Large, Rare Statue Portraying the Death of Buddha Unearthed at Ancient Bahmala Stupa Site

Large, Rare Statue Portraying the Death of Buddha Unearthed at Ancient Bahmala Stupa Site

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Two rare and ancient Buddha statues have been unearthed at the Bhamala Stupa site in Pakistan. The largest ever statue found at the site depicts the death of ancient sage Buddha. A second statue unearthed is a Buddha with a double halo, the first of this type to be found at Bhamala Stupa.

The team of archaeologists with the Department of Archaeology and Museums in Pakistan found these artifacts and 510 others at the Bhamala Stupa archaeological complex, a UNESCO Heritage site.

Dr. Abdul Samad, director of the Department of Archaeology, Hazara University says of the artifacts, “This is one of the few sites in the world to have the cruciform Stupa which was reserved for Buddha himself.”


The stupa monument at Bhamala. Stupas are mounded spiritual sites, usually containing Buddhist relics. Muhammad Zahir/Wikimedia Commons

The 14-meter (46 feet) long statue of the dying Buddha is the largest known from the Gandhara civilization. It rests on a 15-meter (49 feet) platform, and portrays a scene known as Mahaparinirvana, said to be the moment Buddha’s consciousness left his body and he died.

Sanskrit palm leaf manuscript illustrating the Buddha’s entry into Parinirvana. Artwork created circa 700-1100 CE.

The death scene of the Buddha is a significant moment in the Buddhist religion, represented in art and literature.

News site The Asahi Shimbun reports that a scroll depicting Buddha's death is being exhibited in Kyoto during this year's memorial service to commemorate Buddha’s passing. The large and elaborate vertical scroll dates to the 15 th century and is 12 meters by 6 meters (39 feet by 19 feet) in size.

The Asahi Shimbun writes, “It was created by painter and monk Mincho (1352-1431) in the early Muromachi Period (1338-1573), and is one of the largest ‘nehanzu’ (paintings of Buddha's death) in Japan.

The painting depicts the dying Buddha with his head facing west as he is surrounded by mourning disciples and animals. A cat is depicted at the bottom of the picture grieving Buddha’s death, a rare feature in a nehanzu painting.”

The Death of the Buddha, a hanging scroll painting at the British Museum. Credit: © Trustees of the British Museum

“Gautama the Buddha is the founder of Buddhism, a religion with around 300 million adherents, and is seen as a master and teacher even today,” writes Digital Journal .

The Bhamala Stupa site in Pakistan has revealed a wealth of history and treasure dating back thousands of years. Other excavations have uncovered hundreds of “terracotta artifacts, stucco sculptures, architectural elements, copper coins, iron nails, door sittings, pottery and 14 coins from the Kushan era,” reports The Express Tribune .

The site is believed to date back 2,000 years , and pending laboratory tests on recent finds, it may be even older. Clay Buddha heads unearthed at the site this year might date back to the 3 rd century A.D.

Unfortunately, some of the discoveries have suffered damage due to illegal excavations and looting over the years.

Samad notes, “The statue of Buddha's head is however missing, and may have been looted. “Other parts of the statue such as the left leg and arms were also found in a damaged condition.”

Excavations continue at the Bhamala Stupa – ancient site filled with long-hidden historical and spiritual treasures.

Hazara University Archaeologist - Dr. Muhammad Zahir - excavating at Bhamala Site in February 2013. Muhammad Zahir /Wikimedia Commons

Damaged stucco sculptures of Buddha at Bhamala. Credit: K-P Directorate of Archaeology & Museums

Featured Image: Buddha statue at Borobudur. Source: BigStockPhoto

By Liz Leafloor


A stupa (from Sanskrit: m., स्तूप, stūpa, Sinhalese: ස්ථූපය, Pāli: थुप "thūpa", literally meaning "heap") is a mound-like structure containing Buddhist relics, typically the ashes of deceased, used by Buddhists as a place of Meditation.

The term "reliquary" is sometimes used, after a Christian functional equivalent.

The stupa is the oldest Buddhist religious monument and was originally only a simple mound of mud or clay to cover Relics of the Buddha (cetiya).

After the Parinirvana of The Buddha, his remains were cremated and the ashes divided and buried under eight Stupas with two further Stupas encasing the urn and the embers.

Little is known about these early Stupas, particularly since it has not been possible to identify the original ten monuments.

However, some later Stupas, such as at Sarnath and Sanchi, seem to be embellishments of earlier mounds.

In the third century BC, after his Conversion to Buddhism, the emperor Asoka had the original Stupas opened and the remains distributed among the several thousand Stupas he had built.

Nevertheless, the Stupas at the eight places associated with the life of the Buddha continued to be of particular importance.

Accordingly, the importance of a stupa changed from being a funerary monument to being an object of veneration. As a consequence their appearance changed also.

the first stupa to be built was the Thuparamaya.

Later on Sri Lanka went on to build many Stupas over the years, some like the Jetavanarama in Anuradhapura being one of the tallest ancient structures in the World.

Sri Lanka also boasts construction of Stupas, which have used most advanced engineering techniques and Knowledge, for example the use of 'lightning conductors' and 'special shelters (vatadage)', which is the reason they have been standing undamaged for thousands of years.

They evolved into large hemispherical mounds with features such as the:

Torana (gateway), the vedica (fence-like enclosure evolved from the vedic villages), the harmika (a square platform with railings on top of the stupa), chattrayashti (the parasol or canopy) and a circumambulatory around the stupa.

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Buddhist Art and Architecture Before 1200

For many instructors of the art history survey, teaching Asian Art can be intimidating since it falls outside of the parameters of a Western area of expertise. It can be helpful for the instructor as well as the students to find connections between other cultures that have previously been discussed in class. Ask the class to provide examples of religious and/or administrative objects or buildings from the Ancient Near East or from Ancient Egypt to re-visit key issues in the creation of visual culture and the built environment. Introducing similarities between what has already been discussed can provide comfort and familiarity before moving into a discussion of Buddhism and Hinduism, concepts that can be challenging to those new to these traditions.

It is also helpful to explain to the class that although Buddhism is an outgrowth of Hinduism, there is a specific reason to begin the discussion with Buddhism. Since Buddhism attracted a large number of adherents many years after the death of the historical Buddha, a visual culture was introduced to aid the practitioner. Hinduism, which was not originally a faith with statues of deities, was forced to follow suite in order to remain competitive with Buddhism as it spread through India and other parts of the Himalayan region and Southeast Asia. In other words, Buddhism as a faith came second, but its visual culture came first.

The primary focus of the lecture will be on Buddhism, outlining its origins in the historical figure of Siddhartha Guatama (the Buddha) and its two earliest phases: Hinayana, which underscored an aniconic practice, and Mahayana, which introduced a reliance on icons of the Buddha and other newly emerging deities such as the bodhisattva.

A close analysis exercise:

Assign this video on the Great Stupa (Māhā Stupa) before class to ground students in a common Buddhist practice—pilgrimage and ritual circumambulation. Project a slide of the stupa and ask “what qualities does this share with other monuments we have previously discussed?” See how many examples the students can reference. You can then generate a conversation comparing and contrasting the Parthenon and the Great Stupa of Sanchi. Ask the students to look first at the shape of the two structures.

Do they have any thoughts on how the shape of the stupa underscores its very different function from the Parthenon? Ask if they notice any other differences. Who is permitted to enter the Parthenon? Where do the lay people gather? How is that similar or dissimilar to how the stupa is used? To what direction or directions are the Parthenon and the Great Stupa oriented? Is that significant in relation to the practice of the religion? Each monument is dedicated to a specific figure. What is the location of the cult figure in each? How does this affect devotion to this figure? Both the Parthenon and the stupa also contain a large number of reliefs. Why? How do the reliefs play a part? Are there images of the specific figure on each? Why or why not? These are just some examples of questions that the instructor can pose to the class to facilitate a discussion through close looking and through revisiting past lecture materials.

Background Readings

Buddha and Attendants, c.182 BCE, Ghandara, northwest Pakistan.

Instructor resources:

Vidya Dehejia, Indian Art, particularly “Experiencing Art: The Viewer, The Art, and The Artist” (Phaidon, 1997).

Denise Leidy, The Art of Buddhism (Shambala, 2008).

Meher MacArther, Reading Buddhist Art (Thames and Hudson, 2004).

George Mitchell, Hindu Art and Architecture (Thames and Hudson, 2000).

Partha Mitter, Indian Art (Oxford, 2001).

The Metropolitan Museum of Art has an excellent section devoted to South Asian art and culture, The Buddha, and the Mauryan Empire (c. 323–185 BCE).

PBS provides an overall history of India (PBS: The Story of India), while a history of Buddhism is addressed in The Big View. Additional information can be found in several Smarthistory links, including sections dedicated to stupas, the Ashoka Pillars, the Lion Capital, and Buddhist Monasteries.

Suggested student discussion readings and videos for this lecture:

Read #31 (“Pillar of Ashoka”) in MacGregor’s The History of the World in 100 Objects, which can also be found on the BBC.

The video, “Beliefs Made Visible: Art in South Asia” (Part II) (Buddhism).

Watch “Bamiyan Buddhas: Should They be Rebuilt” for a final in class discussion.

Content Suggestions

Key questions for the lecture: How do the objects from Buddhism illustrate the main tenets from the faith for the practitioner? How and why did Buddhism move from an aniconic based practice to an iconic one? What role did the trade routes play in the dissemination of Buddhism and the subsequent creation of Buddha’s image? How did the visual culture of Buddhism influence Hinduism? Why are there so many deities in Buddhism and Hinduism? Why do they look the way they do?

Timeline: c. third century BCE (seals) to c. tenth century CE (early Pala Dynasty)

It is suggested to split the Art and Architecture of Southeast Asia into two lectures or more if there is time, since the lecture addresses early Indic civilization and a major world religion. The lecture notes are lengthy, particularly those on Buddhism. The instructor can pick and choose which objects and content to include in the lecture:

  • The Great Stupa at Sanchi, third century BCE. Added to in first century BCE
  • aniconic images of the Buddha
  • Rock cut monasteries (Ajanta Caves, the Bhava Caves, and the Karle Caves)
  • Coins from the Kushan Empire, first-second century CE
  • King Kanishka, c. 120 CE
  • Gandarhan Buddhas, both standing and seated, c. second–third century CE
  • Mathuran Seated Buddha, c. late first–early second century CE
  • Sarnath Buddha, First Sermon
  • Pala Dynasty, Seated Buddha at Enlightenment, tenth century
  • Pala Dynasty, Seated Buddha Teaching the Dharma (The First Sermon), eleventh century CE
  • Tara, c. ninth century CE
  • Bamiyan Buddha, c. fifth century CE

India is home to several major world religions, three of which were formulated there: Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism. Each of these faiths constructed distinctive objects in honor of their deities. Christianity arrived within years of Christ’s death (first century CE). Islam began in the Arabian Peninsula and reached India in the ninth century, well established by the thirteenth century. Sikhism arose in the sixteenth century as a singular outcome of the Hindu-Islamic encounter. In general, religious temples were constructed of stone and have survived for us today. The great palaces and cities were made from brick and wood and did not survive the heat and humidity of the region.

During the time that the early Indus cities were abandoned, archeological and literary records reveal the presence of Indo-European speaking communities in the northwestern part of the subcontinent. Scholars are still trying to work out the process of migration or assimilation that explains their presence. These people, who called themselves Aryas or Noble Ones, spoke an ancient form of the language known as Sanskrit, one of several Indo-European languages.

The Aryas composed a sacred text known as Veda, or Knowledge, which was transmitted orally for at least a millennium. The first of the four Vedas, the Rigveda, finally written down around 1300 BCE, provides a picture of a nomadic people, the Aryas, who lived along the Indus River and whose primary occupation was stock-breeding. Arya’s superiority over the Indus civilization was due to their possession of the horse and the spoke-wheeled chariot, both apparently unknown to the Indus peoples, and more efficient weapons. The Aryas organized themselves into groups that held regular assemblies, and they had distinctive sacred cults centering on sacrifice. They considered the local dark-skinned Dasas, or Dravidians, to be inferior and described them as “non-sacrificers.”According to some Indian scholars, it was this attitude that set in motion the societal organization known as the caste system noted earlier.

The three later Vedas indicate the movement of the Aryas into the plains of the Ganges River that became their heartland. Agriculture took over from cattle breeding and the earth goddess rose to prominence. We see evidence of these goddesses in the proliferation of yakshi sculptures (discussed below). By the sixth century, northern India was divided into a number of small principalities. Elaborate sacrificial rites had become obligatory and their accurate completion required familiarity with many details, known only to the priestly Brahmins. The Brahmin’s dominant status and the subsequent transformation into a rigid caste system led to considerable discontent. One outcome of this discontent was the rise in alternative belief systems to Hinduism. Sages, philosophers, spiritual leaders, and sects roamed the Ganges Valley, and as many as sixty-six new religions developed. Only two survived to become influential: Jainism, under the direction of Māhāvira, and Buddhism, through the teachings of Siddhārtha Gautama, later known as the Buddha.

Some of the core tenets of these early belief systems are the following:

  • samsara: the cycle of birth, death, disease and decay.
  • karma: the universal law of cause and effect.
  • maya: the illusionary nature of the phenomenal world, including skepticism of the physical world and a desire to find the truth beyond it.
  • mokśa: liberation, release from samsara.
  • nirvana: the possibility of release from samsara and release from samsara (suffering) the cycle of birth, death, life, pain, and misery.

