Explain the structural and sculptural features of the Sanchi Stupa.

Structural features:

  1. The Stupas were built on the relics of Buddha and hence were considered sacred.
  2. The stupa originated as a semi-circular mound of earth, later called Anda.
  3. The Stupa evolved into a more complex structure, balancing round and square shapes.
  4. A balcony like structure represented the adobe of the Gods was placed above the Anda.
  5. Arising from the Harmika was a mast called the yashti.
  6. The Harmika was surmounted by a chhatri or umbrella.
  7. Around the mound was railing, separating the sacred space from the secular world.
  8. Sanchi Stupa had stone railing which resembled a bamboo or wooden fence.
  9. The gateways of Sanchi were richly carved and installed at the four cardinal points.

Sculpture features:

  1. Stories from Jataka tales are made in the form of sculptures on the gateways.
  2. The empty seat to indicate the mediation of the Buddha.
  3. The Stupa was meant to represent the mahaparinibbana.
  4. Another frequently used symbol was the wheel, it stood for the first sermon given by Buddha at Sarriath.
  5. The shalabhanjika motif suggest that many people who turned to Buddhism enriched it with their own pre-Buddhist and even non-Buddhist beliefs, practices and ideas.
  6. Jatakas tales contain many animal stories of e.g., elephants, horses, monkeys and cattle. Elephants signified strength and wisdom.
  7. A motif of a woman surrounded by lotus and elephants is called Maya, the mother of the Buddha and others think that it is Gajalakshmi, the Goddess of good fortune.
  8. Serpents have been depicted on the pillars of Stupas. They are a part of popular traditions.

Some other sculptures at Sanchi were probably not directly motivated by Buddhist ideas e.g., beautiful women swinging from the edge of the gateway holding on to a tree. Here, we find some of the finest depictions of animals such as elephants, horses, monkeys and cattle. Animals were generally depicted as symbols of human qualities e.g., elephants were depicted to glorify strength and wisdom. Other motifs are that of a woman encircled by lotuses and elephants and the serpent which is found on many pillars.

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