The Bharhut sculptures represent some of the earliest examples of Indian and Buddhist art, later than the monumental art of Ashoka (circa 260 BCE), and slightly later than the early Sunga reliefs on railings at Sanchi Stupa No.2 (starting circa 115 BCE). Recent authors date the reliefs of the railings of Bharhut circa 125-100 BCE, and clearly after Sanchi Stupa No.2, compared to which Bharhut has a much more developed iconography. The torana gateway was made slightly later than the railings, and is dated to 100-75 BCE. Many of the Bharhut remains are now located in the Indian Museum in Kolkota.
The Bharhut stupa may have been first built by the Maurya king Ashoka in the 3rd century BCE, but many works of art, particularly the gateway and railings, were apparently added during the Shunga period, with many friezes from the 2nd century BCE.
The central stupa was surrounded by a stone railing and four Torana gates, in an arrangement similar to that of Sanchi. A large part of the railing has been recovered, but only one of the four torana gates remains.
An epigraph on a pillar of the gateway of the stupa mentions its erection "during the rule of the Shungas by Vatsiputra Dhanabhuti". The expression used is "Suganam Raje", which is thought to mean "during the rule of the Sungas", although not without ambiguity. The inscription reads:
1. Suganam raje rajno Gagi-putasa Visa-DevasaIn the Kingdom of Sugana (Srughna) this Toran, with its ornamented stonework and plinth, was caused to be made by king Dhana-bhuti, son of Vachhi and Aga Raja son of Goti, and grandson of Visa Deva son of Gagi.
2. pautena, Gotiputasa Aga-Rajasa putena
3. Vachhi-putena Dhana-Bhutina karitam toranam
4. Sila hammata cha upahna.— Gateway pillar inscription of Dhana-Bhuti.
Mason's marks in Kharosthi have been found on several elements of the Bharhut remains, indicating that some of the builders at least came from the north, particularly from Gandhara where the Kharoshti script was in use. Cunningham explained that the Kharosthi letters were found on the ballusters between the architraves of the gateway, but none on the railings which all had Indian markings, summarizing that the gateways, which are artistically more refined, must have been made by artists from the North, whereas the railings were made by local artists.
According to some authors, Hellenistic sculptors had some connection with Bharhut and Sanchi as well. The structure as a whole as well as various elements point to Hellenistic and other foreign influence, such as the fluted bell, addorsed capital of the Persepolitan order, and the abundant use of the Hellenistic flame palmette or honeysuckle motif.
It would seem the railings were the first elements to be built, circa 125-100 BCE. The great gateway was built later, circa 100-75 BCE. On artistic grounds, the decorations of the railings are considered later stylistically than those of Sanchi Stupa No.2, suggesting a date of circa 100 BCE for the reliefs of the railings, and a date of 75 BCE for the gateway.
In 1873, Alexander Cunningham visited Bharhut. The next year, he excavated the site. Joseph David Beglar, Cunningham's assistant, continued the excavation and recorded the work through numerous photographs.
A pillar capital in Bharhut, dated to the 2nd century BCE during the Sunga Empire period, is an example of Bharhut architecture thought to incorporate Persian and Greek styles, with recumbent animal (in the style of the Pillars of Ashoka), and a central anta capital with many Hellenistic elements (rosettes, beads-and-reels), as well as a central palmette design, in a style similar to that of the Pataliputra capital.
The complex in Bharhut included a medieval temple (plate II), which contained a colossal figure of the Buddha, along with fragments of sculptures showing the Buddha with images of Brahma, Indra etc. Beglar also photographed a 10th-century Buddhist Sanskrit inscription, about which nothing is now known.