Siddhartha and Buddhism

Buddhism is the second ideology that rose to prominence, spreading across southeast Asia in the following centuries, up to the Tibetan plateau, and across into China, Korea, and Japan.

Siddhartha (also known as Shakyamuni referring to the Śakya (lion) clan into which he was born) spent his early life surrounded by the luxuries of palace life sheltered from the ills of the world. After four short and secretive trips outside the palace walls, he observed an old man, a sick man, a dead man, and a holy man. Committed then to finding the answer to overcome the suffering of the world as demonstrated in these four encounters, he left the palace at the age of twenty-nine and spent a number of years following the Sramana mendicant movement, an extreme ascetic movement, that was common in his region, but was unable to find a solution to the suffering he witnessed.

Arriving at a small village, Bodh Gaya, is what is now the Bihar district, he sat down under a Pipal tree and meditated, vowing not to stop until he completely understood the illusionary nature of the world (maya). During his meditation, Śakyamuni achieved a means for individuals to understand the meaning of life and the way toward being released from that life as exemplified in samsara, the endless cycle of birth, disease, decay and death. His realization, known as his Enlightenment, was the Four Noble Truths, which is referred to as the dharma (or the Buddhist law).

The Buddha, through his teachings, provided the long-hoped-for resolution to the question of a being’s future. Without contradicting existing belief systems, he revealed a path of deliverance that was, for the first time, accessible to all—The Middle Path, neither a wealthy nor a poverty driven extreme was the answer. Individuals who also come to fully understand the Four Noble Truths are able to then achieve Enlightenment. The endless cycle of rebirth ends and the individual attains moksha (liberation from samsara at death) and nirvana (peace of mind).

  • Life is suffering (suffering =rebirth).
  • The cause of suffering is desire.
  • The cause of desire must be overcome.
  • When desire is overcome, there is no more suffering (suffering=rebirth).

Once Shakyamuni arrived at the knowledge of the Four Noble Truths he became an Enlightened Being and is henceforth known as the Buddha, the Enlightened or Awakened One. Bodhi or Enlightenment, is a state of perfect knowledge or wisdom, and is the result of the unification of compassion (karunā) and wisdom (prajñā), aspects that are articulated in much of the visual culture of Buddhism. Male deities embody compassion, particularly Avalokiteshvara (“The One Who Looks Down”) who is known as the Bodhisattva of Compassion, while the female deities embody wisdom. Prajnaparamita (the perfection of wisdom) is actually the personification of a book, the book of Buddhist wisdom. When a male (compassion) and a female (wisdom) deity are joined together in sexual union, they represent the perfection of the Enlightened Mind.

The tree in Bodh Gaya under which he meditated, a Pipal tree, is now known as the Bodhi Tree, or the Tree of Enlightenment. This event is the most commonly depicted story from the Buddha’s life. Prior to the establishment of a human image of the Buddha, an image of the Bodhi Tree was depicted as a focus of devotion. After an image of the Buddha was created in the last century BCE, about five-hundred years after his death, a scene of Buddha in the very act of Enlightenment was typically produced as a reminder for the practitioner of this important and foundational event, In this example, Buddha sits below the Bodhi Tree, which is visible at the apex of the stele. His left hand is palm up, open to receive wisdom and his right hand touches the earth (a gesture called bhumisparsamudra and a symbol of his Enlightenment), calling the earth to witness his new knowledge of the Four Noble Truths.

Another typical scene that soon followed was the Buddha preaching his first sermon (ie. “turning the wheel of the law (the dharma)), shown in this example. The Buddha makes the dharmacakramudra, the turning the wheel of the law (the dharma) gesture, which symbolizes the spreading of the law (the Four Noble Truths) to all directions. He is essentially setting the wheel of the law in motion. More extensive analysis on the image of the Buddha can be found later in the lecture.

The Magadha region in the north of India emerged as the center of the first Indian empire, the Mauryan Dynasty. The empire prospered due to its control of the river trade, forests, and rich deposits of minerals and strategic expansion. The third emperor of this dynasty, Ashoka (Aśoka, pronounced Ashoke), who came to the throne two-hundred and eighteen years after Buddha’s Enlightenment, was the first leader to accept Buddhism and thus the first major patron of Buddhist art. After inheriting the empire, Ashoka made a dramatic conversion to Buddhism after witnessing the carnage of his conquest of Kalinga. He became a Buddhist and a pacifist and instructed his subjects to practice compassion and ethical behavior. The code of behavior (dharma or referred to as dhamma in his edicts) also showed political astuteness and ingrained a social responsibility in an empire where tensions between urban merchants and the Brahmin caste threatened stability. Buddhism did not become the state religion, but through Ashoka’s support, it spread widely and rapidly.

Note: Patronage

Art historians often use royal empires to label or date religious objects, especially architecture. However, this is often a non-productive method since it was the laity who also commissioned these objects or members of the royal family, not the ruler himself. Or, if it was the ruler he often was acting in a personal capacity as a devotee, or sometimes it was to consolidate religion and politics.

One of Ashoka’s first artistic programs was the erection of pillars scattered throughout the empire, some of which had edicts inscribed upon them. The first pillar was discovered in the sixteenth century and the edicts were translated in the 1830s. Since the seventeenth century, one hundred and fifty Ashokan inscriptions have been found carved into the face of rocks and cave walls, which, along with the pillars, served to mark his vast kingdom that stretched across northern India, south to below the central Deccan plateau, and in areas now known as Nepal, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan. The rocks and pillars were placed along trade routes and in border cities where the edicts could be read by the largest number of people possible. They were also erected at pilgrimage sites such as at Bodh Gaya, the place of Enlightenment, Sarnath, the site of the First Sermon, and Sanchi, the site of an important Buddhist architectural structure.

Some pillars were inscribed with dedicatory inscriptions that give a firm date and names Ashoka as the patron. The script is Brahmi, the language from which all Indic languages have developed. A few of the edicts found in the western part of India are written in a script that is closely related to Sanskrit. One in Afghanistan is inscribed in both Aramaic and Greek, demonstrating Ashoka’s desire to reach the many cultures of his kingdom. The pillars vary from forty to fifty inches in height. Only nineteen of the original pillars survive and many are in fragments.

Some of the inscriptions are secular in nature. Ashoka apologizes for the massacre in Kalinga and assures the people that he now has only their welfare in mind. Some boast of the good works that Ashoka has done to provide for his people or inform them of his reforms. The pillars and edicts that have faith-related inscriptions represent the first physical evidence of Buddhism. The inscriptions assert Ashoka’s Buddhism and support his desire to spread the dharma throughout his kingdom. The edicts, through their strategic placement and couched in the Buddhist dharma, serve to underscore Ashoka’s administrative role as a tolerant leader.

It is this pillar that was adopted as the national emblem of India, here depicted on the onerupee note and the two-rupee coin. The large cakra that used to grace the tops of the four lion’s heads is in the center of the national flag of India.

Suggested comparisons with previous lecture material:

Ashoka’s edicts compared with the codes from the Law Code of Hammurabi and/or the Votive Statue of Gudea. Students can be asked to think about what information does each ruler want to impart about his rule? How? Why?

The Lion Capital of Sarnath, erected at Sarnath where Buddha preached his first sermon, is the most famous pillar. Currently, the pillar remains where it was originally sunk into the ground, but the capital is now on display at the Sarnath Museum. Several Buddhist symbols are present in the capital.

Lotus (padma): The lotus is probably the most recognizable symbol of Buddhism, found at the base of this capital. It is a pervasive symbol of transcendence: the lotus flower rises through the muddy waters of the mundane world and into the pure air where it spectacularly blooms with nary a trace of the mud from which it came. It is the perfect metaphor for the Buddha and his followers as they rise from the mud of desire, avarice, etc., to the purity of Enlightenment. The Buddha, unless he is standing, always sits in what is known as full lotus (padmasana) position, legs crossed with his feet turned up and placed on opposite thighs representing his full achievement of the purity of Enlightenment. He and other deities are also often depicted as seated or standing upon a lotus throne indicating that they exist in a transcendental space. Deities also often hold a lotus, usually blue, but sometimes white.

On top of the lotus in the capital rests the drum on which four animals are carved representing the four directions: a horse (west), an ox (east), an elephant (south), and a lion (north). Each of the animals can also be identified by each of the four perils of samsara (birth, disease, death, decay). The animals follow one another endlessly turning the wheel of existence.

Four lions stand atop the drum. They also face in the four cardinal directions. Their mouths are open roaring to spread the dharma across the land. Again, the lion references the Buddha, a member of the Śakya (lion) clan. The lion is also a symbol of royalty and leadership and may also represent Ashoka himself. A wheel (the dharmacakra—the wheel of the law) was originally mounted atop the lions. Thus, the pillar reads from bottom to top. The lotus represents the mundane world and the four animals remind the practitioner of the unending cycle of samsara as we remain, through our ignorance and fear, stuck in the material world. But the cakras between them offer the promise of the dharma that aids one to the unmoving center at the hub of the wheel. The lions are the Buddha himself from whom the knowledge of release from samsara is possible and the cakra at the apex represents moksa, the release from samsara.

Suggested comparisons with previous lecture material:

Ashoka’s edicts compared with the codes from the Law Code of Hammurabi and/or the Votive Statue of Gudea. Students can be asked to think about what information does each ruler want to impart about his rule? How? Why?

The first visual images of Buddhism did not portray a human likeness of the Buddha. Instead devotees focused on objects to aid their practice. Practitioners revered objects associated with the historical Buddha such as his ashes, the objects he touched, and the places he visited. As a result, stupas, mounds of dirt (the word means ‘heap) that contain the Buddha’s ashes, proliferated throughout northern India, predominantly under the patronage of King Ashoka. Essentially, stupas are reliquaries (review with class previous discussions of reliquaries, pilgrimage, and relics). They are also memorials marking the location of an event in the Buddha’s life and can function as votive offerings when in miniature form. Miniature stupas also function as votive offerings. Practitioners use stupas as a focus for meditation and to help them to understand the dharma. A great video from the Asian Art Museum can be found here.

The practice of building stupas spread up into Nepal and Tibet (called chorten), Bhutan, Thailand, Burma (chedi), China, and other countries that adopted a Buddhist doctrine. Stupas changed in physical form, but not in function.

Why a stupa? One of the early sutras (stories, threads) records that the Buddha gave directions to honor his remains (the Maha-parinibbāna sutra). They were to be buried in a stupa at the crossing of the four great roads (the four directions of space). The stupa form was already a way in which the ashes of an honored teacher or individual were buried. Prior to his death (parinirvana), the Buddha directed that stupas should be erected in many places other than those associated with historic moments of his life so that “the hearts of many shall be made calm and glad.”

The Great Stupa at Sanchi (the Māhāstūpa), for example, is the oldest stone structure in India and one of the primary destinations of Buddhist pilgrimage. It was commissioned by the Emperor Ashoka in the third century BCE. In the first century BCE, four intricately carved gateways and a balustrade that encircled the entire stupa were added. King Ashoka’s visit to the stupa is commemorated on the East Gate. Although Ashoka did lend his station to the creation of the Great Stupa at Sanchi, a thousand lay individuals also contributed.

Like other ancient structures associated with religion or government, the Great Stupa is located on a hill, high above the laity, built on an important trade route. The stupa is a solid object and so, the practitioner does not enter the stupa but circumambulates it as a meditational practice. The stupa is used as a support for meditation and as a symbolic reminder of the awakened, enlightened, state of the mind. The practitioner can walk around the stupa or move around it through a series of prostrations.

Entrance to the circular path is gained through four gates, each representational of the four great life events of the Buddha: East (Buddha’s birth), South (Enlightenment), West (First Sermon), and North (Nirvana). The gates are turned at right angles to the axis to guide the practioner in the manner of the arms of a svastika, a directional symbol that, in Sanskrit, means “to be good” (“su” means good or auspicious and “asti” means to be).

This movement suggests the endless cycle of samsara and the movement toward the center, which leads the practitioner to the knowledge of the Four Noble Truths and into the center of the unmoving hub of the wheel: Enlightenment (the center of the stupa where the ashes are buried—Buddha—the source of the knowledge). The gateway signals the movement from the secular space outside of the stupa into the spiritual space inside the balustrade. The south gate is believed to be the oldest since it has an Ashokan pillar and is the primary point of entrance. The vertical posts of the gates are covered with various versions of the Ashokan pillars, underscoring Ashoka’s presence here in Sanchi, the message of Buddhism that he wished to spread, and his goal of achieving positive merit.

All of the surfaces of the gates are covered with low reliefs. The horizontal lintels are designed to resemble scrolls that have been unrolled in order to read the stories of the Buddha’s past lives. The reliefs also provided religious instruction in an age of limited literacy. However, the Buddha is not depicted in human form. The Buddha was depicted aniconically through a variety of symbols until roughly the last century BCE, about five-hundred years after his death. References to the Buddha include a cakra, his footprints, an empty throne, the Bodhi Tree, or a stupa. The gates also contain detailed forest scenes and towns, which offer a wealth of information about contemporary life.

Buddhism, the first Indian religion to acquire large communal spaces, inspired three types of architecture: the stupa, the Buddhist monastery (vihara), and a sepulchral monument (the caitya), a stupa that holds no relics. Between the first century BCE and the first century CE, major architectural construction in the creation of numerous stupas, viharas and caityas was undertaken, sponsored by donations raised from the entire community (the samgha).

