Temple no. 45 and other Ruins, Sanchi, Madhya Pradesh

high-definition creative commons photographs from the Temple no. 45 and other ruins at Sanchi, Madhya Pradesh, together with some further information.

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Temple no. 45


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Other Temples, Monasteries and Chaityas


Inscription on Asokan Pillar
Inscription on Asokan Pillar


Temple no. 45, description from John Marshall, A Guide to Sanchi [1]

(slightly re-edited)

We come now to the higher plateau on the east, the summit of which is crowned by the Temple and Monastery No 45. This temple dates from the 10th or 11th century of our era, and it is therefore one of the latest buildings on the site.

Two or three centuries before this, however, another shrine had been erected on the same spot with an open quadrangle in front, containing several stūpas and surrounded by ranges of cells for the monks. These earlier remains are at a lower level than the later and readily distinguishable from them.

To the later period belong the shrine on the east side of the quadrangle, together with the platform in front of it, and the cells and verandahs flanking it on the north and south, to the earlier belong the ranges of cells on the north, south and west sides of the quadrangle, the plinths of the three detached stūpas in the courtyard, and the low stone kerb which served to demarcate the edge of the verandah in front of the cells.

The cells of the earlier monastery are built of dry stone masonry of the small neat variety in vogue at the period, the foundations being carried down as much as nine feet to the bed-rock. Access to the corner cells was provided not, as was often the case, through the cell adjoining, but by an open passage between the two cells, while another open passage also led from the entrance into the quadrangle.

The verandah in front of the cells was a little over eight feet broad, raised about eight inches above the rest of the court, and separated from it by a stone kerb. This kerb is divided at regular intervals by square blocks which served as bases for the pillars of the verandah.

A specimen of the latter has been re-erected an its original position at the south-east corner of the quadrangle. It is 6ft 9in in height, with its corners partly chamfered to the form of an octagon – the squared faces being intended for ornamental carving.

The stone pavement of this earlier court consists of heavy stone slabs of irregular shapes and varying sizes. If the three small stūpas which stood on it, two had apparently perished down to their plinths before the later building was started, the third looks as if it had been intentionally dismantled in part, in order to make way for the pavement of the later temple. It is of the familiar cruciform type, with niches in the face of each of the four projections, in which no doubt statues were aforetime placed.

The remains of the early temple itself, as well as of the cells adjoining it on the eastern side of the court, are completely buried beneath the later structures, but parts of the platform in front of the former have been exposed by dismantling the debris foundation beneath the corresponding platform of the later edifice.

Apparently this earlier platform, though slightly smaller than the later one, was designed on much the same lines (the base of the earlier plinth is adorned with a simple cyma reversa moulding relieved with the "lotus and dart" pattern), and it may safely be inferred also that the plan of the sanctum itself was generally similar.

Like so many other buildings on the site this earlier temple appears to have been burnt down and left for a long space of time in a ruined condition. This is evident from the quantities of charred remains that were found on the floor of the courtyard and the accumulation of earth that had formed above them.

It might have been expected that, when the Buddhists set about rebuilding it, their first step would have been to clear away all this debris and utilise as far as possible the old materials but, whether from, religious or other motives, they preferred to level up the remains, lay a new pavement about 2ft 6in above the old one, and completely rebuild the shrine and cells adjoining it on the east side of the court.

At the same time they repaired and renovated the cells on the other three sides of the quadrangle, raised their walls and roofs between five and six feet, and constructed a verandah of the same altitude in front of them, which was thus elevated about 3 feet above the new courtyard.

The later temple consists of a square sanctum, (garbha-griha) approached through a small ante-chamber and crowned by a spire (śikhara), the upper part of which has fallen. The temple stands, at the back of a raised terrace ascended by steps from the west, and round three sides of it runs a procession path (pradakshinā) enclosed by a high wall. Like most of the temples of this date, it is constructed of massive blocks well dressed on their outer faces, but otherwise, very rough and loosely fitting together.

Much of the material of which it composed was taken, no doubt, from the earlier edifice on the same spot as well as from other structures, but the majority of the decorative carvings are in the later medieval style and were manifestly executed expressly for this temple. Such are the sculptured threshold door-jambs, the ceiling of the sanctum, the statues in the niches in the outside walls, and the ornamental work on the spire and round the face of the terrace.

To an earlier age, on the other hand, belong the corner pilasters in the sanctum and ante-chamber. The upper half of the former is newly decorated on both faces with the pot and foliage design set over a kīrttimukha head and surmounted by a band of floral ornament, with a border of palmettes above.

The capitals are moulded and fluted and provided with a narrow necking adorned with a conventional garland pattern. Above them are Hindu corbel brackets of a simple type. The style of the carving on the pilasters, which is strikingly like some of the earlier carvings at the temple of Bāro in Gwalior, proclaims them to be the work of the 8th or possibly 9th century AD, and it is evident therefore that they were not originally designed for this temple. This conclusion is also borne out by the rough drafts at their inner edges, which prove that in their original position they must have been partly engaged in wall masonry.

The ceiling of the sanctum is constructed on the usual principle of diminishing squares, and is carried on architraves resting on the Hindu brackets above the pilasters, and further supported by corresponding brackets in the middle of each wall.

Of these brackets it is noticeable that the one in the back wall has been left in an unfinished state, and it is also noticeable that the architrave above it has been partly cut away for a space of about two feet, apparently to make room for some object in front of it. That this object was the halo of a cult image of the Buddha may reasonably be inferred, though whether it was the image which is now in the shrine and which may once have been elevated on a higher plinth, or whether it was a taller image, for which the present one was afterwards substituted, is open to question. Clearly the existing image does not fit and was not designed for the plinth on which it rests nor could it have been intended that the wall behind and the decorative pilasters should be half hidden by the masonry which it was found necessary to insert for the support of this statue.

