June 11, 2017

3084 INDIA (Madhya Pradesh) - Buddhist Monuments at Sanchi (UNESCO WHS)

On a hill overlooking the plain and about 40 km from Bhopal, the site of Sanchi comprises a group of Buddhist monuments (monolithic pillars, palaces, temples and monasteries) all in different states of conservation most of which date back to the 2nd and 1st centuries B.C. It is the oldest Buddhist sanctuary in existence and was a major Buddhist centre in India until the 12th century A.D. Sanchi was discovered in 1818 after being abandoned for nearly 600 years.

These monuments record the genesis and efflorescence of Buddhist art and architecture over a period of 1,300 years from the 3rd century BC to the 12th century CE, thereby spanning almost the entire classical Buddhist period in India. It was founded by the Mauryan emperor Ashoka the Great (c. 272-237 BC), who built a Maha Stupa and erected a monolithic pillar and a monastery at the insistence of his queen, who was from Vidisha, located 10 km from Sanchi.

Several edifices were raised at Sanchi and its surrounding hills during the Sunga times. The Asokan Stupa was enlarged and covered with stone veneering, and balustrades along with a staircase and harmika were added. From the 2nd to 4th centuries CE, Sanchi and Vidisha were under the Kushanas and Kshatrapas and were subsequently passed on to the Guptas. A number of temples were built at Sanchi and Udayagiri during this period. Shrines and monasteries were also constructed during the 7th and 10th centuries CE.

The rich decorative art was also utilised on the toranas (gateways), where prodigious, lush carvings in bas-relief, high-relief and in the round constitute a treasure trove of iconographic depictions. The theme of the decorative work centres on the former lives (Jataka) of Buddha and on events from life of the Master. The fresh representation of plants, animals and human beings, the creativity apparent in the sculpted capitals and cornices combine to make this site an unrivalled masterpiece of early Buddhist art.

The Great Stupa is one of the oldest stone structure in India. Its nucleus was a simple hemispherical brick structure built over the relics of the Buddha. It was crowned by the chatra, a parasol-like structure symbolising high rank, which was intended to honour and shelter the relics. In the 1st century BCE, four elaborately carved toranas (ornamental gateways) and a balustrade encircling the entire structure were added. The sanchi stupa built during Mauryan period was made of bricks.

About the stamps

The first two stamps forms the series Monuments - Deekshabhoomi, designed by Nenu Gupta and issued on April 14, 2017.

The last stamp, depicting B R Ambedkar, is part of the definitive series Builders of Modern India, about which I wrote here.

Sanchi - Wikipedia
Buddhist Monuments at Sanchi - UNESCO official website

Sender: Mansoor B. (direct swap)
Sent from Bolar, Mangalore (Karnataka / India), on 24.05.2017
Photo: Abhinav Saxena

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