Why a monastic system? In the early years of Buddhism, following the practices of contemporary religions, monks dedicated themselves to an esthetic life wandering the country with no permanent living quarters. They were fed, clothed, and housed by people wishing to gain merit. Eventually monastic complexes were created for the monks close enough to a town in order to receive alms, but far enough away so as not to disturb meditation. Many were established along trade routes, enabling the monks to receive a constant flow of goods and for traders and travelers to received blessing in return. The monastery quickly became an important aspect of the practice with a three-fold purpose: as a residence for monks, a center for religious work (on behalf of the laity), and a center for Buddhist learning.

An example of this practice is the monastic center at Vaishali. One can see the remains of one of several stupas, an Ashokan pillar, the monks’ cells, and administrative centers. Soon these types of monasteries were replaced by rock-cut accommodations for more durability.

The rock-cut caves were established in the third century BCE in the western Deccan. The earliest include the Bhaja Caves, the Karle Caves, and the Ajanta Caves. At Bhaja, the site of twenty-two caves, there are no representations of the Buddha since Bhaja was active during the earliest phase of Buddhism (Hinayana) when no images of the Buddha were created. It is the earliest example of this type of rock-cut cave and closely resembles the wooden structures that preceded it. The main chaitya hall at Bhaja contains a solid stone stupa surrounded in the nave flanked by two side aisles. The objects found in the caves suggest a profitable relationship existed between the monks and the wealthy traders. The Bhaja caves were located on a major trade route from the Arabian Sea eastward toward the Deccan region, linking north and south India. In the interior of a chaitya hall at Karle, space for circumambulation of the stupa has been created.

Eventually, the rock-cut monasteries became quite complex. They consisted of several stories with inner courtyards and verandas. During the second phase of Buddhism, Mahayana, where images of the Buddha and other deities were introduced, some facades had relief images of the Buddha and other the deities. This is noted at Ajanta where, in the chaitya hall, an image of the Buddha has been added to the stupa. Reliefs carved into the side aisles of the chaitya hall depict scenes from the Buddha’s life.

There are three phases of Buddhism: Hinayana, Mahayana, and Vajrayana (the diamond or indestructible path also known as tantrayana, the tantric vehicle). All three developed in India, but Vajrayana was, and still is primarily a Tibetan Buddhist practice and is usually discussed later in Survey II—Art and Architecture of India after 1200. In each phase, changes to the Buddhist catechism were made and the images of the faith were adapted accordingly. However, each phase does not necessary supplant the others. Hinayana (in the form of Theraveda (“doctrine of the elders) since the term Hinayana is no longer used) is still practiced in portions of southeast Asia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Laos and Burma in particular. Mahayana, or versions of it, is still practiced in China, Viet Nam, and Japan. The historical stages go by different names as the Buddhist practice blended with the indigenous one of each country.

Hinayana (shravakayana)

Generally, Hinayana is based on the original teachings of the Buddha. Release from suffering can only be achieved through personal effort and learning, and the goal is individual salvation. The Buddha is regarded as a historical person, an earthly man, and teacher and not as a transcendent being. There is a clear monastic tradition associated with Hinayana (as noted in the numerous rock-cut monasteries that were created during this period at Bhaja and Karle, for example). Understanding the Buddha’s journey and the knowledge is primary worship of deities is secondary. The dharma is revered the Buddha himself is not. The simple concept is release from samsara.

During the historical period of Hinayana, no images of the Buddha were made. He was often depicted by his absence (an empty throne, the empty space under the Bodhi Tree). He is also depicted by various symbols (the Bodhi Tree, feet, a cakra, etc.).

Mahayana (the greater vehicle)

Mahayana is rooted in the teachings of the historical Buddha, but seeks salvation for all beings. This attitude is embodied in the idea of the bodhisattva whose outstanding quality is compassion. The Mahayana places less emphasis on the monastery because through direct worship and assistance from the bodhisattva an individual can attain release. A bodhisattva is an enlightened being who has achieved Buddhahood (moksha: release from samsara), but chooses to remain in the temporal world to assist others.

Vajrayana (the diamond or indestructible path)

Vajrayana, the form practiced in Tibet, promotes that the means to Enlightenment is available to all and the way is expedited through elaborate rituals.

Images of the Buddha

In the late first and early second century BCE, during the Mahayana phase, a standard the image of the Buddha was established in Mathura, Madhya Pradesh, India. Artists were already familiar with sculpting the human image in stone (kings and attendants as well as some early Hindu images), but for the images of the Buddha they referred to the canonical literature that described what the Buddha looked like:

  • a religious leader and thus in religious garb,
  • always frontal, and
  • always on a throne with usually lions in support beneath.

(The two-tiered formation is standard for the seated Buddha. He exists in the transcendental world as indicated by the upper tier and the larger figures that inhabit this space. The lower tier is the mundane world usually inhabited by lions, deer and/or devotees.)

From surviving seals, such as the so-called ‘yogic’ seal, there is evidence that the seated posture utilized for Mahavira, and later Buddha, may have originated during the proto-historical period. This seal depicts a deity seated in what is now referred to as the meditation or lotus position (padmasana).

The Stele of Buddha and Attendants is a good object with which to detail all of the visual aspects of the iconography associated with images of the Buddha. The most common characteristics included on the Buddha are the urna (the “third” eye), which symbolizes an ability to see past our mundane universe of suffering, the ushnisha (the cranial bump—a symbol of Buddha’s omniscience, which was transformed through the centuries into a topknot), elongated and empty earlobes (recalling his princely past of wearing heavy, expensive jewelry), and cakras on the soles of his feet and hands. If he is seated, he is always depicted in full lotus. Buddha, and other Buddhist deities, are also depicted with halos. This symbol may have originated during the Kushan Empire under King Kunishka later spreading into the west to be adopted and utilized in Christian visual culture.

The mudras, hand gestures of the Buddha, were fixed at the origin of the first human image of the Buddha. They were then transferred to the variety of other deities introduced into Buddhism during Mahayana Buddhism.

The common mudras:

  • Abhayamudra: fear not
  • Varadamudra: gift bestowing gesture
  • Bhumisparsamudra: the earth touching gesture
  • Dharmacakramudra: the First Sermon
  • Dhyanimudra: meditation or balance
  • Namaskaramudra: greeting, prayer, or adoration (hands folded at the chest)

A rapidly developing Roman influence on the art of Gandhara, at the northwest frontier of the Kushan empire, may have stimulated development of Buddha images in human form throughout the large Kushan empire, from Afghanistan to Madhya Pradesh. Some thought the classical influence was Hellenistic, but it is clear that the main influence on Gandharan art is that of Rome at the time of Trajan and later. Other influences include Persian and local Indian styles. This is noted in the Seated Gandharan Buddha, circa 182. Here we see the formula of the Gandharan seated Buddha image. He is seated on a lotus throne making the turning-the-wheel-of the-law mudra (dharmacakramudra) beneath the Bodhi Tree. Attendant figures flank him. The ushnisha and urna are visible. Because of his toga-like dress and Roman features, this Buddha is clearly a product of a cultural exchange with the Greco-Roman world. A good comparison would be between the Seated Mathuran Buddha and the Seated Gandharan Buddha.

Compared to the standard seating type, the standing image of the Buddha, seen in the Standing Gandharan Buddha, was not as popular. The treatment of the robe is particularly characteristic of the Gandharan style: the folds are tight and rib-like clinging to the body, emphasizing the Buddha’s belly and the bend of his left knee. This complex folding pattern, including the asymmetrical U shape, is also found on togas on Roman statues. Since the fourth century, pockets of Hellenistic culture thrived in present-day Afghanistan and southern Uzbekistan when the Greeks, under Alexander the Great, reached the borders of India. In addition, Gandhara’s position near the east/west trade routes also seems to have stimulated contact with Roman culture.

The International Gupta Style

In 320 CE, after the breakup of the Kushan Empire, northern India was divided into a number of petty kingdoms. The king of one small principality, last name of Gupta, established the Gupta dynasty by continuously subduing the neighboring states. A succession of able warriors with long reigns brought peace and prosperity to a vital area in north India extending from coast to coast. Although the Guptas were Hindus, they contributed to the support of both Buddhism and Jainism. In fact, one of the last great rulers built a monastery at the famous Buddhist center of Nalanda in Bihar.

It was a time of cultural expansion and colonialism, which saw the influence of Indian art and ideas extending into Central Asia, China, Southeast Asia, and Indonesia. These were, with the exception of the Pala and Sena schools of Bihar, the last great days of Buddhist art. As Hinduism displaced Buddhism in India, the future of the art, like that of the faith, moved eastward.

Because of its dominance, Gupta sculpture established the standard type of the Buddha image. This was exported into two main directions: to Southeast Asia and Indonesia, and through Central Asia to East Asia. There are two major regional styles in Gupta sculpture, with many secondary styles and regional variations of minor importance.

The Mathura style, found in Uttar Pradesh, represents a softened continuation of the harsh Kushan style, typically made of the red Mathuran sandstone into which details can be worked but with little refinement. The Sarnath, seen here in the First Sermon, is the second style and utilizes the cream-colored sandstone that can be worked to a high degree of finish and detail.

The Pala Dynasty in northern India was the last great Buddhist Dynasty. It was supported by a large and thriving monastic community from 750–1174 CE. It was destroyed by the Mongols in the twelfth century. Two examples from the Pala Dynasty are the Seated Buddha at Enlightenment, tenth century, and the Seated Buddha Teaching the Dharma (The First Sermon), eleventh century. The focus on these two stele is on the Buddha, but the two attendant figures, the bodhisattvas, indicate that the Pala Dynasty followed a Mahayana practice.

Since the bodhisattvas remain connected to the mundane world, they still wear clothing and ornament that indicates this attachment such as earrings, arm and leg bands, and decorative dhotis. They rarely sit in full lotus position like the Buddha, who sits with his legs crossed in a position of permanent enlightenment unable to directly aid the Buddhist practitioner. The bodhisattvas sit in half lotus with the foot of their unbent leg resting on a lotus footstool. When called upon they are able to quickly rise to a standing position coming to help a practitioner in distress.

Tara is the female manifestation of the bodhisattva of compassion. Her name means “star,” or “guide.” She is also known as the saviouress as she saves the practitioner from the obstacles in daily life as well as obstacles the practitioner may face in their journey to enlightenment. For example, her popular form is the Tara of the Eight Great Perils, each with a mundane as well as a transcendental facet. Here, lions represent a threat someone may face that Tara can save him or her from. But lions can also represent pride, which can stand in the way of a practitioner’s goal of enlightenment. In the same manner, by calling out Tara’s mantra, she appears in a metaphysical sense and guides the individual through the obstacle of pride.

Here Tara makes two mudras—fear not (abhayamudra) and the gift bestowing mudra (varadamudra). The stele follows the stylistic precepts established by the fifth century: She occupies the central space existing in the transcendental realm. Beneath her exists the mundane world, which in this particular stele, contains two lions and a small human devotee. She sits on a lotus throne and holds a blue lotus in her left hand. She is fully frontal and seated on a lion throne (two lions flank her). Her head is surrounded by a halo of light (the prabhamandala).

Brent Huffman: How a Historic Buddhist Site Has Eluded Destruction—for Now

“Back in 2009, few seemed to know about or care about Mes Aynak, an ancient Buddhist city in Afghanistan. There was no mention of it in a New York Times story about a shocking and surreal investment in Afghanistan from China. A Chinese government-owned mining company, one of the largest in the world, was setting up an encampment in Logar province in an area controlled by the Taliban. The China Metallurgical Group Corporation (MCC) had inked a deal with the Afghan government to mine $100 billion worth of copper buried at the site, which the MCC was able to lease for 30 years for a little less than $3 billion.

What Mes Aynak will look like as an open-pit mine. Credit www.Saving Mes Aynak.

The Times story was full of record-breaking details: the copper deposit at Mes Aynak was one of the largest untapped copper reserves in the world, and the MCC deal was the largest foreign investment in Afghanistan’s history. Not mentioned were the ancient ruins of a large Buddhist city a French geologist had stumbled across at the site in 1963, forgotten for centuries. The MCC planned to extract the copper at Mes Aynak via open-pit mining, the cheapest, fastest, and most environmentally destructive excavation technique, which would have demolished the ruins, leaving a gaping crater in their place. In 2009, the MCC and the Afghan government were banking on the world not knowing what was at stake at Mes Aynak.

I am a documentary filmmaker and professor at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism and I had worked in Afghanistan before. I decided to return to Kabul in 2011 to see if I could gain access to Mes Aynak and see for myself what was there. What I found was astounding and would change my life. I traveled to Mes Aynak alone in a rented taxi though rocky dusty roads rife with landmines. Mes Aynak was awe-inspiring. It was a sprawling Buddhist city over 450,000 square meters in size, around the size of 100 football fields, dating back 2,000 years. Only 10 percent of the site had been excavated. It reminded me of Machu Picchu and I immediately fell in love.