The ruined stupa—nothing but foundations of the main structure (see Gallery)—is still in Bharhut; however, the gateways and railings have been dismantled and reassembled at the Indian Museum, Kolkata. They contain numerous birth stories of the Buddha's previous lives, or Jataka tales. Many of them are in the shape of large, round medallions. Two of the panels are at the Smithsonian.[not in citation given]
|Bharhut at the time of discovery.|
In conformity with the early aniconic phase of Buddhist art, the Buddha is only represented through symbols, such as the Dharma wheel, the Bodhi tree, an empty seat, footprints, or the triratana symbol.
The style represents the earliest phase of Indian art, and all characters are depicted wearing the Indian dhoti, except for one foreigner thought to be an Indo-Greek soldier, with Buddhist symbolism. The Bharhut carvings are slightly later than the Sanchi Stupa No.2 reliefs and the earlier Ajanta frescos.
An unusual feature of the Bharhut panels is the inclusion of text in the narrative panels, often identifying the individuals.
The inscriptions found at Bharhut are of considerable significance in tracing the history of early Indian Buddhism and Buddhist art. 136 inscriptions mention the donors. These include individuals from Vidisha, Purika (a town somewhere in the Vindhya mountains), Pataliputra (Bihar), Karhad (Maharashtra), Bhojakata (Vidarbha, eastern Maharashtra), Kosambi (Uttar Pradesh), and Nasik (Maharashtra). 82 inscriptions serve as labels for panels depicting the Jatakas, the life of the Buddha, former Manushi Buddhas, other stories and Yakshas and Yakshinis.
|The Bharhut Stupa|
Bharhut eastern gateway.
|The Bharhut eastern gateway is the only remaining of four original gateways. It was made in 100-75 BCE (most probably 75 BCE based on artistic analysis), and is therefore posterior to the railings.
The craftsmen are thought to have been from northwestern India (probably Gandhara) as they inscribed mason's marks in Kharosthi, the script of Gandhara, throughout the gateway structure (7 such Kharoshthi mason's marks have been recorded on the gateway). Gandhara was a core territory of the Indo-Greek kingdom at the time, and these craftsmen probably brought Hellenistic techniques and styles to the manufacture of the gateway. On the contrary mason's marks in the local Brahmi script have not been found on the gateway, but exclusively on the railings (27 Brahmi mason's mark found), indicating that local crafstmen probably created the railings.
The structure as a whole as well as various elements point to Hellenistic and other foreign influence, such as the fluted bell, addorsed capital of the Persepolitan order, and the abundant use of the Hellenistic flame palmette or honeysuckle motif. Besides the origin of its contributors however, the gateway retains a very strong Indian character.
The architraves display scenes of animals who show their devotion to the Buddha (symbolized by the empty throne in the middle). The top architrave (front only) has two lions, one griffin (left), and one lion with a human head (sphinx or manticore). The bottom architraves shows four elephants and two human devotees around the symbolic Buddha.
|The railings are dated to 125-100 BCE, and most probably 100 BCE based on artistic analysis. The designs are very developed, and considered as posterior to those of Sanchi Stupa No.2.
The railings are almost entirely covered in reliefs, and display a variety of scenes, from the previous lives of the Buddha called Jatakas, to events of the life of the historical Buddha, to devotional scenes. These are also many individual medallions, thought to represent devotees or donors.
|Scenes of devotion|
|Diamond throne and Mahabodhi Temple around the Boddhi tree. According to the inscribed Bharhut relief related to the Diamond throne, the original Mahabodhi Temple of Asoka was an open pavilion supported on pillars.
In the middle is seen the Diamond Throne or Vajrasana, decorated in front with four flat pilasters. Behind the Throne appears the trunk of the Bodhi Tree, which rises up high above the building, and on each side of the Tree there is a combined symbol of the Triratna and the Dharmachakra, standing on the top of a short pillar. On each side of the Vajrasana room there is a side room of the same style. The top of the Throne is ornamented with flowers, but there is no figure of Buddha.
|Tikutiko Chakamo. The inscription above this relief mentions the "Tikutiko Chakamo", or "Three-pointed wheel" (of the law). The scene depicts seven elephants and one great three-headed Serpent (or Naga) together with two lions showing their devotion to this quite particular Wheel of the Law.|
|Life of the Buddha|
|Maya's Dream: The virgin conception of the Buddha.