This image represents the Buddha seated in the earth-touching attitude (bhūmisparśa-mudrā) on a lotus throne, with a second lion throne beneath, which, however, may not have belonged to the original statue. Across the lower row of lotus leaves is inscribed the Buddhist creed in letters of about the tenth century AD.

On a projection in the centre of the lion throne are two much mutilated figures, one lying prostrate on its back the other standing apparently in an attitude of victory over it. Similar figures are found in front of the throne of a Buddha statue in Cave XI at Ellorā, which dates from the 7th century AD, and are probably symbolical of the victory which Buddha won beneath the Bodhi tree over the armies of Māra.

Unlike the pilasters of the sanctum, the two pilasters between the ante-chamber and the sanctum are roughly decorated with unfinished designs, one of which (on the north side) was cut through when the pilaster was adapted to its present position, and accordingly it may be inferred that the building from which they were taken had never been finished.

The sculptures on the entrance door-way are strikingly rich and elaborate. Projecting from the middle of the threshold a branching lotus with birds seated on the flowers, and, on each side of a half kirtti-mukha head, then come figures holding vases, conventional lions, and, in each corner, a seated corpulent figure of Kuvera. Much of the left jamb, as well as the lintel above, has fallen, but the right jamb is almost intact.

On the outer band is a stylized female standing beneath a tree, with a flowing arabesque above. Framed within this border are four vertical bands with a group of four figures at the base. Of these, the principal one is Yamunā, (the river Jumna) with her vehicle, the tortoise at her feet. Behind her is a female attendant holding a parasol above her head, and between these two a smaller figure, perhaps of a child, while a still smaller figure sits in the corner of the slab near Yamunā's right foot. Above Yamunā’s head is the bust of a Nāga, and above her attendant's head a lotus supporting a tiny figure of the Buddha in the bhūmisparśa-mudrā.

Of the vertical bands above, the innermost is covered with a scroll device, the next, which is supported by a demon dwarf (kichaka or kumbhānda), with leogryphs and riders standing on elephants, the third, also supported by a dwarf, is divided into three panels, each containing a male and two female figures in erotic attitudes, the fourth is in the form of an ornamental pilaster. The decoration of the left jamb, so far as it is preserved, is an exact counterpart of the right one with the single difference that Gangā (the river Ganges) with her vehicle the crocodile, is substituted for Yamunā.

The plainness of the exterior walls is relieved only by three niches, sunk in the middle of their southern, eastern and northern faces. In the southern one of these niches is the image of a God, perhaps Mayūravidyārāja, seated on a lotus throne holding a lotus stalk in his left hand, with his vāhana, the peacock, beneath and a female attendant to either side.

In the eastern niche is an image of Buddha seated in the attitude of meditation (dhyāna-mudrā) on a lotus throne supported by two lions and accompanied on either side by an attendant, who holds a lotus stalk in the left and a fly-whisk in the right hand. The other niche on the north is empty.

Carved on some of the stone blocks of the temple walls are several names (perhaps of the masons who cut them), some of which are now upside down, thus proving that the writing, which is in characters of about the 10th century, was engraved on them before the building was constructed.

The spire (śikhara), with which this temple was roofed, was of the usual curvilinear type which distinguishes the Hindu temple architecture of the northern style. Its summit was crowned with a massive āmalaka and kalaśa of the usual form, many dismembered fragments of which were lying immediately to the north-west of the temple, and from the multitude of other members discovered in the debris it is clear that the exterior was relieved on its four faces by repetitions of the same āmalaka motif alternating with stylized chaitya designs, but out of the confused mass of fragments it is now impossible to restore the original elevation with any degree of certainty.

All of the spire that is still actually standing is a hollow chamber immediately above the roof of the sanctum, and the vestiges of a small porch in front of it, which extended partly over the roof of the anti-chamber.

In the outer wall which surrounds the procession path are two windows of pleasing proportion, provided with heavy pierced stone screens decorated with rosettes and floral medallions and enclosed in a frame of conventional lotus leaves.

The raised platform in front of the temple was paved with architectural members taken from several earlier structures, among which were a number of broken pillars and cross rails belonging to Stūpa 3.

The vertical faces of the platform are adorned with niches and further relieved by salients and recesses, as well as by deep horizontal mouldings, which produce an effect of light and shade almost as indeterminate as Chālukyan architecture. In the niches are one or more figures – sometimes erotic – in the stiff conventional style of the period. Equally conventional are the decorative devices, simulating roofs, over the niches, and the lotus and other floral designs on the horizontal mouldings.

To the north and south of the temple are two wings, each containing three cells, with verandahs in front. The door-jambs of the two cells nearest the temple are enriched with carvings closely resembling those on the doorway of the temple itself, and, like the jambs of the latter, are spanned by lintels of a later and totally different style, the fact being that the building both of the temple and of the wings must have been suddenly interrupted, for what reason is not known – and not resumed again until many years afterwards.

In constructing the verandah of these wings some of the pillars belonging to the earlier monastery described above were employed, and it is interesting to observe that the carvings on each of these pillars had also been left unfinished and subsequently cut away at the top in order to adapt the pillar to its new position. These carvings consist of a pot and foliage base and capital and three kirtti-mukha heads on the square band between. They are in the same style as those on the pilasters in the corners of the sanctum.


Photographs by Anandajoti Bhikkhu

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