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

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


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Gate from the Front

Top Architrave – Six of the seven last Buddhas and Maitreya, the future Buddha, four represented by their appropriate sambodhi trees and thrones, and three by their relic stupas with attendant worshippers, human and divine. The bodhi-druma of Maitreya (left end of architrave, see below) is the nāga-pushpa tree (michelia champaka). [1]

Middle Architrave – The first sermon in the Deer Park (Mrigadava) at Sarnath. The "Wheel of the Law" (dharmachakra) is here set on a throne, and there are numerous deer to indicate the deer-park in which the sermon was preached. Whether Kauṇḍinya and his four companions are intended to be represented among the figures on either side of the wheel, it is impossible to say.

At each end of the architrave is a tree with a throne in front and attendant worshippers. To the left (see below), is the patali tree of Vipaśyin, with the four guardians of the world presenting their alms-bowls. To the right it is the nyagrodha of Kāśyapa, Observe the baskets of flower offerings in the right band relief.

Lowest Architrave – The Chaddanta Jātaka In this case, as in the North Gateway, the hunter Sonuttara is not brought into the scene. At either end of the architrave is a stūpa with attendant worshippers (see below).

Right Pillar: Front Face: Top Panel – Mahākapi Jātaka. The story runs that the Bodhisattva was born as a monkey, ruler over 80,000 monkeys. They lived at a spot near the Ganges and ate of the fruit of a great mango tree. King Brahmadatta of Benares, desiring to possess the mangoes, surrounded the tree with his soldiers, in order to kill the animals, but the Bodhisattva formed a bridge over the stream with his own body and by this means enabled the whole tribe to escape into safety. Devadatta, the jealous and wicked cousin of the Buddha, was in that life one of the monkeys and, thinking it a good chance to destroy his enemy, jumped on the Bodhisattva's back and broke his heart.

The king, seeing the good deed of the Bodhisattva and repenting of his own attempt to kill him, tended him with great are when he was dying and afterwards gave him royal obsequies. Down the panel of the relief flows, from top to bottom, the river Ganges. To the left, at the top, is the great mango tree to which two monkeys are clinging, while the king of the monkeys is stretched across the river from the mango tree to the opposite bank, and over his body some monkeys have already escaped to the rocks and jungles beyond. In the lower part of the panel, to the left, is king Brahmadatta on horseback with his soldiers, one of whom with bow and arrow is aiming upwards at the Bodhisattva. Higher up the panel the figure of the king is repeated, sitting beneath the mango tree and conversing with the dying Bodhisattva, who, according to the Jātaka story, gave the king good advice on the duties of a chief.

Second Panel – The Adhyeśana. The gods, led by Brahmā and Indra, entreat the Buddha to show mankind the way of salvation. From the rocks at the feet of the gods break tongues of flame, owing to their own or the Buddha's presence.

Lowest Panel – The lotus Tree of Life and Fortune, with lions rampant emerging from its stem. Observe the curious turn in the upper leaves. This method of treating foliage is peculiar to the Early School and is never found in later work. The inscription over this panel records that the pillar was a gift of Balamitra, pupil of Aya-Chuda (Ārya-Kṣudra).

Gate from the Back

Top Architrave – The relic scene at Kuśinagara (Kusinārā). After the death of the Buddha his relics were taken possession of by the Mallas of Kusinārā, whose chief is here depicted riding on an elephant and bearing the relics into the town of Kusinārā on his own head. The tree behind the throne in front of the city gate appears to be a Śāla tree (shorea robusta) and to label the town as Kusinārā because the Buddha's parinrvāna took place in a grove of those trees. The two groups of figures carrying banners and offerings, which occupy the ends of this architrave (see below), are probably connected with the central scene, serving to indicate the rejoicings of the Mallas over the possession of the relics.

Middle Architrave – The war of the relics. Here the seven rival claimants, distinguished by their seven royal umbrellas, are advancing with their armies to the city of the city of Kusinārā, the siege of which has not yet begun. The seated royal figure at the left end of the architrave (see below) may perhaps represent the chief of the Mallas within the city. The princely figures in the corresponding relief at the right end are repetitions of some of the rival claimants.

Lowest Architrave – The temptation of the Buddha. This scene extends over the three sections of the architrave. In the centre is the temple of Bodh-Gaya with the pipal tree and the throne of the Buddha within; to the right, the armies of Māra fleeing discomfited from the Buddha, to the left, the devas celebrating the victory of the Buddha over the Evil One and exalting his glorious achievements. The temple at Bodh-Gaya, which enclosed the Bodhi tree, was built by the Emperor Aśoka. Its portrayal in this scene, therefore, is an anachronism.


West Gate Ruins
West Gate in 1878

Photographs by Anandajoti Bhikkhu

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