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08/25/2013

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T
HEMES
 
IN
I
NDIAN
H
ISTORY 
82
In this chapter we shall go on a long journey across a thousand years to read about philosophers and their attempts to understand the world they inhabited. We willalso see how their ideas were compiled as oral and writtentexts as well as expressed in architecture and sculpture. These are indicative of the enduring influence thesethinkers had on people. While we will be focusing onBuddhism, it is important to remember that this traditiondid not develop in isolation – there were several other traditions, each engaged in debates and dialogues withthe others. The sources that historians use to reconstruct thisexciting world of ideas and beliefs include Buddhist, Jaina and Brahmanical texts, as well as a large and impressive body of material remains including monuments andinscriptions. Among the best preserved monuments of the time is the stupa at Sanchi which is a major focus inthis chapter.
1. A Glimpse of Sanchi
Sanchi in the nineteenth century 
The most wonderful ancient buildings in the state of Bhopalare at Sanchi Kanakhera, a small village under the brow of a hill some 20 miles north-east of Bhopal which wevisited yesterday. We inspected the stone sculptures andstatues of the Buddha and an ancient gateway … The ruinsappear to be the object of great interest to Europeangentlemen. Major Alexander Cunningham … stayed several weeks in this neighbourhood and examined these ruinsmost carefully. He took drawings of the place, decipheredthe inscription, and bored shafts down these domes. Theresults of his investigations were described by him in anEnglish work …F
ROM
S
HAHJEHAN
B
EGUM
, N
 AWAB
 
OF
B
HOPAL
(ruled 1868-1901),
Taj-ulIqbalTarikh
 
Bhopal
 
(AHistoryofBhopal)
, translated by H.D. Barstow, 1876.
T
HEME
T
WO
 
Thinkers, Beliefs and Buildings
CulturCulturCulturCulturCultural Deal Deal Deal Deal Devvvvvelopmentselopmentselopmentselopmentselopments(((((
. 600. 600. 600. 600. 600
BCBCBCBCBCEEEEE
-
600600600600600
CECECECECE
)))))
THEME
FOUR
Fig. 4.1 A sculpture from Sanchi Fig. 4.2 Shahjehan Begum 
 
83
Nineteenth-century Europeans were very interestedin the stupa at Sanchi. In fact, the French sought Shahjehan Begum’s permission to take away theeastern gateway, which was the best preserved, to be displayed in a museum in France. For a whilesome Englishmen also wanted to do the same, but fortunately both the French and the English weresatisfied with carefully prepared plaster-cast copiesand the original remained at the site, part of theBhopal state. The rulers of Bhopal, Shahjehan Begum and her successor Sultan Jehan Begum, provided money for the preservation of the ancient site. No wonder thenthat John Marshall dedicated his important volumeson Sanchi to Sultan Jehan. She funded the museumthat was built there as well as the guesthouse wherehe lived and wrote the volumes. She also fundedthe publication of the volumes. So if the stupa complex has survived, it is in no small measuredue to wise decisions, and to good luck in escapingthe eyes of railway contractors, builders, and thoselooking for finds to carry away to the museums of Europe. One of the most important Buddhist centres, the discovery of Sanchi has vastly transformed our understanding of early Buddhism. Today it stands testimony to the successfulrestoration and preservation of a key archaeologicalsite by the Archaeological Survey of India.
Fig. 4.3The Great Stupa at Sanchi 
If you travel from Delhi to Bhopal by train, you will see the majesticstupa complex on top of a hill,crowning it as it were. If yourequest the guard he will stop thetrain at the little station of Sanchifor two minutes – enough time for  you to get down. As you climb upthe hill you can see the complex of structures: a large mound andother monuments including a temple built in the fifth century.
T
HINKERS
, B
ELIEFS
 
AND
B
UILDINGS
 
 
T
HEMES
 
IN
I
NDIAN
H
ISTORY 
84
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
BCE
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
Rigveda 
, compiled between
.1500 and 1000
BCE
. The
Rigveda 
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 (
. 1000
BCE
-500
BCE
onwards) some wereperformed by the heads of households for the well- being of the domestic unit. More elaborate sacrifices,such as the
rajasuya 
and
ashvamedha 
, wereperformed by chiefs and kings who depended onBrahmana priests to conduct the ritual.
2.2 New questions
Many ideas found in the Upanishads (
c.
sixth century 
BCE
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
Rigveda
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.
Discuss...
Compare what ShahjehanBegum described with what  you see in Fig. 3. What similarities and differences do you notice?
List the objectives of the sacrifice.
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