But what is the significance of this monument? Why was the mound built and what did it contain? Why is there a stone railing around it? Who built the complex or paid for its construction? When wasit “discovered”? There is a fascinating story that wecan uncover at Sanchi for which we must combineinformation from texts, sculpture, architecture andinscriptions. Let us begin by exploring the background of the early Buddhist tradition.
2. The Background:
Sacrifices and Debates
The mid-first millennium
is often regarded as a turning point in world history: it saw the emergenceof thinkers such as Zarathustra in Iran, Kong Zi inChina, Socrates, Plato and Aristotle in Greece, andMahavira and Gautama Buddha, among many others, in India. They tried to understand themysteries of existence and the relationship betweenhuman beings and the cosmic order. This was alsothe time when new kingdoms and cities weredeveloping and social and economic life was changingin a variety of ways in the Ganga valley (Chapters 2and 3). These thinkers attempted to understandthese developments as well.
2.1 The sacrificial tradition
There were several pre-existing traditions of thought,religious belief and practice, including the early Vedictradition, known from the
, compiled between
.1500 and 1000
consists of hymnsin praise of a variety of deities, especially Agni, Indra and Soma. Many of these hymns were chanted whensacrifices were performed, where people prayed for cattle, sons, good health, long life, etc. At first, sacrifices were performed collectively.Later (
onwards) some wereperformed by the heads of households for the well- being of the domestic unit. More elaborate sacrifices,such as the
, wereperformed by chiefs and kings who depended onBrahmana priests to conduct the ritual.
2.2 New questions
Many ideas found in the Upanishads (
onwards) show that people were curious about the meaning of life, the possibility of life after death,
A prayer to Agni
Here are two verses from the
invoking Agni, the godof fire, often identified with thesacrificial fire, into whichofferings were made so as toreach the other deities:Bring, O strong one, thissacrifice of ours to the gods,O wise one, as a liberal giver.Bestow on us, O priest,abundant food. Agni, obtain,by sacrificing, mighty wealth for us.Procure, O Agni, for everto him who prays to you (thegift of) nourishment, the wonderful cow. May a son beours, offspring that continuesour line … Verses such as these werecomposed in a special kind of Sanskrit, known as VedicSanskrit. They were taughtorally to men belonging topriestly families.
Compare what ShahjehanBegum described with what you see in Fig. 3. What similarities and differences do you notice?
List the objectives of the sacrifice.