This carving of the Dream of Maya relates when the Buddha's mother had a dream about that a white elephant entering her body. This is the moment of the Buddha's conception. The sleeping queen is surrounded by three attendants, one of whom flicks a chauri. A water-pot is placed near the head of the bed; at its foot is an incense-burner. The theme of the virgin conception of the Buddha was repeated for many centuries, and was also an important theme in the Greco-Buddhist art of Gandhara.
|Worshipping Shiddharta's Hair
In the lower part of the panel is a company of deities in the Trayastrimsa heaven, where Indra held sway, rejoicing over and worshiping the hair of the Bodhisattva. The story told in the Buddhist scriptures is that, before embracing a religious life, Gautama divested himself of his princely garments and cut off his long hair with his sword, casting both hair and turban into the air, whence they were borne by the devas to the Trayastrimsa heaven and worshiped there.
Descent of the Buddha from the Trayastrimsa Heaven at Sankissa. The descent of the Buddha from the Trayastrimsa Heaven, where Maya, his mother, had been reborn and whither he himself ascended to preach the Law to her. This miracle is supposed to have taken place at Sankissa (Sankasya). In the center of the relief is the miraculous ladder by which the Buddha descended, attended by Brahma and Indra. At the foot of the ladder the tree and throne, symbols of the presence of the Buddha, with devotees on either side, indicating that the Buddha has returned again to earth.
The Jetavana Monastery. The following inscription, which is placed immediately below the sculpture, gives the name of the monastery, as well as that of the builder Anatha-pindika: "Jetavana Anadhapediko deti Kotisanthatena Keta" ("Anathapindika presents Jetavana, (having become) its purchaser for a layer of kotis."), kotis being gold coins.
A householder named Anathapindika had purchased the garden of Jeta for a layer of kotis, for 18 kotis of gold, and began to build. In the midst he built Buddha's pavilion. Several monastic buildings were erected by Anathapindika at Jetavana, until Gautama Buddha came from Rajagriha to Sravasti, where he was met by the wealthy man Setthi. The Blessed One, followed by a great company of monks, entered the Monastery of Jetavana. Then Anathapindika asked him, "Lord, how am I to proceed in the matter of this monastery? Since you ask me, householder, bestow this monastery upon the Buddhist clergy, present and to come.' And the great man replied, "It is well. This monastery of Jetavana I give to the clergy, present and to come, in all parts of the world, with the Buddha at their head."
The sculptor has apparently aimed at giving a view of the great Buddhist Vihara of Jetavana, whilst illustrating the story of its establishment by Anathapindika. In the foreground there is a bullock cart, with the bullocks unyoked sitting beside it, and with the yoke tilted up in the air to show that the cart has been unloaded. In front are two men, each holding a very small object between his thumb and forefinger. These are Anathapindika himself, and his treasurer, counting out the gold pieces brought in the cart. Above them are two other figures seated, and busily engaged in covering the surface of the garden with the gold coins, which are here represented as square pieces touching one another, as the price of its purchase. To the left are six other figures, probably Prince Jeta and his friends; and in the very middle of the composition there is Anathapindika himself carrying a vessel, just like a tea kettle, in both hands, for the purpose of pouring water over Buddha's hands as a pledge of the completion of his gift.
|Previous lives of the Buddha (Jatakas)|
Mahakapi Jataka In this jataka tale, the Buddha, in a previous incarnation as a monkey king, self-sacrifyinly offers his own body as a bridge by which his fellow monkeys can escape from a human king who is attacking them. A short section of the river, across which the monkeys are escaping, is indicated by fish designs. Directly below that, the impressed humans are holding out a blanket to catch him when he falls from his position. At the very bottom (continuous narrative), the now recovered Buddha-to-be preaches to the king. (Mahakapi Jataka. Bharhut, c. 100 BCE. Indian Museum, Calcutta.)
