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THE GREAT STUPA AT SANCHI
Transcript of THE GREAT STUPA AT SANCHI
Madhaya Pradesh (Sanchi), India
c. 300 B.C.E - c. 100 B.C.E
Mauryan Period of Buddhism
late Sunga Dynasty
stone masonry and sandstone
Height: 16.46 m (54.0 ft) (dome)
Diameter: 36.6 m (120 ft) (dome)
Ashoka was the first emperor of India to embrace Buddhism
following the teachings of Buddha to reach nirvana (salvation) from the cycle of Samsara (reincarnation)
Buddha's teachings = Four Noble Truths
1- The truth of suffering; suffering is unavoidable
2- The truth of the cause of suffering; the way to end suffering is to understand the cause of it (craving and ignorance)
3-The truth of the end of suffering; remove all desire, ill will, and ignorance
4- The truth of the path that frees us from suffering; following the eight fold path
CONTEXT: MAURYAN PERIOD
3rd century B.C, Under Ashoka, efficient and highly organized autocracy, strong standing army, highest population in an Indian empire, The Great Stupa's construction began during this time; originally built with brick
commissioned by Ashoka in 3rd century B.C.E
Ashoka started out as a cruel ruler with the one of history's bloodiest wars against Kalinga. Following this, he rehabilitated his ways and announced a new policy: "conquest by dharma (conquest by truth)." This was the start of India's conversion to Buddhism.
stupa: dirt burial mound faced with stone. the earliest stupas contained portions of the Buddha’s ashes (only in key locations of Buddha's life), causing the stupa to be associated with the body of the Buddha.
CONTEXT: THE EIGHT FOLD PATH
1- right understanding- understand the Law of Cause and Effect (karma, and how it affects their next life) and the Four Noble Truths
2- right attitude- no thoughts of greed and anger.
3- right speech- no lying, gossip, harsh speech, etc
4- right action- not to destroy any life, no stealing/adultery, etc
CONTEXT: EIGHT FOLD PATH CONT.
5- right livelihood- avoid jobs that bring harm to oneself and others
6- right effort- honestly doing one's best
7- right mindfulness- always being aware and attentive
8- right concentration- making the mind steady and calm in order to realise the true nature of things
did not have Buddha's ashes in it, may have been taken out
stupas remind the Buddhist practitioner of the Buddha and his teachings
Buddha wanted stupas to be available to everyone, so Ashoka followed through and built many during his reign
great buddhist teachers were sometimes buried in mounds while they were in a seated meditative position, but stupas are not tombs, but monuments that had relics of the Buddha
this leads to the mound or domed shape of the stupa. it came to represent a person seated in meditation much as the Buddha was when he achieved Enlightenment.
AUDIENCE: THE GREAT STUPA
buddhists visit stupas to perform rituals that help them achieve Enlightenment
the swastika signifies success and good fortune as well as the Buddha's footprints and the Buddha's heart. the swastika is said to contain the whole mind of the Buddha
Each torana leads to a walkway built halfway up the mound; the faithful would use this to circle the stupa clockwise to pay homage (circuambulate) to the central relics interred within, aimed towards the illiterate.
a meditational practice focusing on the Buddha’s teachings. this movement suggests samsara and the spokes of the Eightfold Path that leads to knowledge of the Four Noble Truths and into the center, Enlightenment. This walking is done in a clockwise motion and is supposed to represent the movement of the earth and the sun to bring harmony to the person with the cosmos.
center of a stupa symbolizes Enlightenment . each side has a gate (torana) in the center, which allows the practitioner to enter from any side.
At the top of stupa is a yasti (spire), which symbolizes the axis mundi (a line through the earth’s center around which the universe is thought to revolve). The yasti is surrounded by a harmika, a gate or fence (symbolizes the sacred domain of the gods), and is topped by chattras.
