For over a decade I have wanted to visit the monuments at Sanchi, and finally in 2018 I fulfilled that ambition. Sanchi is unique in having the most perfect and well preserved stupas anywhere in India, with monuments spanning from the 3rd century B.C. to the 12th century A.D.
Being both an archaeologist and photographer, a site like Sanchi poses some problems for me when it comes to documenting my visit. Having spent over 5 hours at the site yielding more than 600 photographs, I have decided to break down my account into a number of blog posts :
- Introduction to Sanchi
- Sanchi – Stupa 1
- Sanchi – Stupa 2
- Sanchi – Stupa 3 (this post)
- Sanchi – Remaining Monuments
Situated less than 50m to the north of Stupa 1, Stupa 3 is the first monument you will pass having entered the Sanchi complex. Although it is of similar size to Stupa 2, it’s architectural elements more closely match that of Stupa 1.
It is believed the main elements of Stupa 3 were built in the 2nd century B.C. shortly after the reconstruction of Stupa 1. From inscriptions we know that the stairway balustrades for both Stupa 1 and Stupa 3 were gifted by the same individual, with the ground balustrade added about a century later.
Finally, in the early part of the 1st century A.D. the carved gateway was erected, making it the last of the great gateways to be built at Sanchi.
At slightly over 5m in height, the gateway architecture is very similar to that of the gateways of Stupa 1, although the workmanship is considered to be inferior. That said, it is still an absolutely stunning piece of art and worthy of a closer look.
The pillar capitals of the gateway each consist of four Yakshas (pot-bellied dwarfs) supporting the architraves, almost exact carbon copies of the capitals on the Western Gateway of Stupa 1, the last to be built in that set.
When Alexander Cunningham excavated Stupa 3 he uncovered the relics of the two foremost disciples of Buddha; Sariputra and Maudgalyayana. Sealing the relic chamber at the centre of the stupa dome was a large stone slab, below that Cunningham found two stone boxes with their lids inscribed with the names of the disciples.
Sariputra’s relic box contained a relic casket inside which were fragments of bone and seven beads made from pearl, garnet, lapis lazuli, crystal and amethyst. Maudgalyayana casket, also housed within a relic box, contained just two small fragments of bone. Both casket lids were inscribed with the initials of their respective occupants.
Sanchi Stupa 3 is of course slightly overshadowed visually by its close and much larger neighbour, Stupa 1. However, in the context of the overall history of Sanchi and Buddhism it is no less important and warrants a closer inspection.
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