The ancient city of Mes Aynak contains over 600 Buddha statues, dozens of intricate and fragile Buddhist stupas, an enormous circular monastic complex, thousands of coins and pieces of jewelry, as well as numerous ancient manuscripts and human remains. According to archaeologists, Mes Aynak represents one of the most significant archaeological finds in Afghanistan’s history and one of immense global importance due to its rare, well-preserved Buddhist artifacts, and to its sheer size. Over two thousand years ago, the residents of Mes Aynak were already mining copper using primitive drilling methods and smelters, explaining their close proximity to the precious metal. Mes Aynak was also a major stop on the Silk Road. Buddhists from all over Asia made pilgrimages to worship there and to trade with the city’s residents. This often overlooked chapter of Afghanistan’s history rests within Mes Aynak’s sprawling ruins.

Saving Mes Aynak, photo Brent Huffman “Saving Mes Aynak”

So far, archaeologists have found incredible objects from the Kushan period (around 30–375 CE), including rare hand-carved wooden Buddha figures in the Gandhara style, painted plaster and clay statues in a variety of styles, and fragile birch bark manuscripts in several languages. Archaeologists also have unearthed Bronze Age pottery and a copper smelter dating back 4,000–6,000 years. A stone stele discovered at Mes Aynak has been identified as a depiction of Prince Siddhartha before he founded Buddhism, and has been taken as evidence that a monastic religion dedicated to Siddhartha’s pre-enlightenment life once existed in the region. Mes Aynak’s priceless treasures also include some of the oldest manuscripts and oil-paint murals ever discovered.

Everything was set to be destroyed by this copper mine—the proposed dynamiting echoing the Taliban’s 2001 destruction of the giant Buddhas at Bamiyan. Then there is the environmental devastation from open-pit copper mining. As a result of copper extraction, Mes Aynak would become a toxic crater. Chemical byproducts would soak into aquifers that supply drinking water to Kabul (population of approximately 6 million) and neighboring Pakistan. To make way for mining, a dozen nearby villages were cleared without the consent of the villagers, whose families had lived there for generations. And with the MCC planning to bring in its own employees from China, Afghan citizens would see little benefit from this corrupt deal, the contract for which was never made public due to a lack of transparency in the Afghan government.

MJAM camp Mes Aynak, Afghan Ministry of Mines photo.

I was shocked and horrified. I rushed to get the word out, to spread awareness in an attempt to stop the mining. I wrote articles and did interviews for the New York Times, CNN, BBC, NPR, Al Jazeera, Huffington Post, and Tricycle I spread the word on social media and I partnered with an Afghan graduate student who began a petition to save Mes Aynak.

I quickly learned the true heroes of this story were the Afghan archaeologists risking their lives to excavate the site amid daily threats from the Taliban. The MCC gave these archaeologists one year to perform rescue archaeology at the sprawling ancient city after an international outcry, they extended the deadline to three years. A proper excavation would take more than 30 years. The archaeologists often went months without pay and were not given cameras or computers to document their findings. (I later raised money in a Kickstarter campaign to buy cameras and computers for them.)

Meanwhile, I continued to make a film documenting everything that happened. The resulting documentary, Saving Mes Aynak, was in many ways a love letter to these Afghan archaeologists, to Mes Aynak, and to Afghanistan. I hoped to show the world how special and incredible this country is, both in its people and cultural heritage.

For the first three years I worked on Saving Mes Aynak solo, but others soon came to help save Mes Aynak. Legendary Chicago social justice documentary house Kartemquin Films joined me to help produce the film. The MacArthur Foundation awarded me a documentary grant and other foundations followed suit. The completed documentary went on to win over 30 major awards and has been broadcast on television in more than 70 countries, and was translated into Dari and broadcast for free in Afghanistan in 2015.

Mes Aynak, Stupa, US Embassy photo.

It sounds cliché to say documentaries can make a difference, but it is true in the case of Saving Mes Aynak. Five years after the film’s debut, Mes Aynak is still intact—but it still could be destroyed at any time.

Saving Mes Aynak played a significant role in causing the MCC and the Afghan government to delay demolition of the site that continues to this day. Nearly 90,000 people signed the petition to save the ancient city, and Afghan presidents Hamid Karzai (2001–2014) and Ashraf Ghani (2014–present) viewed the film and pledged support. In 2017, the general manager of the MCC, Shen Heting, was expelled from the Communist Party on corruption charges it’s possible that Saving Mes Aynak had even reached the Chinese government and influenced their decision.

In the early 2010s, archaeologists uncovered an important Buddhist manuscript written in Sanskrit on tree bark, dated to the 7th century, which suggests the site was a prosperous Buddhist city. According to this recently translated manuscript, Mes Aynak may have been the city described by 7th-century Chinese monk Hsuan-tsang (Xuanzang) in the Great Tang Records on the Western Regions, which recorded his journey to India. UNESCO is now officially advising on archaeological excavation and preservation at Mes Aynak, and plans are afoot for a new museum near the ruins to house and display findings.

Archaeologist Qadir Temori, lead Afghan archaeologist at Mes Aynak, was promoted to Director of the Archaeology Department at the Ministry of Culture and now oversees the protection of all endangered sites in Afghanistan. He works closely with the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago to map ancient sites via satellite to safeguard them from looting.

Archaeologist Abdul Wahab Ferozi, killed in a bomb blast in 2018. Credit www.Saving Mes

But not all the news has been good. Tragically, in 2018 Afghan archaeologist Abdul Wahab Ferozi was killed by the Taliban in a bomb blast while traveling to work at Mes Aynak. Three others were also wounded in the explosion. This incident showed the peril archaeologists still face daily.

The Chinese government is working directly with the Taliban and has hosted them in Beijing as recently as 2019 to cease attacks on the MCC in Logar province and partner in the extraction industry in Afghanistan. The Afghan Ministry of Mines has been pressing the MCC to begin mining as soon as possible, despite the fact that mining would destroy the ancient city and pollute the area.

Mes Aynak, and everything still buried in the ground, could be destroyed at any time. A primary goal of Saving Mes Aynak was to make Mes Aynak a UNESCO World Heritage Site and permanently stop any mining from ever happening at the site. Though this has not yet happened, it is not too late.

No one should be allowed to erase a country’s cultural heritage and identity and permanently poison its people and environment. Mes Aynak’s cultural treasures must be preserved for future generations. But that has yet to happen. There is more work to do.”

CPN notes:

Without Huffman’s activism and his work to bring global attention to the peril of one of the world’s most important ancient sites, the concerns of Afghanistan’s archaeologists and international scholars about preserving a great monument of world heritage would probably have been swept aside years ago. The reason? The mineral riches of Afghanistan, including copper, lithium, talc, marble, gold, uranium and rare earths such as neodymium and dysprosium, are estimated at about $1Trillion in value. The potential wealth this represents has resulted in repeated power struggles both within its government and with outside power players from the Chinese to the Taliban. The government’s inability to monitor or control mining across Afghanistan and to enforce duties on exported minerals has deprived the country of the financial resources it desperately needs for development and to provide health, education and other social services to its citizens. Government officials and Members of Afghanistan’s Parliament are known to have vested economic interests in mining throughout the country, warlords and petty chiefs have established thousands of illegal or quasi-legal mines, often in remote locales, and the Taliban is estimated to earn between $2.5m and $10m a year from mining talc alone, its second source of income after opium.

Halting the destruction of mineral-rich sites by unauthorized extractors will only be possible when there is security for legitimate businesses and when the Afghan government demands that miners operate with transparency and oversight. Because mining sites are often found in proximity to ancient remains there must also be recognition of the non-pecuniary value of Afghanistan’s ancient heritage by its citizens, and a commitment to preservation, such has been shown by heroic archaeologists like Qadir Temori, whose work has been documented in Saving Mes Aynak.


Baghor Paleolithic shrine Edit

A strongly probable shrine from Upper Paleolithic period dated (9000-8000 BCE) dedicated to worshipping of Goddess (Shakti) made of stone has been discovered at Baghor in the Sidhi district in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh. [5]

Period (5th - 2nd Millennium BCE) Edit

Early Harappan phase Edit

Although the urban phase of Harappa has been dated back to 2600 BC, excavation at Kalibangan from the early or proto-Harappan period already shows an urban development with fortification, grid layout of the city and drain system. The settlement consisted of a fortified city mostly made of mud-brick architecture but characterized by an appearance of fired bricks around 3000 BC which was used to line the drains of the city. Planned settlements from an early Harappan era with structures parallel to the streets which run perpendicular to each other with public drainage system has been uncovered at the site of Rakhigarhi, one of the biggest urbanized areas of the Indus valley civilization dating back to 4000 BC-3200 BC. Even earlier phase dated 4400-4200 BC has marked the appearance of wedge shaped mud bricks with rectangular houses. [6]

Building complex of Bhavnagar

Archaeologists discovered a huge building complex dating back to 3600-3300 BC which was probably a storage complex, typical mature harappan brick ratios of 4:2:1 were also noted along with a stone platform and the beginnings of Harrapan silo pit. The complex had rooms with rectangular or squarish plan which were all interconnected by some common wall. [7]

English Bond and building material Edit

While in contemporary Bronze Age cultures outside India sun-dried mud bricks were the dominant building material, the Indus Valley civilization preferred to use fired "terracotta" brick instead. A prominent feature of Harappan architecture was also the first use anywhere in the world of English bond in building with bricks. This type of bonding utilized alternate headers and stretchers which is a stronger method of construction. Clay was usually used as cementing material but where better strength was needed, such as for the drains, lime and gypsum mortar was preferred instead. In architecture such as the Great Bath, bitumen was used for waterproofing. The Use of bitumen has been attested as early as the Mehrgarh period, one of the earliest uses in the world as well. The remarkable vertical alignment of the building indicates the use of a Plumb line. The bricks were produced in a standardized ratio of 4:2:1, found throughout the Indus Valley Civilization. [8]

Larger buildings Edit

Harappan seals show architecture besides horned deities which has been translated as either temples, shrines or houses with an upward curving roof with fish tail endings on four corners. The seals indicate formal places of worship. [9] The excavation at Banawali in present day Haryana has also yielded an Apsidal plan which has been interpreted as a temple. [10]

Rectangular stadium-like spaces provided with steps and gateways are known from Dholavira and Juni Kuran. [11] Two stadiums were constructed at Juni Kuran, perhaps one for the commoners and the other for the people with higher status.

At Dholavira, possible funerary architecture was found sorounding a dried up lake and consists of tumuli, sometimes resembling hemispherical domes, constructed using mud bricks or stone slabs. The plan of the base of tumulus is in the shape of a spoked wheel with a chamber in the centre. [12]

Juni Kuran and Mohenjo Daro have pillared halls. In the case of Mohenjodaro L area, the pillars of the hall were constructed using baked bricks and in the case of Juni Kuran, they were made of sandstone pillars with elaborately designed base. [11] [13]

The dock, with a canal opening to allow water to flow into the river, thereby maintaining a stable water level, Lothal

Bathroom structure from Lothal

Archaeological feature, Lothal

Domestic Architecture Edit

The domestic houses were made of bricks and usually flat roofed, the wooden doors were provided with hangings and a lock at the bottom. The houses were single or double storied. The windows were provided with lattice shutters for airflow and privacy and ledge to stop rainwater from entering the house. The houses were usually provided with bathing platform which were connected to the public drain through in house drain. Latrines were generally simple commodes made by burying an old storage pot into the ground. They would have to be cleaned out periodically, but some had a small drain leading outside to a second sump pot. The latrines and bathing platforms were located in a room attached to the outer wall. Kitchen were open air situated in a courtyard as well as closed rooms, hearths oval, circular and rectangular in shape were also used in the house, keyhole ovens with central pillars were used for roasting meat or baking breads. [14]

Late Harappan period Edit

After the collapse of the mature Harappan urban period, some cities still remained urban and inhabited. Sites like Bet Dwarka in Gujarat, Kudwala (38.1 hectares) in Cholistan and Daimabad (20 Ha) in Maharashtra are considered urban. Daimabad (2000-1000 BC) developed a fortification wall with bastions in its Jorwe culture period (1400-1000 BC) and had public buildings such as an elliptical temple, an apsidal temple and shows evidence of planning in the layout of rectangular houses and streets or lanes and planned streets. The area had rose to 50 hectares in with a population of 10,000 people. A 580-meter long protection wall dated 1500 BC was found at Bet Dwarka which is believed to have been damaged and submerged following a sea storm. [15] [16] A warehouse dated to 1500 BC at Prahbas Patan (Somnath) from late Harappan period is made of rubble stones set in mud mortar, the artifact includes a stealite seal and storage jars. [17]

Non Harappan architecture Edit

Balathal defense architecture, stone and mud brick residential structures of Ahar Banas, [18] defensive wall is characterised by mud based core having stone revetments with rectangular bastion dated c. 2400-1800 BCE, Sanghol and Rupar of Bara culture are some of the non Harappan chalcolithic urban developments that took place in India as well.

Archaeological excavations at Kausambi have revealed fortifications from the end of second millennium BC. [19] [20]

A stone palace predating the Mauryan period has been discovered from the ruins of Kausambi. The dressed stones of the palace were set in fine lime and coated with a thick layer of plaster, the entire architecture resembled a fortress with its own walls and towers. The palace had few rooms, each room was provided with three shelves and a central hall with steps leading to the tower. The architecture was constructed in three phases and is dated from 8th century BC to 2nd century BC. Discovery of this stone palace discredits the theory of foreign influence behind the rise of Indian stone architecture during Ashokan or mauryan period.