The axis symbolizes the center of the cosmos and also represents the same axis that bisects the human body. this aims to help climb the levels of one’s own mind and getting closer to Enlightenment.
note to self:
talk about the north gate
the base of the stupa = his crossed legs as he sat in a meditative pose (called padmasana or the lotus position)
the middle portion is the Buddha’s body
the top of the mound, where a pole rises from the center surrounded by a small fence (harmika), represents his head. the pole had chatras that symbolized honor and protection
if a practitioner builds a stupa he or she will not be reborn in a remote location and will not suffer from extreme poverty
a mandala or sared diagram of the universe. the dome presents the world with the cardinal points marked by each gate (torana).
stone masonry: old technique, common for many structures at this time, shapes rough pieces of rock into shapes, and then arranging the resulting stones, often together with mortar, to form structures, and wooden fences
on a hill (ensured quietude and seclusion) surrounded by other monastic ruins and smaller stupas and also was situated near the rich, populous and patronizing city of Vidisha, where Ashoka's wife (Devi) was born. The construction was also overseen by her
signifying sacred space and being closer to Buddha, walking the same path and getting closer as Buddha did to Enlightenment
INNOVATIVE AND CONVENTIONAL
conventional: monastic/spiritual and relics, was not the first stupa to be made (but is the oldest currently), stone masonry was common
innovative: a result of Buddhism, which had not been previously embraced by earlier Indian emperors, circumambulation of the stupa, narrative gateways
THEMATIC AND CROSS CULTURAL
both: stone, religious, had the dome relating to the cosmos, just leaders (Hadrian and Ashoka), consisted of entryways (porch and torana)
pantheon: concrete (sturdier, more extravagant), generally more extravagant; focused on the aesthetic of practice, one entryway, indoors, place of worship
great stupa at sanchi: focused on more of the practice, able to enter from all sides, outdoors, solid inside, place of practice
each gate also represents the four great life events of the Buddha: east (Buddha’s birth), South (Enlightenment), West (First Sermon where he preached teachings or dharma), and North (Nirvana). The torana are turned at right angles to the yasti to indicate movement in the manner of the arms of a svastika, a directional symbol that means “to be good”.
The torana are directional gates guiding the practitioner in the correct direction on the correct path to Enlightenment, the understanding of the Four Noble Truths.
THE NORTH GATE
added in the 1st century BC and is carved by the ivory carvers of Vidisha, deep relief (figures stand out)
This gate is crowned by the wheel of law (the teachings of Buddha) and yakshas. depicts Jataka tales (previous lives of Buddha) Buddha's enlightenment. Crowning each pillar on all four sides are four elephants (Buddha/guardian), four lions (guardian), and four dwarfs (structural) .
50 years after Ashoka, king Brhadrata was assassinated by the the commander-in-chief Pusyamitra Sunga who rose to power, first Brahmin king; moving away from Buddhism (doubt to the active persecution), the stone-encasing; shows either the lack of control of the Sungas in the area or a sign of tolerance, erection of balustrades (railing), a stairway and harmika
CONTEXT: SUNGA PERIOD
Buddha is not represent as a human but as a bodhi tree, the same kind of tree where he reached enlightenment at. middle architrave tells the story of how Buddha overcame temptation in the final moments of his penance when the evil Mara gets desperate and sends his own daughters to tempt him Buddha attains enlightenment and Mara’s evil army disperses in confusion.
three architraves, which end in spirals are supposed to represent rolled up scrolls
The architraves of this gate is supported by elephants facing four directions, the gap between the architraves is filled by more horses and elephants (represents India, power and common life, energy, wakefulness)
between the pillar and the lowest crossbar of the gateways are female figures/yakshas (earthly spirits). they serve no true architectural purpose, their legs are thrusting against the post and arms entwined in the branches of a tree. There is much smoother movement in the flexed bodies and more attention given to the open space around the figure. The fertility is emphasized in the large breasts and hips and the transparent draperies. The smooth modeling and roundness of forms combine to give the yaksha represents vitality