinis, Devatas, and Nâga Râjâs to whom was entrusted the guardianship of the four entrances. Thus at the North Gate there are figures of Kupiro Yakho, or Kuvera King of the Yakshas, and of Chandâ Yakhi ; while at the South Gate there are figures of Chulakoka Devatâ and of the Nâga Râja Chakavako. On the two outer corner Pillars there is a quite different arrangement. The faces of these Pillars are divided into three compartments or panels by horizontal bands of Buddhist Railing. Each of these panels is filled with sculpture representing some scene or legend in the history of Buddha. Several of these are extremely interesting, as the inscriptions attached to them enable us to identify the different stories with the most absolute certainty. Amongst these curious records of the past is a scene representing the procession of King Ajâtasat on his elephant to visit the shrine of Buddha's foot prints, which is appropriately labelled Ajâta Satu Bhagavato vandate, that is "Ajâtasatru worships (the foot prints) of Buddha." Another interesting scene, which represents the Nâga Râja Erâpatra kneeling at the foot of the Bodhi tree, is labelled in a similar manner Erapato Nâga Râja Bhagavato vandate, or "Erapatra Nâga Râja worships (the Bodhi tree) of Buddha." Another scene of great interest represents the Râja Prasenajita in a four-horse chariot proceeding to pay his devotions at the Shrine of the Buddhist Wheel Symbol, which is labelled Bhagavato Dhama Chakam, or "Buddha's Wheel of the law." Other scenes present us with views of the famous Bodhi tree of Sâkya Muni, and of the Banian tree of Kâsyapa Buddha being worshipped by wild Elephants, both sculptures being duly inscribed with their proper titles. Lastly, there is a scene representing a dance of Apsarases, with the names of four of the most famous of those heavenly nymphs attached to the four dancers.
Altogether 35 Pillars, more or less perfect, have been found on the site of the Stûpa, along with numerous fragments of others. Six other Pillars were discovered at the neighbouring village of Batanmâra and no less than eight more at Pathora, making a total of 49, or considerably more than one half of the original number of 80. I think it is possible that some more Pillars may yet be found about Pathora ; but they will most probably be split down the middle, and their sides cut off, to fit them as beams for present buildings. Four of the eight which have already been seen at Pathora were found in this state.
The Stone Bars or Rails are of the same pattern as those of the Buddhist Railings at Buddha Gaya, Bhilsa, and Mathura. They measure 1 foot l¾ inches in length by 1 foot 10½ inches in breadth, with a thickness of 6 inches. The dimensions of the Bars of the great Sânchi Railing are 2 feet 1½ by 2 feet 1½ by 9½ inches. The Bharhut Rails are therefore very nearly of the same size, the chief difference being in their inferior thickness, which makes the curved surface very much flatter. The Rails have circular bosses or medallions on each side, which are sculptured with various subjects similar to those of the Pillar medallions. Amongst them, however, there are very few Jâtakas. But they present us with several humorous scenes, and with a very great variety of flowered ornaments of singular richness and beauty [...]
The total number of Rail-bars in the complete Railing was 228. Of these about 80 have been found, of which six are at the neighbouring town of Uchahara. As they weigh only about two maunds each their removal was easy, as a single bullock would have been sufficient to carry off one Rail, whilst a camel might have taken three.
The Rail-bars of the entrance, owing to the wider intercolumination of the Pillars, were considerably longer than those of the main Railing, the side openings being 2| feet and the front openings 3½ feet wide. The 19-inch round medallion which was sufficient to fill the surface of a 23-inch rail, would appear to have been considered too meagre for the decoration of the longer Rail of 30 to 40 inches. The round medallion was therefore changed to an oblong panel 25 inches in length which covered the greater part of the surface. I have seen only two of these long Rails, one of which I found in the village of Bharhut, and the other in the neighbouring town of Uchahara. The latter has been ingeniously split down the middle, and the two sculptured faces are now utilised as the ornamental capitals of the Pillars of a small Dharmsala erected by a Gosain. The sculptures of these long Rails present only religious scenes, such as the worship of the Stûpa, the Bodhi Tree, and the Dharma Chakra.
From several of the inscriptions we learn that these Rail-bars were appropriately called Suchi or "needles," a name that must have been bestowed upon them from the duty which they had to perform of threading together the Pillars by passing through their mortises or eyelet holes. One of these inscriptions may be seen in the sketch of the Latuwa Jâtaka, which is also inscribed with the name of the donor, ending with the words dânam suchi. Other examples give suchi dânam which is the more common form. It seems probable that in the former cases the inscriptions originally ended with dânam, and that the nature of the gift was afterwards added at the request of the donor. There are several similar instances of this kind of addition in the "Pillar gifts," which read dânam thabho as well as thabho dânam.
Between the magnificent Railing and the Stûpa there was a clear space of 10 feet 4 inches wide for the perambulation of the pilgrims round the sacred building. The whole of this space was covered with a thick flooring of lime plaster, which has lasted well even to the present day. The outer edge of the floor was finished by a line of curved kerb stones, cut exactly to the circumference of the inner circle of the Railing ; and the pillars were set against the kerb stones which just touched the diameter of the lower half medallions. The foot of each Pillar, which was quite rough, rested on a square block laid directly on the earth. The terraced floor was continued all round the outside of the Railing for a width of several feet. Here some traces of brick walls were found, as well as some Votive Stûpas of stone. These scattered foundations would appear to have been the plinths of Votive Stûpas and other small objects.