A technique of architecture applied here was using dressed stones as facing for a wall made of rubble core, this represents the apogee of Indian architecture in this ancient period. [21] [22] [23]

Dressed stone masonry on rubble wall technique applied to Shingardar Stupa, Swat, Gandhara, 1st-2nd century CE

Unfinished Alai Minar's rubble core the unfinished tower lacks sandstone facing.

Stone facing of Qutub Minar on its rubble core

Ghositarama monastery Edit

Ghoshitaram monastery in Kosambi dating back to 6th-century BCE. Buddhist scripture attributes this very old monastic site to the time of the Buddha which has been backed by archaeology, founded by a banker named Ghosita. The site has been located near Kosambi and identified by inscriptions. Archaeology suggests continuous occupation down to the sixth century when it was likely destroyed in the Hun invasion. Xuanzang found it an unoccupied ruin. [24]

Mahajanapadas Edit

From the time of the Mahajanapadas (600 BCE–320 BCE), walled and moated cities with large gates and multi-storied buildings which consistently used arched windows and doors and made intense use of wooden architecture, are important features of the architecture during this period. [25] The reliefs of Sanchi, dated to the 1st centuries BCE–CE, show cities such as Kushinagar or Rajagriha as splendid walled cities during the time of the Buddha (6th century BCE), as in the Royal cortege leaving Rajagriha or War over the Buddha's relics. These views of ancient Indian cities have been relied on for the understanding of ancient Indian urban architecture. Archaeologically, this period corresponds in part to the Northern Black Polished Ware culture. [26] Geopolitically, the Achaemenid Empire started to occupy the northwestern part of the subcontinent from c, 518 BCE. [27] [28]

Rajgir, old city walls 6th century BCE

Jetavana of Sravasti, Sanchi Stupa 1, Northern Gateway

Various types of individual housing of the time of the Buddha (c. 563/480 or c. 483/400 BCE), resembling huts with chaitya-decorated doors, are also described in the reliefs of Sanchi. Particularly, the Jetavana at Sravasti, shows the three favourite residences of the Buddha: the Gandhakuti, the Kosambakuti, and the Karorikuti, with the throne of the Buddha in the front of each. The Jetavana garden was presented to the Buddha by the rich banker Anathapindika, who purchased it for as many gold pieces as would cover the surface of the ground. Hence, the foreground of the relief is shown covered with ancient Indian coins (karshapanas), just as it is in the similar relief at Bharhut. [29] Although the reliefs of Sanchi are dated to the 1st centuries BCE–CE, portraying scene taking place during the time of the Buddha, four centuries before, they are considered an important indication of building traditions in these early times. [30]

Pataliputra Voussoir Arch Edit

A granite stone fragment of an arch, known as Pataliputra Voussoir Arch, discovered by K. P. Jayaswal from Kumhrar, Pataliputra has been analysed as a pre Mauryan Nanda period keystone fragment of a trefoil arch of gateway with mason's marks of three archaic Brahmi letters inscribed on it which probably decorated a Torana. [31] [32] [33] The wedge shaped stone with indentation has mauryan polish on two sides and was suspended vertically.

Religious architecture Edit

Buddhist caves Edit

During the time of the Buddha (c. 563/480 or c. 483/400 BCE), Buddhist monks were also in the habit of using natural caves, such as the Saptaparni Cave, southwest from Rajgir, Bihar. [34] [35] Many believe it to be the site in which Buddha spent some time before his death, [36] and where the first Buddhist council was held after the Buddha died (paranirvana). [34] [37] [38] The Buddha himself had also used the Indrasala Cave for meditation, starting a tradition of using caves, natural or man-made, as religious retreats, that would last for over a millennium. [39]

Monasteries Edit

The first monasteries, such as the Jivakarama vihara and Ghositarama monastery in Rajgir and Kausambi respectively, were built from the time of the Buddha, in the 6th or 5th centuries BCE. [40] [41] [42] The initial Jivakarama monastery was formed of two long parallel and oblong halls, large dormitories where the monks could eat and sleep, in conformity with the original regulations of the samgha, without any private cells. [40] Other halls were then constructed, mostly long, oblong building as well, which remind of the construction of several of the Barabar caves. [40] [43] The Buddha is said to have been treated once in the monastery, after having been injured by Devadatta. [40] [44]

Stupas Edit

Religious buildings in the form of the Buddhist stupa, a dome-shaped monument, started to be used in India as commemorative monuments associated with storing sacred relics of the Buddha. [45] The relics of the Buddha were spread between eight stupas, in Rajagriha, Vaishali, Kapilavastu, Allakappa, Ramagrama, Pava, Kushinagar, and Vethapida. [46] The Piprahwa stupa also seems to have been one of the first to be built. [46] Guard rails—consisting of posts, crossbars, and a coping—became a feature of safety surrounding a stupa. [25] The Buddha had left instructions about how to pay hommage to the stupas: "And whoever lays wreaths or puts sweet perfumes and colours there with a devout heart, will reap benefits for a long time". [47] This practice would lead to the decoration of the stupas with stone sculptures of flower garlands in the Classical period. [47]

Temples Edit

Saurashtra Janapada coins from the stratigraphic phase I dated 600-300 BC provide evidence of elaborate Apsidal Chaitya temples along with domed temples (or stupa), square, cruciform and octagonal temple plans, these coins also provide one of the first representations of Hindu pantheon for instance Gaja Lakshmi etc. [48] [49] Elliptical Hindu temples with mandapa from Nagari, Chittorgarh and Vidisha near Heliodorus pillar have been dated to 4th century BC or 350-300 BC. [50] [51]

Monumental stone architecture Edit

The next wave of building, appears with the start of the Classical period (320 BCE–550 CE) and the rise of the Mauryan Empire. The capital city of Pataliputra was an urban marvel described by the Greek ambassador Megasthenes. Remains of monumental stone architecture can be seen through numerous artifacts recovered from Pataliputra, such as the Pataliputra capital. This cross-fertilization between different art streams converging on the subcontinent produced new forms that, while retaining the essence of the past, succeeded in integrating selected elements of the new influences.

The Indian emperor Ashoka (rule: 273–232 BCE) established the Pillars of Ashoka throughout his realm, generally next to Buddhist stupas. According to Buddhist tradition, Ashoka recovered the relics of the Buddha from the earlier stupas (except from the Ramagrama stupa), and erected 84.000 stupas to distribute the relics across India. In effect, many stupas are thought to date originally from the time of Ashoka, such as Sanchi or Kesariya, where he also erected pillars with his inscriptions, and possibly Bharhut, Amaravati or Dharmarajika in Gandhara. [46]

Ashoka also built the initial Mahabodhi Temple in Bodh Gaya around the Bodhi tree, including masterpieces such as the Diamond throne ("Vajrasana"). He is also said to have established a chain of hospitals throughout the Mauryan empire by 230 BCE. [52] One of the edicts of Ashoka reads: "Everywhere King Piyadasi (Ashoka) erected two kinds of hospitals, hospitals for people and hospitals for animals. Where there were no healing herbs for people and animals, he ordered that they be bought and planted." [53] Indian art and culture has absorbed extraneous impacts by varying degrees and is much richer for this exposure.

Fortified cities with stūpas, viharas, and temples were constructed during the Maurya empire (c. 321–185 BCE). [25] Architectural creations of the Mauryan period, such as the city of Pataliputra, the Pillars of Ashoka, are outstanding in their achievements, and often compare favourably with the rest of the world at that time. Commenting on Mauryan sculpture, John Marshall once wrote about the "extraordinary precision and accuracy which characterizes all Mauryan works, and which has never, we venture to say, been surpassed even by the finest workmanship on Athenian buildings". [54] [55]

Mauryan polished stone pillar from Pataliputra

Cruciform star shaped stupa Lauriya Nandangarh – 4th-3rd century BC stage 1 cruciform, 1 BC stage 3 colossal stupa [56]

Plan of the 80-columns pillared hall

Temple depicted on Soghaura copper plate 3rd century BCE

Rock-cut caves Edit

Around the same time rock-cut architecture began to develop, starting with the already highly sophisticated and state-sponsored Barabar caves in Bihar, personally dedicated by Ashoka c. 250 BCE. [25] These artificial caves exhibit an amazing level of technical proficiency, the extremely hard granite rock being cut in geometrical fashion and polished to a mirror-like finish. [39]

Probably owing to the 2nd century BCE fall of the Mauryan Empire and the subsequent persecutions of Buddhism under Pushyamitra Sunga, it is thought that many Buddhists relocated to the Deccan under the protection of the Andhra dynasty, thus shifting the cave-building effort to western India: an enormous effort at creating religious caves (usually Buddhist or Jain) continued there until the 2nd century CE, culminating with the Karla Caves or the Pandavleni Caves. [39] These caves generally followed an apsidal plan with a stupa in the back for the chaityas, and a rectangular plan with surrounding cells for the viharas. [39] As well as royal patronage, numerous donors provided the funds for the building of these caves and left donation inscriptions, including laity, members of the clergy, government officials, and even foreigners. [58]

The construction of caves would wane after the 2nd century CE, possibly due to the rise of Mahayana Buddhism and the associated intense architectural and artistic production in Gandhara and Amaravati. [39] The building of rock-cut caves would revive briefly in the 5th century CE, with the magnificent achievements of Ajanta [59] and Ellora, before finally subsiding as Hinduism replaced Buddhism in the sub-continent, and stand-alone temples became more prevalent. [25] [39]

Rock-cut architecture also developed with the apparition of stepwells in India, dating from 200–400 CE. [60] Subsequently, the construction of wells at Dhank (550–625 CE) and stepped ponds at Bhinmal (850–950 CE) took place. [60]

Gautamiputra vihara at Pandavleni Caves, built in the 2nd century CE by the Satavahana dynasty

The Ajanta Caves are 30 rock-cut Buddhist cave monument built under the Vakatakas, c. 5th century CE.

Decorated stupas Edit

Stupas were soon to be richly decorated with sculptural reliefs, following the first attempts at Sanchi Stupa No.2 (125 BCE). Full-fledged sculptural decorations and scenes of the life of the Buddha would soon follow at Bharhut (115 BCE), Bodh Gaya (60 BCE), Mathura (125–60 BCE), again at Sanchi [61] for the elevation of the toranas (1st century BCE/CE) and then Amaravati (1st–2nd century CE). [62] The decorative embellishment of stupas also had a considerable development in the northwest in the area of Gandhara, with decorated stupas such as the Butkara Stupa ("monumentalized" with Hellenistic decorative elements from the 2nd century BCE) [63] or the Loriyan Tangai stupas (2nd century CE). Stupa architecture was adopted in Southeast and East Asia, where it became prominent as a Buddhist monument used for enshrining sacred relics. [45] The Indian gateway arches, the torana, reached East Asia with the spread of Buddhism. [64] Some scholars hold that torii derives from the torana gates at the Buddhist historic site of Sanchi (3rd century BCE – 11th century CE). [65]

Sanchi Stupa No.2, the earliest known stupa with important displays of decorative reliefs, c. 125 BCE [66]

East Gateway and Railings of Bharhut Stupa. Sculptured railings: 115 BCE, toranas: 75 BCE. [62]

The Great Stupa at Sanchi. [67] Decorated toranas built from the 1st century BCE to the 1st century CE. [62]

Slab of Amaravati Marbles, depicting of the Great Amaravati Stupa, with a Buddha statue at the entrance, Amaravathi, Andhra Pradesh, India

Geometrical decorations, Dhamekh Stupa, 500 CE

Stand-alone temples Edit

Temples—built on elliptical, circular, quadrilateral, or apsidal plans—were initially constructed using brick and timber. [25] Some temples of timber with wattle-and-daub may have preceded them, but none remain to this day. [68]

Circular dome temples Edit

Some of the earliest free-standing temples may have been of a circular type, as the Bairat Temple in Bairat, Rajasthan, formed of a central stupa surrounded by a circular colonnade and an enclosing wall. [68] [69] It was built during the time of Ashoka, and near it were found two of Ashoka's Minor Rock Edicts. [68] Ashoka also built the Mahabodhi Temple in Bodh Gaya c. 250 BCE, also a circular structure, in order to protect the Bodhi tree under which the Buddha had found enlightenment. Representations of this early temple structure are found on a 100 BCE relief sculpted on the railing of the stupa at Bhārhut, as well as in Sanchi. [70] From that period the Diamond throne remains, an almost intact slab of sandstone decorated with reliefs, which Ashoka had established at the foot of the Bodhi tree. [71] [72] These circular-type temples were also found in later rock-hewn caves such as Tulja Caves or Guntupalli. [68]

Remains of the circular Bairat Temple, c. 250 BCE. A stupa was located in the center.

