In 75 B.C., the tenth king of the Shunga dynasty, Devahuti (also known as Devabhumi) was murdered through a conspiracy by the minister Vasudeva, who founded the short-lived dynasty of Kanvas. Four Kanva kings ruled for only forty-five years; their dynasty’s end came at the hands of the Andhras in 30 B.C. The Sanchi stupas near Bhopal in Madhya Pradesh were built during this period, but it is not possible to trace the precise contribution of the Kanva rulers to this building complex.
The Sanchi region is full of stupas, which number 60 in all: 8 in Sonar; 5 in Satadhara; 3 in Andher; 37 in Bhojpur; and 7 in Sanchi. Most of these are miniature; only a few are large. The building of stupas commenced in the third century B.C., when Ashoka, then governor, married Devi, the daughter of a local businessman. He selected the site of the hillock, which after the construction of the great stupa was known as Mahachetiya. The dimensions of the original stupa are known, though the existing stupa was built two centuries later. A portion of the original Ashokan pillar can still be seen near the southern gate.
The Mahachetiya (Stupa I) is 54 feet (16.5 m) high and covers a circular area 120 feet (36.5 m) in diameter. The hemispherical dome has a truncated top, surrounded by a low railing (harmika) consisting of a stone shaft topped by umbrellas (chhatravali). The body of the stupa is made of bricks surrounded by stone balustrades. At the ground level runs the pathway for clockwise circumambulation around the stupa during worship. This path is surrounded by a railing with 9-foot (2.7 m)-high pillars, placed at an interval of 2 feet (.6 m), with three crossbars. Unlike the Bharhut railing, the Sanchi railing is uncarved.
The four gateways that provide access to the stupa, however, are of great aesthetic merit. An inscription on the southern entrance records that it was executed by the guild of ivory carvers of Vidisha. The minute, low-carved renderings vary from gate to gate, although some episodes have been repeated. The representations are of Jatakas (previous births of the Buddha), life events, yakshas, nagas, mythical beings, nymphs, flora and fauna, processions, and a number of decorative motifs. Like Bharhut and Bodh Gaya¯, Sanchi also suggests the presence of the Buddha through symbols. Similarly, Gajalakshmi, the goddess of prosperity, is standing on a lotus, anointed by two elephants. The number of Jataka tales narrated here is only four, while at Bharhut no fewer than thirty are depicted. Nevertheless, the stupa at Sanchi is one of the most impressive examples of ancient Indian art.
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