South Gate of Stupa no. 1 at Sanchi, Madhya Pradesh

high-definition creative commons photographs from the South Gate of Stupa no. 1 at Sanchi, Madhya Pradesh, together with descriptions and some further information.

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Gate from the Front

This gateway is one of the two which were reconstructed by Major Cole in 1882-83. The whole of the right jamb and half of the left are new, as well as the west end of the lowest architrave, the east end of the middle architrave, and the six vertical uprights between the architraves. When the gateway was restored, the top and the lowest lintels appear to have been reversed by mistake, since the more important sculptures on them now face the stūpa instead of facing outwards. [1]

Top Architrave – The birth scene of the Buddha. In the centre, the figure of Māyā standing on a full blown lotus, with an elephant to right and left pouring water over her head. The rest of the lintel is occupied with flowing lotus leaves and blossoms among which birds are perched.

Middle Architrave – The visit of the Emperor Aśoka to the stūpa at Rāmagrāma. The relics of the Buddha were originally divided into eight portions, and it is related that Aśoka took seven of these portions, divided them up, and distributed them among 84,000 stūpas, which he himself erected. He failed only to secure the relics of Rāmagrāma in the Nepal Tarai, in face of the resolute opposition of their devoted guardians, the Nāgas.

Here, in the centre of the architrave, is depicted a stūpa, with an inscription on its dome recording that the architrave was the gift of one Balamitra, pupil of Aya-chuda (Ārya-Kṣudra), the preacher of the Law.

Above the stūpa are heavenly figures bearing garlands in their hands. To the right of it is the Emperor Aśoka approaching in his chariot, accompanied by a retinue of elephants, horsemen and footmen; and to the left, the Nāga and Nāgis, in human form with serpent hoods, worshipping at the stops, bringing offerings, or emerging from the waters of a lotus-pond.

On the projecting end of this architrave (left side) is an elephant in a lotus-pond with mahaut and females on its back, and a second female scrambling up behind; in the background, a pavilion with female figures looking out. To what particular incident this relief refers, is not known.

Lowest Architrave – Dwarf-like figures, known as kīchakas, are holding garlands in their hands and ‘spouting forth all summer' from their mouths. On the right end of the architrave is a decorative peacock with rocks and creepers in the background.

Left Pillar: Front Face: Top Panel – A Perspolitan column, rising from a stepped base and supporting a wheel with thirty-two spokes and an equal number of triratna devices on its outer rim. This is the dharma-chakra or "Wheel of the Law," the emblem of Buddha's first sermon. On either side of the wheel are celestial figures with garlands; below them are four groups of worshippers, and below the latter, deer, to indicate the spot where the first sermon was preached, namely, in the "Deer Park" (Migra-dāva) near Benares.

Front Face: Second Panel – The Emperor Aśoka in his chariot with his retinue around.

Gate from the Back

Top Architrave – In the central section are three stūpas alternating with four trees with thrones in front of them, adored by figures both human and divine. These represent the six Buddhas of the past and Gautama Buddha – three symbolised by their stūpas, and, four by the trees under which each respectively attained enlightenment. The tree on the extreme right is the pipal tree of Gautama Buddha and the one next to it is the banyan tree of Kāśyapa Buddha. The identification of the others is less certain.

The inscription on the dome of the central stūpa, reads as follows :– rāño Siri Sātakaṇisa āvesaṇisa Vāsiṣṭhīputasa Āna?dasa dāna?; translation: Gift of Ānanda, the son of Vāsiṭhi, (Vāsiṣṭhi), the foreman of the artisans (āvesaṇin) of rājan Siri Sātakaṇi.

On each of the projecting ends of this lintel is a horse with attendants and royal umbrella, issuing from a city gate. Possibly it is Kaṇṭhaka, the horse of Gautama, when he was going forth from the city of Kapilavastu.

 

Middle Architrave – The Chaddanta Jātaka. The story runs that the Bodhisattva was once born as the king of a herd of elephants. He had six tusks and was of great stature. He dwelt near the lake Chaddanta in the Himalayas, under a banyan tree and had two wives, Chullasubhaddā and Mahāsubhaddā.

Chullasubhaddā became jealous of Mahāsubhaddā and prayed that she might be reborn and marry the king of Benares, when she could vent her wrath on her present lord. Her prayer was granted and she became chief queen to the king of Benares. Then she summoned together all the hunters of the realm, chose one named Sonuttara, and sent him to the far-off lake Chaddanta to kill the six-tusked elephant King.

Here we see the Bodhisattva, towards the left of the relief, disporting himself among the lotuses, with attendant elephants holding the umbrella and the fly-whisk (chaurī) above him, to mark his royalty.

Then we see the same figures repeated towards the right of the relief, where the king is walking with the rest of the herd under the trees, while Sonuttara, ensconced among the rocks, makes ready his bow.

Lowest Architrave – The war of the relics. This was the war which the chiefs of seven other clans waged against the Mallas of Kusinārā for the possession of the Buddha's relics. In the centre of the architrave, the siege of Kusinārā is in progress ; to right and left, the victorious chiefs are departing in chariots and on elephants, with the relics borne on the heads of the latter. The scene is carried through on to the projecting ends of the architrave, and the seated elephants on the intervening false capitals are clearly intended to be part and parcel of the scene.

On the Side of the Gate

 

South Gate Ruins
South Gate in 1878

Photographs by Anandajoti Bhikkhu

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