Relief of a circular temple, Bharhut, c. 100 BCE

Chaitya Cave plan and elevation, Tulja Lena, 50 BCE

Hindu temple dedicated to Shiva depicted in a coin from the 1st century BCE

Relief of a multi-storied temple, 2nd century CE, Ghantasala Stupa [73] [74]

Karttikeya Shrine with antelope in a coin of Yaudheya, Punjab region, 2nd century CE

A dome temple from Satavahana relief 1st-2nd century CE

A dome temple from Sannati Stupa relief, 1st-2nd century CE

Amaravathi's Dome temple relief 1st-2nd century CE

Apsidal temples Edit

Another early free-standing temple in India, this time apsidal in shape, appears to be Temple 40 at Sanchi, which is also dated to the 3rd century BCE. [75] It was an apsidal temple built of timber on top of a high rectangular stone platform, 26.52x14x3.35 metres, with two flights of stairs to the east and the west. The temple was burnt down sometime in the 2nd century BCE. [76] [77] This type of apsidal structure was also adopted for most of the cave temple (Chaitya-grihas), as in the 3rd century BCE Barabar Caves and most caves thereafter, with side, and then frontal, entrances. [68] A freestanding apsidal temple remains to this day, although in a modified form, in the Trivikrama Temple in Ter, Maharashtra. [78]

Illustration of Temple 40 at Sanchi, dated to the 3rd century BCE [75]

Trivikrama Temple at Ter: an early Buddhist apsidal temple, in front of which was later added an Hindu square mandapa

Chejarla apsidal temple, also later converted to Hinduism

Truncated pyramidal temples Edit

The Mahabodhi Temple in Bodh Gaya is one of the earliest examples of Truncated Pyramidal temples with niches containing Buddha images. [79] The structure is crowned by the shape of an hemispherical stupa topped by finials, forming a logical elongation of the temple. [79]

Although the current structure of the Mahabdhodi Temple dates to the Gupta period (5th century CE), the "Plaque of Mahabodhi Temple", discovered in Kumrahar and dated to 150–200 CE based on its dated Kharoshthi inscriptions and combined finds of Huvishka coins, suggests that the pyramidal structure already existed in the 2nd century CE. [79] This is confirmed by archaeological excavations in Bodh Gaya. [79]

This truncated pyramid design also marked the evolution from the aniconic stupa dedicated to the cult of relics, to the iconic temple with multiple images of the Buddha and Bodhisattvas. [79] This design was very influential in the development of later Hindu temples. [80]

Square prostyle temples Edit

The Gupta Empire later also built Buddhist stand-alone temples (following the great cave temples of Indian rock-cut architecture), such as Temple 17 at Sanchi, dating to the early Gupta period (5th century CE). It consists of a flat roofed square sanctum with a portico and four pillars. From an architectural perspective, this is a tetrastyle prostyle temple of Classical appearance . [81] The interior and three sides of the exterior are plain and undecorated but the front and the pillars are elegantly carved, [81] not unlike the 2nd century rock-cut cave temples of the Nasik Caves. Nalanda and Valabhi universities, housing thousands of teachers and students, flourished between the 4th–8th centuries. [82]

Palatial architecture Edit

Archaeological excavation conducted by Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) at Kausambi revealed a palace with its foundations going back to 8th century BCE until 2nd century CE and built-in six phases. The last phase dated to 1st - 2nd century CE, featured an extensive structure which was divided into three blocks and enclosed two galleries. There was a central hall in the central block and presumably used as an audience hall surrounded by rooms which served as a residential place for the ruler. The entire structure was constructed using bricks and stones and two layers of lime were plastered on it. The palace had a vast network of underground chambers also called Suranga by Kautilya in his Arthashastra, [83] and the superstructure and the galleries were made on the principle of true arch. The four-centered pointed arch was used to span narrow passageways and segmental arch for wider areas. The superstructure of the central and eastern block was examined to have formed part of a dome that adorned the building. The entire galleries and superstructure were found collapsed under 5 cm thick layer of ash which indicates destruction of the palace through conflagration. [84]

Rulers would often use their palaces to symbolize their majesty and greatness. Aligning with the belief at the time the monarch had the divine right to rule. This idea is captured in the expression "the king becomes not only exempt from punishment but also the lord of the law" [85]

A palace architecture has also been uncovered at Nagarjunakonda. [86]

Shikhara Edit

The early evidence of Shikhara type domical crowing structure has been noted in the palatial architecture of Kausambi dated to 1st-2nd century CE. The central hall was thought to be topped by a dome but analysis of the bricks indicate Shikara type structure was used instead. Evidence also indicates Shikhara was also used in crowing architecture such as Bhitargaon temple. [87]

Theater and stadium Edit

Satavahanas constructed a stadium and a theater at Nagarjunakonda in the 2nd century AD. The theater has a small quadrangular open area enclosed on all four sides by stepped stands which are made of bricks and cladded with limestone. [88] [89]

An oblong-shaped stadium dating form the same era consisted of an arena which was enclosed on all four sides by flight of steps with each step measuring two feet wide and a pavilion which was situated on the west end. At the top of the arena there was an eleven feet wide platform. The area of arena was 309 X 259 feet and 15 feet deep. The entire construction was done using burnt brick.

Fortification Edit

Nalrajar Garh fortification wall ruins dating back to 5th-century CE. are probably the only standing fortification ruins from Gupta period which are located in a dense jungle in North Bengal near Indo-Bhutan border. A prominent feature of its fortification walls are two parabolic arches. [90] Many fortified cities like Nalrajar Garh, Bhitagarh had risen in Northeastern India owing to trade activities with southeastern China.

Badami or Pulakeshi fort from Chalukya era date back to the 6th century CE. [91]

End of the Classical period Edit

This period ends with the destructive invasions of the Alchon Huns in the 6th century CE. During the rule of the Hunnic king Mihirakula, over a thousand Buddhist monasteries throughout Gandhara are said to have been destroyed. [92] The Chinese pilgrim Xuanzang, writing in 630 CE, explained that Mihirakula ordered the destruction of Buddhism and the expulsion of monks. [93] He reported that Buddhism had drastically declined, and that most of the monasteries were deserted and left in ruins. [94]

Although only spanning a few decades, the invasions had long-term effects on India, and in a sense brought an end to Classical India. [95] Soon after the invasions, the Gupta Empire, already weakened by these invasions and the rise of local rulers, ended as well. [96] Following the invasions, northern India was left in disarray, with numerous smaller Indian powers emerging after the crumbling of the Guptas. [97]

Hindu temple architecture in the Indian subcontinent continued to develop in North India and South India. Nagara style developed in North India where a Hindu temple incorporated Shikhara as its predominant architectural element whereas in southern India Vimana was used instead. The Hindu temple architecture was characterized by the use of stone as the dominant building material compared to the earlier period in which the burnt bricks were used instead.

Teli ka Mandir is an 8th/9th century Hindu Temple built by the Pratihara emperor Mihira Bhoja. [100]

Martand Sun Temple Central shrine, dedicated to the deity Surya

Jagannath Temple at Puri, one of Char Dham: the four main spiritual centers of Hinduism

Devagiri fort, built by Yadava dynasty in the 12th century according to Ibn Batutta, it was the most impregnable fort he had ever seen.

Jaisalmer Chhatri, 12th century CE

Hira Gate at Dabhoi Fort, 12th century CE

Sahasralinga Talav is a medieval artificial water tank commissioned during Chaulukya (Solanki) rule

Ancient Indian arches Edit

Indian architecture has utilized mix of false and true arches in its architecture.

Corbel arches Edit

Corbel arches in India date from Indus Valley Civilisation which used corbel arch to construct drains and have been evidenced at Mohenjo daro, Harappa, and Dholavira. [102]

The oldest arches surviving in Indian architecture are the gavaksha or "chaitya arches" found in ancient rock-cut architecture, and agreed to be copied from versions in wood which have all perished. These often terminate a whole ceiling with a semi-circular top wooden roofs made in this way can be seen in carved depictions of cities and palaces. A number of small early constructed temples have such roofs, using corbelled construction, as well as an apsidal plan the Trivikrama Temple at Ter, Maharashtra is an example. The arch shape survived into constructed Indian architecture, not as an opening in a wall but as a blind niche projection from a wall, that bears only its own weight. In this form, it became a very common and important decorative motif on Hindu temples. [103]

The "fundamental architectural principle of the constructed Hindu temple is always formulated in the trabeate order", that is to say using post and lintel systems with vertical and horizontal members. [104] According to George Michell: "Never was the principle of the arch with radiating components, such as voussoirs and keystones, employed in Hindu structures, either in India or in other parts of Asia. It was not so much that Hindu architects were ignorant of these techniques, but rather that conformance to tradition and adherence to precedents were firm cultural attitudes". [105] Harle describes the true arch as "not unknown, but almost never employed by Hindu builders", [106] and its use as "rare, but widely dispersed". [107]

Arch Edit

The 19th-century archaeologist Alexander Cunningham, head of the Archaeological Survey of India, at first believed that due to the total absence of arches in Hindu temples, they were alien to Indian architecture, but several pre-Islamic examples bear testimony to their existence, as explained by him in the following manner: [108]

Formerly it was the settled belief of all European enquirers that the ancient Hindus were ignorant of the Arch. This belief no doubt arose from the total absence of arches in any of the Hindu Temples. Thirty years ago I shared this belief with Mr. Fergusson, when I argued that the presence of arches in the great Buddhist Temple at Buddha Gaya proved that the building could not have been erected before the Muhammadan conquest. But during my late employment in the Archeological Survey of India several buildings of undoubted antiquity were discovered in which both vaults and arches formed part of the original construction.

Archaeological evidences indicate that wedge shaped bricks and construction of wells in the Indus valley civilization and although no true arches have been discovered as of yet, these bricks would have been suitable in the construction of true arches. [109] The earliest arch appeared in South Asia as a barrel vault in the Late Harappan Cemetery H culture dated 1900 BC-1300 BC which formed the roof of the metal working furnance, the discovery was made by Vats in 1940 during excavation at Harappa. [110] [111] [112] True arch in India dates from pre Mauryan Nanda period from 5th century BC. Arch fragment discovered by archaeologist K. P. Jayaswal from an arch with Brahmi inscribed on it, [113] [114] or 1st - 2nd century CE when it first appeared in Kausambi palace architecture from Kushana period. [115] Arches present at Vishnu temples at Deo Baranark, Amb and Kafir Kot temples from Hindu Shahi period and Hindu temple of Bhitargaon bear testimony to the use arches in the Hindu temple architecture. [116] [117] [118] Although Alexander Cunningham has persisted in the notion that the Buddhist Mahabodhi Temple's pointed arch was added later during a Burmese restoration, given its predominant use in Islamic architecture, scholars such as Huu Phuoc Le have contested this assumption based on analysis that relieving arches could not have been added without destroying the entire temple structure, which is dated to 6th-7th century CE. Hence the pointed and relieving arches much have formed part of the original building dating from the pre-Islamic periods in proper. [119] [120] Moreover, pointed arches vaulted entrances have been noted in Bhitargaon temple and Kausambi Palace architecture as well. [121] [122]

Pointed arch Mahabodhi temple, 6th-7th century CE, Late-Gupta period

Semicircular arch, Bhitargaon temple, 4th-5th century CE (heavily reconstructed)

Cinquefoil arches at Amb, 7th-9th century CE, Hindu Shahis

Teli ka Mandir gate with particular Rajput style arch, 8th century CE

Teli ka Mandir gate with multifoil arch, 8th century CE

Fortification Edit

Evidence indicates that the construction of fortification walls at Dehli applied nearly the same principle at Red Fort and Agra Fort as was the tradition during pre-Islamic Rajput periods. Excavation of Lal Kot beneath the Purana Qila revealed ruins which was constructed using similar method as in the post-Islamic and Mughal Periods.

What Did the Buddha Really Look Like?

In the western world, whenever someone hears the word “Buddha,” they virtually always immediately think of East Asian statues depicting a smiling obese man with a bald head and elongated earlobes dressed in a robe that displays his enormous belly. You can find these statues all over East Asia and miniature versions of them are often sold as souvenirs in gift shops. Because these statues are referred to as “Laughing Buddhas,” most westerners naturally assume that they depict Siddhārtha Gautama, the founder of Buddhism.

Contrary to popular belief, however, these statues do not, in fact, depict the Gautama Buddha, but rather a completely different figure from Chinese folklore. In this article, I want to talk about the real iconography of Siddhārtha Gautama. I also want to talk about the evidence in the surviving written sources for what the historical Buddha really looked like.

The misconception of the “Fat Buddha”

First of all, let’s get one thing straight: the term buddha is not a name, but rather a title. It is an Anglicized form of the Sanskrit word बुद्ध (buddhá), meaning “enlightened one.” Buddhists believe that there have been many buddhas throughout history and that there will be more buddhas in the future.

The historic individual who is usually referred to as “the Buddha” was actually named Siddhārtha Gautama. Much like Jesus or Pythagoras, he is a rather shadowy figure about whom little is known for certain. He was almost certainly a real person, but his life is shrouded in a great deal of legend. Most modern scholars believe he was most likely born sometime around 480 BC or thereabouts in Śākya Gaṇarājya, an oligarchic state in the northern Indian subcontinent and he most likely died sometime around 400 BC or thereabouts.

The statues of the so-called “Laughing Buddha” that most westerners think of when they hear the word “Buddha” are not statues of Siddhārtha Gautama, but rather statues of the legendary Chinese monk Bùdài, who is traditionally said to have lived in the Wuyue Kingdom in around the tenth century AD—roughly 1,300 years after the death of Siddhārtha Gautama.

Bùdài is not as well attested in the historical records as the Gautama Buddha and it is unclear whether he was even a real person. The main source of information about his legendary life is The Jingde Record of the Transmission of the Lamp, a collection of largely fictional accounts of the lives of legendary Buddhist religious figures that was written sometime between 1004 and 1007 AD.

In Chinese folklore, Bùdài is said to have travelled from town to town, carrying a cloth sack with him wherever he went. It is from this cloth sack that he received his name in Chinese (布袋), which literally means “Cloth Sack.” In his travels, Bùdài is said to have performed many great acts of kindness and generosity. (In some ways, I suppose you could say he is a bit like an East Asian version of Saint Nicholas, whom I wrote about in this article from December 2019.)