The excavation also brought to light the remains of a second stone Railing of much smaller dimensions than the Inner Railing. Only two Pillars were found, and only four pieces of the curved stone plinth in which the Pillars were fixed. But no less than 10 specimens of the curved coping stones have been exhumed, and all in positions outside the line of Inner Railing, which shows that they must have belonged to an Outer line of Railing. These coping stones are quite plain, but there is no mistaking their purpose.
At first I took them for outer kerb stones, but the mortises on their under sides showed that they must have formed part of the coping of an Outer Railing. The Pillars of the Great Railing in falling outwards overwhelmed the Outer Railing wherever it was still standing, as several pieces of the outer coping were found beneath the fallen Pillars of the Inner Railing. There is, however, good reason to believe that the greater part of the Outer Railing had already been removed long before the excavation of the Stûpa in the last century, which caused the overthrow of the Great Railing. The only two Pillars yet found were discovered in two of the adjacent villages where they have been worshipped for many years on account of the figures sculptured upon them. There must have been about 240 of these small Pillars, and it is difficult to believe that so large a number could have been utterly destroyed. They were most probably split into two pieces, and then used as building stones with the sculptured faces turned inwards. The entire disappearance of the Rail-bars is also very mysterious, as there must have been about 750 of them - each being 18 inches long and 7 inches broad. Of the two Pillars that have been found one belongs to a corner position and the other to a middle place. They are both 2 feet 1 inch in height with a breadth of 7 inches. As the plinth was 7 inches in height, and the coping the same, the total height of the Railing was only 3 feet 3 inches. The corner Pillar has a single human figure on each of the two outer faces, and the middle Pillar has a similar figure on its outer face. The figures are standing fully draped with their hands joined in respectful devotion. I believe, therefore, that both of these Pillars must have belonged to one of the entrances, and that the figures were placed on the adjacent Pillars as guardians of the Gateways, while the Pillars of the Railing itself were perhaps quite plain.
Respecting this Outer Railing I have a suspicion that its erection was necessitated by the gradual accumulation of the remains of many buildings around the Great Railing ; and consequently that it must be of a much later age. But however this may be, it is quite certain that the accumulation led at last to the necessity of adding a flight of steps, at least on the western side, where I found a solid stone ladder 3 feet 1 inch in width. As this ladder still possesses seven steps of 10 inches each, the height of the accumulated rubbish, from which the visitor had to descend into the area of the Stûpa Court, was certainly not less than 6 feet. Where this ladder was placed can now only be guessed, and my conjecture is that it probably occupied the actual entrance between the two lines of Railing [...]
Amongst the fragments collected from the excavations there are pieces of two stone Pillars of different dimensions, and with a different arrangement of the medallions from those of the Great Railing of the Stûpa. Both of these pieces are inscribed, but the letters do not differ from those of the other inscriptions except in being much thicker and more coarsely executed. The medallions are placed much closer together, within 6½ inches, so that unless there were two whole medallions as well as two half medallions, these Pillars must necessarily have been much shorter than those of the Railing. But as the remains of one of the medallions shows a diameter of 19 inches these Pillars must have been of the same breadth as those of the Railing, and therefore most probably of about the same height.
I do not, however, believe that they had any connection with the Great Railing itself, but that they belonged to some other distinct enclosure, which may have surrounded a Tree, or a Pillar, or a Dharma Chakra.
Their inscriptions do not throw any light upon the position which they may have occupied, unless the word âsana, a "throne" or "seat," may refer to the famous Vajrâsana, or Diamond Throne of Buddha. The inscription in which this word occurs has lost the first letter of each of its two lines, but they may be readily restored as follows :
(Ba) hu hathika âsana -
(Bha)-gavato Mahadevasa -
It is possible, therefore, that this Pillar may have formed part of the Railing surrounding a Vajrâsan. It is certain at least that the inscription does not refer to the medallion below it ; firstly, because it is placed far away from it, immediately beneath the upper ornament ; and secondly, because enough yet remains of the medallion to show that it was a large lotus flower. In two other instances where the words bahuhathika are found, they clearly refer to the "great herd of Elephants," which appears in the sculpture. Here, however, they are placed immediately beneath a row of human hands, which suggests the probability that bahu hathika may refer to the "many hands" of the sculpture.
Similar rows of human hands are found in another sculpture, which apparently represents a row of four altars or seats placed inside a Temple. I think it very probable that these also are thrones or seats of the four Buddhas to whom "many hands" are held up in adoration. If this explanation be correct then the inscription above quoted must refer to the number of hands lifted up before the Throne (âsan) of Bhagavata Mahâdeva. The Vajrâsan, or Bodhimanda as it was also called, was the name of a seat on which a Buddha had obtained his Buddhahood. This Throne was an object of great reverence, and is frequently represented in the sculptures. I believe that the middle and lower bas-reliefs of the Pillar on which Ajâtasatu's name is inscribed present us with actual representations of the Vajrâsan, or Seat of Sâkya Muni, with his footprints on the step below. The Throne seems also to be represented in all three of the right-hand scenes of the same Pillar, under the shadow of the Bodhi tree, which was omitted in the other scenes for want of room. The Vajrâsan of each different Buddha is also represented under the shadow of its appropriate Bodhi tree in the special scenes which are inscribed with their respective names. In two of these sculptures the seat is supported on Pillars, which very forcibly illustrates my suggestion that the broken Pillar with the inscription containing the word âsana was most probably one of the supporters of a Vajrâsan or Throne of Buddha.
Photographs by Anandajoti Bhikkhu
About this Website
Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License