+
3 Tutorials that teach The Great Stupa at Sanchi
Take your pick:
The Great Stupa at Sanchi

The Great Stupa at Sanchi

Author: Ian McConnell
Description:

This lesson will focus on the Great Stupa at Sanchi.

(more)
See More

Try Sophia’s Art History Course. For Free.

Our self-paced online courses are a great way to save time and money as you earn credits eligible for transfer to over 2,000 colleges and universities.*

Begin Free Trial
No credit card required

25 Sophia partners guarantee credit transfer.

221 Institutions have accepted or given pre-approval for credit transfer.

* The American Council on Education's College Credit Recommendation Service (ACE Credit®) has evaluated and recommended college credit for 20 of Sophia’s online courses. More than 2,000 colleges and universities consider ACE CREDIT recommendations in determining the applicability to their course and degree programs.

Tutorial

Exploring the Buddhist reliquary of the Great Stupa at Sanchi, India.

Video Transcription

Download PDF

Hello. I'd like to welcome you to this episode of Exploring Art History with Ian. My name is Ian McConnell. And today's lesson is about the Great Stupa at Sanchi. As you're watching the video, feel free to pause, move forward, or rewind as many times as you feel is necessary. As soon as you're ready, we can begin.

Today's objectives, or the things we're going to learn today, are listed below. By the end of the lesson today, you'll be able to identify and define today's key terms, describe some of the important physical characteristics of the Great Stupa at Sanchi.

Key terms, as always, are listed in yellow throughout the lesson. The First. Key term is Stupa, a sacred spot in memory of Buddha, or a saint designated by a mound of earth or other materials.

A Harmika is a small platform with a railing located on the top of a stupa.

Yasti symbolizes the universe. It's a pole position on top of the dome if the stupa.

A Torana, or gate, in Hindu and Buddhist architecture, a type of gateway.

Just a few more key terms. Circumambulation is the act of circling around a sacred object or deity object.

And Mandala is a concentric diagram with spiritual and ritual importance in Buddhism and Hinduism.

The big idea for today is that the Great Stupa at Sanchi is an example of a sacred Buddhist reliquary, a three-dimensional mandala, and the oldest stone structure in India.

And just a side note, this lesson has required artwork. And the page titles where you can find those works of art are listed in purple.

So when in history are we looking? Well, the Great Stupa at Sanchi was originally constructed under the reign of the Emperor Ashoka during the 3rd century BC. Now there have been renovations and additions over the centuries. But the first major reconstruction began in the 2nd century BC, after it was severely damaged.

Now Sanchi, where the stupa is located, is situated roughly within the middle of the Indian subcontinent, right about there.

Now stupas are structures built to hold Buddhist relics, which are sacred physical objects. Now this particular stupa was built to house some of the cremated remains of the Buddha. Now it's a mound of earth about 50 feet high. It's faced with stone, and the relic is housed within it. But unlike later Christian relics which were on display, these relics weren't intended for public display. They're kind of buried within the stupa. Instead, the stupa functions as a place for meditation, as I'll explain in a few moments.

There are four toronas, or gates, that correspond to the four directional-- cardinal directions, north, east, south and west. The Southern gate is the oldest, while the Northern gate is the best preserved. And the gates are covered in elaborate sculpture depicting stories from the life of the Buddha. What's really interesting is what's missing, specifically the Buddha himself. He's represented symbolically, but not in human form.

Unlike later artwork that depicted the Buddha as a human, this wasn't the custom of the time. The belief was that the Buddha had transcended his physical form upon achieving enlightenment. And it is a form of mandala.

Now this is a close up of part of the northern torana, or gate, from the Great Stupa at Sanchi. And the wheel was one of the forms of symbolism used to represent the Buddha, as opposed to a physical likeness. And here are two highlights of the wheel.

The next two images are some exterior views of the Greats Stupa at Sanchi. Here you can clearly see the dome and some scaffolding. This is probably under some sort of renovation project.

Here's an even better picture, close-up of the stone face of the dome, as well as one of the toranas forming the exterior stone wall.

Now we'll use this diagram to point out how our key terms relate to the Great Stupa. And the yasti is the pole that's kind of extended up from the top of the dome. It's not the three little circular stone plates. Those are called chatras. And those are not one of your key terms.

The harmika is the gated section on top of the stupa. It's a sacred space. You're not supposed to go in there. Torana is a gate. And the stupa dome itself. If you look right next to where the torana is pointing, in that railed section, keep that in mind, because I'm going to be referring to that in just a moment.

So this next diagram is an overhead diagram of the Great Stupa. And this gives you a better idea of the idea of how the stupa functions as a three-dimensional mandala, with its concentric layout. Now as I mentioned before, the purpose of the stupa wasn't to display the sacred relic, but was instead constructed to function as a place of meditation in the presence of the sacred relic.

Now meditators would move in a clockwise manner, making two rotations around the stupa, in what's referred to as circumambulation. The first turn would be in the innermost area, between the outer wall and the dome itself, in that light grey area. The second turn would be around the raised platform area attached to the dome itself, which I was referring to on the last page.

Now inside of the harmika was a pole called a yasti, which symbolized the universe and formed a connection between the Earth and heaven, or an axis mundi. The three images that I'm going to show you in just a moment are of the north, east and west toranas. But first I just want to point out some of the other features.

Here's the harmika, the stupa dome, and the torana. Or one of the toranas. That's the south torana there.

Now the next three images that I'm going to show you, like I mentioned, are of the north, east and west toranas. We'll begin with the north. Here you see a close-up of the sculptural program depicting stories from the life of the Buddha. And this is the northern gate, northern torana. Here's another image of the eastern gate. And here's a close-up of the western gate. You can see how each one is just a little bit different.

So that brings us to the end of the lesson. Let's take a look at our objectives to see how we did. Now that you've seen the lesson, are you able to identify and define today's key terms, and can you describe some of the important physical characteristics of the Great Stupa at Sanchi?

Once again, the big idea for today is that the Great Stupa at Sanchi is an example of a sacred Buddhist reliquary, a three-dimensional mandala, and the oldest stone structure in India.

And that's it. Thank you for joining me today. I'll see you next time.

TERMS TO KNOW
  • Stupa

    A sacred spot in memory of Buddha or a saint designated by a mound of earth or other materials.

  • Torana (gate)

    In Hindu and Buddhist architecture, a type of gateway.

  • Circumambulation

    The act of circling around a sacred object or deity object.

  • Mandala

    A concentric diagram with spiritual and ritual importance in Buddhism and Hinduism.

  • Harmika

    A small platform with a railing located at the top of a stupa.

  • Yasti

    Symbolizes the universe, a circular disk positioned on top of the dome of the stupa.