The widespread conflation between Siddhārtha Gautama and Bùdài arises from the fact that Bùdài is venerated in Chan Buddhism as a manifestation of the Maitreya Buddha. Westerners usually assume that there is only one Buddha in Buddhism, just like there is only one Christ in Christianity. This is false, however the Maitreya Buddha is, in fact, an entirely different Buddha from the Gautama Buddha.

ABOVE: Photograph from Wikimedia Commons of a glazed ceramic statue of the Chinese folk hero Bùdài, dating to 1486. Westerners often conflate Bùdài with Siddhārtha Gautama, but they are, in fact, entirely different figures.

The traditional iconography of Siddhārtha Gautama

Early Buddhists generally do not seem to have been interested in making anthropomorphic representations of the Gautama Buddha. As I noted above, Siddhārtha Gautama most likely died sometime around 400 BC, but the earliest surviving anthropomorphic depictions of him are thought to date from the first century AD.

Early Buddhists did, however, represent the Gautama Buddha in a number of non-anthropomorphic ways. In works of early Buddhist art, the Buddha is usually represented by some kind of symbol, such as an empty throne, a Bodhi tree, a dharma wheel, a footprint, or a horse without a rider.

One early non-anthropomorphic representation of the Gautama Buddha can be seen in a relief carving from a railing from the Bharhut Stupa dated to the early second century BC depicting a royal couple paying homage to the Gautama Buddha. In this carving, the Buddha is represented by a dharma wheel.

ABOVE: Photograph from Wikimedia Commons of a relief carving from a railing of the Bharhut Stupa depicting a royal couple visiting the Gautama Buddha, who is represented non-anthropomorphically in the form of a dharma wheel

One of the earliest surviving anthropomorphic depictions of Siddhārtha Gautama that can be securely dated is the depiction of him on the Bimaran Casket, a small gold Buddhist reliquary that was discovered at the site of Bimaran in Afghanistan. The reliquary has been more-or-less securely dated to the middle of the first century AD based on ancient coins that were found inside it and on iconographic evidence.

The Bimaran Casket shows Gautama as a middle-aged man with a mustache. His hair is tied up in a topknot and there is a halo behind his head. He is shown in a contrapposto position with his left leg twisted to the side. He is wearing a light robe. His left hand is resting on his hip, while his right hand is making the abhayamudrā, a gesture of reassurance.

ABOVE: Photograph from Wikimedia Commons of the Bimaran Casket, the earliest surviving depiction of Siddhārtha Gautama that can be securely dated

One of the most famous surviving early depictions of Siddhārtha Gautama is a Greco-Buddhist statue of him in a standing position dating to the first or second century AD. This statue was discovered at the site of Gandhāra in Pakistan and is now on display in the Tokyo National Museum in Japan.

In this statue, the Buddha’s earlobes are visibly elongated from the jewelry he wore when he was the son of an oligarch. His hair is tied in an upknot. There is a large halo behind his head and he has a bindi between his eyebrows. Like the Buddha on the Bimaran Casket, he is wearing a robe, but, unlike the Buddha on the Bimaran Casket, he is clean-shaven, without any trace of a beard or mustache. His right hand is broken off, but his left hand remains intact. His feet are conspicuously bare.

ABOVE: Photograph from Wikimedia Commons of a Greco-Buddhist statue of Siddhārtha Gautama from Gandhāra, Pakistan, most likely dating to the first or second century AD

There is a large number of other statues of Siddhārtha Gautama from Gandhāra. One statue dated to the second or third century AD shows him seated in a full lotus meditation position. As with the earlier standing sculpture, his earlobes are elongated and he is shown wearing a robe, with his hair tied up in a topknot and a bindi on his forehead between his eyebrows.

ABOVE: Photograph from Wikimedia Commons of a Greco-Buddhist statue from the region of Gandhāra dating to the second or third century AD depicting Siddhārtha Gautama sitting in the full lotus meditation position

A Greco-Buddhist relief carving from Gandhāra dated to the second or third century AD depicts the death of Siddhārtha Gautama. The relief depicts the Buddha lying on a couch on his right side with a pillow propping up his head. He is wearing a robe. His hair is tied back in a topknot and he has a halo behind his head. He is surrounded by his followers, who are presented in varying states of distress. Some of them have their hands raised in despair.

ABOVE: Photograph from Wikimedia Commons of a Greco-Buddhist relief carving of the death of Siddhārtha Gautama from Gandhāra, dating to the second or third century AD

There is one other type of sculpture of Siddhārtha Gautama that can be found among the sculptures from Gandhāra a famous statue from Gandhāra dated to the third or fourth century AD currently on display in Pakistan’s Lahore Museum depicts Siddhārtha Gautama as an emaciated ascetic. His eyes are sunken deep into their sockets. His face is gaunt and he has a straggly, unkempt beard.

His neck and torso are so emaciated that is bare bones and veins are fully exposed. His stomach is sunken deep beneath his ribs. It is a disturbing image, yet also a deeply compelling one. It is an image that evokes the shocking extremity of Gautama’s asceticism. Just looking at him is enough to make one feel the starvation.

Nevertheless, despite his skeletal appearance, his posture is one of perfect discipline his arms are raised above his lap and they betray not even the slightest hint of weakness. He looks as though he is somehow not in pain from his hunger. He has truly detached himself from the world.

ABOVE: Photograph from Flickr of the statue of Siddhārtha Gautama as an emaciated ascetic from the Lahore Museum in Pakistan

Although Siddhārtha Gautama’s iconography has changed to some extent since the time when the sculptures from Gandhāra were produced, the basic elements have remained the same. To this day, there are still four main types of statues of the Gautama Buddha:

  • Standing Buddha statues, showing him as a teacher and a figure of authority
  • Seated Buddha statues, showing him meditating
  • Reclining Buddha statues, showing him about to die
  • Emaciated Buddha statues, showing him as a starving ascetic

Of all these types, the emaciated Buddha type is the rarest, probably because Buddhists generally don’t see extreme asceticism as a path that is worth following.

What the historical Buddha looked like

Determining what an ancient historical figure really looked like historically is something that is usually extremely difficult or even impossible to do, since the evidence is usually extremely limited. For instance, as I discuss in this article from March 2020, the earliest surviving Christian texts say very little about Jesus’s physical appearance.

Basically, all they tell us is some very basic information about the sorts of clothes he wore. At times, the gospels seem to indicate that there was nothing remarkable about his appearance (such as when they describe Jesus as disappearing into a crowd), but this is the closest we ever get to a physical description.

Meanwhile, the earliest surviving Christian depictions of Jesus come from the third century AD—around two hundred years after Jesus’s death—and they vary drastically from each other. The image of Jesus as a handsome man with long, flowing hair and a beard that we all have in our heads today is certainly not reflective of what the historical Jesus looked like this image of Jesus actually developed in the late fourth century AD based on ancient Greek depictions of male deities such as Zeus, Serapis, and Asklepios.

ABOVE: Fourth-century AD Christian painting from the Catacombs of Marcellinus and Peter depicting the story from the Synoptic Gospels about the bleeding woman who took hold of Jesus’s himation and was healed

Unfortunately, many of the things I have written about Jesus’s appearance are also true about Siddhārtha Gautama. The statues we have been discussing here are reflective of how the Gautama Buddha was imagined by people who lived many centuries after his death, not how he really looked when he was alive.

The traditional iconography of Siddhārtha Gautama has been influenced to a large extent by older Greek iconography in the much same way that the traditional iconography of Jesus has been. All the earliest surviving anthropomorphic depictions of Siddhārtha Gautama are done in a very Hellenistic style and the iconography itself shows clear Hellenistic influence. One relief carving from Gandhāra dated to the second century AD even depicts Siddhārtha Gautama’s protector Vajrapāṇi as the Greek hero Herakles!

Furthermore, even the earliest surviving artistic representations of Siddhārtha Gautama contradict how he is described in our oldest surviving texts, some of which may date to not long after his own lifetime. Admittedly, the earliest surviving Buddhist texts don’t give a whole lot of information about what the Gautama Buddha looked like, but one thing they all seem to agree on is that he shaved his head when he first set out on his quest wisdom and that he remained bald.

For instance, in the Ambaṭṭha Sutta, the third sutta of the Dīgha Nikāya, the young Brahmin Ambaṭṭha disparages Siddhārtha Gautama and his followers, calling them “shavelings, sham friars, menial black fellows, the offscouring of our kinsman’s heels.” This means the ancient sculptures of the Gautama Buddha are not accurate, since they all show him with a full head of hair.

ABOVE: Photograph from a Wikimedia Commons of a second-century AD relief carving from Gandhāra showing the Gautama Buddha being protected by Vajrapāṇi, who is shown here as the Greek hero Herakles

The Thirty-Two Characteristics of a Great Man

Ancient Buddhist texts describe thirty-two physical characteristics that all great men supposedly possess. Since the Gautama Buddha was a great man, he is traditionally said to have had all these characteristics. Here is the list:

  1. Feet with even soles
  2. The mark of a wheel with a thousand spokes on the bottoms of his feet
  3. Long, thin fingers
  4. Soft hands and feet
  5. Netlike lines on the palms of his hands and soles of his feet
  6. Projecting heels
  7. High ankles
  8. Strong thighs like those of a royal stag
  9. Hands that reach below the knees
  10. Well-concealed genitals
  11. An armspan equal to his height
  12. Hair that is always dark at the roots
  13. Beautiful and curly body hair
  14. A naturally golden complexion
  15. A godlike aura
  16. Skin that is both soft and smooth
  17. Well-rounded hands, feet, shoulders, and neck
  18. An undinted back
  19. A chest like that of a lion
  20. An upright posture
  21. Full and well-rounded shoulders
  22. Forty teeth
  23. Teeth that are white, even, and without gaps
  24. Four canine teeth that are perfectly white
  25. A jaw like that of a lion
  26. Extraordinary tasting abilities
  27. An extraordinarily long, thick tongue
  28. A deep, godlike voice
  29. Deep blue eyes
  30. Eyelashes like those of a royal bull
  31. A white ūrṇā wisp of hair between his eyebrows
  32. An uṣṇīṣa, or slight protuberance on the top of his head

There are several serious problems, though, with taking these as literal, observable physical features that the historical Siddhārtha Gautama bore while he was alive on Earth.

The first problem is that early Buddhist texts demonstrate that these traits were not seen as obvious ones that someone could spot just by looking at him they instead seem to have been seen as subtle, hidden aspects of the Buddha’s appearance that could only be spotted upon close examination.

There are multiple texts in which people are described as seeing the Gautama Buddha and not recognizing him as such. For instance, in the Sàmañña-Phàla Sutta, the second sutta of the Dīgha Nikāya, King Ajātasattu of Magadha goes to visit the Gautama Buddha, but he can’t tell him apart from the other monks and he is compelled to ask the physician Jīvaka which of the monks is the Buddha. The text reads as follows, as translated by T. W. Rhys Davids:

“Then the king went on, on his elephant as far as the path was passable for elephants, and then on foot, to the door of the pavilion and then said to Jīvaka: ‘But where, Jīvaka, is the Blessed One?’”

“‘That is he, O king, sitting against the middle pillar, and facing the East, with the brethren around him.”

Similarly, in the Majjhima Nikāya 140, a beggar who thinks of himself as one of the Gautama Buddha’s followers meets him in person, but he does not recognize him as the Buddha. Clearly, these examples show that the Thirty-Two Characteristics of a Great Man were not seen as being noticeable to an ordinary outward observer because, if they were conspicuous, they would be easy to recognize.

The second problem is that these Thirty-Two Characteristics of a Great Man are obviously rooted in an idealizing tradition and they cannot be reflective of what an actual, specific individual looked like in historical reality anyway.

Ultimately, I’m not sure we can know much about the Gautama Buddha’s appearance other than that he was a man from the northern part of Indian subcontinent with a shaved head.

ABOVE: Photograph from Wikimedia Commons of a first-century AD carving of the Gautama Buddha’s footprint from Gandhāra, showing the dharma wheel on the bottom of his foot


The Leshan Giant Buddha is located at the Lingyun Mountain’s Qifeng Peak. Qifeng Peak is located at the junction of the Minjiang River, Qingyi River, and Dadu River. [4]

Other than the Leshan Giant Buddha, the Danxia Landform also contains abundant history and cultural connotations, such as cliff tombs and cliff dwelling. The Mahao Cliff Tombs at the Leshan Giant Buddha scenic area were built in the Han Dynasty, indicating ancient local residents’ living habits. [ citation needed ]

Construction started in 723 AD, led by a Chinese monk named Hai Tong. He hoped that the Buddha would calm the turbulent waters that plagued the shipping vessels traveling down the river. When funding for the project was threatened, he is said to have gouged out his own eyes to show his piety and sincerity. After his death, however, the construction was stuck due to insufficient funding. The statue was only completed from the shoulders up at the time. Several years later, Hai Tong’s disciples continued work on the statue with financial support from a local official named Zhangchou Jianxiong. Hai Tong’s disciples continued the construction until the Knees, when construction was halted because Zhangchou JianXiang was called to work at the royal court in Chang’an. About 70 years later, jiedushi Wei Gao decided to sponsor the project and the construction was completed by Hai Tong's disciples in 803.