|Ruru Jataka. The Ruru Jataka is the story of how a past incarnation of the Buddha, incarnated as a golden deer, rescues a merchant from drowning in the river (bottom of medallion). However, the merchant betrays the deer by telling the hunter where the golden deer lives by pointing at the deer (upper part of medallion). The deer is wounded but out of compassion he forgives the treacherous merchant and the hunter and preaches to the two about nonviolence. It's not certain why the horizon is "tipped" in this scene; perhaps the artist was just mistakenly following the outline of the river.|
|Kurunga Miga Jataka. This story is about three friends who lived in a forest: an antelope, a woodpecker and a tortoise. One day, the antelope was caught in the noose of a hunter, and the tortoise endeavoured to bite through the noose to free the antelope, while the woodpecker, was making cries of ill-omen, so that the hunter would remain in his hut. The antelope escaped, but the tortoise, exhausted by her efforts, was caught by the hunter. The antelope then enticed the hunter to follow her in the forest, so that the tortoise was able to flee. The antelope was the Bodhisatta, that is the Buddha in a former life, Sāriputta, a disciple of the Buddha, was the woodpecker, Moggallana, also a disciple, was the tortoise in his former life. Devadatta however, a traditional enemy of the Buddha, was the hunter.
This story is meant to demonstrate the wickedness of Devadatta, as well as the friendship and collaboration between the Buddha and his disciples, even in previous lives.
|Muga Pakaya Jataka/ Mugapakkha Jataka/ Temiya Jataka. This is the story of "The dumb Prince". Chanda Devi, the wife of the king of Varanasi, had no son. Sakka, the king of the devas, decided to help her. He persuaded the Bodhisattva (the future Buddha), who was then in the realm of the Tavatimsa, to descend into her womb so that she could bear a child. The Bodhisattva thus entered the womb of the Queen, and when he was born was called Temiya.
Temiya then realized that his father was a king, but having himself been king of Varanasi in a previous life, a rule which ended with 20.000 years in hell, he did not want to inherit the throne. He thus decided to play dumb and inactive to avoid the inheritance. Being worthless, his father arranged for his death, and ordered the charioteer Sunanda to perform the crime. When Sunanda was digging the grave in preparation, Temiya explained to him his stratagem. Impressed, Sunanda then wanted to be an ascetic and follow Temiya.
Temiya then gave a sermon to the King and the Queen. They were impressed and also expressed the wish to become ascetics. Soon, all the citizens of the kingdom, as well as two neighboring kingdoms, become followers of Temiya.
The relief shows Temiya as a baby in the king's lap (top left). Temiya is then seen standing behind charioteer Sunanda in the cemetery, who is digging the grave (bottom right). Temiya, as an ascetic, then gives a discourse to the people (top right).
The Bharhut Yavana. The Greeks (specifically the Indo-Greeks) were evidently known at this date to people in the middle of India and called "Yavanas"; here, a Greek warrior has been coopted into the role of dvarapala (Guardian of a temple gate). The evidence includes his hairstyle (short curly hair with Greek royal headband), tunic, and boots. In his right hand he holds a grape plant, emblematic of his origin. The sheath of his broadsword is decorated with a nandipada, symbol of Buddhism.
There is an inscription above the relief, classified as Inscription 55 in the Pillars of Railing of the SW Quadrant at Bharhut, is in the Brahmi script and reads from left to right:
"Bhadanta Mahilasa thabho dânam"
Lakshmi. Today Lakshmi is an important deity of Hinduism, the Hindu goddess of wealth, fortune and prosperity. But she also used to be an important deity in Buddhism, where she was also a goddess of abundance and fortune, and was represented on the oldest surviving stupas and cave temples.
|The Four Main Sites|
|Four Additional Sites|
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