Online Encyclopedia

SANCHI

Online Encyclopedia
Originally appearing in Volume V24, Page 128 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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SANCHI, a small village in India, at which there is now a railway station on the Bombay-Baroda line. It is famous as the site of what are almost certainly the oldest buildings in India now standing. They are Buddhist topes (Pali. thupa; Sanskrit, stupa), that is, memorial mounds, standing on the level top of a small sandstone hill about 300 ft. high on the left bank of the river Betwa. The number of topes on this and the adjoining hills is considerable. On the Sanchi hill itself are only ten, but one of these is by far the most important and imposing of all. All these topes were opened and examined by General Alexander Cunningham and Lieut.-Colonel Maisey in 1851; and the great tope has been described and illustrated by them and by James Fergusson. This is a solid dome of stone, about 103 ft. in diameter, and now about 42 ft. high. It must formerly have been much higher, the top of the tope having originally formed a terrace, 34 ft. in diameter, on which stood lofty columns. Cunningham estimates the original height of the building as about 100 ft. Round the base is a flagged pathway surrounded by a stone railing and entered at the four points of the compass by gateways some 18 ft. high. Both gateways and railing are elaborately covered with bas-reliefs and inscriptions. The latter give the names of the donors of particular portions of the architectural ornamentation, and most of them are written in the characters used before and after the time of Asoka in the middle of the 3rd century B.C. The monuments are Buddhist, the bas-reliefs illustrate passages in the Buddhist writings, and the inscriptions make use of Buddhist technical terms. Some of the smaller topes give us names of men who lived in the Buddha's time, and others give names mentioned among the missionaries sent out in the time of Asoka. It is not possible from the available data to fix the exact date of any of these topes, but it may be stated that the smaller topes are probably of different dates both before and after Asoka, and that it is very possible that the largest was one of three which we are told was erected by Asoka himself. The monuments at Sanchi are now under the charge of the archaeological department; they are being well cared for, and valuable photographs have been taken of the bas-reliefs and inscriptions. The drawings in Fergusson's work entitled Tree and Serpent Worship are very unsatisfactory, and his suggestion that the carvings illustrate tree and serpent worship is quite erroneous.
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