By the beginning of the Northern Song Dynasty, the Leshan Giant Buddha had been damaged -- the body was covered in moss, and the wooden pavilion had collapsed. During the reign of Song Renzong, the Giant Buddha was repaired once on a large scale and the wooden pavilion was rebuilt. Since then, the records of the destruction and reconstruction of the Buddha have been missing, and the original temple, Lingyun Temple, had been destroyed by war many times.

Apparently, the massive construction resulted in so much stone being removed from the cliff face and deposited into the river below that the currents were indeed altered by the statue, making the water safe for passing ships. [ citation needed ]

A sophisticated drainage system was incorporated into the Leshan Giant Buddha when it was built. It is still in working order. It includes drainage pipes carved into various places on the body, to carry away the water after the rains so as to reduce weathering.

When the Giant Buddha was carved, a huge thirteen story wood structure (similar to the one at the Rongxian Giant Buddha) was built to shelter it from rain and sunshine. This structure was destroyed and sacked by the Mongols during the wars at the end of the Yuan dynasty. From then on, the stone statue was exposed to the elements.

The Leshan Buddha has been affected by the pollution emanating from the unbridled development in the region. According to Xinhua news agency, the Leshan Giant Buddha and many Chinese natural and cultural heritage sites in the region have seen degradations from weathering, air pollution, and swarms of tourists. The government has promised restoration work. [5] [6]

The entire art piece is built in stone, except for the ears that were designed in wood, covered with mud on the surface to make clay, and attached to the head.

At 71 metres (233 ft) tall, the statue depicts a seated Maitreya Buddha with his hands resting on his knees. His shoulders are 28 metres wide and his smallest toenail is large enough to easily accommodate a seated person. There is a local saying: "The mountain is a Buddha and the Buddha is a mountain". This is partially because the mountain range in which the Leshan Giant Buddha is located is thought to be shaped like a slumbering Buddha when seen from the river, with the Leshan Giant Buddha as its heart.

This 71-meters (233 ft) statue, carved in the Lingyun Mountain, is the biggest and tallest stone Buddha statue in the world (only the modern Great Buddha of Thailand, made of concrete, is taller). Leshan Giant Buddha’s hair is composed of 1,021 spiraled curls embedded in his head that measures 14.7 meters (48 ft) in height and 10 meters (33 ft) in width. [4] His ears, capable of holding two people inside, are 7-meters (23 ft) long. He has 5.6-meter (18 ft) long eyebrows, 8.3 meters (27 ft) long fingers, 24 meters (79 ft) wide shoulders, and a 5.6-meter (18 ft) long nose. His mouth and each of his eyes have a width of 3.3 meters (11 ft). His instep that is around 8.5 meters (28 ft) in width can hold about a hundred people and his smallest toenail can fit one seated person. This statue is ten stories high, which can be compared to the size of the Statue of Liberty if Buddha stood upright. Buddha’s body is placed in a symmetrical posture and the proportions of his various body parts are proportioned in accordance with the Buddharupa requirements of a statue. It has a calm form, which conforms to the Tang Dynasty statues’ style. [7]

Behind the Buddha’s head and between his two ears, the Leshan Giant Buddha has a unique and advanced drainage system to preserve the statue from erosion. There are several hidden gutters and channels scattered in Buddha’s hair, collar, chest, and holes in the back of his ears and chest that have been carrying out the rainwater to keep the inner areas dry. [1] This complex architectural system has been preventing the statue from eroding for the past 1,200 years.

After the founding of the People’s Republic of China, the Leshan Giant Buddha was designated as a cultural relic and put under protection by the Sichuan Provincial People’s Committee in 1956. In 1996, the UNESCO World Heritage Committee included the Leshan Giant Buddha in the World Cultural and Natural Heritage List. In 1998, the Leshan Giant Buddha Scenic Area Management Committee was formally established. [8] The management committee’s scope of control reached 17.88 square kilometers. In 2008, the Mount Emei - Leshan Giant Buddha Scenic Area Management Committee was formally established, with the main task of developing tourism resources for Mount Emei and the Leshan Giant Buddha. On March 24, 2002, the first phase of the Leshan Giant Buddha repair project by the World Bank officially started. The project included completely renovating the Buddha from chest up to the head and then strengthening the rock wall. On June 23, 2002, the second phase of the Leshan Giant Buddha Maintenance Project started. During this phase, the rocks at the Buddha’s feet were repaired and the eroded part of the rock below water level was repaired. [3]

Being one of the six world cultural heritage sites in the Province of Sichuan, it receives a lot of tourist visits. From 2001-2003, it was ranked the second most popular attraction amongst the provincial heritage sites with 1.4 to 1.5 million visitors per year. In 2004, there was a breakthrough which led the numbers to drastically go up to 2.1 million visitors. From 2005-2007, it had around 2.3 to 2.8 million visitors per year, which was more than all the other sites. [9]

The most convenient way to get to the Giant Buddha from Leshan Town is through the local bus 13. [10] Upon arrival, it is necessary to purchase a ticket at the price of CNY 90 per person [11] (including Wulong Temple & Mahao Cliff Tomb). The opening hours are 7:30am-6:30pm [12] from April until October and 8:00am-5:30pm from October until March. The weekends and holidays are much busier compared to weekdays.

Apart from the main attraction, there are dozens of pathways throughout the mountain that can be explored by foot.

People come from all over the world to worship Maitreya. To get a close-up view of him, there is a pedestrian pathway that allows visitors to appreciate the changing view of Buddha’s body through multiple perspectives. It is important to note that the plank pathways there are steep and narrow. To get a more panoramic view of him, there are sightseeing boats available at the price of CNY 70 per person. Since these boats have a capacity of 35 passengers, there may be a waiting line.

Stone chest inscription

Discovered beneath the Grand Bao'en Temple, the stupa model &mdash which is 117 centimeters tall and 45 cm wide (nearly 4 feet by 1.5 feet) &mdash was stored within an iron box, which, in turn, was stored within a stone chest.

An inscription found within the stone chest was written by a man named Deming about 1,000 years ago, saying that he is "the Master of Perfect Enlightenment, Abbot of Chengtian Monastery [and] the Holder of the Purple Robe" (as translated by researchers in the journal article). He tells the story of how the Buddha's parietal bone came to China. [Photos: 1,700-Year-Old Buddhist Sculptures Found in Shrine]

Deming wrote that after the Buddha "entered parinirvana" (a final death that breaks the cycle of death and rebirth), that his body "was cremated near the Hirannavati River" in India. The man who ruled India at the time, King Ashoka (reign 268-232 B.C.), decided to preserve the Buddha's remains, which he "divided into a total of 84,000 shares," Deming wrote. "Our land of China received 19 of them," including the parietal bone, he added.

The parietal bone was kept in a temple that was destroyed about 1,400 years ago during a series of wars, Deming wrote. "The foundation ruins … were scattered in the weeds," Deming wrote. "In this time of turbulence, did no one care for Buddhist affairs?"

Emperor Zhenzong agreed to rebuild the temple and have the Buddha's parietal bone, and the remains of other Buddhist saints, buried in an underground crypt at the temple, according to Deming's inscriptions. They were interred on July 21, 1011 A.D., in "a most solemn and elaborate burial ceremony," Deming wrote.

Deming praised the emperor for rebuilding the temple and burying the Buddha's remains, wishing the emperor a long life, loyal ministers and numerous grandchildren: "May the Heir Apparent and the imperial princes be blessed and prosperous with 10,000 offspring may Civil and Military Ministers of the Court be loyal and patriotic may the three armed forces and citizens enjoy a happy and peaceful time …"

According to one theory, Kushinagar was the capital of Kosala Kingdom and according to Ramayana it was built by King Kush, son of Rama, protagonist of the epic Ramayana. While according to Buddhist tradition Kushavati was named prior to the king Kush. The naming of Kushwati is believed to be due to abundance of Kush grass found in this region. [4]

According to 2011 Indian Census, Kushinagar had a total population of 22,214, of which 11,502 were males and 10,712 were females. Population within the age group of 0 to 6 years was 2,897. The total number of literates in Kushinagar was 15,150, which constituted 68.2% of the population with male literacy of 73.3% and female literacy of 62.7%. The effective literacy rate of 7+ population of Kushinagar was 78.4%, of which male literacy rate was 84.5% and female literacy rate was 71.9%. The Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes population was 1,117 (5.03%) and 531 (2.39%) respectively. Kushinagar had 3462 households in 2011. [2]

The present Kushinagar is identified with Kusavati (in the pre-Buddha period) and Kushinara (in the post-Buddha period). Kushinara was the capital of Mallas which was one of the sixteen mahajanpads of the 6th century BCE. Since then, it remained an integral part of the erstwhile empires of Maurya, Shunga, Kushana, Gupta, Harsha, and Pala dynasties.

In the medieval period, Kushinagar had passed under the suzerainty of Kultury Kings. Kushinara continued to be a living city till the 12th century CE and was thereafter lost into oblivion. Padrauna is believed to be ruled over by a Rajput adventurer, Madan Singh, in the 15th century CE.

However, modern Kushinagar came into prominence in the 19th century with archaeological excavations carried out by Alexander Cunningham, the first Archeological Surveyor of India and later followed by C.L. Carlleyle who exposed the main stupa and also discovered a 6.10 meters long statue of reclining Buddha in 1876. Excavations continued in the early twentieth century under J. Ph. Vogel. [5] He conducted archaeological campaigns in 1904–1905, 1905-1906 and 1906–1907, uncovering a wealth of Buddhist materials.

Chandra Swami, a Burmese monk, came to India in 1903 and made Mahaparinirvana Temple into a living shrine.

After independence, Kushinagar remained part of the district of Deoria. On 13 May 1994, it came into being as a new district of Uttar Pradesh. [6]

In 1896, Waddell suggested that the site of the death and parinirvana of Gautama Buddha was in the region of Rampurva. [7] However, according to the Mahāyāna Mahāparinirvāṇa Sūtra, the Buddha made his journey to Kushinagar, died there, and this is where he was cremated. [8] [9] It is believed that during his last day he walked into the groves of trees near the city and rejoiced at the blossoms of sala trees (Shorea robusta) before laying himself to rest. [10]

Modern scholarship, based on archaeological evidence, believes that the Buddha died in Kushinagar, close to the modern Kasia (Uttar Pradesh). [11] [12] [13] [14] [15]

Ashoka built a stupa and pilgrimage site to mark Buddha's parinirvana in Kushinagara. [16] The Hindu rulers of the Gupta Empire (fourth to seventh century) helped greatly enlarge the Nirvana stupa and Kushinagar site, building a temple with reclining Buddha. [17] [18] This site was abandoned by Buddhist monks around 1200 CE, who fled to escape the invading Muslim army, after which the site decayed during the Islamic rule in India that followed. [19] [20] The British archaeologist Alexander Cunningham rediscovered Kushinagara in the late 19th century, and his colleague A. C. L. Carlleyle unearthed the 1,500-year-old Buddha image. [18] [21] [22] The site has since then become an important pilgrimage site for Buddhists. [8] [23] Archaeological evidence from the 3rd century BCE suggests that the Kushinagara site was an ancient pilgrimage site. [8]

Kushinagar is a nagar palika situated at 53 km east from Gorakhpur on the National Highway-28, lying between latitude 26°45´N and 83°24´E. Gorakhpur is the main railway terminus for Kushinagar while air strip of UP Civil Aviation is situated in Kasia, 2 km away from Kushinagar, currently being developed as an International Airport by Uttar Pradesh Government and Government of India. [24]

The reclining Nirvana statue of the Buddha is inside the Parinirvana Stupa. The statue is 6.10 metres long and is made of monolith red sandstone. It represents the "Dying Buddha" reclining on his right side with his face towards the west. It is placed on a large brick pedestal with stone-posts at the corners. [25]

Nirvana Chaitya (Main Stupa)

Nirvana Chaitya is located just behind the Main Parinirvana Temple. It was excavated by Carlleyle in the year 1876. During excavations, a copper plate was found, which contained the text of the "Nidana-Sutra" which concluded the statement that plate had been deposited in the Nirvana-Chaitya by one Haribala, who also installed the great Nirvana Statue of Buddha in the temple front. [25]

Ramabhar Stupa, also called a Mukutbandhan-Chaitya, is the cremation place of Buddha. This site is 1.5 km east of the main Nirvana Temple on the Kushinagar-Deoria road. [25]

A colossal statue of Buddha is installed, which is carved out of one block which represents Buddha seated under the "Bodhi Tree" in a pose known as "Bhumi Sparsh Mudra" (Earth touching attitude). The inscription at the base of statue is dateable to the 10th or 11th century CE. [25]

  • Indo-Japan-Sri Lanka Temple: Indo-Japan-Sri Lanka temple is a marvel of Buddhist architectural grandeur of modern times. [25]
  • Wat Thai Temple: It is a huge complex built in a typical Thai-Buddhist architectural fashion. [25]
  • Ruins and brick structures: These are located around the main Nirvana Temple and Main Stupa. These are the remains of various monasteries of different sizes constructed from time to time in the ancient period. [25]
  • Several museums, meditation parks and several other temples based on architecture of various eastern countries.

The Government of Uttar Pradesh has proposed the Kushinagar-Sarnath Buddha Expressway to connect Buddhist pilgrimage towns. The expressway will be around 200 km long and will reduce the travel time between the towns from seven hours to one and a half hours.